The immigration story of Hedwig Vandenberghe (Belgian Immigrant)

Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Creative Commons: 
Accession Number: 
Story Text: 

My name is Hedwig Vandenberghe. I was born in Belgium on Sept. 29/49. I became a landed immigrant to Canada on June 29/53, and a Canadian citizen on Feb. 25/59. I arrived in Halifax on the M. S. Italia, along with my mother Therese, aged 31, and my sister Jeanine, aged 11. The following account of our voyage and arrival are the words of my mother who passed in 2011. This account should be to her credit.

Omer and Therese Vandenberghe were residents of Denderleeuw in East Flanders, Belgium, as had been all previous generations of their families. Like thousands of other Europeans following the war, they wanted to make a better life in Canada. Omer left Antwerp, Belgium by ship to land in St. John, New Brunswick in March of 1953. He travelled to Toronto to work, rent an apartment, and wait for his family to arrive. Omer and Therese had preciously applied for immigration with the Canadian Consulate in Brussels. They had also arranged for passage on board the Italia for Therese and their children. When it was time to depart they travelled with family members by bus to the port of Le Havre, France. The luggage went aboard, tearful goodbyes were said, and on the evening of June 21, 1953 tugs pushed the Italia out of the harbour.

Therese gave the following description of the accommodations on board ship. She and the children were booked into a fairly large cabin in Toursit Class. It had one porthole, bunk beds for the children and a cot for her. One steward looked after all the rooms along one section of the hallway. Meals were taken in a formal dining room, and a tour of the ship was given. Babysitting service was provided. Such amenities as a swimming pool, deck chairs, a movie theatre, and an exercise room were provided, but passengers were required to remain on the deck for which they had paid. There was first class, tourist class, and immigrant class on the lower deck. The ship also provided souvenir shops, gift and smoke shops.

The passage to Canada was quiet with calm sailing the entire voyage. Days were sunny with no storms and the Italia arrived on time in Halifax harbour, docking late on the night of June 28, 1953. Passengers were allowed to disembark the following morning. All immigrants had to sit on benches in a large waiting hall, according to the first letter of their last names. Once called to an immigration agent, you were required to provide proper documentation, and were interviewed as to the reason for your desire to live in Canada. When cleared each individual was given an immigration document, containing relevant information, and stamped by the officer.

The next wait was in another large room together with the immigrant’s baggage. The wait for an available train to take immigrants to their final destination could often take hours because of the large numbers coming to Canada. Sandwiches and beverages were supplied at no charge by volunteer nuns. Once a train arrived bound for Toronto, Therese and her children were allowed to board, while baggage was loaded in separate cars. They left Halifax on the night of June 29, 1953 and arrived in Toronto on July 1 in Union Station. The train trip was very slow because immigrants were taken off in every major city along the way. The train did not provide meals or sleeping accommodations, but at each stop there were always people selling food and drinks, through the windows of their cars. When the family arrived at Union Station Omer Vandenberghe was waiting to take them to their new home in Canada.

The immigration story of Hedwig Vandenberghe