The Immigration Story The Eyk Family (Dutch immigrants)

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On March of 1949, Hendrik and Iefje Eyk with their three children: Cornell, Willem and Tineke, sailed on the ship Gripsholm from Gothenburg to Halifax as immigrants from Holland.

The following are two letters and a postcard describing in detail their departure, crossing the Atlantic, and eventual arrival in Canada to their first place of residence. These letters have been translated by their son, Willem

(Written by Mother to her parents and sister.)

February 15th 1949

Velp. Holland

Dear Father. Mother and Ans.

Again it is Sunday and once more we are sitting here writing letters.

First of all, congratulations with the birthdays of Trien and Anneke, and also that of Cornell. Well, they haven’t forgotten him. With the exception of three, he received a card or letter from all of the family members, and he is in the clouds! He received a nice booklet from Aunt Ann, and from us a pencil and a pair of shoes. Also thanks to Opa and Oma. And Aunt Ans, when are you coming to see us? If you still want to come you will have to be quick about it; otherwise the birds will have flown away. Last week we wrote to you about the people who had to leave within three weeks. Well, yesterday evening at 8 o’clock the bomb exploded here. We got two letters at the same time. One had the wrong address, otherwise we would have known yesterday morning, but even so the time remains short.

…so, we just arrived home from church, and we will continue. From the letters we understand that, don’t be shocked, on March 2nd we will be going by train from Deventer to Gothenburg, Sweden. That is probably the same train that An deMoes took with our neighbour. Thus we are going through Germany. Then Sweden, to board the ship in Gothenburg on March 4th. If we don’t do this, then it may take another year before our name comes up again. We don’t know yet the area where we are going to, but that will be sent to us as soon as possible. Thus you understand that that brought quite an upheaval into our lives. It is fortunate that Jaap and Ann are nearby, we receive a lot of support from them. Now we have to sell our household articles, since the journey is now more expensive than we have anticipated. Fortunately we don’t have that many articles and haven’t yet made additional purchases.

Well, now the question is“What can we take with us and what should we leave?” The vacuum cleaner is very dear to me. We had bought the stove especially for this, but if we can’t take it, then Jaap will buy it from us at the purchase price. Our eating utensils will go downstairs too [Jaap and Ann live on the first floor level]. Yesterday I already sold a pot of jam for f3.50, and so it continues. We hope to come and visit for a few days. That will probably be from Thursday 24 Feb. until 28 Feb., and then we will have to divide the time between the Beemster and Edam. Maybe it is a good thing that everything is going so quickly, because now one can no longer be relaxed about it and one needs to make decisions. Tomorrow I am going to see the doctor about that growth. The doctor said it was nothing, that in 20 minutes it will be takencare of.

(Written by Father)

And also the instigator of all of this evil will write a few words, although it is of a more business-like nature. Mother or Ans, whoever has the time to do it, will you withdraw the remainder of whatever is in our bank accounts, withdraw everything. We will receive it from you when we visit you. And Ans, we talked last year about my life insurance policy, are you still going along with the idea of taking it over? Will you enlighten me over your thoughts about it as soon as possible? Then I can put everything in order here. The policy is worth about f580. Other than that, I have no more news. I will give the rabbit cage to Wim, and the other children will have to decide how to deal with the race-track game of the boys, in that way it will still have been made for your grand children, Father. Now dear people, we shall pray that God will grant you and us the energy to see us through the last few days that we have in our Fatherland. Greetings to all, and we shall see you shortly.

(Written by Mother)

And a kiss for everyone from Henk, Ief and children. Or are you coming yet, Ans?

Postcard from the ship“Gripsholm”

Dear Father, Mother and Ans,

Here we are in Gothenburg. Ann accompanied us on the bus to the train station in Deventer. The train was three-quarters of an hour late, and the waitingroom was full of passengers. After a night of falling in and out of sleep we arrived in Gothenburg. We receive plenty to eat. The personnel of the travel bureau are looking after us extremely well, it is excellent service. Presently we are sitting in the sleeping car and hope to sleep well tonight. Tomorrow we have to be ready at 7 o’clock.

Receive the heartfelt greetings from Henk, Ief, Cornell, Wim and Tineke. Goodbye.

March 8th, 1949

The ship Gripsholm

Dear Family,

Now we will first try to write something since there seems very little time for that. You should have received the postcard by now. I am sitting here in our cabin. Henk is on deck with Cornell and Wim, and Tineke is sitting on the bed playing. It is too bad that we had forgotten to bring her little doll with us.

And so I will begin at the beginning. Wednesday morning we got up at 6 o’clock, having gone to bed at 2 o’clock the night before– so that was a short night. This found us in a rush to get out of the door in time to get on the bus. Jaap quickly went on his bicycle to the bus stop to delay it for us if necessary, but we still managed to have 5 minutes to buy our tickets. In Deventer we had to wait more than half an hour since the train was late. But Ann will have written to you all about that. So finally we were sitting in the train that would take us to Gothenburg. We sat in a compartment with two young recently married couples. When the train arrived in Hengelo, we at first did not see Uncle Jan and Aunt Els, but when we entered the train station we saw them walking along the platform. They were there because the train was going to be held there for about half an hour for passport inspection, etc. They had brought along a few things for the children, but they had to pass it through to us via the train personnel.

And so finally the train continued. Then in Germany more immigration officials, but they left us with peace. We didn’t see much during the journey through Germany since we had our hands full with the children. At 2:30 pm we got our first meal: first a cup of soup, then meat, potatoes and vegetables, and pudding for dessert, everything was excellent. But you had to be quick; otherwise they take away the plate right from under your nose before you are finished. And always more coffee. At 6:00 pm we got another warm meal. Again soup, a large slice of baked tongue with potatoes and ? That I have forgotten, but it tasted very good. Then night came, and in a hanging-sitting manner we slept. When he fell asleep, we laid Wim in the baggage net, and Tineke on the seat. At one particular moment Henk’s raincoat came tumbling down, and Wim right behind it. Henk managed to catch him just in time. So then we placed Cornell in it, because Wim, had had enough of that.

And so we managed to make it through the night. While on this train we didn’t see very much since it was too dark. But with all of this we arrived too late in Copenhagen for the train connection, and had to wait there approximately an hour. In the meantime Henk managed to meet up with D. Lammers, but we didn’t find any other familiar faces– apart from a family that was with us in September in Den Haag. In the train from Copenhagen to Gothenburg we received a boxed lunch that consisted of a cheese sandwich and a few buttered slices of bread with two boiled eggs and half a litre milk. In this train journey we did see something. All hills and rocky mountains with small houses in between. The land looked very poor and bare, but that could be because of the time of the year.

At 3:30 pm we arrived in Gothenburg. We had to leave our baggage in the train and were transported by bus to a building to eat, piles of bread and then they still came with meat, potatoes and vegetables, etc. And so you just kept eating, but finally you just stopped eating because you got too much of everything. And from there back into the busses to the Swedish American Line building. There it took us a good hour before everything was in order with our papers. From there we went on foot to the sleeping coaches. The people who didn’t have children to put to bed had the opportunity to have a cup of coffee or tea with a few sandwiches. But we quickly put the children to bed, and ourselves also. Now that was also well organized. You could find everything in such a compartment, even the chamber pot. Three beds above each other. And so we took in our share of the deal.

The next morning at 7 o’clock we had to be present again, and we were again collected together for a cup of coffee with two muffins, and milk for the children. An hour afterwards we were again transported by the busses to go for breakfast in the same building as yesterday. After that we were taken on a tour of the city. Fantastic, such high mountains, and all rock, the colours are very sombre but still it is amazing that even so bushes and trees can grow between all that stone.

And after that we went to the ship, and that went quite quickly. We were amongst the first passengers that boarded the ship, and were escorted to our cabin, cabin #628. It is not one of the nicest, on both sides bunk beds, and a wash table that you can fold up. This morning I spoke with someone who has a much nicer cabin. But it will serve us suitably though. At 12 o’clock we had our first lunch: soup, potatoes, meat, vegetables, bread and fruit. One didn’t really know where to start, and if you are not finished because you have to help one of the children, then you can be sure that in the next moment your plate is gone. But we have got used to that by now, and even so we get our share, a little of everything. At five o’clock the preparations began for the departure.

The gentlemen from Lissone Lindeman had to leave the ship at 4 o’clock and took their leave from us, and had said that they would stay on the dock as long as they still saw the ship. And yes, we noticed them, and waving and calling back and forth, it was really nice. And that from people that you have only met for one day. And so we sailed.

At six o’clock we were required to dine. Again bread, potatoes, meat, vegetables, fruit, coffee. We understood it very little, how we should be eating. But that seems to be an English custom, eating of everything in a random manner. The fruit consisted of an apple and an orange. First we took only one, but they all took two, so now it is two also, and these we eat between meals. We are fortunate that we are in the first sitting. So now we eat at 8 o’clock, 12 o’clock. 3 o’clock tea with cake and rusk, and then at 6 o’clock. The second sitting is in everything 1¼ hours later. So we are fortunate that the children can always go to bed on time. And along with that comes the fact that the first day the clock had to be turned back one hour, the second day 50 minutes, yesterday 40 minutes and tonight again 40 minutes. Thus the children are completely bewildered. Last night Cornell was already awake at 3 o’clock. And sleep as we do! Fantastic.

Saturday the sea was quite rough, all seasick people. You didn’t see the women anymore. Henk also had a bit of a problem with it. Cornell also for a day. But I have no problem with it, and neither does Wim or Tineke, although they are not eating much. Well, in one word, it was terrible. One person had it worse than the next. Below deck it is uncomfortable, but once you are on deck you become completely cured of it. The lady next to us has been in bed since Saturday. She has two children, a girl who isn’t even two yet, one of 10 months, and she herself is 6 months pregnant. Well, she knows that she is going to Canada!

This afternoon we were all on deck sing songs of our Fatherland, and after that we played games with the children. There is not much entertainment for us and the children, so we have to make up our own. This evening the children were very bothersome during the dinner hour. All three of them cried, each one on their own turn. We quickly put them to bed, and in a quarter of an hour all three were sleeping. Now we are sitting in the writing room writing. We are now used to the motion of the ship, we don’t notice that very much anymore.

Friday afternoon. We are moving right along. If it continues this way, then we should be in Halifax tomorrow afternoon, earlier than anticipated. At the moment it is very misty over the sea. We haven’t taken any pictures yet, first because the camera was in the suitcase that was secured, and now because it isn’t nice weather. Still, we can’t complain about the sea. Yesterday Henk and a few other men climbed up into the crow’s nest, 85 rungs up into the air. I was also interested in doing it, but in the end decided not to.

Amongst the crew is also a Hollander with whom we often have a conversation, and he has been enlightening us about this and that. The atmosphere amongst the immigrants is very congenial, but it is becoming about time that we should be getting off the ship, we are all becoming lazy hangabouts. This evening we are having, I believe, a Dutch evening. Yesterday we participated in a Danish church service. Yesterday afternoon the children swam in the bathtub, we haven’t seen anything of the swimming pool. That is apparently open to us only for an hour every day. But I don’t find it very sanitary since all manner of people are walking around here.

People, I believe that now I have managed to tell you virtually everything. We are very curious to see what there is waiting for us tomorrow. Most of us are going to Ontario, and we are all optimistic. Receive our heartfelt greetings with a solid kiss for all of you from Henk, Ief, Cornell, Wim and Tineke.

P.S. Henk has written a letter to the Beemster. And how are things with Opa? We are waiting with longing for our first letter from you.

March 16, 1949

Foxmead, Ontario

Dear Family,

Now we will once more take up the pen since I have nothing much else to do. I will continue where I left off in the previous letter. Friday evening we gave a Dutch evening. Several items were presented and we sang Dutch folksongs. At 10:30 we had to leave the auditorium and so we continued in the writing room with various games, and went to bed at 11:30.

The next morning we would be arriving in Halifax. Saturday at 8 o’clock we were required to have our suitcases on deck, so some haste was put into it. But the sea was quite rough so that it wasn’t until 4 o’clock that we arrived in Halifax. We were all equally happy that we saw land. And what a beautiful sight! All hills and little houses on them. We couldn’t take pictures since the weather was not clear.

And so finally we were allowed to leave the ship, and we arrived in a large hall with benches, and there we had to wait again, again we had to show papers, etc. Yes, they don’t let you into the country just like that. Also we finally found out the name of the boss [the person who had sponsored Father, and under whom he would be apprenticed], and sent that information to Velp hoping that Ann will send it on. Also a telegram to the boss informing him that we had arrived. We were constantly being helped by resident Hollanders who were extremely helpful. There was also an organization of the church that handed out toys to the children. Cornell got a toy car and a ball, Wim a stuffed animal and whistle, and Tineke a teddy bear and a rattle. And I got a book of Matthew and later on an old magazine which had the name of Baptist on it, thus what organization is actually responsible for all of this??? The Red Cross was also there serving tea and cookies and milk for the children. There was also a children’s playroom. Wim and Tineke spent some time there in the playpen. We also made our first Canadian purchases, that consisted of apples, bread, butter and milk. We still had a piece of cheese, and we have to look after our own meals for the rest of the journey.

But instead of leaving at 11 o’clock that evening, it became 12 o’clock, thus already an hour late. The train trip for us would be about one and a half days. That was a special immigrant train, and since most of us were going to Ontario, most of us stayed together a little while longer. The train was very roomy, they had told us that the trains in Canada were bad, but I find them better and roomier than those of Holland, and also nicer than those of the Scandinavian Express. We could pull out the seats and lay down full length. We had twice two opposite each other, and thus plenty of room. At night they served as sleeping places and during the day two seats as playpen, and so Tineke could play at her heart’s content. As far as the children are concerned, they were quite well-behaved, but I wouldn’t want to do this again too quickly.

We have seen a lot of Canada, but everything is under snow, and on our journey it snowed now and then. Most of the houses are made of wood, and most are without paint which gives you a pitiful and dirty impression, some are painted white or white with green trim which on the other hand gives you a clean impression. And most of the houses have dirty windows and curtains, which again does not give a clean impression, but that could be because it is winter. And therefore I would like to make this journey again in the summer time to see if there is a difference. For example, last night it froze 20 degrees below zero, but we didn’t feel it. If that is how it will be the entire winter, then we should be able to manage it. And then I can also overlook the dirty windows and curtains. Other sights we saw on the journey were hills and valleys through and over which we travelled, forests, rocky entrances, now that was worth the effort, but also from this we were unable to take pictures. We looked through windows that were three layers of glass, which could not be opened, only the last one had an air hole of 15 cm by 4 cm.

And so on Monday morning we arrived in Montreal at 7:30 where some of the passengers transferred to another train, but we continued with the same train to Toronto at 9:30. But first we drank tea, and the children milk, in the coffee shop, and after that we bought some bread before we continued further. We arrived in Toronto a half hour later than expected, and were afraid that we could not continue. But yes, fortunately we could. Also here two gentlemen and a lady who spoke Dutch met us.

And here our paths separated, one leaving directly, the other at nine thirty, at ten o’clock, we at eleven thirty and again others at 12 o’clock. Also 7 had to stay overnight since there were no more connections that day. We and another family went to Orillia, once again a nice train.

At 2:10 am we arrived there. The gentlemen had telephoned the families, and we wondered whether they would still be coming to pick us up in the middle of the night. But yes, there was the farmer and his wife with the car. All three children were sleeping, and that is how we carried them into the car, it is an old one, but you see nothing else but cars, and they are parked night and day outside just like we would leave an old bicycle.

Well, they are rather pleasant people, but yes, it is all so different than it is in Holland. They also eat very differently than we do. Just think of Mrs. Appel, something of this and that on a plate and beside that a cup of tea and a piece of bread in your hand. In the morning some porridge made with water and covered with milk and sugar, supplemented with bread. At noon and evening, just as we ate during the war, bread with a warm snack. Not the warm meal as we are accustomed to. They also don’t drink coffee or tea without sugar, I believe that the tea stands steeping the entire day on the stove.

At the moment we are living in with them. But a new place is being built about 8 miles from here, and there we will get three rooms for our use, thus still living in. Anyway, I am curious to see how all of this will go. First we thought that the house still had to be built, and thought that this will develop into something promising, but yesterday we understood that they will be moving there within three weeks, and we would then be there on our own. Also, we had been told that they had been inspected by people from immigration, and were told that they had to prepare suitable living accommodation for us. They will be renting this present house in the summer to tourists. They live close to the lake here, and in the summer many people come to vacation here, and so this will become a summer residence.

They live very shoddy and messy. They have 5 children– a daughter of 15 years of age, a daughter of 12 years, a daughter of 10 years, a son of 5 years, and a daughter of 3 years. The eldest works in a ladies’ clothing store and stays during the week with friends in Orillia and comes home from Saturday till Monday. The daughter of 12 years walks around in unkempt clothes but also with painted lips and hair tied to the side of her head. It gives you the idea that you are in the house of Raggedy Ann. Also we don’t understand each other very well, but when it is written down on paper then we can quickly read it.

They don’t work very much here. This morning I mopped the floor, the floor is covered with vinyl, in the bedrooms it is just the floor without rugs or anything. At the moment we have a large bedroom, the children sleep in a two-person’s bed. They don’t have any chest of drawers, everything is untidy, and everything lies here and there in piles.

Today I wanted to wash a few things, and the farmer’s wife also had a few things to wash. Thus everything had to go together, over which I wasn’t too happy, but their clothes weren’t in too bad a shape, so I let it go. Later when I am on my own, then things will go better. So the farmer’s wife did the wash. She first made soapy water in a beautiful electric washing machine and put the fine clothes in first, in dry condition, which we are not used to. Also she didn’t put the towels in, they went in the third wash. Thus you understand that the towels look like cleaning rags. But I would very much like to make use of that machine, but then in our manner. It is coated in white enamel, a beautiful thing. Then I went to hang the wash on the line, also naturally in the wrong way. The lines roll on a pulley; you remain standing in one place, hang up some clothes and then pull the line to you, that is also a beautiful discovery. And so you find some things very agreeable and some things that you wish were otherwise. Also I ironed the wash again this afternoon, and so we muster through.

But I’m sure that many people will find it strange and difficult the first few days, but once when we have our own belongings around us, then it will become more agreeable. The winter will last another few weeks, and when the thaw comes in, then everything will begin to move more quickly.

So, the page is full, and Henk will have to write his impressions to you this Saturday. I’m writing this only once, so you will have to share this letter with the rest of the family.

Receive our heartfelt greetings with a solid kiss for all of you from Henk, Ief, Cornell, Wim and Tineke.

P.S. The farmer is 46 years of age, his wife is 36 years of age.