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All Aboard - On The Train

“In this special train for immigrants, the passengers sat, ate, and often slept on wooden benches. At regular intervals along the way the train would stop, allowing the crew to take on coal and water for the steam engine, as well as huge blocks of ice which, when they melted, provided drinking water for the passengers. At the same time, the passengers couldn’t afford to eat in the dining car, and therefore prepared sandwiches for all of their meals along the way.” (Kenneth Robert Vandenberg, 1953)

“Thanks to a word of advice from my Aunt Edith Hitman, mom and dad had brought a kettle along with them on the train. It seemed that none of the other passengers had had the foresight to do so, and therefore our family’s kettle was in almost constant use on the old stove located at the back of one of the train cars. Several people used it to boil water for tea and at least one mother used it to warm bottles for her baby. Although we were strangers to one another, everybody on board shared the status of newly arrived immigrants and therefore did what they could to help others out. One day, between stations where we could buy food, our family ran out of bread and jam. A very kind elderly immigrant couple from Germany gave us some bread and raspberry jam to tide us over. To this very day raspberry jam remains my favorite, and when eating it I am often reminded of our train ride and the kindness extended to us by perfect strangers.” (Kenneth Robert Vandenberg, 1953)

“It was an old army train that was run on coal. The interior was plain wood that included the seats. Peter and John slept in luggage racks. There was a tap in every car, where you could get water. You could buy food on the train, but it was too expensive. Where the train would stop, Ralph, Thijs, and Ike would get off to try to buy some food. We usually bought corn flakes, bananas, milk, bread, and cheese. There was fine white bread. We had not seen good bread since the war. We slept during the night, and there were great parts of Canada we did not see. The train was so dirty, and there was black coal dust everywhere. John had diarrhea, and we could not wash the diapers, so we just threw them out. On Sunday, July 7, we arrived in Edmonton.” (Eppo and Epke Eekes, 1952)

“From there it was a two day train ride to Listowel, Ontario. In Holland they had been on a train for an hour or so, never for an entire day. And the train was not the "Oriental Express" it was an immigrants train. Soon they got used to the routine and the clickedyclack sound. The landscape was so totally different from what they were used to, it was fascinating. While in Holland it had already been spring for at least a month, maybe six weeks, with several flowers in bloom, the province of New Brunswick was still covered with snow. Most of the places they saw had more snow than they had ever seen in Holland. Sanitary facilities on the train were only just adequate. A small wash-basin and a toilet. Hygiene was therefore neglected, to say the least.” (De Boer Family, 1951)

“Now that we are on the train we think we can enjoy the scenery but we are wrong. The snow reaches up to the telegraph wires and only once in a while do we get a glimpse of a farm or some houses. Several times that day the train has to stop and wait for the tracks to be cleared of snow before we can carry on. At a small town, somewhere along our route, we stop and people are allowed some time to go and buy food, so father sets off to look for a store. He seems to be gone a long time and when the train blows its whistle and he is not back yet I nearly panic. However, he arrives back on time with bread, butter, corned beef, oranges and some other items, which is not bad for someone who only speaks a very few words of broken English and self serve supermarkets have not yet been heard of yet. We travel on to Montreal, Quebec and arrive there on the morning of February 22, dirty from the soot of the immigrant train and tired from lack of sleep.” (Ria Wilson, 1952)