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Life in Canada

“Two days later I, my younger brother and sister was sent of to a small country school. Not speaking one work of English, we arrived with lunch pail in hand, children gathering around us , staring. We where the first of immigrants to arrive at this school. But as soon as my Dad found out that I could stay out of school to work, I started at 13 with my 18 year old sister and 17 year old brother in the field. First job was cutting and packing celery, then into Tomatoes, Tobacco all summer. From 7 to 6 pm Then home for a quick supper, and of to the tomato Factory from 7 - 1 am. Home for a few hours of sleep, and back into the fields again. Then Tobacco time : handling leafs and then time to learn to tie tobacco and that went on all summer for year’s. In the wintertime my sister and I went into the fishery. But that didn’t last to long (not enough money). At 14 I was hired with my sister in the Tobacco factory. And the money was good.” (Lea van Muren, 1952)

“As might be expected, the transition to a new country was not necessarily an easy one. The change was particularly hard for mom and dad who were, to a degree, troubled by some of the cultural differences between the old country and the new. Learning a new language was also difficult, especially for dad, who needed to use English at work, but even more so for mom, as she was somewhat isolated within our own home. The smattering of armchair English which they had picked up in the Netherlands proved to be of little help. Within the first couple of months of our arrival in Canada, mom and dad seriously considered taking our family back to the Netherlands. They had every intention of saving enough money to buy a truck, loading our kist on the back of it, and heading for Halifax. Gradually, however, their resolve to repatriate our family weakened, and soon afterward they dismissed the idea entirely. As time passed we came to grow in this land, and, if the truth be known, the land came to grow in us. Wy binne gelokkich (we are blessed).” (Kenneth Robert Vandenberg, 1953)

“I cried a lot in that house in Nova Scotia. Everything was so different. The weather was so cold. There was so much snow. I had no one to talk to in the day. I had no where to go. There was no radio, and no newspaper. The days were so long. No wonder many immigrants wanted to crawl home, if ONLY they could. For Jake it was somewhat different. He had to start work at 5 am and milk the cows. Then he came home for breakfast, and again went to work until lunch time. Lunch was from 12 to 1. He went back to work and returned for supper. But the work day was not over, again he left and had to milk the cows once more. Most things were new to him, but soon he was able to work on his own.” (Hendrika G. Los, 1950)

“I didn’t remember this, but my sister told me that brother John and I hid under the principal’s desk when mom brought us to school that first day. I do remember crying while mom towed me down the hall to the classroom. The school principal decided that in our best interest my sister, age 9 and I, age 10, should be put back a grade due to the fact that we didn’t speak English. My brother was only six years old, young enough to learn English without being put back a year. Not only that, he was smart enough to do grades 3 and 4 in one year. I have never understood the principal’s reasoning. His decision resulted in sis and I to be a year or two older than other students in class all the way through public and high school. His reasoning was moot, since my homeroom teacher took it upon herself to teach the three of us English in her spare time an hour or more each day after class. I can still remember her husband/boyfriend pacing the hall while we were learning where Dick was in relation to Jane and her dog Spot. In six months the three of us were speaking English well enough to go it alone. A year or so after that, no one could tell we were not born in Canada.” (The Lindeijer Family, 1956)

“We lived very isolated lives in the country. Corrine and I took the school bus part-way home and then had to walk another few miles. The first Canadian winter was terrible since we were not used to snow from November to April! We had neither boots nor warm clothes nor money to buy them with. Without transportation it was impossible to get to town to do any shopping or go to church. As soon as we saved a few dollars, Dad bought a 1936 Chevy. He was so proud of it and it got us where we needed to go. Because we were the first immigrants in the area, the Canadian people treated us well bringing us all kinds of things to start our new life with such as bedding, linens, household furniture and food.” (Dorothy van Helvert, 1950)

“It was here that I first tasted Coca Cola! I liked it so much that thereafter I walked the two miles (3.2 km) up the gravel road to Newton and back once a week to buy a carton of Coke from my meagre allowance and hid it in a hole dug in the clay beneath a trapdoor in the living room. Six bottles of Coke at 5 cents each plus 2 cents deposit (refunded on return of the empties) was all it cost. After work, I sneaked down that cubbyhole for my pick-me-upper, only to be scolded by my brother for being such a spendthrift by ‘wasting’ all that hard-earned money!” (Hugh Timmerman, 1950)

“While looking for work we came upon a Finish restaurant, where for 10 cents we could buy a bowl of soup with two slices of dry bread. We went to this restaurant daily for soup and bread, for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. By now we were down to our last few dollars. Within a few days we received promising news from the International Nickel Company. We both had to come in for a medical examination. We passed and were given instructions for when and where to report for work. If it had not been for my high school English, I don’t think I would have gotten the job.” (John Vanderlaan, 1952)