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Single Men and Women

Cornelis Verwolf
February 26, 1950 – Beaverbrae

I have been asked numerous times why I left home and came to Canada. When I was 9 years old the war started in the low lands (Holland) on May 10, 1940. At about 4:30 a.m. there was a lot of banging, airplanes flying in all directions. An hour later I was standing in the yard with my father and others, paratroopers were jumping out of planes. Two planes were shot down before 8:00 a.m. and landed in a neighbour’s field. It was not a good scene. When we were there, small stones were flying past us. We did not know what was happening.

Mother came out of the house, calling loudly, "what's happened"? We checked and found that an artillery shell had hit the basement wall and went straight down without exploding. At this moment, it was the first time that I thought that this was not the place to live for the rest of my life.

Over the next 6 years many things happened. Within the first month, neighbours were arrested and never came back. People were killed, houses burned and beatings took place. Each year things were more severe than the previous. There were raids in the later part of the war on a regular basis. They were always looking for people between 18 and 45 years of age to send to the labour camps in Germany. Also gold, silver, art, paintings, bicycles, horses, food and anything of value. For a radio, you could be shot.

The last year and a half of the war was really difficult, even on the farm, where there was no hydro, wood or coal to heat your house and no food. People in the cities were desperate. We were expecting the allies to free us in late 1944, but the heavy fighting the Canadian soldiers encountered in Holland took them longer. Freedom did not come to our town until May 10, 1945. WHAT A DAY!

The Canadian soldiers came into our town and freed us from the Germans. (And food came shortly thereafter.) The first slice of white bread was like a gift from heaven, and tasted like honey. The people danced and sang songs, and were so happy, I remember that day very well. And even today, the Canadian soldiers have a very warm spot in the hearts of Hollanders. Today, they still care for the Canadian soldiers’ cemeteries, and hold yearly remembrance ceremonies.

During the five years of the war, I asked my father to go to Canada, and his reply was always the same, after the war we will all go as a family. Well that day never came. I am from a large family, 4 brothers and 5 sisters, and they all have had a good life, and made a good living in Holland. My sisters visit Canada on a regular basis, but my brothers who can well afford it, do not like flying.

I went to the Canadian immigration office when I was 17 to enquire about what I needed to do to leave the country. There was an organization called ‘Stichting land verhuizing Nederland’. They would find work for you in Canada, Australia, New Zealand any place you wanted to go. It was operated by the government of Holland. And after thinking about this, and looking at maps, I eventually decided on Canada. First I needed my parents’ consent. I had to be healthy, have money to buy my transportation, etc. In a few weeks my parents gave me their consent. I told them that the Government would call me for army duty, and after my tour of duty, I would ask for my discharge in Canada. Indonesia had been a colony of Holland, and it was a real hot spot (civil war). They thought it was better to let me go, before I was called up. Then I made the arrangement for me to leave early in 1950.

(About 2 years later I received my draft call in Canada to report to the army in Holland, but there was also a note stating, if I was employed full time I would be excused. Also, if I entered Holland at any time within five years, I would be arrested and placed in the army.)

February 13, 1950 – About 7:00 a.m. on the morning of February 13, 195-0 my mother called me to get up. "Today is the day that you are going to Canada. Are you sure you will want to go?"

I was born in a very small place called "Sion" about 4 km from the historical city of Delft. My father and mother went with me by taxi to Rotterdam, about ¾ of an hour’s drive. There I said goodbye to my parents. It was very difficult for my mother. I went inside to be processed for my trip to Canada. I was the youngest single Hollander emigrating by myself (six weeks after my 18th birthday.) And then we were placed on buses to travel to Antwerp. The first bus left Rotterdam about 10:10 a.m. I was on the third bus. We traveled to the Belgian border and crossed into Belgium. And after about an hour we stopped at a nice restaurant, where we all had a good meal. We left about 1:00 P.M. and at 2:00 P.M. we were at the harbour in Antwerp. The trip from the border to Antwerp was very nice, many trees and the road was very good.

We were all looking forward to seeing the ship we were going to call home for the next 10 days. And then we saw our ship. It was a tired looking ship and it needed a good coat of paint. It was retired in 1954. The ship that I traveled on was called the BEAVERBRAE. It was a cargo ship and it was also able to carry up to 700 passengers. (Not in any luxury). There were very few activities on the ship during our voyage. You can see a picture and more information of the ship on the last page.

We waited for another 4 hours before we were allowed on board. My berth was in the nose of the ship. Anyone that has experienced sleeping there during a gale will know what I am talking about, (the ship will lunge the highest out of the sea. As well as going down the lowest). It was a large area and 30 Hollanders and 40 Germans lived and slept in this area. I with my suitcase and all my belongings. When I entered this area I learned quickly not to trust anyone. (Cor was on his own.)

The second day out at sea someone stole my camera. At 10:00 p.m. 4 large tugboats pulled the ship from the shore to the middle of the harbour, and we were on our way to Canada. At 11:30 p.m. we were out along the coast, and it was time for me to get some sleep. I was on the second bunk, the one above me was empty. When I immigrated to Canada from Holland I made a diary of the trip. I sent it to my mother on September 15, 1953. A short time before she died in 1990 she sent it back to me, because, I should treasure the memories. Sometime there after I translated it from Hollands to English. Having lived in Canada now for over fifty years, I have added a few more comments. February 14, 1950 – I slept until 3:30 a.m. Someone called me to see Vlissingen (a small fishing village along the coast of Holland) as it was there in the distance. After being up for a half hour I went back to bed. At 5:00 a.m. I woke up again, and at daybreak I went up on deck and someone said there was the coast of England. Our first meal was served at 8:00 a.m. and the food was poor, and for several days thereafter it was poor. Some of our people complained to the captain that the Hollanders paid for their trip to Canada. There was a good improvement after that.

February 15, 1950 – By now, we were out at sea and everything was going well. I was meeting a lot of people from different places in Holland. We were down in the ship or up on the rail looking at the sea. We were getting into a routine. But all was not well. Some of us had noticed that the wind was picking up a little. That afternoon we were into a light storm, and the ship was doing what they usually do in a storm. When the nose of the ship dives into the waves, and the water comes over the top, and at the back the propeller comes partly out of the water, you know there is a strong wind. And I was not feeling that well.

February 16, 1950 – There was no entry in my notes for this day, but I know that I was seasick, and I spent my time between the common room (that was in the middle of the ship) and the ship’s hand rail on deck, and I can well remember if someone had asked me "do you need a hand to go over the rail"? I would have agreed.

February 17, 1950 – Today I am back to myself, and for the rest of the trip I was fine. Some of the people were sick until they came off the ship in Halifax. The wind is getting stronger today. The ship went a long way out of its way to miss the heart of the storm. This information came to me from people that were able to speak English to the skipper and crew. We were told not to go on deck, the waves from the sea came over the bow of the ship, and it made a lot of noise like creaking and cracking (much like a plane going through bad turbulence), and that lasted all day and night.

February 18, 1950 – Today the storm was settling down, and we were able to go on deck, and a lot of people were also feeling better. Last night I slept with my clothes on, because the storm was roaring and in the front of this ship it was very uncomfortable. You had to hang onto your bunk (bed) or you could be thrown out.

February 19, 1950 – Everything was good today. It was a day without event. Today Sunday at 1900 hours there was a church service that lasted 45 minutes. The Padre called it the Ocean Parish. We also received 3 packages of cigarettes from the Red Cross.

February 20, 1950 – The weather was good now, so we cannot complain about this anymore. This morning we played cards till noon, because there was not much else to do. The rest of the day I spent with a young lady that I had met this afternoon.

February 21, 22 1950 – Not much happened in those days, because I did not make any entries

February 23, 1950 – We had a good day and the people were talking about our new land, and the places they were going to. Some of the people had large families (I hope that they all did well) At 10:00 P.M. Thursday evening we were able to see the lights of Canada (Halifax).

February 24, 1950 – The ship entered the harbour at 6:00 A.M. and was tied up at Pier 21 by 7:00. They started to unload passengers; the people from Germany were first to leave the ship. The Hollanders came off last. We all went through Customs and Immigration and it was nice to walk on solid ground again. It was a snowy day and I did not have any footwear for snow, so I went into the city of Halifax to buy a pair of boots. When I left home February 1950, the stores in Holland had still very little in them, and in Halifax the stores were full of merchandise, and we were all very pleased. Now I had to make a choice. When I left home I was allowed only $110.00 to take out of the country and the boots cost $30.00. I believe that the price was inflated that day because the ship had just arrived from Europe. Not being used to BIG SNOW I bought open top leather boot and in deep snow it went over the top. (I should have bought rubber bottom and leather tops with laces to keep the snow out). The next two months I had wet and cold feet working in the woods cutting trees with Herlof Jensen, the son of the farmer in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, fro whom I was going to work. Late that afternoon we all boarded the train for our next journey. The train would take us to different places in Canada where we were all headed. At 6:00 P.M. the train left Halifax and traveled the whole night and at about 5:30 A.M. the train made its first stop at a place called McAdam in New Brunswick.

February 25, 1950 – McAdam was my stop to get off this train. It had snowed all night, and it was very deep. I walked into the train station and there was a fire in the stove. The stationmaster told me to make myself at home, because the train to Grand Falls would not be there until about 11:30 A.M. or noon.

In Halifax the immigration people gave me a large card with my name on it, and the place I was going to. That was placed on a string around my neck. My English was VERY poor. The summer before I left, I had taken English lessons, so I had learned some words. Later I also took English lessons in Toronto for one winter. Over the years, I have taken many courses, mostly related to the work I was doing. And I have been involved in many organizations over the years and have always taken an active part. Around 7:30 the stationmaster went home for his breakfast. An hour later he came back with two sandwiches for me. That kindness I will never forget, me being a total stranger to him. The day was very long. I was really alone, but my thoughts went back to the night before, when I was with Nel de Boer, the young lady I had met on the ship. We talked about our lives in the new land, and how long I would be on the train. And how long she would be on the train where she was going in Ontario, and what it would be like. Later on that evening she left to be with her own family. In the morning, when the train stopped and I got off, she was at the window and waved goodbye. I asked her to write to me. I was always looking for mail from home, and also from Nel, to read and be able to understand what I was reading. Over the year we corresponded, and I needed those letters! I went to Ontario (Toronto) and visited her in Beamsville, but we drifted apart as time went on. Sometime around noon the train came in. It was late due to the snow, and the snow never stopped.

Now I got on my way to Grand Falls. I found a seat on the train and settled in. Across from me were two French Canadian young ladies, talking and laughing and having fun. They spoke to me in French and English but there was no much that I could understand. During the trip I had to go to the bathroom and asked the young ladies where I could find the bathroom. Being French Canadian I thought that I should ask them in French, so I asked, "Where is the coiffure?" but they did not know what I was talking about. I tried again "toilette", W/C. still I was unable to make them understand. The girls called for the conductor and I must have made a gesture, "oh, you mean toilet", yes, yes and he sent me in the right direction. (We all had a good laugh).

I arrived in Grand Falls about 5:00 p.m. I went into the station and the conductor looked at my name and address where I was going. He called Mr. Niels Jensen on the River Road, to inform him that his employee had arrived. Mr. Jensen spoke to his son and asked him to go and pick me up. It was still snowing and it took him two hours to make the ten miles to town. The train station was on the far side of town and when the son, Herlof, came in, he greeted me warmly and asked if I was hungry. I was starved by now, as the last food I had was in McAdam. Herlof and I drove into town to a restaurant and had a good meal. And then we were on our way for the last part of my journey. It was still snowing heavily and it was difficult driving as well as seeing the road. On our way back to the farm we were stuck twice in the snow but Herlof and I shoveled and pushed until we were able to go. When we finally arrived at the farm (at 10:00 P.M.), I was warmly greeted by Mr. & Mrs. Jensen and asked to make myself at home.

February 26, 1950 – It was close to midnight when I went to bed, and very tired. My first day on the farm I slept in. Mrs. Jensen did not want to wake me to do chores. It was Sunday morning when I woke up. It was a bright, sunny day, and it was so beautiful. When I went outside the buildings and trees were laden with snow. It was like a post card. I knew that I had come to the right place.

The first year was very difficult and sometimes very lonely not to have friends or a place to go to and talk. The Jensens were very good to me and I really enjoyed living with them. The had a large, mixed farm. They grew potatoes, vegetables, and they also had cows and pigs.

Herlof and I were getting along well; he was helping me with my English and I was slowly picking things up. Mrs. Jensen was a very good cook and I was a hungry young man and loved to eat(even today, 53 years later). The Jensens lived in a place called "Little Denmark", N.B. Grand Falls is a very nice small town. It has 3 distinct cultures. In the town English was spoken, north of town, Danish and north east of town French. For a newcomer it was confusing, to say the least. The main language in the house was Danish but they tried to include me as much as possible. Mr. Jensen could also speak German and that helped me sometimes. My stay with the Jensens came to an end in late November 1950, when the work for the year was finished. Mr. Jensen suggested that Herlof and I go to Toronto and find a job for the winter, so one day we boarded a train and we went. We arrived early one morning in November at Union Station. I was not impressed; it was cold and smelly in those days. In 2 days I found a job in a factory making shoes (Dack shoes). My pay was $0.55 p/hour and my take home pay was $21.00 p/week. I lived on Waverley Road, in the east end with the Nixon family and my room and board was $15.00 p/week. Working in a factory was not my way of making a living. In the spring I found another job that paid $1.00 p/hour. It was 15 years before I saw my parents again and this was the first time that they met my wife and their two Canadian grandchildren. It was a great day. (I had been a Canadian citizen for 9 years). Father retired and sold the farm to my brothers. Mother and Dad liked Canada; they visited us twice more over the years. They both loved my wife.

I met my wife, Pat, in Toronto. She was a student nurse in Toronto East General Hospital. We married on June 28, 1957 in Howard Park United Church in Toronto, after courting for 3 years. Her maiden name was Hunter. We moved to Weston, where Pat worked as a registered nurse in Humber Memorial Hospital. Pat was born in Springhill, Nova Scotia. The family farm was in a small place called Leamington, about 5 miles out of town. Generations of Hunters are buried there.

My life in Canada has been very good. We have a lovely family and 5 grand children, 2 boys and 3 girls. Early on, I had many different jobs. I had a good mechanical mind, so I started to work and study for my auto mechanic’s license. I worked for Imperial Oil for a few years, but I really wanted to work for myself. We moved to Peterborough in the summer of 1959 and I started my own business. I could see that, after a few months, it was not going well, so I got out. Location was a big problem. Then there was an older man in town, his name was Elwood Cole. He asked me to be a partner in his shop. He had a very good business. Having worked for Imperial Oil, I was taught to keep good accounting records. This was something he did not believe in and I was unable to change his mind. After two years it became apparent that we again had to make some big decisions. Pat and I thought about this long and hard, and it was better to sell my interest back to my partner. During our time in Peterborough our 2 boys were born. Michael was born in December 11, 1959 and our son Douglas, June 26, 1962.

A friend of ours, James Nisbet, heard that I was unemployed and he phoned me and asked if I was willing to go to Ingersoll. He had just leased a service centre on the 401 highway. Before I accepted I also told him that I was looking for another business and that I was willing to work for him until I found a business of my own. Two days later I was on my way to Ingersoll where the Service Centre was located. First order of business was to order in supplies and place an ad in the local papers. We needed 25 to 30 people. Jim would come as soon as he settled his other business in Toronto. About 2 weeks later, on a Sunday morning, I opened his business; from the moment that I opened we were busy. My friend, Jim Nisbet, drove in about midmorning.

Three weeks later, around the end of August 1962, I went back to Peterborough to help Pat pack and moved the family to London, Ontario. Our youngest boy was about 8 weeks old.

I bought our house on Sudbury Ave., a nice bungalow in the east end, and commuted to my job in Ingersol daily. Pat had not seen the house, till the day that we moved to London and she was pleased with it. I worked for Jim until 1965. Then I found my own business. It was with White Rose, a Service Centre near Dutton, Ontario. Now I needed money. We sold the house in London and rented a house in Lambeth for 2 years and commuted to Dutton. But we needed more money to make the deal and I borrowed the rest of the money from my friend, Jim. I ended up leasing the Service Centre in Dutton for 10 years and it was an excellent business. Jim came to Canada in 1957 from Scotland. He was a mechanic and was looking for work. We needed a good man at Imperial Oil and I hired him. And we had a lifelong friendship.

In 1967 we bought the farm in Delaware Twsp and I started fulltime farming in 1975 when I left the Service Centre. We bought our first cows in 1971 and slowly we bought more livestock. My younger son, Doug, started to farm with me and we started to rent land in total 800 acres. In 1987 we started to change directions. We started to grow strawberries and we also planted an apple orchard, some peaches and some plums. In 1997 we sold the farm for health reasons. It had been my pride and joy. We lived there for 30 years. May 15, 1997 we moved to our apartment on Proudfoot Lane, London, Ontario to start our retirement years.

We have kept in touch with Herlof Jensen over the years. This summer (2003) we had a nice visit with him and his wife. We also went to see Pat’s family in Nova Scotia. Then onto Halifax to see Pier 21 National Historic Site. From 1928 to 1971 Pier 21 served as a gateway for one million immigrants seeking new opportunities in Canada. To enter the building after more than 50 years, since arriving here, was very emotional. It took me back to the young man, in the new land with great hopes and also the unknown. "Where am I going to sleep, eat, live? But I should not have worried."

Pier 21 opened to the public in 1999 as a museum by honouring 495,000 Canadian troops who departed for service from Pier 21 during the Second World War. And acknowledging the contribution made by the immigrants to this country. And this country is very beautiful. We have traveled it from coast to coast.