By Jacoba van Rijn-Dubbeling
Nick and Jacoba van Rijn began thinking about a move to Canada in 1952 from Holland. Their kids included Coaldale residents Andy and Jack Van Rijn. The following are letters written and sent back home from Andy and Jack’s mom. They were translated too.
Toward a New Homeland: Part One
Written on board the SS Waterman, during the week of Apr. 15, 1953 by Jacoba van Rijn-Dubbeling.
“I heaved a sigh of relief when we finally boarded, because we had 14 busy days behind us.
That last morning, especially, was enough to make you lose your mind. And when the bus from Koppennol arrived at the front door, suddenly, there it was, our moment of parting.
Oh, we’ve been saying our goodbyes for a long time. Goodbye to everything, to all of your comforts, the nooks and crannies that pulled you, goodbye to your friends and acquaintances, your family, your parents, goodbye to the children you were leaving behind.
But that Wednesday morning April 15, 1953 was the last, the very last. You took a last look around you, at everything that was familiar, and suddenly you were outside. Outside, with the bus taking you away.
There were many acquaintances, neighbours, friends, and so on, who were calling out a last goodbye. Yes, a last greeting from our dear Kwakeltje.
We were leaving much behind. But we wanted a new future, and were looking ahead.
Underway, many people waved, and then, one more stop for your father and mother, one last kiss. Parting is so difficult, cutting loose from everything, and it’s so difficult to cut loose from everything that’s dear to you.
After a successful trip we arrived in Rotterdam, then, quickly, one last photo for the people we were leaving behind, and then into the sheds. Once more we made our goodbyes, receiving a lot of dear and well-meant advice — and past customs.
We disinfected our shoes, and then dad, the leader of our expedition, worked his way past the tables of officials. That took a long time, because we didn’t get on board until 3:50 p.m.
And now I want to put a feather in the cap of the ladies of the U.V.V., the Union of Women Volunteers. They were terrific. As you know, there were 15 of us, we’d been busy since early morning, and our stomachs were beginning to growl. All of us — including a baby of seven months — were getting hungry.
I tapped one of the ladies on her arm and told her of our difficulties. She went on board the Waterman and returned with a wonderfully warm bottle of baby formula, and piles of sandwiches for the rest of us. They disappeared like snow under a bright sun. She went for more, and they were consumed with thanks.
They were so delighted, the ladies from the U.V.V. and bread can be so delicious.
On board, we received two nice cabins, one for five, and one for 10 occupants. That was nicely divided. Now we can settle in, in peace.
When the supper bells went we were shown to a nice table. The children eat first, which means peace and quiet for us, then they go to a children’s playroom, where they’re supervised and kept busy the entire day.
The day is nicely divided. Hot chocolate and tea is served at 11 a.m. and again at 4 p.m., and it’s up to you to be there. Meals are incredibly well presented.
And we’ve already had our lifeboat drill, turning up with our lifevests at our boat stations.
The sea is peaceful — every once in a while there’s a heavy sway, or roll, some people answer by feeding the fishes. But we’ve had little trouble so far with that ourselves.
Every evening the clocks are set back 60 minutes. And there’s morning exercises for enthusiasts, directed by a phys ed teacher.
There’s also a priest on board, so every morning we have the Holy Mass and, evenings, our evening prayers with the rosary in the ship’s theatre, far below decks, where there’s a definite sway and it smells terribly of fish. It’s nothing very pleasant.
We can wash our clothes without charge, and there’s a clothes dryer, and an ironing room. So, you’ll understand all the mothers on board are making use of these facilities.
There’s a nice atmosphere on board, an atmosphere of trust in the future.”
Toward a New Homeland: Part Two
Picture Butte — May 16, 1953
“After a pretty and restful sea voyage we arrived in Halifax.
It was a beautiful sight — slowly, the coast took shape before us. At first, you can’t quite believe it. Because it’s still very vague, and because you’re trying so hard to see, you see nothing but spots dancing before your eyes. But slowly, it begins to take form, a definite line. And yes, it’s the coast.
You hear excited voices crying out. But that flies past.
There’s too much going on inside of you. Because, there, for us, lies our new homeland. It’s a land of a thousand possibilities — for those who want to work. But it’s also a land of a thousand disappointments for those who won’t cut through the difficulties ahead.
As we approached under a bright sun, we gradually saw the land taking shape before us. It’s all rocky angles. A lot of trees. Small white houses are sprinkled everywhere, perched so precariously you’re scared they’re going to fall off.
Far away, in the distance, there’s a laughably small boat. I can hear the children saying, ‘Look, it’s like a toy.’
But it is the pilot boat. It foams and froths and does its very best to be like its big brother — it’s really cute to watch.
We also see a lot of seagulls. They cross overhead and are the first to cry ‘Welcome.’
We’re approaching the harbour mouth. How beautiful. We’re quick to spot our sister ship, the Rijndam, already docked. It left on the 14th, we on the 15th. It had to stop twice underway, and had to cut across the English Channel, and that was a bit of a detour. We went non-stop.
We docked at about 2 p.m. We were quickly laughing over the big heavyset men and their red and green-checked jackets — they were quite the sight. But this was also Canada.
That night we weren’t allowed off the ship. So we had a peaceful night — you could even notice it by the children. They slept a real hole in the day.
The following morning it all began very early. Hand baggage had to be split up. We could only take on board the train with us the stuff we really needed. Everything else went into the baggage car. And we had to pay attention, because everything that had to happen and was going to happen, was announced by microphone.
When it was our turn, we disembarked. Solid ground under our feet. And then customs, that took a long time. Our luggage was thoroughly searched, and they were a bit messy.
I had my heart in my mouth because everything was stuffed into those bags, and it was a job, arranging everything so it fitted just so. But, fortunately, everything worked out well, and the suitcases were closed again. Onward bound.
We walked to the railway platform, and looked up our car. Everything was numbered. And, when that was done, the children could go to the Red Cross. Now, that was terrific. They were greeted with delicious milk and sandwiches. They sat in a beautiful salon, and were served by Red Cross sisters. Beds were set out for the babies, and there was a marvellous baby table where you could completely change the baby. There was even the opportunity to give the baby a bath. You just went and got your own warm food, and then put the baby in a wonderfully clean bed. Then, with a peaceful heart, we went to buy groceries in Halifax, because we were responsible for our own meals on board the train.
* To be continued next week.