By Jacoba van Rijn-Dubbeling
Nick and Jacoba van Rijn began thinking about a move to Canada in 1952 from Holland. The following are letters written and sent back home. The letters were translated and rewritten from the original letters to make them more readable in early 2000 by Nick, one of Jacoba’s sons.
“One son tried for a job in a lumberyard and was able to start immediately, perhaps until January, perhaps longer. So my husband and the oldest son came back. They had already made plans to go looking for work even farther north, but then Tom came home from Fort Macleod for the weekend and told us they were looking for a truck driver. So the oldest son went after that job immediately, bringing Tom back to work and asking for the job. He was given the job, conditional on a day’s satisfactory work and driving; that worked out and he’s got the job. He delivers big orders to towns in the district. He’s got long distances to drive, but at least they’re working together for the same boss and, on Jan. 4, one of our girls begins there as well, so we’ve got nothing to complain about.
Especially when I tell you it can be very different here. We know families here with five grown men and the father remaining at home, jobless, and there are many like that. Here in Lethbridge and district there are 5,000 unemployed, and that’s mainly because it’s an agricultural area. There are no factories here, so you’ve got to look for work far from home. And the result is, at times, they don’t come home for weeks at a time. That’s partly because of the great distances, but also when there’s a lot of snow, then the roads become impassable.
And that means extra costs, because the men have to pay for room and board. There may be those who ask, then why don’t they go live in such a city? But that’s impossible. I know of Hollanders who travelled with us on the same boat and train, who are now in Calgary paying $125 a month in rent, and there’s only one person working. Their intention was to rent out rooms, but first you’ve got to have people to rent the rooms. So it was a gamble, renting such a house.
As beet workers you live rent-free, so that’s quite a bit better, even though it’s a lot nicer when you’re living close to a town or city. We live miles from town — when you’ve got a car, that’s not far. And we haven’t had really terrible weather here since a Sunday last August when we had a terrible thunderstorm and heavy rains. That leaves the roads impassable, and you don’t get far with a car. But that happens, as I said earlier, rarely.
Now we have snow, but it’s beautiful, mild weather. We get a heavy frost, but that happens at night — during the day the sun shines and I can even put the baby outside. The boys are doing well at school, and we’re taken aback at how quickly they’ve managed to pick up the language.
Fourteen days ago we had so much snow we spent Monday morning digging a path outside.
We can see the school bus approaching from the house, so the kids can stay warm in the house for as long as possible. I always walk them to the bus. Five boys step in, and you hear, “Good morning, sir,” said out loud five times in a row. The school principal drives this bus, it’s a big one. There are also five smaller ones.
I always take with me the two boys who, apart from the baby, still remain at home. Rudy, the youngest, is good friends with the teacher, and always gives him a friendly wave, “hello.” Joepie stands there with his hands behind his back and says, “I don’t know that man and I’m not going to say “hello.” They get picked up at 8:30 a.m. and are brought home again at 4 p.m. They take their lunch kits, which must have fruit included every day — the teachers are very strict about that. They drink a lot of fruit juice here. Lessons at school go well. Only the three oldest boys still get an extra English lesson. Their reports are good, above average, but that’s also because the subjects they teach here in Grade 3 are, in Holland, taught in Grade I.
Christmas is also celebrated differently here. That’s because Santa Claus is celebrated at the same time as Christmas. The bishop of Calgary has already asked the Canadians to celebrate their Santa Claus on Dec. 5, on Sint Nicolaas. Then Christmas would be celebrated more in its own right. But we’ll see. At Christmas, when you take a drive in the evening, you see to your great surprise, not Christmas trees in the houses, but standing outside the house, all lit up with electric lights. Even the eavestroughs are decorated with lights — it’s a brilliant sight.
But that’s all past now. It’s Jan. 1, and we’ve got a fresh New Year ahead of us, a year filled with new perspectives.
We’re crossed our first hurdles, we know that, we’re convinced of it.
On Apr. 15, it will already have been a year that we left our Kwakeltje. We still think about that a lot, sometimes with a tinge of homesickness. But we’re happily at home here too.
In May, we’ll receive our first baby bonus cheque, that only comes after you’ve been here a year. But that will come as a great help in getting everything that we need. So, soon, we’ll have our first year in Canada behind us, one year since we emigrated, a good year, but also a difficult year, one in which we found ourselves bidding goodbye to much that we loved, a year in which we had to struggle to regain much of what we had.
We encountered many difficulties, but difficulties are there to be overcome. I want to end this letter by stressing people who want to emigrate need to know they’ll encounter many difficulties, that you have to start all over again, sometimes separated from every comfort, but you’ve got each other, and that’s worth a great deal. Because, with each other, you can accomplish a lot.”