On a cold, dark February night in 1952, a KLM airplane en route to Montreal from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport touched down at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada. On board was a Dutch couple from Zundert in North-Brabant, Maria and Josephus Herijgers, along with their twelve children whose ages ranged from one to sixteen. One can only imagine the anticipation and excitement of the children (my aunts and uncles) and my brave grandparents. Immigration was a difficult decision for them to make at this stage in their lives. However, it was a gamble they were willing to take for the prospect of a brighter future for their young family.
With the future so wide open, their lives would be forever changed going forward. The Herijgers family was about to begin an incredible journey in Canada – a country they would now call home.
As newly-landed immigrants to Canada, Josephus changed the spelling of the family name from Herijgers to Herygers to make it more North American. The family experienced their first Canadian winter in a rural town called L’Acadie, located southeast of Montréal, where they were sponsored to work for a couple of months on a private farm. A few weeks later, a large wooden crate of their belongings arrived by ship.
After a stint in Southern Ontario my grandfather learned that the Nova Scotia government was offering incentives for Dutch farmers to settle in Eastern Canada. In the fall of 1958, the family, minus the four elder siblings who remained in Ontario, made the move eastward to Nova Scotia by train. In February/March 1959, the family purchased a new farm with 350 acres of land in Middleton, Nova Scotia.
Throughout the years, the remaining children eventually started their own families and moved away but always returned to visit their parents and gather at the farmhouse during the summers. Josephus, with his tractor and wagon, would take the family and grandchildren on hayrides in the fields. Many of us remember summer evenings when we would gather outside to watch slideshows projected on the exterior wall of the white farmhouse.
The Herygers family has grown considerably over the years and have largely reconnected through social media. In recent years, we have held two family reunions in Port George, Nova Scotia (2015) and Strathroy, Ontario (2018). Family members now reside in six Canadian provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Québec, Alberta and Newfoundland. Maria and Josephus’s family of sixteen continues to grow, and by 2018 included forty-one grandchildren, seventy-five great-grandchildren, twenty-eight great-great-grandchildren and one great-great-greatgrandchild.
To learn more about the Herygers immigration story, read Issue 45, of Dutch the magazine.
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