We were a large family of seven girls and four boys living in Apeldoorn. In 1947, our parents, Leendert and Grietje (nee De Groot) van Harten started to think about emigration for a number of reasons. They were weary from the war years and feared poor employment prospects for their children. Additionally, our two older brothers were scheduled to go to Indonesia to fight in another war. There was also concern about Russian expansion policies. After much discussion with immigration officials (and much prayer), it was decided that the two oldest brothers would leave for Canada in the spring of 1948 and start to work for our sponsor, a fruit farmer in St. Catharines, Ontario. Ten days later the work was done, and the boss said the sponsorship was finished. Meanwhile, the rest of the family was getting ready to leave Holland. As our ship — the Kota-Inten, a former troop ship — left port in Rotterdam, people sang Vaarwel mijn dierbaar vaderland (Farewell My Beloved Fatherland), a popular folk song. There was not a dry eye on the ship.
We arrived in Quebec City where we received a telegram from our sponsor saying he no longer needed us. No reasons were given, and this was a real shock. Nevertheless, our fieldman (appointed by the immigration department to assist new families arriving in Canada) told us that he had an obligation to provide shelter until another sponsor was found. Our shelter, turned out to be a barn with no plumbing, bedding or dishes. In a separate little room, there was a bench with a toilet hole and a bucket underneath. Some bedding and dishes were donated with help from the local church, and we stayed for about ten days.
After three months working in greenhouses just outside Toronto, our father and older siblings found work at a mushroom farm. The four youngest (including myself) went to the local school and picked up the English language very quickly. We believe that we were privileged in this way and that our older siblings who had to work were to some extent disadvantaged.
In January 1949 a decision was made by the working members of the family to collectively purchase a chicken farm in Port Credit. One of the buildings was transformed into five apartments. Many young immigrant families lived there and we also had boarders. They were usually young men who had also emigrated from Holland. For them we were considered a home away from home. It was not unusual to have twenty people at the dinner table.
In the early 1950s, our father and others were very involved in establishing a church and Christian school. Pastors were sent out from Grand Rapids to help young congregations get established. In 1951, we built our own church. Reverend Kroeze was our first pastor. The services were in Dutch, but soon that changed to English morning service and a Dutch afternoon service.
Upon reflection, immigration involves separation from family and friends. Not everyone in our family found it easy to adjust. Our mother became very homesick.
In 1966, the Farm was sold to the municipality, and all farm buildings were replaced by a sewage treatment plant. Our father died in Vancouver in 1979 while visiting our sister, Henny. Our mother lived in Holland Christian Homes in Brampton, where she died at the age of ninety-four.
We had a big family reunion on August 25th and 26th 2018, which was attended by 255 family members from Canada and the United States. It was our way of saying thank you to Canada for welcoming so many immigrant families from far and wide. This reunion also acknowledged and expressed our thanks to our parents for their foresight and decision to immigrate to Canada more than seventy years ago, and for God’s mercy from generation to generation.
For more much more detail about the Van Harten story and family reunion, read issue 52 of Dutch the magazine.
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