Most Dutch immigrants landed in Ontario, but my brother and I steamed in a coal-fed train all the way to the middle of prairies, in Manitoba. The name was vaguely familiar as it reminded me of the books I read when I was vacationing at my grandparent's in Gaasterland, and was sent to bed when it was still light outside, probably around eight o'clock, which was no punishment for me at all because I had found a treasure of uncle Johannes' books on top of his closet with the most fantastic stories.
I got totally lost in the old tales about Indians and adventurers and German and English archaeologist, who were finding dinosaurs and things right were we were living. Stories about old Shatterhand and Winnitou, sounding so close to Winnipeg were our train had stopped, and Manitou, and was the province were we landed as immigrants in the middle of Canada, not called Manitoba?
However romantic the place was to us we did not immigrate to read books in Manitoba. A fieldman whose job it was was to herd new Calvinistic dutch immigrants together into a group large enough to start a church, and helped finding a job, found us a job in a precast concrete factory. We were now a part of a new business that just had started in the French speaking city of St Boniface across the Red river from the English speaking Winnipeg. I found it exciting to grow with this young company and felt myself a small part of the young Canada growing into maturity. Canadians were so innovating and adapting and like most immigrants never let on that a job was too complicated or above their ability. I worked there for five years.
One Sunday my brother John during a church service in Winnipeg pointed out a girl with dark wavy hair to me, “Do you see that girl overt here?” “She is going to be my wife.” “Does she know about it?” “Not yet.” About a year later John came over from BC, where he had found work, to Winnipeg to marry the beautiful young woman Sarina van Heyst.
When our daughter Janice was about seven months old I had to leave my young family to work in what is now the city Thompson, to assemble a concrete pre-stressed bridge, we had build in our plant in St Boniface. Today the city of Thompson Manitoba has today a population of seventy-five thousand, but sixty years ago the population was zero as Thompson did not exist yet. I worked there for two months, which was a continuation of what I felt for Canada then – joyful to witness our young country grow in many ways not only to an independent country but to a country to be reckoned with in the world. I am still proud to have been one of that team.
The first years in Canada were romantic in several ways but my stint in Thompson stood apart, and our little family stood out front and center. We did as we wanted because we felt free, free to live as a family doing sometimes things we were not allowed to do in the old country as teenagers – we went together to the movies. That was so cool. Less than a mile out of town was a drive-in theater showing films on a huge screen, outside in the prairie. At night of course.
I remembered that one time I was going to sneak out with a friend to the movies in an other town, because our village didn’t have a picture show facility and my father suspecting our intentions, as we might have looked guilty, stopped us and said -
“So, were the gentlemen going to the show?” I was then twenty and my friend a few years older, and the son of the richest farmer (with the a family of fourteen children, by two wives) of our village. He was chairman of many things and always was chosen an elder in our church. We were not afraid of my father but it was so drilled into us that watching a show ranked in sin equally high as the seventh commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” that we really took his words at heart especially when he added - “There is of course One that keeps an eye on you.”
We did not go. Not that time.
On what not to do was given so much more weight then than what to do and our generation, however messed up by the hungry thirties and a terrible war directly following it, was still teachable but not for long, after we lost the fright of the oppression of the church and the mores when we escaped by emigrating.
Drive-ins have most all disappeared, but they were a unique way of watching even blockbuster movies such as East of Eden and the Twelve Commandments could be viewed in the privacy of one's car. Each car spot had a sound box fastened on a pole which was to be clipped onto the inside window frame of the car providing the sound of the film. It was also romantic.
Halfway the show was an intermission, when everyone got out of the car to stretch the legs, and talk with friends, but the main reason was a walk to the snack-bar for a coffee and doughnut, a wiener or hamburger to eat in the car.
We did not have a car but owned a truck where was enough room for the baby who was indeed named Janice Ida and was too young to warn us of our sinful life.
The reason that our baby grew up so healthy was that my wife every day put her in a sunny place outside, cold but out of the wind. Janice was never sick and the whole neighborhood took a liken to kid with the blond hair and red cheeks, so much so that a young Ukrainian couple who lived upstairs next doors had more than an eye on her. A few times when Anne had the baby outside the couple came over and took her out of the baby carriage to bring her upstairs in their place.
They made Anne an offer to buy her, which of course was never going to happen, but they were very persuasive, and our baby would not at all have been out of place as a little Ukrainian girl, and after they had her again upstairs for a while the woman approached Anne again saying “You can make another baby, please let us have this one.” She was right that we could have more children but we did not want to part with our firstborn, especial since Anne had such a painful time to deliver her, but it was Janice herself helped making the couple change their mind, certainly the mind of the man, because when he carried her down from the upstairs visit, she peed all over him.