Once upon a time, I was a little Dutch boy who’d come across the North Atlantic in April on board the SS Volendam. My Landed Immigrant card is stamped ‘April 24, 1951.
We landed in Quebec City. The Toronto Star reported that it was a ‘stormy crossing’ and that most of the adults were seasick, but the children fared quite well.
I remember we were on the second deck watching the waves — like melted green mountains tossing about with the peaks trailing whipped cream that the wind whirled off — and somebody puked on the deck and a deckhand came running with a bucket and a broom but before he reached it, a wave leaped up like fire from below and flung itself through the railings and washed us all … and when it was gone so was the puke and I thought how neat that was.
When we got to Quebec City, they threw a big rope overboard and two men wrapped it around a short post with a knob on top and pulled the whole boat up close. I was amazed but somebody – probably my Pappa – said that it was nothing; anybody could move the whole world if he could float it on water.
I think we slept one or two more nights on the boat while they got the stuff unloaded. My parents, like most, brought along everything from ‘snijbonen’ seed to meat hooks to coal stoves with brick liners. I’ve heard of people who brought a whole pre-fab house along. I remember looking up at one of the hoisted loads and Pappa said that it was our stuff.
And while we were hanging around, waiting for this, a man came along with a camera and took pictures of Mamma and Eva and me. I don’t remember where Pappa and my other sisters, Tineke and Hennie, were. I remember clowning around on a deck bench for him. When he asked if we were Dutch, Mamma said, “Nee, nee, niet Duits (German). Hollanders! Hollanders! During the Occupation the Nazis sometimes took pictures of people. “Ik not Engels speak,” she told him. Later she told us not to worry because this was Canada; many Canadian soldiers had died to make Holland free.
A day or two later we were going clickity-clickity across Canada. Whenever you looked out it was the same; rocks and trees. Pappa said that those white trees had paper for bark and you could just peel it off and write on it. I must have always wondered where paper came from and now I knew why there was lots.
Eva and I were often thirsty and there were wax paper cups by the water spigot at the end of the train car and you could throw them away and the water was ice cold. We liked the WC too because when you flushed you could see the train tracks. Before we flushed Eva or I would call the other in so we could both see those train tracks in the hole. We wondered how they picked up all the ‘poopjes’ from the tracks.
Anyways, on one of those trips, Eva and I noticed our pictures on the front of a newspaper that a man was reading. “No, no, honest – come and have a look! Mamma! Pappa!, Tineke! Hennie! Kom eens kijken!” (Come and see!) Everybody came and had a look – even strangers. Ja! Ja! It was very exciting. Big, clear pictures like photos from the photographer! One of me and one of Eva side by side. Pappa said that they got my name wrong but Eva’s was okay. And we showed it to everybody and everybody said what a wonderful thing it was that we were so famous. How lucky we were! I remember that the paper was called the Toronto Star. I remember too wondering how that paper had caught up to us because we had been moving ever since we left the boat in Quebec. Nobody could explain that to me.
The paper said that most of the new arrivals on the SS Volendam were headed for Ontario; one family to settle in Kettleby. We, though, were headed west – beyond the West – beyond the Rockies, to a little station called Quick on the northern British Columbia line. It was at the edge of a vast wilderness.
We were often cold in the little old frame house on the hill that the Greene Brothers fixed up for us on their farm (the old Lund place). But one night when it was 40-below a moose rubbed his bum on the house and the shaking woke us up so we could see it. And one morning a moose was in the woodshed when Mamma went for kindling. Some nights the scary shrieks of the coyotes came through the wall like the cold and you’d pull yourself deep under the Hollandse blankets and snuggle closer to the hot water bottle wrapped in a sock and feel safe and that it was terribly wonderful to be alive.
The caption in the Toronto Star says: “Young Dutch children make a new life in Canada.”
Mamma always had it in her locked, heavy, metal strongbox – with the silver and gold things – in an envelope. She would close the bedroom door when she went in to get it. It looks tattered from all the times people have looked at it; pushing it flat – nice – so they could read about us. I have always, secretly, been very proud to have been so famous once.
Taede Visserman lived for 65 years at ‘The Visserman Farm’ in Hazelton, BC
Our brother, Taede (Teddy) Visserman passed away on July 29, 2018. At his Celebration of Life, over 200 people gathered at the Kispiox Hall to share their stories of how Ted had impacted their lives with his lifelong curiosity and love of his bees and a simpler life.
Our brother was a writer who daily recorded his events and thoughts. He became a self-taught apiarian and published stories in the ‘Harrowsmith’ and ‘Gleanings in Bee Culture’ among others. He had a unique artistic talent expressed in his carvings, clay work and cow dung masks. He always had time for visitors, especially young people who came to talk and learn from him.
Since it is 70 Springs ago since the Visserman family arrived in Canada it seemed an appropriate time to share Teddy’s memories of our arrival – he was going to be five in July that year. Even then, that curiosity to know how things worked was evident. After those first, very difficult adjustment years, we all have contributed to our new country and we’re proud to be Canadians.
• Christine Eide-Visserman