Audrey and Harry Kruisselbrink are a couple you might characterize as “long haulers” having been married 57 years come this May. They are delightful to be around with a kind consideration for each other, giving one another time to tell their stories, laughing at shared memories and an understanding of a shared past and roots that brings a comfortable kind of warmth that envelopes you.
Harry and Audrey met in Smithers, which is remarkable, as they both came to Canada with their families from Holland, at different times and landed at opposite sides of this country.
Fate has a funny way of winding its way through our lives like that.
Audrey’s family immigrated from Holland in 1947 on one of the very first ships available after World War II. There were nine in her family at the time. They left Holland, men separated from the women on the ship, and landed in Montreal 10 days later. Audrey was sick the entire trip.
“I’m still not fond of water,” she said with a grin.
“The remarkable part about this crossing was the ship had just come from the war, so there was hammocks stacked four high, the cargo hold was wide open, where they had just been carrying troops, and that’s how we came. It wasn’t the big beautiful ships you think of now,” Audrey recalled. “It was an actual warship!”
Harry’s immigration experience and crossing, on the other hand, was one the family enjoyed so much the kids didn’t want the adventure to end. Little did they know, their adventures had only just started.
Harry’s family of six kids, plus mom and dad, immigrated on a freighter ship in 1951 by way of the Panama Canal, up the west coast stopping along the way to unload and load freight in different ports. There were only forty passengers total on-board.
“So, we were treated like royalty,” a smiling Harry said. Vancouver was their eventual destination.
Both families had worked for the Underground during the war years, helping fleeing people hide from the German army. Both remember the endless air raids, bombings, and for Harry, who lived a farm field away from the German border, supply drops during the day. “
“The planes were endless, night and day, leaving us always running for the underground shelter,” said Harry.
For both families, opportunity in a new country half a world away was where they knew they needed to go for their families to be safe and to have opportunities to prosper in life.
Both families left a devastated, war-torn country, leaving their money behind, as required by their government, left family and friends, secured sponsors in a “country of plenty,” and set off.
Audrey’s sponsors lived just outside Newmarket, Ontario in a place called the Holland Marsh on a vegetable farm. This is where she would grow up working together with her family on the farm. They eventually got their own piece of property.
“I love to garden to this day,” she said.
“The whole family would work the thirty acres, as that’s just what you did, you worked as a family, we never thought anything of it. Six days a week, not always getting paid, but you had a place to live, food and you just all pitched in.”
“When dad began to prosper, he would put money in an account for each of us, but, of course, if it was a bad year on the farm, you wouldn’t get anything.”
For both Audrey and Harry, the accommodations their families began in Canada were without running water, electricity, or even finished floors.
In Harry’s case, it was barely a house. For the first years, it was hard, but both families appreciated the new start and made it work.
After arriving in Vancouver, Harry’s family sponsor, Mr. Price, was there to meet them and to take them by rail to a place six miles out of Houston called Barrett Lake.
Their sponsors also were farmers, and the expectation Harry had was he was going to a farm outside of a town, just like the one called Houston he had just gone through on the train. When they got off at Barrett Station, the population increased by 25 per cent, Harry laughingly said.
There were indeed farm lands and a run down cabin in a field, but that was the extent of it.
After heading to Mr. Price’s farm for a meal and a bit of orientation, they were directed back to their living accommodations, the cabin in the field. As Harry explained it, the kids thought it was great. What his parents thought they must have kept to themselves.
“The first night we were there we got woken up by this terrible loud howling, and a little later there was more howling, but it was softer,” he said. “We came to find out that the first sounds were wolves, the second coyotes. Then the Price family went on to tell us “oh yes and don’t forget there are bears out there too.”
Getting used to their surroundings took a bit to say the least, Harry said.
“The funniest one was what we thought were the weirdest looking horses ever, with great big long legs, awkward at best and huge, and the ugliest looking horse we ever saw,” Harry said with a laugh and twinkle in his eyes.
Eventually, Harry’s family moved to a home in Smithers located where Daddio’s Restaurant now is, and Harry went to work for the CN Telegraph office at age 13. He took to it right away, and with training led to a 40 year career for CN in communications.
Audrey came to Smithers at the age of 20, in 1963, to live with her sister, who was a teacher for the Christian School and was hired by Harry’s father. This is where fate came back into the story.
The Kruisselbrink family home was a kind of safe hangout spot for Audrey’s sister in a place she was unfamiliar with, so Audrey would go along and visit the family with her.
Harry was stationed in Prince Rupert, but began to make a lot of trips home, Audrey.
Harry said he was just making trips home to see if Audrey could cook.
They both burst out laughing at the memory.
The two married, remained in Smithers and raised four children.
They were foster parents for 27 years, volunteered for many organizations, and have remained active in Smithers with their family, grandchildren and community.
Currently, Harry is documenting the history of the area and people from the valley and Audrey is looking forward to spring gardening. They are looking forward to some easier days ahead, with 2020 “being a trying year,” they both agreed.
They would like to travel and visit more with friends and family and hopefully go back to Holland again.
That is, after all, where it all began.