After the Second World War, a large number of Dutch citizens immigrated to Canada through Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in search of work, asylum and a better life. From 1928 – 1971 the Dutch were the fifth largest ethnic group to come to Canadian shores. Prescott resident and a Dutch native, Rene Schoemaker, shared with the Immigration Partnership staff his own experience coming to Canada in 1952.
“I was born in The Hague (Den Haag), the Netherlands. My father was Dutch and my mother was a German. She became a Dutch citizen in the 1930s, and married my father in 1945. My family immigrated to Canada mainly due to the aftermath of the Second World War and the German occupation in Holland.
During the war, my father and uncle had been collected by the Nazi’s – they were sent off to a work camp in Germany for one year. They worked on a machine gun line. There were many different people at these camps, Polish, Austrians etc. My father did not like to talk about the one year he spent there. After his return back to Holland my father joined the Dutch Underground, they would do nightly raids, steal gas… disrupting everything. My mother would hide my father under the floor boards in their home.
After the war, my parents wanted to start a new life elsewhere. They had experienced so much trauma – everyone was so hungry. They were deciding between Australia and Canada, but ultimately chose Canada, because they had heard of an airplane crash on route to Australia, so they decided to go by boat (to Canada).
My family arrived to Canada in July 1952 – I was 7 years old at the time. We travelled by boat, it took 8 days. I remember the main hallway had paper bags taped up with band aids, in case the passengers got seasick. I also remember them serving us potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes! We arrived in Halifax at Pier 21, and then transported to Brockville. My parents came over with a small fortune of $130 CAN, and we had 3 or 4 crates with our belongings, that would arrive by rail a few months later. The first few months we lived out of our suitcases in an assigned cottage with many other Dutch immigrants across from what is now ‘Green Things Landscaping’ near Sharp’s Lane. Our sponsor was our family neighbour from Holland who had immigrated to Canada the year before. He was a barber in Brockville and we lived with him and his family for 3 months during the winter of 1953.
In the spring of 1953, we moved to the Barbara Heck House, located near the Blue Church in Maitland, where we lived until 1959. We were 4 families living in the house at the time. There was one bathroom/tub, and each family had their own day to use it – ours was Tuesday.
We had a garden outside of the house where we grew root vegetables. In the basement my mother would bury the vegetables in bins with sand to keep them dry. I remember my mother would paint the turnips with candle wax to preserve them. On Sundays we would take the bus for 25 cents to attend the Dutch-Reform Church in Brockville. When the DuPont Company bought the property on which the Heck house was sitting, we moved and lived above the Blue Lantern restaurant until the 70s.
My parents were brave. They gave everything up to come to the unknown to start fresh. That’s what war does to people.
Today, I live in Prescott with my wife, who was born and raised in here. We have been married for 45 years, have two daughters, and three beautiful grand-children. I have always had many hobbies, including doing taxidermy for 14 years. I was also on the national skit shooting team for 20 years. I enjoy fishing, deer and moose hunting, as well as reading history books. I love to travel, we often go back to Holland to visit cousins, aunts and uncles, but also love to discover other destinations such Spain, Portugal and North Africa.”