Janssen ~ Weekers – A Family History



When you get older you begin to think more and more about the past, probably because there is not much to look forward to. Memories about your childhood come to life and interest seems to grow in how our parents and grandparents lived and worked. I have long toyed with the idea of sitting down one day and write about our family background. It seems to me that a bit of written family history is especially important for first generation immigrants such as ourselves. Children who grow up in the same country as their parents and grandparents can easily trace where and how their forefathers lived and what their occupations were if they are interested in such things. For you that is not so easy, so it is perhaps worthwhile to write a few things down for those of you who are interested.

1967 – Michael, Jules, Willie, Paul & Charlotte – 527 Ash St., Winnipeg

1967 – Michael, Jules, Willie, Paul & Charlotte – 527 Ash St., Winnipeg


Our family has its roots in The Netherlands and more particularly in Limburg, the south-eastern-most province. In English speaking countries The Netherlands is usually referred to as Holland, and after having lived in Canada for so many years we ourselves often say Holland instead of Nederland or The Netherlands. North and South Holland are provinces of the Netherlands as is Limburg, but there are significant social and cultural differences between them.

Flag of The Netherlands - Coat of Arms Limburg

Flag of The Netherlands



Brief Background on The Netherlands

Historically, “The Netherlands”, meaning the lowlands, was the name given to the area of north-western Europe that is now known as Belgium and Nederland and a chunk of what is now northern France (see map 1). Since the names on the map are in Dutch it may help to know that Rijsel is now known as Lille , St Omaars is St Omers, Duinkerken is Dunquerq, Atrecht is Arras, and that they are now all part of France. Bergen, Namen and Luik are in the French speaking part of Belgium; the English use their French names which are Mons, Namur, and Liege. Henegouwen is Hainault in French and English. Vlaanderen is Flanders, Brugge is Bruges, Gent is Ghent in English.

Occasionally Nederland and Belgium are still called the low countries. Pays Bas is the official French name for Netherlands. Limburg has always been part of the Netherlands, but you may notice that the shaded area on the map named Limburg, including the town Limburg (Limbourg in French) is a good deal to the south of the present-day province. By far the larger part of today’s Limburg was then part of other political entities.

Maastricht was in the jurisdiction of the prince-bishop of Luik (Liege). Geleen was in the jurisdiction of the graaf van(of) Valkenburg who owed allegiance to the hertog of Brabant; Sittard belonged to the hertogdom Gulick (Julich in German); the area from Roermond north belonged to hertogdom Gelre (or Gelderland). The English word for hertog is duke, hence hertogdom is duchy. In feudal times the title or rank of hertog was above that of graaf. The English equivalent of graaf is earl but that title applies only to England. The English word for a graaf on the continent is count, probably from the French title comte. No doubt, the word county is derived from the word count, but I am not sure that it conveys the same meaning as graafschap. Nowadays the word county refers to an administrative unit at the level of municipality.

Acquisitions and Mergers

In the fifteenth and sixteenth century the area known as the Netherlands consisted of some seventeen “provinces”. Each was fairly autonomous. Most were ruled by counts or dukes who had inherited their position. Their legitimacy was based on the feudal system under which their forefathers were appointed by Emperor Charlemagne.(graaf is Dutch for count, and hertog is the Dutch word for duke). Luik, or Liege was a prince-bishopric which included part of southern Limburg including Maastricht.

The nobility engaged a lot in strategic marriages, sometimes to gain a strong protector against an avaricious neighbour, sometimes to gain wealth, and sometimes to extend their power. One can look at the strategic marriages of the late middle ages as a forerunner of the present day corporate merger and acquisition mania. Graafschappen and duchies merged or were acquired through intermarriage as well as through conquest. Particularly successful in mergers and acquisitions through marriage were successive generations of the House of Burgundy which extended its domination from its home in south-east France across the eastern part of that country into the Netherlands. Then, when the male line of the family died out, Maria of Burgundy married Maximilian of Habsburg, archduke of Austria who also was the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The name HRE dates back to the year 800 when the pope crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Christian empire forged by his victories over the Germanic tribes.. Charlemagne was King of  the Franks,who had subdued the German tribes and thus ruled most of wesctern Europe.  By the fifteenth century the kings of France had broken away and the HRE included most of the territories of present-day Germany, Hungary, Checho-Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia.)

In 1496 Philip, the son of Maria and Maximilian, married Johanna, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castilia (of Columbus fame). In due course their son, Charles V, became duke of Burgundy, archduke of Austria, emperor of the HRE, lord of the Netherlands, and king of Aragon and Castilia which were united to become Spain. The concentration of so much power in one monarch was soon challenged from within and without.

While the Hapsburgs were the unchallenged rulers of Austria, the office of emperor over the more than 300 German principalities that made up the HRE was an elective one, with very little real power.(Each of the princes was an elector and had a vote in electing the emperor. Hence the Hapsburgs had to keep them on side in order to ensure the election of their successor,)

The outbreak of the protestant reformation soon after Charles V had become emperor put enormous strains on the relations between the emperor, the German princes, the provinces of the Netherlands, and the Church. The position of Charles V as lord of the Netherlands was never challenged, but that was mainly because Charles had practically grown up in Brussels and he knew how to get along with the estates-general (parliament) of the Netherlands.

However, things changed drastically after Charles retired (1555) and his son Philip II tried to run the empire from Spain through a succession of authoritarian governors. The northern provinces, where the Calvinist branch of the protestant reformation had taken hold, rose up in revolt. In the course of the religious and political wars that engulfed western Europe for the next 80 years, the northern and southern provinces of the Netherlands became separated. Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijsel,Friesland and Groningen formed the Republiek der Nederlanden, while the southern Netherlands remained under Spanish control.


On a map of the Netherlands Limburg looks like a small oddly shaped appendix that has been attached to the rest of the country as an afterthought, and in a way it was, as we shall see later on. By the old Rijksweg from Maastricht in the south to Mook which lies just below Nijmegen the north- south distance is 120 km. But just north of Sittard the distance from Germany in the east to Belgium in the west is barely more than five or six km.

The total area of the province is 2200 square km or 220,000 hectare.(860 sq.mi). In the year 2006 Limburg had a population of 1,132,000, hence a population density of 515 persons per square kilometer. There are 11,250 km of roads in the province so that on average there are 5 km roads per square kilometer of land. Such density is hard to imagine when you have grown up in one of the prairie provinces.In spite of the great density Limburg offers a surprsingly green and pleasant landscape. Below is a map of Limburg.

Limburgers, Horen die er ook bij?

Do they belong too?

Some years ago I wrote about the social and cultural differences between Holland and Limburg in the club news of the Dutch Canadian society. The article is worth repeating here because our attitudes and way of thinking were shaped by the environment in which we grew up. Here is what I wrote:

When I grew up in Geleen disparaging remarks about Hollanders (eg kale hollenjer) were not uncommon. Likewise, expressions such as “het donkere zuiden” (the unenlightened south) were often used by people living “boven de rivieren” (north of the great rivers Maas and Waal) when speaking about Limburg and, to a lesser extent, about Noord Brabant. While it would be too much to speak of animosity towards each other, it is fair to say that these two parts of the Dutch population did not understand each other too well and were somewhat suspicious of each other. Where did that come from and what kept it alive?

No doubt, some of it was rooted in ignorance, people in one region not knowing how the others lived. Part can also be ascribed to regional chauvinism which seems to come naturally. Then there were the religious and cultural differences; the people in the south were overwhelmingly catholic and easy-going, while most people in the north were thought to be dour, hard-nosed protestants. At the bottom of it all are hundreds of years of very different histories.

Limburg did not come into being as a province until the establishment of Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in 1814-15, i.e. after the Napoleonic Wars. Before then the territory that is now Limburg was controlled by several different powers. By the terms of the Vrede van Munster (Peace of Westphalia) in 1648 which ended the 80 years war (between the Dutch Republic and the King of Spain) Spain retained control of the southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium), the Dutch republic retained possession of Maastricht, Venlo and Stevensweert as fortified outposts to guard against possible attacks from France or its allies in Rhineland and Westphalia.

Maastricht was to include a surrounding area the boundaries of which were not settled until 1661. The area south of Geleen including Beek, Valkenburg and Heerlen became “staats” (belonging to the Republic) and Geleen remained “Spaans” (part of the Spanish Netherlands). However Sittard, Geleen’s northern neighbour, and most of the territory east of the river Maas south of Roermond belonged to the Duchy of Gulick (Julich in Germany) which was not part of the southern or Spanish Netherlands but fell under the jurisdiction of the H.R.E.The area between Roermond and Nijmegen east of the Maas belonged to the Duke of Gelre but was not part of the Dutch province of Gelderland.

The area west of the river Maas including Weert and Horst belonged to the Duchy of Brabant and was the subject of dispute between the Dukes of Brabant and Gelre. Eventually the latter won out and the area came under Gelre’s control. By the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) which ended the war of the Spanish Succession the so-called Gelders Kwartier came under the jurisdiction of the King of Prussia.

The Peace of Westphalia also awarded most of what now is Noord Brabant to the Republic. However, Staats Brabant, as it was called was not granted the status of a constituent province as the others were and was not allotted any representation in the states-general of the Dutch Republic which governed the province as occupied territory (generaliteitslanden).

When North Brabant came under the sovereignty of the Republic some leaders in the Reformed Church wanted to start a drive to make the Brabanders protestant. The political leaders in the states-general showed little enthusiasm for such a project. As a result, efforts to “convert” Catholics to Protestantism were largely confined to a few towns and villages. In some places where a protestant preacher tried to establish a mission the local priest was driven out and catholic worship was forbidden. Where they were close to the border the people simply streamed across on Sundays to worship. Not long ago in a field just outside Weert at the border with Budel (N.B.) a service was held to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia on the spot where people from the Brabant side came to hear Mass on Sunday. Fortunately for everyone, the zeal to convert Catholics soon wore off.

There were very few economic ties between what is now Limburg and the Republic. Maastricht benefited from the military garrison which was maintained there at the expense of the states-general. The military had to be supplied with their daily needs; they built fortifications and the soldiers spent their pay in the city. The garrison was easily the biggest industry in town. The rural areas on the other hand had no economic links with the republic. The Republic maintained the garrisons in Limburg to guard against surprise attacks from France and the principalities (bisdoms) of Muenster and Koln (Cologne). The Republic’s foremost commercial interest was the exploitation of its near monopoly in the spice trade from its bases in the Dutch East Indies, the islands that now belong to Indonesia.

With respect to culture, religion, and language, there was little to distinguish Limburg and its people from their neighbours to the east and the west. Political control (and the taxes that went with it) was exercised from far away places with which it was difficult to identify. The southern Netherlands were ruled by Spain from about 1555 until 1715, when they were allotted to the Habsburgs of Vienna and became known as the Austrian Netherlands. Loyalties tended to be to local institutions such as the towns and villages and, above all, the catholic church.

That situation did not change materially until 1795 when the revolutionary French troops took control in the southern Netherlands. In the fall of 1794 the revolutionary French army arrived in the south of Limburg which, along with the rest of the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) was formally annexed to France on October 1, 1795. It was not long before the same fate befell north Limburg (the former Gelders quarter). Meanwhile the Dutch Republic went through its own revolution. Stadhouder Willem V was driven from office and the United Provinces became the Bataafse Republiek. Five years later Holland became a kingdom with Napoleon’s brother Louis as king. In 1806 Holland was annexed to France.

Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden that was established after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 included both the southern and the northern Netherlands. However, the south and the north had grown so far apart in the preceding 250 years that it proved impossible for the authoritarian king Willem I to keep the southerners happy. In 1830 the Belgians revolted, Britain and France stepped in and the country was divided. Limburg became part of Belgium. However, king Willem did not agree with the terms of separation, and so a new deal was worked out in 1839 that saw Limburg split up into a Belgian and a Dutch province. In return for Willem giving up his claim on the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, Limburg was given the distinction of Hertogdom(duchy) and given membership in the Deutsche Bund, which gave king Willem a vote in the German Landtag (diet or parliament). That arrangement came to an end in 1867 after the Austrian-Prussian war when the Bund was abolished and the king of Prussia became the King of Germany. After the defeat of France in the 1870-71 war Germany declared itself an empire and the king became the Kaiser.

You can see that it is no exaggeration to say that the history of Limburg is complicated.

It may also be mentioned that when it became clear that Limburg was going to be divided, many gemeenteraden (municipal councils) passed resolutions asking to be included in Belgium. To no avail, as we know, but it goes to show that at the time Limburgers felt closer to the south than to the north.

Although Limburg was now part of the Netherlands kingdom the province and its people remained largely isolated from the rest of the country for a long time. Neither roads nor railways connected the province with the other parts of Nederland. Moreover the river Maas was not navigable between Maastricht and Wessem and the Zuid Willemsvaart (canal) which connected Maastricht and ‘s Hertogenbosch passed through Belgium rather than Netherlands Limburg. (It had been built before the separation). The first railway in Limburg was built between Maastricht and Aachen (Germany) in 1856, the next one ran from Maastricht to Hasselt (Belgium), and a third one from Maastricht to Luik (B) It was 1865 before a railway was built between Maastricht and Venlo.

The railroad between Heerlen and Sittard was built between 1892-96. None of these railroads connected Limburg with the heart of the country. That connection between Roermond via Weert to Eindhoven and ‘s Hertogenbosch was not completed until 1913.

Given this prolonged isolation it is little wonder that there were no strong bonds between Limburg and the rest of the country.

If there was one experience that was shared by the vast majority of the people in all parts of the Netherlands in the nineteenth century it was poverty and misery. Throughout the eighteenth century the rich Republic had been in decline, at first the decline was gradual, but after 1750 it became very steep. Its industries were devastated and poverty became widespread. The French time and Napoleon’s continental system had also been bad for Holland which relied so heavily on trade and shipping. Thus the Netherlands started the nineteenth century as a poor and backward country.

The country was slow to adopt industrialization. Most production was on a small scale and was aimed at the local market. There were a few exceptions such as the ceramic and pottery works of Regout, an early great-capitalist in Maastricht.

The plant employed a lot of children, working conditions were atrocious, and wages were extremely low as was the case everywhere in the early stages of industrialization. Generally speaking wages were highest in Holland and Zeeland at an average of about one guilder a day. That would be just enough to pay rent and buy bread and potatoes to feed a family of six, but no butter and meat. It is estimated that in the outlying provinces the average income from wages was not more than two hundred guilders per year. In the 1850s and 1860s workers in brick factories in Limburg were paid as little as f2.70 per week.1

The result of such low wages and harsh working conditions was widespread poverty, malnutrition, ill health and a short lifespan. In 1850 the life expectancy of a laborer in the Netherlands was only 32 years. Farm workers, at least the regular ones, were often better off. At least they could eat with the farmer’s family at the same table, although they weren’t paid enough to be able to maintain a family of their own.

Economic conditions were much better in Germany and many Limburgers went there to work in construction, as brikkebekkers (brickmakers), in factories and in mines. They came home with reichsmark and groschen which before W W I were common currency in Limburg.

Economic and social conditions in the Netherlands began to improve in the second half of the nineteenth century, slowly at first, but more rapidly after 1885 when industrialization began to gather momentum. Many of the best known names in Dutch industry date from that time: Philips Gloeilampen, Stork Machinefabrieken, Jurgens en van den Berg margarine (precursors of Unilever), Wilton Motoren, Feyenoord Scheepswerven.

With the growth of industry came the growth of the trade union movement, demands for higher wages and shorter workdays, greater political awareness among the working class, and the demand for the right to vote for everyone. Slowly but surely working conditions and life for the average people began to improve. In Limburg the great changes did not begin until after the turn of the century when, in 1902, the Staatsmijnen were established.

Coal had been mined in the area around Kerkrade since the middle ages. In the late nineteenth century several companies took out “concessions” to mine coal in Limburg but little came of these efforts. By 1900 there were four rather small mines operating in the area between Kerkrade and Heerlen. In Germany where the industrial revolution was in full swing cartels were being formed to get a better grip on coal production and pricing. The government of the Netherlands was afraid that the cartels would get control of private-enterprise-coal mines that might be established in Limburg.

The government was also anxious to avoid the miserable housing and social conditions that tended to develop around coal mines in northern France, Belgium, Scotland and England. Although Liberal in philosophy and opposed in principle to direct government involvement in industry, the government decided nevertheless to take a direct hand in the exploitation of the coal reserves in Limburg. To that end it established what we would call a crown corporation called Staatsmijnen in Limburg in 1902.

The coal in Limburg was not easily accessible. Most of the coal layers lay hundreds of meters below the surface, the layers were not very thick and therefore not easy to mine, and serious technical problems had to be overcome boring mineshafts through underground waterveins and layers of quicksand. These were frozen while the shaft was being bored and kept frozen until the concrete casing of the shaft was completed. All of this required the commitment of huge sums of money over a long period of time.

By the 1920’s there were four staatsmijnen in operation: the Wilhelmina in Heerlen, the Hendrik in Brunssum, the Emma in Hoensbroek and the Maurits in Geleen. The Emma and Maurits mines yielded bituminous coal, also called soft coal in Canada, not anthracite or hard coal which is best for cooking and heating homes. The bituminous coal contained a lot of methane and hydrogen. To make the best use of the coal the staatsmijnen built cokes factories as part of the s.m Emma and s.m Maurits. The cokes works consisted of batteries of huge ovens in which the coal was heated to very high temperatures without oxygen so that the coal wouldn’t burn. The high temperature drove out the gases which became the basis for a chemical industry constructed by the staatsmijnen in Geleen. The coal thus treated became cokes which was sold to the steel industry.

Coal production reached 7 million tonnes in 1925 and 13 million tonnes in 1935. By that time the staatsmijnen provided work for more than 30,000 people. Coal, cokes, gas, fertilizers and other chemical products were shipped to other parts of the country, while the mines purchased machinery and materials from suppliers all over the Netherlands. Gas pipelines to Maastricht Roermond and Venlo were built in 1928, and were extended to ‘s Hertogenbosch in 1931. High voltage lines delivered electricity from the generating stations of the staatsmijnen all over Limburg and Noord Brabant. Clearly, Limburg began to matter to the rest of the country and the other parts of the Netherlands became important to Limburg.

Building and operating such a huge enterprise required a lot of scientifically trained people. Limburg did not have a large pool of engineers to draw from so that most of the professional engineers and university trained technical personnel of the Staatsmijnen came from “Holland”. The miners were mostly Limburgers, but workers were also drawn from other parts of the country and even from other countries in Europe. Places like Geleen, Hoensbroek, and Heerlen became quite cosmopolitan. Friezen, Groningers,Drentenaren Gelderlanders,Hollanders, lived side by side with Limburgers and immigrants from other countries.

I went to school with children whose parents hailed from Poland, Hungary, Checho-Slovakia, Yugoslavia and Germany. The language in school was of course Nederlands; on the playground and in the streets we spoke Limburgs. The children from other provinces and other countries were naturally absorbed into the Limburgse geneenschap.

Although the process of integration proceeded quite smoothly among the working class, there remained a substantial divide between the professional and the working class. Before the war Nederland was a very class conscious society. Thus, separate residential areas (we called them kolonieen) were designated for workers and for beambten (middle and lower management staff including engineers, supervisors and administrative personnel). While the workers houses were of good quality and their neighbourhoods were attractively designed, the houses for beambten were more upscale and set in separate neighbourhoods. In addition, many beambten were Hollanders and protestants who sent their children to different schools. These factors tended to keep people separated and delayed the process of integration.

Under the stresses of war and occupation class distinctions became less and less important, and people became more aware of what united them. The egalitarian trend continued after the war. Limburgers became more aware of their self-worth and they gained in self confidence. Underground workers earned more money than many people in administrative positions who found it increasingly difficult to pretend that they were “superior” to the working man.

Many working class children went to secondary and higher technical schools and climbed the socio-economic ladder with the result that more and more Limburgers attained professional and managerial functions with the Staatsmijnen and in industry generally. With the blurring of class distinctions the feelings of inferiority and alienation Limburgers used to have towards Holland began to fade away.

In the early nineteen sixties the exploitation of the vast reserves of natural gas which had been found in the north of the country made the mining of coal unprofitable, and in 1966 the Netherlands government decided to close the mines.

That was an enormous blow to the economy of Limburg. Tens of thousands of workers were pensioned off or lost their jobs. Retraining of miners and placing such a large number of workers in other industries proved to be extremely difficult. It took decades for the economy of south Limburg to recover and to get back to nearly full employment. Fortunately, the huge chemical complex was kept intact and kept growing. An oil refinery had been added and natural gas replaced coal as feedstock. In the nineteen nineties the DSM as the chemical plant was then known was privatized.

Looking back it may be said that the Staatsmijnen more than fulfilled the expectations that the government of the Netherlands may have had at the time of their founding in 1902 : the economic development of Limburg and the integration of its people into the Netherlands society. Today it may be truly said, “Limburgers die horen er ook bij!”

De Peel, Horst, Weert

Mama was born and grew up in Weert; I was born in Horst and grew up in Geleen. Horst is in the center of what is known as “de Peel”. Weert is on its southern edge. De Peel covers a large area west of the river Maas north of Roermond straddling the border between Limburg and Noord Brabant. The make-up of the soil is called hoogveen in Dutch: ancient bog, now peat overlain by layers of sandy soil. Its natural vegetation is heather. Although traces of human habitation have been found that are 12000 years old, and evidence suggests that agriculture in the area began to be practised about 3000 years ago, de Peel was largely uncultivated till about 150 years ago. Farming was practised in the valley of the Maas but otherwise limited to fairly small areas immediately around the villages.

The limited cultivation was largely due to the fact that it was extremely difficult to break the land. To people in western Canada where the breaking of new land was a common practice until very recently that may seem strange, used as we are to all kinds of machinery. However, before the age of powerful farm machinery natural heather such as in the Peel was almost impossible to break. The heather grew to about a meter tall, with hard woody stems and branches thoroughly inter-twined, and roots a meter deep or more. Draft animals, whether horses or oxen were no match for the heath. To make matters worse, when the heath was cleared one was left with sandy land that was too poor for agriculture. (That was the reason why heather grew there in the first place.)

It must also be remembered that before man-made fertilizers came into use, the availability of manure was the limiting factor that determined how much land could be brought under cultivation. For centuries farmers toiled to remove sods of heath from the land to use them as bedding under stabled animals during the winter months, layer upon layer, up to six feet deep. In the spring the sods would be dug out of the stable and plowed or dug back into the land to provide nourishment for the crops. Often the increase in fertility was largely offset by an infestation of weeds. Finally, if the land was left in its natural state it could be and was used to graze sheep, goats and cattle.

Because of these difficulties large areas of the Peel remained uncultivated, its natural vegetation of heather provided food for sheep which for hundreds of years were the principal livestock in noord Limburg and which formed the basis for its most important industry, the manufacture of woolen cloth. For centuries many households in Horst had a spinning wheel and a weaving loom which enabled one or more members of the family to contribute to their livelihood. Flax was grown and processed locally and spun and woven into linen cloth. The small farmers were self-sufficient to a high degree, which implies that their standard of living was low.

Among the many reforms introduced by the French regime was a rational state-wide system of government administration. Gone were counties, duchies, church lands, privileges of nobility and church, etc. The kingdom of the Netherlands inherited and adopted in its entirety the French administrative set up of the Department of Nedermaas and called it the provincie Limburg. The unit of local government is the gemeente (commune) which includes a city, town, or one or more villages and the surrounding rural area. In 1850 the gemeente Horst comprised an area of 8027 ha (hectare), much of it uncultivated. In the second half of the nineteenth century efforts to exploit and develop the Peel were intensified. Two technological developments made that possible and feasible, the steam engine and manufactured fertilizer.

1 pharmacist

1 hat maker 12 klompen makers
10 bakers 2 watch makers 8 Pedlars
4 barbers 4 wood sawyers 4 coopers
4 dyers 5 house painters 2 tanners
1 book binder 20 carpenters 5 rooming houses
180 casual workers 1 teamster 2 basket weavers
1 goldsmith 10 store keepers 10 bricklayers
1 harness maker 12 tailors 2 plasterers
9 hoof smiths 2 coppersmiths 2 wheelwrights
8 shoemakers 3 butchers 3 thatch roofers
2 rope makers 130 weavers 5 wool spinners

The first steam engine came to Horst in 1850 to power the milling of grain and oilseeds. No fewer than 45 neighbours signed a petition against it, to no avail. The following decades witnessed the introduction of steam threshing machines, a factory for the weaving of silk with eight looms, another to spin wool and cotton and a steam driven saw mill that employed 25 people. In 1885 an entrepeneur mamed van der Griendt opened a peat moss factory that soon employed 40 people. The town of Griendsveen west of Horst is named after him.

In 1889 a public auction of 203 ha of peatland yielded 209,000 gulden for the gemeente Horst. The terms of the sale are interesting. The peat had to be stripped off the land and ownership of the land returned to the gemeente after twelve years.

By the time my father was born Horst had a population of 3751 people, 1916 males and 1835 females according to the 1880 census. Some ten years earlier an enumeration was done of the various trades and occupations in the village. In 1869 there were in Horst:

There was no mention of the number of farms in that report which is odd because agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. It is safe to assume that at least half the population of Horst lived on farms and not in the village.

007_Clercx-molen Dries
By 1900 Horst had eight oilseeds and grain mills which employed 20 people. Two of the mills were driven by steam engines, the others were windmills. The silk weaving factory employed 20 people and the cotton and woollen factory employed ten. There were three dairies that employed 18 people. The peat moss factories which employed 100 people.constituted the largest industry in Horst. The number of bakeries had grown to 20 and there were now 20 tailors and 5 breweries. Wages for men were typically one gulden (guilder) per day; some peat moss plants might pay as much as 1.50 per day. In 1897 a law was enacted that set the work day at 11 hours. The large number of bakers, tailors, and klompen makers is probably an indication of hidden unemployment, and that many of them carried out their trade at home as a sideline.

Enough about the economy in and around Horst at the turn of the twentieth century. A few words may be said about the social conditions. As I have mentioned before, Limburgers were pretty well all catholic, and the catholic church was very powerful in Limburg. There were historical reasons for that. Limbug had been a battleground in the many wars that were fought in the wake of the protestant reformation and the emergence of nation states.

During the 80 year war of independence fought by the Dutch Republic against Spain the Republic established garrisons in Venlo, Roermond, and Maastricht while other parts remained under the sovereignty of Spain, Austria, or Prussia.All of the sovereigns imposed taxes without ever bringing any positive change to the lives of the people. Hence the people did not feel any loyalty towards them.

Amid all the turmoil of war and changing regimes the Church remained the one institution that people could turn to. So it was only natural that its influence grew. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the Church drew on that influence to combat rival ideologies, i.e. Liberalism and socialism. There was no threat from socialism in rural areas, but the danger of liberal thinking was another matter. It is interesting and perhaps instructive to see how the battle was carried out on the ground in Limburg.

In 1856 there appeared in Roermond a “liberal” weekly news and advertising paper the Roermondenaar. To combat the liberal influence the bishop founded a rival paper the Maas en Roerbode. In 1858 the bishop forbade catholics to read the Roermondenaar. Six months later that paper went out of business.

Meanwhile in Horst the pastor fulminated from the pulpit against “loose living”. He meant thereby music and dancing. He made an offer to pay at least five gulden to every one who turned an accordeon in to him. He wrote later that he had the good fortune to have acquired so many of them that those devilish instruments and the bad uses to which they were put would disappear from the parish. As you can see music and dancing were frowned on by the Church.

Unfortunately for the pastor young people loved to dance whether he liked it or not. To escape the watchful eyes of the priests young men would often go to a neighboring village on Sundays to court the girls there, or they would organize dances in farmers barns. After all there were no movies, radios or televisions in those days so what else could young people do for entertainment but make music, drink and dance?

That was the world our parents were born into so let us turn our attention to their lives.

The Weekers

Mama was born in Weert on 4 August 1924, the fifth child of Helena Maria Hubertina Clercx and Joseph Antonius Wilhelmus Weekers. Helene and Zjef would have seven more children but one {the ninth) died while still a baby. Your future mother received the names Maria Louisa Hermana Francisca but was commonly called Mariet or when she was still small, Marietje.

The father of Mariet was born in Weert on 26 March 1892, the son of Petrus Joannus Weekers and Joanna Maria Hubertina Lambers. Petrus (his nickname was Zere Pier,I believe) was a graanhandelaar or grain merchant. He seems to have done very well and to have acquired quite a bit of property in Weert. Ome Maan.

has on occasion pointed out to me various sites in the city that his grandpa used to own. He and his wife had thirteen children, but only five survived childhood, married and had children of their own.

What has happened to the assets that grandpa Weekers had accumulated I do not know. Mama thinks that her oom Manuel (child 10, Franciscus Emmanuel) ended up with most of it. However, it is quite possible that her father’s share of the inheritance was used up gradually to supplement his salary in order to provide the necessities of life for his large family.

Mom’s parents were married on 29 August 1916. Helena Maria Hubertina Clercx was the daughter of Louis Jacques Jacob Clercx and Maria Elisabeth Hoeben. Louis Clercx was the owner of Clercx molen (grain mill). In 1910 he established

Clercx-molen Dries – Weert c. 1900

himself as butcher and “poelier” (poultry, in those days often wild birds) in the Langstraat in Weert. The store was later operated by Mom’s uncle Jacques, while her parents had a grocery store next to it.

Pictures of Marietje

Mariet Weekers 1947-48

Mariet Weekers 1947-48

Mariet Weekers 1947-48

Mariet Weekers 1947-48

1947-48 Mariets Hockey Team - Weert

1947-48 Mariets Hockey Team – Weert



The Clercx Family

The Clercx family had its roots in Eksel in present-day Belgium. An 18th century forefather, Joannus Mattheus Clercx (1759-1840) was a large landowner and held several important positions. As drossaard (a sort of combination of judge and chief prosecutor) he is credited with having wiped out a regional Mafia-like gang (called de Bokkerijders) and having sent 57 men to the gallows. It seems that a subsequent generation portrayed him in a rather unfavourable light, but later research has fully rehabilitated him. A head line in Het Belang van Limburg of 26-27 January 1991 reads: “Honour of drossaard Clercx restored through exhibition” and “Overpelt honours one of its greatest sons” (Overpelt lies west of Weert in the Belgian province of Limburg.) A history of the Clercx family in Weert appeared in the Weerter Jaarboek and a translation of it is attached as appendix.

In the early 1920’s Joseph Weekers (mom’s dad) was secretary of the Rooms Katholieke Middenstands Vereeniging St Laurentius in Weert. Middenstand is a collective noun for what here are called small businesses, mainly retailers. Middenstands Vereniging is somewhat akin to a chamber of commerce. The middenstands vereeniging was concerned with expanding the knowledge and improving the skills of its members. It organized courses in bookkeeping as well as in various trades. It became apparent that many members lacked basic skills in their trade. The executive decided that Weert needed a technical school.

With the financial support of the government the Nijverheidsschool was established and began instructions in 1922. Mr. Weekers (Zjef) became the concierge of the school. His duties included record keeping, opening and locking up, as well as general administration. He stayed with the school until his retirement in 1957.

About 1928-1930 the Weekers gave up the store and moved into the house built next to the school where dad worked. There Mariet and her brothers and sisters grew up. It must not have been easy to raise eleven children on a school secretary’s salary. Quite likely, whatever was left of their inheritances went into household expenditures to supplement the salary. In the 1920’s Weert was not a prosperous town. In fact it was only just recovering from a depression which had lasted for hundreds of years.

A history of the Clercx family in Weert appeared in the Weerter Jaarboek 2000

Some Background on Weert

Back in the eleventh century Weert and the surrounding lands belonged to the church of St. Servatius in Maastricht. However, successive counts of Horn (the village west of Roermond where Thijs and Riky live) disputed the church’s ownership, and in 1306 an agreement was signed recognizing the graaf of Horn as lord of Weert. (Graaf is usually translated as count although the equivalent title in England is earl, in France comte). In time, the counts moved their residence to Weert, where they built a new castle in 1455. (The castle was destroyed in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1702). The ruins of that castle can still be seen there today. In the 14th and 15th century Weert experienced a period of growth and prosperity, based largely on the wool industry. The manufacture of woollen cloth expanded to such an extent that the woollen guild opened warehousing and sales centres in Antwerp and Bergen op Zoom. The religious and political wars that were part of the protestant reformation and Holland’s struggle for independence (known in the Netherlands as the Eighty Years War) brought an end to Weert’s prosperity. The Graaf van Horn (who was also lord of Weert) supported stadhouder prins Willem van Oranje  who was the chief spokesman for the nobles and towns who opposed the efforts of King Philip of Spain to centralize power in his own hands, and who insisted that the king must respect their rights and privileges and must govern with the consent of the parliament in Brussels. Furthermore, most of the towns in the northern Netherlands had become protestant and fiercely resisted the attempts by Philip to re-catholicize all lands under his domain. Weert also had a brief fling with Protestantism when the pastor of the St Martinuskerk revolted against the Catholic Church and preached Calvinism. In 1566 Beeldenstormers (beelden = statues and other depictions of saints and sacred objects) destroyed all the statues and artwork in the church and whitewashed the painted ceilings. (300 years later in the 1970’s the whitewash was removed and the paintings restored.)

As mentioned, the graaf of Horn chose the side of stadhouder Willem van Oranje.(stadhouder is a literal translation of the French lieutenant, lieu = stead, tenant = keeper or holder;) We would say “governor”. Emperor Charles V had appointed Willem as stadhouder in the  Netherlands} On a mission to the king’s representative in Brussels to present their case, the graaf van Horne was arrested, brought before the inquisition and beheaded in 1568. A few years later Spanish troops entered Weert, the protestants were driven out and Catholicism was re-established. In the eighty years of war that followed between the northern provinces of the Netherlands and the king of Spain, the northern and southern parts of the Netherlands became separated. The northern provinces established a United Republic in 1581 while the king of Spain maintained his sovereignty over the southern Netherlands. For Weert the separation had unfortunate consequences. The trade in woolen cloth between Weert and Antwerp which remained under Spanish control declined, and with it there was a decline in income. The population of Weert and surrounding areas also had to cope with the demands of armies who requisitioned supplies (for which payment often was not forthcoming), the levying of extra taxes to pay for the many wars, the plundering by soldiers who had not been paid by their commanders, the destruction of property, etc.etc. The result was widespread and cumulative impoverishment of the whole region. It is estimated that in the two hundred years from 1600 to 1800 the population of Weert and surroundings declined by one third. Not until the end of the nineteenth century began Weert to recover from the long slump with the establishment of some industry.

Family Janssen

My father was born on 26 January 1884. He was the third child from the marriage between Hendrik Janssen and Maria Bus. From the family tree you can see that my great-grandfather was Leonard Janssen who was also born in Horst. I do not know what he did for a living but I assume that he too was a small farmer as most people were in those days. My grandmother was Maria Bus born 06-09-1857. She had three older sisters one of whom, Anna Marie was the grandmother of Lei Wilms who married my sister Mien (Wilhelmina).

Because their grandmothers were sisters Mien en Lei needed dispensation from the bishop in order to get married in church. I remember that from my teenage years. I also remember my grandmother who lived to be 84 or 86 years old. She visited us several times when we lived in Geleen, a few times with two of her sisters. For the occasion they would wear delicate head dresses of ornate lace, called Brabantse mutsen. They were beautiful and they attracted the attention of our neighbours because such headdresses were not worn in south Limburg.

My grandfather Hendrik Janssen had studied to be a teacher but at the time before mandatory schools teaching was not a good way to make a living. Few children went to school because the parents had to pay the teacher directly. So my grandfather turned to farming. In 1883, the year before my father was born he bought a farm with 5 ha (hectare) land. (5.1895 ha to be exact or12.8 acres. The purchase price was 2300 gulden. The notary public’s fee was f.130.271/2 and the costs at the land titles office were f.19.591/2.

Canada did not have a central bank at the time so the price cannot be expressed in Canadian dollars. Using the relative values of the gulden and the U.S. Dollar under the gold standard the price would have been about U.S $1000 or $80 per acre. When thirteen years later the Homestead Act became law in Canada one could get 160 acres for free upon paying the ten dollar registration fee.

Jacob Janssen (about age 30)

Jacob Janssen (about age 30)

Petronella Janssen-te Baerts (in her early 20's

Petronella Janssen-te Baerts (in her early 20’s

Interesting memories of Nellie’s

My sister Nellie remembers quite a bit from our parents’ past from conversations she has had with them over the years when mom and I had emigrated to Canada. Here is some of what she remembers:

I will try also to tell a little about mother and father. Mother was born on 2 September 1892 in Broekhuizenvorst, a small village in north Limburg on the left bank of the Maas.

Her father was,I believe, a casual labourer, and they had a small farm. There she grew up with two sisters, Coba and Drika, and two brothers, Jan and Gerrit. She must have had a very nice youth till her mother got sick. That put a damper on life as a child. After three years of illness her mother died of stomach cancer. Her mother’s mother lived in with them and has played a big role in her upbringing and in her later life. Grandmother was called “Bestemoeder” and was an important person in the family. Mother and her brothers and sisters went to school in Broekhuizen, which was half an hour’s walk away, not uncommon in those days. Sis Drika walked with a limp that was caused by an injured hip that had not been attended to properly. Grandmother was seamstress; she too had a physical handicap but I don’t remember what it was. It seems that in those days many girls had a handicap and were then destined to become seamstress. Mother had an aversion to knitting when she was a child, and when her father then grumbled that she did not knit enough grandmother would come to her rescue and let her help with sewing, she really liked that. Mother would have liked to become seamstress but she wasn’t allowed to because sewing was for girls with physical handicaps. When mother was eleven years old her mother died. While mother was going to school elementary education became mandatory, and so mother did complete her six years in school. After completing her school she went to work with a large farmer (“op Wis” was the name of the farmstead). Her sister Coba worked there already milking cows, looking after the chickens and working in the field at harvest time. Coba was taller and stronger than mother and so the farmer’s wife decided that mother was better suited to help in the house. She liked it there very much. That’s also where she learned to cook so well. In the latter years of their lives Gerrit and Tiny have taken them on a tour through north Limburg and all the places they knew so well there. They really enjoyed that trip. By ’t Wis they stepped out of the car to take a good look at the farm and the living quarters. Having noticed their intense interest the farm wife came out to inquire from where this interest in their farmstead. And when she heard that mother had worked there as a young girl she invited them to come into the yard so that they could take a closer look.2 Especially mother found it wonderful. From outside everything was still exactly as it was when she lived there, even the little window in her erstwhile little bedroom. They all had a very enjoyable conversation with the farm wife.

When mother was eighteen she moved to Horst in another household, with the family Booms, but she has always regretted that move. She stayed there only for a year, and worked for still another family whose name I don’t remember until she got married to father.

Father was born in 1884 in Horst and grew up there; he was commonly called Blakts Cueb. His father was a teacher but in those days you couldn’t make a living at it and so he had bought a little farm in an area named the Blakt . 3 And so father was called Blaks Cueb. The house was later destroyed by fire and not rebuilt. However there is still a Blaktweg, Giel and I once took a picture of it. Father had 5 brothers and 3 sisters. Their house was a good half hour’s walk from the village which means they had to walk that twice a day when they went to school. In the years that father went to school there wasn’t yet a law making school mandatory. He was the third child in the family, there were seven after him, meaning that in those days there were many worries. As a consquence father went to school for only four years when he was hired out as a cow herder for as little as one stuiver (5 cents) per week plus room and board.5 The board in those days was also not a fleshpot, enough to eat, but during Lent all they got for dinner was potatoes with buttermilk sauce. Father’s chores were to herd the cows to let them graze during the day and to peel potatoes for next day’s dinner and to tread the butter churn at nights. As father told it he had to do the two chores simultaneously but mother always doubted that, it seemed to her that that could not be done .As an anecdote from that time his sister(tante Drika) used to tell that father wasn’t allowed to eat the pears that had fallen from the trees; they were to be used as feed for the livestock. In revenge he purposely stepped on them. When he was twelve years old he was called back to help at home when yet another child was born and his father couldn’t handle the work alone and his mother had more than her hands full. Father became “peetoom” (godfather) of tante Drika, his youngest sister. Father was very keen on learning and so in the years that followed he learned much from his father, language as well as arithmetic, and also history and geography. He could write very nicely and wrote faultless letters even at old age.6 At the same time he learned the farm work and to take care of the livestock and to take care of and work with the horse.

For fuel they used peat which they went to dig themselves in the surrounding Peel. They also grew flax that grandmother spun into yarn and grandfather did the weaving. When I was a young girl I got a bedsheet from mother that grandmother had woven. It wasn’t woven by grandfather anymore who died at a fairly young age. Thus my mother has not known father’s father which she has always regretted. Father also went hunting with his father; they didn’t need a licence for that at that time. He used to tell sometimes how they conducted the hunt and how well their dog, a tackle, knew where and how to place himself. The tales about his dealings with his father were numerous, from which it is clear that they related well to each other. Father had his hunting rifle and the dog for a long time, even when he and mother were married. In the early years of their marriage he still went hunting once in a while, but in the first world war it became law to have a hunting licence and that was too expensive. He did some poaching occasionally but the risk of getting caught outweighed the advantages. I believe that father lived and helped at home until his eighteenth year, after which he went to work in Germany in the woods, cutting trees. The forest belonged to a baron but a forester designated the trees to be cut. The workers boarded in the nearest village. They used to work long hours six days a week. They were in the Hanover area and he was then away from home for months on end. During the years father worked in the forests his father died. He had been sick for quite a while and father had talked with him about the illness several times but they didn’t know what caused it. Now many years later he thought that it probably must have been diabetes, going by what we heard from people who suffered from diabetes, because his father during his illness got unexplainable skin blisters, which, he learned could be a symptom of diabetes. So far Nellies memories.


Although I was born in Horst I have no memories of the place. I know from my parents that I was born on 31 December 1921 at about ten in the morning at home in the Herstraat. The house was located between two stores that currently house a supplier of bathroom fixtures and a restaurant.. I also know from my parents that it was a difficult time for them. As you can read in Nellie’s memories, father had worked in Germany from the time he was about eighteen. He worked there for nine years, all told. In those days young men in Limburg usually went there in small groups who worked together.

Vader worked at first as a woodsman as Nellie says. That was work he loved, you could see him brighten up when he was telling us about it when we were growing up. They would work for months on end then come home for a few weeks and live it up before going back. After some years he started to work in construction in the industrial Ruhr area,Duisburg and Dusseldorf, I believe.

There he learned to work with concrete and how to do vlechten (literally braiding or weaving) i.e. how to make the iron frames to reinforce concrete. In those days the rebars as we call them here,were smooth and arrived at construction sites straight in uniform lengths, and the vlechter had to measure and cut, bend and place them in forms according to the blueprints. Vader was a quick and eager learner and he became good at it.

Around 1911 or 12 vader came back to Horst for good. He met my mother Nellie te Baerts and they married in 1913. The following year the first world war broke out. Although Nederland managed to stay out of the conflict the war inflicted heavy economic damage on the country. The British fleet blockaded the sea routes to Germany and for fear that overseas materials might reach Germany via Nederland, the British inspected all ships bound for Dutch ports and allowed only small amounts of food and materials through.

Thus Holland was put on rations by the Brits. As well, many thousands of young men from Limburg had come to rely on work in Germany, mostly in construction and in brick ovens, for their livelihood. The war brought an abrupt end. to that The result was widespread unemployment and poverty throughout the province. Thus my parents began their life together under difficult circumstances.

Father took on any job he could find. He set himself up as a small independent contractor working mainly on jobs involving concrete but he was not shy to take on other work when available. I know of one enterprise that did not work out well for him at all. He entered into a contract with a merchant in Rotterdam who had bought a stand of spruce trees near Horst. The contract involved to cut the trees,debark them, cut them to specified length, load them on railway cars and ship them to Rotterdam. Together with a cousin he did all that but when he went to Rotterdam for payment the merchant told him bluntly that he had no money and could not pay.

The threat of a lawsuit did not faze him in the slightest. He probably had guessed correctly that it was an empty threat. Father didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer. It was a heavy blow for father and especially for the young family. I remember the story because in the mid 1930’s father went to a lawyer in Geleen and asked him if there was a chance to still collect the money. The lawyer thought so, but in the end they couldn’t agree on the lawyer’s fee and the money father had to put up front

When there was no more work to be had in Horst and the immediate neighborhood father advertised in the regional paper:

The Nieuwe Venlosche Courant of 18 September 1921 carried this small ad:


Jac. Janssen makes and installs all desired works of concrete such as floors, feed troughs, sinks, reinforced concrete, stable water cisterns guaranteed waterproof,reservoirs, columns, stairs, beams, lintels, fence posts, frames for greenhouses etc.

Translated it reads:

However the post World War I years were very difficult years for all of the Peel region, and one might say, for most of the eastern parts of Nederland. I have mentioned earlier that before World War I many Limburgers made their living by going to work in Germany. During the war the border was shut and for all practical purposes it remained shut after the war. The war had impoverished Germany very severely and its economy was in bad shape. The situation was made worse by the reparation payments Germany had to make to its war time enemies and by hyperinflation at home.

Unemployment was high and widespread so that foreign workers were not needed and not welome. With access to the German labour market shut off and very few employment opportunities in and around Horst it became more and more difficult to earn enough money to feed the family and keep a roof over their head.

Finally when hunger began knocking at the door father decided to try his luck in south Limburg where the state coal mines were being built and where there was a growing demand for workers. He found employment with a contractor who was building the electrical power plant for the state mine Maurits in Geleen. In May 1924,when I was two and a half years old, the family moved to Geleen.

Before the Staatsmijnen came to Limburg, Geleen was a boerendorp, a farmers’ village. It was very old; traces of agricultural settlement have been found that are nearly 5000 years old. When Geleen was designated as the site for the fourth of the state coal mines much farm land was bought up or expropriated to make room for the industrial development that was to come. Most of that land was from farmers in Lutterade, which is to the west of the village of old Geleen, but which belongs to the gemeente (commune) Geleen.

Land was also needed for housing the families of the workers on and in the mine. The gemeenteraad (town council), which was dominated by farmers from the village of Geleen, designated the area west of the railway Sittard-Maastricht, for the housing development for mine workers. The first settlement (kolonie we called it)7 was originally named Swentibold (after a grandson or great-grandson of Charlemagne who had divided the Graetheide among Beek, Geleen, Sittard and Born). When Lindenheuvel was designed and built the name Swentibold was dropped and all but forgotten. The first settlement came to be known as the “oude kolonie” That is where my parents rented a house in the Celebesstraat 21.

In sharp contrast to the disorderly if not chaotic way in which new developments often take place in North America (as for instance Fort McMurray) Lindenheuvel may serve as a good example of the Dutch penchant for orderliness and neatness. When the decision was made to start a mine in Geleen plans were made to provide housing for the expected influx of workers and their families.

Rather than relying on private developers to supply the housing market, a housing corporation was established in cooperation with the staatsmijnen to build the homes for the mine workers. To be sure some homes were built by private developers but they were only a drop in the bucket. The Celebes straat where we lived was one of the streets in the first kolonie (settlement) in Geleen. All the streets in that kolonie were named after colonial posessions of the Netherlands: Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes Lombok, Banka, Curacao, Suriname and Timor straat.

This first or “oude” kolonie no longer exists. The houses on the Java and Sumatra straat were pretty well all flattened in the bombing raid by the RAF in 1942. The rest of the kolonie was torn down in the 1970’s when they were judged to be too close to the chemical works in case a serious mishap occurred there.

My Early Years

I remember almost nothing from living in the Celebes straat. We lived there for only two years. Then we moved to the Timorstraat 43, a brand new home. Nellie still remembers a lot from our life in the Timorstraat, much more than I. Here is what she has written:

Iknow of course that we were a big family, father and mother and one sister and five brothers. Most vivid are images of all of us sitting at the table having a meal. I also remember that on Sundays we went for walks with the whole bunch; when I got very tired my big brothers would carry me a ways on their back. Further I know that I played outside a lot with kids in the neighbourhood. We lived in the Timorstraat 43 at the time; it was a corner house, the first in a row of ten houses that were set back from the street. I still have a clear picture of the house in my mind. Mother said that she had never liked to live anywhere as well as there in that house.

All people who lived there had come to Geleen out of poverty. The growing mine industry offered work for many people. Many people came from foreign countries; there were Germans, Poles, Yugoslavs, Chechs, Rumanians, and Austrians, and all those people were only too happy that they had a decent home and enough to eat. It seemed only natural that with good weather there was a lot of singing and playing in the front of our homes in the evenings. I was still very small and had to be in bed on time but once in a while I was allowed to stay up and join in the fun. I remember still shreds of some songs.

We had several German neighbours with kids of my age and they were my playmates and when playing with them I talked with them in their language. Their mothers said that they couldn’t tell that my parents were not German. I was so used to it that I sometimes asked my mother in German for a sandwich. Although that made her laugh she made me ask again in our own language before she would give me one because she did not want me to forget our own language.

I also remember that one time I went with mother to Kerensheide where she did the laundry for a while when a new baby had arrived in the family Montforts. In those years Mien was in the sewing school run by the sisters, I believe in the Geenstraat. I have been there with mother because Mien made an overcoat for mother and she had to go for a fitting. In those years mother also did cleaning in the kindergarten school; either Harry or Jan had to help her then; the other had to stay home to help Mien with cleaning. Most often Jan had to go with mother because he used to pester Mien. Sometimes I could go along; I can still see mother dusting off the electricity meter. I was allowed to “help” too with dusting. There was also an occasion where mother took me along on the bus to Sittard for a visit to the dentist to get dentures. Mother had very poor teeth and had much trouble with toothaches. Father insisted that when the oppotunity came she get dentures. She has always been happy about that for she was still young and it is no fun to live with bad teeth.

It was in that time that mother became pregnant. She always said that during pregnancies she had to throw up every morning and now was no different with the nasty consequence that she could not keep the lower dentures in; if she tried it made her retch. She was afraid that it would stay that way after the delivery but luckily that was not so.

On 15 February 1929 Gerrit was born. That event is also etched in my memory. That morning, it was bitter cold, Wim and I had to stay upstairs. Our sister Mien brought us sandwiches and tea and came regularly checking if we weren’t getting cold. After our breakfast we stood looking through he window. The snow was very deep and a car was parked in front of the house, the snow up to its axles. Mien told us that it was the doctor’s car who was downstairs with mother. After quite a while we were allowed to come downstairs where we were told that we had a new baby brother. Mother lay in bed in the front room, father stood beside her and the nurse showed us the baby. While we were admiring him he peed his diaper wet. Afterwards we heard that the temperature had gone down to minus 21 degrees. Because of the heavy snowfall father had had to go on foot to Lutterade to call the midwife but she was ill and he had to go still further to call the doctor. Then back home through the deep snow. About halfway home the doctor passed him by but he did not stop to offer him a ride. To make things worse Mother had a heavy bleeding after birth; the doctor had left so that father again had to go to fetch him. Mother was not very well for some time after and she also got ‘vliegende jicht’ (wandering gout,an arthritic condition characterized by inflammation of now one joint then another).

Fortunately she recovered fully afterwards.

In the years that we lived in the Timorstraat there was at first still a grain field on the other side of the street followed by a period that it was left unused and then the S.B.B. was built on it – which was called the ammoniak fabriek by everyone in those days. A buffer zone of perhaps a few hundred meter was left of unused land. For a time a shepherd might come with his flock but when the footpath to the Kerensheide was absorbed into the industrial complex that was developing the sheep grazing ended too. I still remember that when the factory began to operate we went to look at the water that you could see falling through the cooling towers. When the sun shone we saw the colours of the rainbow. I also remember that a sewer line was laid on the other side of the street. All those big pipes lying in the field, you just had to crawl through them, but one Saturday afternoon having had a bath and clean dress on I went with some other children crawling through the pipes. Mother did not appreciate that; I was cleaned up again but was not allowed to go outside. When the street was being paved I couldn’t wait to go outside to see the steamroller. In the end I was allowed to go on the hand of Frans who impressed upon me not to let go of his hand for if I fell under the steamroller I would be as flat as a dime. It was Frans too who took me for the first time to kindergarten when I was four years old. It was no success. I remember that I did not want to stay there if Frans did not stay with me too. That was not possible of course; he stayed in the doorway for a few minutes and I kept an eye on him, but at a given moment he was gone and I started to cry. The sister tried to comfort me but it didn’t help, and while she had to busy herself with another child I beat it out of there. I ran crying in the street. To make matters worse a big dog came towards me. I didn’t dare to move another step while crying all the time. Fortunately, men who were laying sewer pipes alongside the street kept the dog in check and I ran all the way home. Mother asked what was going on and I told her that I had run away from school. She wiped my tears and made it clear to me that from hereon I would have to go to school. I haven’t run away from school again but I didn’t like it either in kindergarten. There was very little activity. Once in a while we could do some weaving with strips of coloured paper in a prepared square. I also liked to learn little poems, but the sister had always the same little ring game that I didn’t like at all. We also might play outside in the sand box when the weather was good, but there were never enough little shovels and moulds and then you couldn’t do anything there either. Now and then I was lucky when my mother let me stay home.

Another thing I remember is walking with the whole family to Urmond and Berg to look at the digging of the Juliana kanaal. Today, it is hard for us to imagine that the canal was pretty well completely dug by spade. At the bottom lay a narrow track with tip cars for moving the earth. At the time we could also walk from Urmond to Berg over the dike along the Maas but I was always afraid that the boys would fall and slip down the dike into the river. In retrospect that fear is normal when you are a child; nevertheless, when I run into something strange I am careful to first take a good look at it. But I still remember that Jan teased Sjaak for a long time that when he was a small kid he didn’t dare to step over a cart rut because he thought that it was a ditch. When Sjaak got angry Jan enjoyed it. Jan has loved teasing all his life. Yes,it is quite an experience to grow up in a large family. As a little child you become aware that there is little money left over for goodies, but later on you learn that father and mother have had to forego much and have had to do all kind of work to stay afloat.

The Early School Years

It is a good thing that Nellie remembers so much from her and our childhood. I used to have a good memory but I have forgotten much of the days when I was a child. I am inclined to think that our emigration to Canada and our early experiences here have been so traumatic that my earlier experiences have been pushed to the subconscious part of my brain. Nevertheless I do remember some things to add to Nellie’s story.

I remember that in the Timorstaat we had never a shortage of friends to play with, and that we had a lot of fun. I also remember that there lived one man who had a motorcycle, an Indian, cycle that is. Then I remember that one Sunday there came a bus full of aunts and uncles from Horst on a visit to see how Kueb and Nel were doing. Mother’s half brother Lei was the chauffeur. He became our instant hero because he could drive a bus and he let us go along for the ride when the family made a tour of Geleen.

When we moved to Geleen- Lindenheuvel I was still too young to go to school. My brothers Harry, Jan, Frans and a year later Sjaak, went to school in Lutterade in the Groenseycker straat, a walk of about fifteen to twenty minutes. There was as yet no school built in Lindenheuvel. Mien went to school by the sisters in the Geenstraat. I believe that Mien was in grade five then. After grade six she stayed at the school because the sisters also taught housekeeping and gave further lessons in sewing. She became a good seamstress, and most of the mending of clothes and the sewing of new clothes for the family fell to her. On top of that she had to help mother with the household chores. It was a lot of responsibility for her.

Harry and Jan differed only one year in age and were close together. Harry was serious and Jan was more cheerful and liked to tease. His favorite target was Mien, poor girl but if she was not around Sjaak or I would do. Harry was a good student, and so was Jan. Jan was promoted from the fourth to the sixth grade,so he skipped grade five. I believe that was done for strategic reasons rather than for his performance. The headmaster needed more pupils in the higher grades in order to qualify for setting up a grade seven.

Mandatory school age was fourteen years or completion of grade six. Many boys left school after grade six and went on to the mine school as apprentices. Parents who had other plans for their children and/or placed greater value on further education could send their children on to grade seven. All the boys in our family went to grade seven. Much later in life Jan told me that he has always regretted that he skipped grade five because he has since had trouble multplying and dividing fractions. Jan also had a handicap because he was left handed. He was not allowed to write with his left hand, he had to use his right hand. The same was true in trade school. All tools and machines were designed for right handed people.

Harry was such a good student that the headmaster (Charles Bergmans) came to our house to ask father to let him go to secondary school and on to university. Father would not hear from it. Although father placed great value on learning, the needs of the household came first.. Even the headmaster’s assurance that he could get a scholarship for Harry did not help. The boys would go to a trade school and then on to a job to help bolster the household finances. That is what happened.

Harry and Jan finished grade seven and went on to trade school in Sittard, Harry to become machine bankwerker (machineshop worker) and Jan electrician. When Hay and Jan went to the trade school I went to grade one in the St.Joseph school in the Rozenlaan. Then two more schools were opened in the Kastanjelaan, one for boys and one for girls. Since these schools were closer to our home in the Timorstraat I was transferred to the St.Franciscus school in the Kastanjelaan. A year later Nellie started school.also in the Kastanjelaan.

Wim in front of the Eschdoornstraat home – 2010

Wim in front of the Eschdoornstraat home – 2010

While I was going to school there the great depression broke out. We called it the crisis. I remember that because it was talked about a lot at home and some of the foreign workers who lived near us got laid off at the mine. Some of those later moved back to Germany. What I remember most however is that we were served soup at school in the noon hour. Generally I liked the soup except when we got fish soup made with stokvis (dried cod).

While we were living in the Timorstraat the famous architect Cuypers designed an entirely new settlement for Lindenheuvel north of the first one. The plan called for wide, tree-lined streets, broad sidewalks and attractively designed houses. The plan was adopted and construction started forthwith. At the center of the settlement came the new church and the Bloemenmarkt around which grocery stores, barbershop, drugstore, bakery, co-op store, two butchers, and a fabric store. Meanwhile a boys’ school was opened in the Rozenlaan10 and a girls school in the Dahliastraat. Both schools were adjacent to the Bloemenmarkt. In 1930 our family moved from the Timorstraat to a larger house in the newest neighborhood, the Eschdoornstraat.

Our house was one of two higher and larger houses in the middle of a row of ten houses set back from the street. The two in the middle were larger than the others because they were meant for large families. We certainly qualified with our eight children. From the front door the hallway led straight to the large living room. The living room gave access to a small front room to the right and a door to the cellar to the left,and of course to the kitchen in the back. The kitchen had a door to the toilet and the storage room on the left side and the back door on the right. The stairs to the second floor were on the left side of the hallway.

On the second floor our parents had the master bed room (above the living room), there was a smaller bedroom also in the back of the house where Gerrit and I slept, and a fairly large bed room in the front for Mien and Nellie. A ladder gave access to the attic which had one spacious bed room large enough for two double beds and a dresser. Harry, Jan, Frans, and Jack slept there. The other side of the attic was for storage. Like all houses in the kolonie we had a large garden in the back to grow vegetables. In the front, the space created by the set– back between the houses and the street was intended to be a little park, but it never amounted to much. In the Timor straat the setback space was graveled and it became a natural playground. In the Eschdoornstraat the little park did not serve that purpose and we had to play on the street.

Although we now lived closer to the school in the Rozenlaan, I continued to attend the school in the Kastanjelaan. I liked that school; the principal, meester Kockelmans, was a good teacher and the class was small. I completed grades two and three there. Halfway through grade four I was transferred to St.Joseph school. The classroom there was crowded. I was seated far to the back of the class between the biggest and oldest boys who were twice my size. For them it was their final year in school because they turned fourteen that year. I believe I have a picture of that class. I did not enjoy that year.

Middle School Years 1928 Grade Two St. Joseph School Rozenlaan

Middle School Years 1928 Grade Two St. Joseph School Rozenlaan

In grade five my teacher was meester Dulles. He was an enthusiastic teacher. I liked him very much. Giel Konings,who would later marry my sister Nellie was also in that class although he was as old as my brother Jack (Sjaak). His parents had held him back from school for a year so he got a late start. I liked school and I was a good learner. I usually had good marks except for schoonschrijven (neat writing) and tekenen (drawing). My favorite subjects were reading, history, and geography.

We had no books of our own in school. For subjects that required a book — such as reading, grammar, and arithmetic — books were handed out at the beginning of the lesson and collected when the lesson was over. Scribblers were supplied by the school, as were pens and pencils. School started at 8:30 till 12 noon and from 1:30 till 4 in the afternoon. There was no school on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. We had holidays around Christmas and Easter and on certain religious holy days, such as Drie Koningen (epiphany), Ascension day, Pentecost Monday, All Saints Day. The month of August was our summer holiday month. On a yearly basis we spent quite a few more hours in school than do Canadian children.

Meester Zeegers was our grade six teacher. He was a serious and good teacher. From him I got the only ten on my report card I ever had. (100% in Science) until I got 100% in Grade Twelve Analytic Geometry and Trigonometry when I was at Teachers College in Saskatoon in 1954-55. There were fewer than ten pupils in grade seven which was taught by the headmaster or principal of the school. We didn’t get much instruction in that class because the teacher was too busy grooming the boys’ choir to perfection. The headmaster was also director of the church choir which included men and boys, director of the Lindenheuvel choir with the same singers augmented by a few women sopranos, and director of the Lindenheuvel Harmonie, an orchestra of wind and percussion instruments. The boys choir was his pet project and it rivaled the world famous Vienna Boys Choir in quality. My brother Jack was a singer, alto, in the boys choir. Later I became a member in the church and general choir. I spent most of my time in grade seven reading. The school library, perhaps some fifty books, was kept on shelves in the grade seven room and I read them all.

After I completed grade seven there was some discussion at home what I should do next. My older brothers had all gone to the ambachtschool (trade school). Father thought that I was not strong enough to become a manual worker, (I was small and slightly built). Going to HBS or Gymnasium in preparation for university was not seriously considered because that would entail ten more years of going to school and a lot of money. So it was decided that I should go to the Mulo school in Sttard. (Mulo stands for enhanced basic education).

The school was intended to provide practical secondary education to prepare students for work in a business environment. Its curriculum included instruction in Netherlands, French, German, and English languages, algebra and geometry, bookkeeping and business practices ,health, physics, nature, history and. geography, It was clearly aimed at providing students with practical knowledge useful in office work and in small business skills.

It was also a good preparation for the kweekschool (normal school or teachers college). Books were supplied by the school but scribblers, pens and pencils were the pupils’ responsibility. We also had to supply the kraft paper for wrapping the books,which had to be done neatly. At the end of the third year followed the exams which were set and conducted by the Department of Education. We had to go to Roermond for two days of written exams, and a month later those who had passed the written tests had to go to Roermond again for oral examinations.

When I started going to the Mulo in Sittard in 1934, the world was in the depth of the Great Depression. Unemployment was high and those who had work had their wages cut, on the state mines by an average of 13%, I believe. Still, father counted himself and our family lucky that he had a steady job. Also, by then

Harry and Jan started to work at the mine and could now contribute to the household.. The mine gave preference in hiring to children of its workers, but most of its hiring was for work underground.

Father did his best to get the boys placed in jobs above ground. He succeeded with Harry who got a job in the machine shop, but Jan was not so lucky. He was hired as an electric welder in an above ground job until he was eighteen when he started to work underground as an electrician. Two years later Frans was hired to work on the SBB, the chemical complex. By then Mien was married.. With father, Harry, Jan and Frans working our family finally began to enjoy a little prosperity, albeit modest. Ironic, in the midst of the great depression.

In 1935 Mien got married to Lei Wilms, and in the fall of that year Harry was called up in military service. In Nederland the first, third, and fifth male child in every family had to serve nine months in military training, after that they became reservist who could be called up when needed. So Harry went off to the barracks in Maastricht. When his nine months were nearly up, Hitler sent his army to re-occupy the Rheinland. Nederland declared partial mobilization and Harry had to serve an additional three months till the threat of war was over. Harry came home as an infantry sergeant.

When I had to go to school in Sittard I got my first bike. The older boys had all walked to school there but the Mulo school was more than a kilometer farther from Lindenheuvel than the ambacht school, and I had to go alone. Unfortunately, I was too small to ride an adult bicycle. I could not get over the frame. Even when I sat on the frame my feet could not push the pedals round because my legs were too short. So father bought an old, old women’s bike that had the curved frame. Even then Harry had to modify it so that the seat could be set lower so that I could sit on it and reach the pedals at their low point. The bike lasted for a year. Then I got a man’s bike with a lower and heavier frame which I traded for a regular sized bike a few years later when I had grown taller.



Middenstand Diploma

While I was going to the Mulo, parliament passed legislation to make it more difficult for people to get into business. The depression had brought many small businesses in financial difficulties because when working people loose their job and have no money to spend, the retailers will suffer too. To make matters worse many people who lost their job tried to set themselves up in business of one kind or another. The result was even sharper competition among retailers and more business failures. To break the vicious cycle the government required that every person who wanted to start a business had to be qualified in his trade and in bookkeeping and business administration so that he would at least know whether the business was viable. He also needed proof that he was qualified in the particular trade he wanted to enter. Existing businesses were grandfathered in.

When father read about the new legislation he said immediately:” Wim should get that “middenstand” diploma” as it was called. At the same time one of the teachers who taught bookkeeping at the Mulo saw a chance to make some extra money by setting up a course to prepare students for an examination in the required subjects. I didn’t mind taking the extra course, although I had to sacrifice my free Wednesday afternoons. I finished the course and passed the exam in the spring of 1937. I thought that I would never need that diploma but I was wrong. A few months later I passed the final Mulo examination.

The question of what to do next had been discussed in the months preceding the examination. Prospects for an office job were virtually nil and there was still a huge unemployment problem. The coal mine did hire people again but only for underground, which neither father nor I wanted. At fifteen I was too young to go to normal school. Besides, no teachers were being hired anywhere. There were scores of freshly minted school teachers who worked for no pay in those years in the hope that they might be hired when times got better. So it was decided that I might as well go to the Mulo for another year to obtain a Mulo B certificate. (enhanced sciences and mathematics). It turned out to be a waste of time.

There were only five students in the class.There was no classroom for the diploma B students; desks were set up in a corner of the gym to accommodate us but only for the period of one lesson at a time in a particular subject. (The gym was actually part of the elementary school to which the mulo was attached.) When the period was over we had to return to a class room that was in use for the regular mulo program. There we could do our homework and be quiet while teaching to the class that belonged there went on. Our classes were conducted by teachers from the regular mulo program whose attitude indicated that they considered the extra work an imposition.

My attitude towards school became decidedly negative. Typically a teacher would spend the first few minutes of a period on instruction and then assign work to do on our own while he corrected papers or did other work of his own. Amazingly, on my report card at Christmas time I got marks not only in physics, algebra, geometry and drawing – subjects that we were studying, but in all the subjects we were not taking as well – the four languages, history, geography, etc. And the marks were not very good. I protested to the principal that this seemed illogical and hardly fair but to no avail. I was angry and my parents were unpleasantly surprised. Nevertheless they encouraged me to carry on and to study harder.

I must admit that by then I was no longer a model student, far from it. Throughout my elementary school years I had always been among the top students, I was used to getting high marks, I had lots of friends, and I was happy. That began to change when I was twelve and in grade seven, I became acutely aware that I was small, and I felt that as a weakness. It may also be that I felt that because little studying took place in grade seven so that I could not compensate for my weakness by outshining my bigger classmates in that area. The underlying reason probably is that the malaise of puberty overwhelmed me. The feeling of inferiority stayed with me throughout my years in Mulo school. Although I never had a failing grade in any subject my marks were not nearly as good as I (and my parents) had become used to when I was in elementary school.

Thereby comes that there was one teacher at the Mulo who seemed forever to be looking for a chance to humiliate me in front of my class mates. I developed an intense dislike of him, as he had of me. It was that teacher who provided me with the reason to quit school when, on the Easter report in 1938 he gave me failing grades in every single subject including the ones in which we had taken no part. I told my parents that I was not going back to that school no matter what.

After the easter holidays I brought back the books, piled them on the principal’s desk and told him why I was quitting. He let slip that it was mr. Kaalen who had compiled the report cards and who had given me the bad marks “to teach me a lesson that I had to study harder if I wanted to make it”.  Nevertheless the principal had co-signed it. He urged me to let bygones be bygones and complete my studies. I wanted no part of him or the school. So ended my school years.

Wim at School - Grade Six

Wim at School – Grade Six

First year Mulo 1937

First year Mulo 1937

The Great Depression

It is obvious from my experiences as told above and from what Nellie has written that in those days the schools were operated in a pretty arbitrary manner. There were no school boards as far as I know, there were no parent- teacher meetings, and my parents never set foot in the school in all the years I was a student. If you felt that you were unfairly treated there was no one you could turn to except to the ones who had wronged you. Moreover, people were respectful of those in authority, and our parents were either inclined to believe that the teachers were in the right or they would advise you to just swallow it and that you could expect many occasions in life that you didn’t like but that you couldn’t change anyway. In other words be prepared for disappointments.

Above all, there was the Church. When school attendance became mandatory in 1901 all schools were public schools. For decades the Church fought to obtain the right to establish separate schools. Finally, in 1921 the constitution was amended to allow religious groups to establish their own schools and to receive equal funding with public schools. The task of getting catholic schools built in the new settlement Lindenheuvel fell to the newly appointed pastor and his church council.

As noted earlier, when our family moved to Geleen the children went to the public school in Lutterade, also a parish in the gemeente Geleen because there was as yet no school and no church in Lindenheuvel. A building in the Rozenlaan that was to temporarily serve as church but was intended to ultimately become the boys school was completed in 1924 at the cost of under f.44000. The next year the Barbara school for girls and a convent for sisters were built in the Dahlia straat for f.48000. In 1927 the church moved temporarily to the attic of the Barbara school while the building in the Rozenlaan was converted to a boys school. Finally, in 1928 the church on the Bloemenmarkt was completed at the cost of f.115,000. Het Volkshuis (the people’s house) was also built in those years but I don’t know how much that cost. It was destroyed by fire in the late seventies or early eighties. When you look at these monumental buildings you wonder how they could have been built at what now seem ridiculously low prices. Of course,everything cost less in those years, including labour.

Thus it was the church council who decided where and when to build the schools. Although the operation of the schools was supervised by school inspectors from the department of education everything else was decided by the church council. In Lindenheuvel the council had four members besides the pastoor. Two of the members were wealthy farmers and the other two had been farmers who had become rich by selling their farm to the state mines. There was no worker on the council even though Lindenheuvel was a parish of mine workers.

The influence and power of the church reached far in the catholic provinces of Limburg and N. Brabant. In these provinces boys and girls went to separate schools because that is what the church wanted. Boys and girls could not make use of the swimming pool at the same time because the Church frowned on mixing of the sexes in swimming pools as well, and few if any municipal councillors could be found who would defy the church even though the pools were owned and operated by the gemeente. Even every sports, social or cultural organization had a “spiritual adviser” appointed by the pastoor.

I don’t know what father earned in those early years in Lindenheuvel except that it was more than twice as much as he could have earned in Horst. Also, as Nellie has noted, father often worked overtime, and mother and the older children took on jobs to earn a little extra. Later, when we lived in the Esdoornstraat, I know that father’s weekly pay envelope contained eighteen gulden. Workers were paid in cash in those days. Wages were rated per hour and calculated every month, but a weekly advance was made every Friday. At the end of the month workers received a statement of hours worked – overtime if any (at time and a half), premium for piece work if applicable – and deductions – for rent if they lived in a house of the housing corporation, coal and kindle wood obtained from the mine, pension fund contribution etc. Water was included in the rent. Hence once a month the pay envelope could be a lot bigger than the weekly pay, particularly for underground workers. Father’s pay was net of rent and other deductions but he was not in the pension fund because he was over forty years of age when he started at the mine.

I think it is fair to say that life in Lindenheuvel in the 1930’s was good not only for our family but for most families. To be sure there were some years, from 1933 to 1936 in particular, that the coal inventories were piling up because the coal could not be sold at a decent price. The staatsmijnen introduced five-day work weeks and even some four-day work weeks. The miners called these unpaid days offfeierschichte, a German expression literally meaning feast shifts. (many German expressions were commonly used in coal mining). Most younger workers enjoyed these extra days off. Parents were of course more concerned over the loss of income. In the later thirties when Germany’s re-armament program went into full gear the stock piles of coal disappeared and with them the feierschichte.

Lindenheuvel was a good place to live. People got along well. They had come from all corners of Europe in search of a better life and they had found it. They had steady jobs, good pay, good homes and well kept neighborhoods. Social and cultural organizations were formed such as a gymnastics club that morphed into an athletics club, a football club, choirs, a harmonie,13 a pipe and drum club, a drama club, youth clubs etc. There was something for every one.

Lindenheuvel had a big sports park with one main soccer field and two smaller ones for training purposes. There was also a park with trees and shrubs with a walking path through it. The athletics and soccer clubs formed one organization which was called Wilskracht who were the principal users of the sport facilities. Geleen had an even larger sport facility that was home to football club Quiick. Finally, there was football club Maurits that played on a field provided by the mine of that name. Maurits played in a different (and higher) league and the best players in Geleen and environs usually ended up playing for Maurits. As you can see there were lots of things to do in Lindenheuvel-Geleen and surrounding area.

All the boys in our family except Gerrit who was too young belonged to the gymnastics club. When the athletics club was formed Harry, Jan and I joined that too, When Gerrit became a teenager he played in the youth football team of Wilskracht which was a very good team. Still later when a handball team was formed Gerrit and I both played in it. In the early years of organized handball the game was played on regular soccer fields and each team had eleven players. Later, after we had emigrated to Canada the game went in doors with teams of six players.

935 - Jan, Nellie, Frans & Wim

935 – Jan, Nellie, Frans & Wim

1938 - Wim & Piet Bal on the "bruinkool"

1938 – Wim & Piet Bal on the “bruinkool”

When we were growing up in the Eschdoornstraat Jack (Sjaak) and I spent several weeks of our summer vacations in Arcen as guests of tante Coba, mother’s sister. She and her husband, ome Sir Teluy, had five children, Mien, Chrit, Jan, Piet and Gerrit. Piet and Gerrit were about the same age as Jack and I. We loved it there. Arcen was and still is a very nice place. It is on the right (east) bank of the Maas 12 km north of Venlo. It has a castle surrounded by a moat, a beautiful flower garden, and a spruce forest behind it. To the east of the village there are some low hills and the heath stretches all the way to the border with Germany. A creek formed natural pools in places that we used to go swim in. Where the creek runs into the Maas stood a working water mill. In short, Arcen was an ideal place to spend our vacation. Jack and I always were close friends as well as brothers. We spent a lot of time together. Jack was stronger than I was, and he beat me at a lot of things such as wrestling, walking on stilts, and walking on his hands. Jack was also more daring than I was. He even climbed the church steeple in Lindenheuvel,(55 meter high) something I would not even think of doing.

In 1936 Jack had completed his three-year course in carpentry-cabinet making and got a job in the maintenance division of Thuis Best, the housing corporation that managed all the kolonie houses in Lindenheuvel. It was a cushy job for there was no pressure on the staff who worked at a leisurely pace. However it did not pay too well and the work gave Jack little opportunity to upgrade his skills. By that time Jack became interested in girls and he began to chum around with like minded guys. Hein Borger with whom he had gone to trade school became his closest friend. Jack also became friendly with Wim Rutten who was a teacher at the school in the Kastanjelaan, and who had become involved in hypnotism. In fact he was very good at it and Jack became his favorite subject or medium in demonstrations. Wim Rutten’s father was a superintendent on the mine where our father was a foreman. The Ruttens lived on the Graetheide close to where now the A2 runs, and Jack spent many evenings there.

Meanwhile Harry had come back from his stint in the military and resumed work in the machine shop of the mine. The army had suited him and he no longer liked his job. It was not long before he began talking about making the army his career. Finally in 1938 he enlisted in the KNIL, the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger(Royal Netherlands Indies Army). After a short time of training and indoctrination he was shipped out to the Indies shortly before Christmas 1938.

A year earlier Frans was called up and went to Maastricht for military training. By the time his training period was completed in the spring of 1939 Germany had invaded Czechoslovakia and Nederland had gone over to full mobilization. The infantry division Frans served in as Sergeant Major was dispatched to the Peel linie, a system of defensive trenches on the Noord Brabant side of the Peel near Gemert. That year I was called up for the “keuring”, the physical examination for military service in the year following. They also administered an IQ test. After the tests I was asked to stay . I was interviewed by three officers who said that I was good material for the officer school. I had not expected that at all and because I had heard mostly negative comments from Frans and Harry about their officers I declined the offer. I told them that I would rather become a machine gun operator like my brother Frans. It was not the first dumb decision I made nor would it be my last.

In the summer of 1939 I got my first full-time job as an apprentice by blacksmith Vaessen in Sittard. A young man named Theo who also lived in Lindenheuvel and who had worked there for a number of years asked me if I wanted a job and of course I agreed. It paid only f.1.50 per week but it was better than nothing. Father said that it was not even enough to pay for the washing and mending of the overalls I had to wear, but I was tired of staying at home and helping mother with the heavier chores, weeding the garden and gathering feed for the rabbits.

Theo told me that he started at seven in the morning so we got on our bikes in good time. Most days we worked till well past five in the evening. Even though the law set the work day at eight and a half hours., and 48 hours per week we worked sixty and even seventy hours in most weeks. When I came home in the evening everybody had already eaten and mother had to warm up a meal for me. Usually I was too tired to do anything but go to bed early. Still for want of a better job I hung in there. Relief came in an unexpected way. On the third or fourth Sunday of September it was kermis in Horst and father thought that was a good time to visit his brothers and sisters there and I was asked to go with him.

I told the smith that I was going to take that Monday and Tuesday off to go with my dad on a trip to visit his family. He said that I could not do that because he had too much work. I went anyway. When I came back on the Wednesday following our trip the boss started to scold me. I was not in a mood to put up with that and I simply said good bye and quit.

Somewhat surprisingly it did not take long to get another job. The state mines were building a central laboratory on the terrain of the chemical complex. I was hired by the contractor of the electrical facilities for the laboratory to help in the laying of cables and wiring. All the cables were laid, or rather strung, against the concrete walls of corridors below ground level. There was a corridor underneath each wing of the large building. The cables had to be strung straight as an arrow, which required the rawplugging of two holes every twenty centimeters for every cable throughout the entie building. Since we had no power tools the job was tiresome as well as very dull, but at 35 cents per hour it paid a lot better than the blacksmith and I came home every evening in time for supper.

Meanwhile at home the family was getting smaller, with Harry in the Indies, Mien married, and Frans in military service. When Mien got married mother got help from Nora, the second oldest daughter of ome Sjang, mother’s brother. Nora was a nice and quiet girl who stayed with us for several years while Nellie was still too small to be of much help to mother.

Summing up, the Great Depression of the 1930’s was felt less severely in the mining region of southern Limburg than in most other regions of Nederland. During most of the decade there were some 360,000 registered unemployed workers nationwide and another 50,000 who were employed in make-work projects. Together they made up more than ten percent of the workforce. However, the unemployed were concentrated in a few sectors such as industry, construction, ship building, and transportation, which accounted for about fifty percent of the workforce so that the unemployment rate that actually mattered was closer to twenty percent than ten percent. In south Limburg the state mines did not lay off personnel but did institute work sharing in the form of feierschichte as I mentioned earlier.

As I also mentioned for our family the entry into the workforce of Mien, Harry and Jan relieved father from the strain of being the only breadwinner in the family and began to bring us a measure of prosperity. In the 1930’s mother got a vacuum cleaner, a Singer sewing machine with a foot pedal (she had a hand operated one before) an electric iron, and father even splurged on a radio which was very expensive in those days. We also got a washing machine but not one that was driven by an electric motor. When I grew older and stronger I also became eligible to take my turn powering the washing machine. By and large we had reason to be contented with how we were doing, although father became increasingly worried that war might soon break out and that this time the Netherlands might not be spared.

Also in the late 1930’s I became well acquainted with kapelaan (chaplain) Mainz who was the assistant to the pastoor and the (spiritual) adviser of the male youth organizations. He was young and a very pleasant type who loved to play bridge. I didn’t know how to play bridge, a game that was not usually played by working class people. Chaplain Mainz played with Mr. and Mrs Bergmans, the headmaster and his wife. They needed a fourth man. they had “tried out” several of the school teachers but they were not very happy with any of them. Chaplain Mainz thought that I should give it a try. So one evening I found myself at the house of the Bergmans who explained the basic elements of the game to me. I was given a hefty text book from which to learn the finer points, and soon I became the steady partner of Mr. Bergmans. Of course, I had known him for years as the school principal, but now I got to know him and his wife better and eventually became their friend. Besides playing at their home we also played in tournements and bridge drives. I played bridge with them regularly until I got married.

1938 - Wim

1938 – Wim

Wim with Opa at the estate of Kaiser Wilhelm

Wim with Opa at the estate of Kaiser Wilhelm

War time

On 1 September 1939 the war that father had feared so much broke out when the German army marched into Poland. Two days later Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The battle in Poland was over in three weeks. The lightning speed of the military campaign gave birth to the expression Blitzkrieg.

When father and I were visiting our relatives in Horst it was only natural that the war was the main topic of discussion. Father and his brothers were old enough to remember the first world war and how badly it had affected their lives. They all seemed to agree that this war would probably not last as long as the first one because they thought that Germany was too poor and lacking in resources to hold out for long against France and England who could draw on their overseas possessions and their rich friends in America. But everyone was amazed that the Germans had defeated Poland so quickly because the Poles were supposed to have a very strong army according to what the Dutch newspapers. had been telling us. It was also puzzling that the French and the British did not undertake any military action against Germany to take some of the pressure off the Poles although they were now allies.

Our lives in Nederland were little affected by the war in the first six months of the conflict. Frans remained in the army but he came home to visit every two or three weeks. Like most Dutch soldiers he found military life boring and he would like nothing better than for the mobilization to end so that he could resume his normal life. Also, he as well as Jan now had a steady girl friend, which was an added incentive for Frans to come home as often as possible. The government introduced sugar rationing, not because there was a shortage of sugar but to set up a rationing bureaucracy in case the rationing of food became necessary. What I remember most of the winter of 1939-1940 is how I shivered from the cold and wet weather. The work I had to do was not the kind that would keep you warm. The wind and rain never seemed to let up in those months until it was May.

In early April there was some excitement when German troops marched into Denmark. The Danes did not put up any military resistance which would have been futile in any case. The Germans at the same time landed troops in Norway and quickly took control of the southern part of that country. Further north, the Germans ran into trouble. The British had announced on April 8 that they would lay mines in the coastal waters of Norway in order to stop the transport of Swedish iron ore that was shipped via the port of Narvik in northern Norway, and the Royal Navy was already present in those waters. The Kriegsmarine suffered serious losses and the Germans had problems shipping reinforcements. Fighting went on into May when the British and French redeployed their troops to northern France.

1939 Sjaak & Wim

1939 Sjaak & Wim

Harry in Bandoong, Java

Harry in Bandoong, Java

The Occupation

Between three and four o’clock on Friday 10 May 1940 I woke suddenly to a strange noise. I jumped out of bed to look out of the window which was open because it was a warm spring night. A great number of planes flying very low filled the sky. Everyone woke up from the racket and Jack said that war had broken out. He had been at the Ruttens last evening and Dutch army officers had come by and told them that they had orders to withdraw and join up with their regiment in the Peel.

We got dressed and Jack and I went to the Bloemenmarkt where a group of German soldiers were talking with some of the people who had gathered there. Soon notices were posted informing us that we must remain calm and resume our normal lives. The German army would not do us any harm as long as we remained peaceful. A curfew was in force from six in the evening till six in the morning. No one must be on the streets except persons going to work or going home from work.

Of course that day nobody went to work. People were shocked by what had happened. We had not expected that Germany would attack our country which had not been involved in war since the defeat of Napoleon. It took a long time for the shock to wear off only to make room for fear, anger, and hatred towards the Nazis.

At home, we were concerned over Frans who was with the Dutch army in the Peel, and with Harry in the Indies. From the Dutch radio broadcast we learned that German paratroopers had been dropped in and around Rotterdam and also south of The Hague. Heavy fighting was reported for control of nearby airfields. Chaos seemed to reign all over the country. Fighting raged on for another four days. In the afternoon of May 14 the Luftwaffe bombed the city of Rotterdam with terrible results: more than 800 civilians dead. As we learned after the war, 28000 dwellings were destroyed and 78000 people made homeless; 280 hectares of the city were flattened. The Germans broadcast an ultimatum threatening a similar fate for Utrecht and Amsterdam if the Dutch army did not surrender. Further resistance had indeed become meaningless and so the Dutch laid down their arms.

After the war we learned that In the five days of fighting 2032 Dutch soldiers had been killed; how many men the Germans had lost is not known. What has become known after the war is that the Germans had planned to conquer Holland in 24 hours by an airborne attack charged with capturing the queen and the cabinet in The Hague and a second airborne attack that was to capture the port of Rotterdam. The attack on The Hague failed completely and the Luftwaffe suffered serious losses. According to German sources of the 430 transport planes that were deployed in the attack 280 were destroyed. In Rotterdam and the Moerdijk the paratroopers succeeded in capturing and holding onto vital bridges and prevented them from being blown up by the Dutch.

The fighting in Holland had stopped. As part of the truce the Germans agreed that the Dutch soldiers would not become prisoners of war and that they could go home and resume their normal occupation.

We were relieved because Frans could now come home. The trouble was we did not know whether he was still alive or where he was. We heard rumours that the Dutch army that had manned the Peel defensive line had retreated to the west to avoid being encircled by the Germans but in the chaos that ensued the German breakthrough no one knew where they were. It was a great relief when Frans showed up three weeks later. He and his company had joined up with British and French troops who had marched from northern France to come to the aid of the Dutch but who became themselves encircled by the Germans when their army had swung west to the coast after they had fought their way across the river Maas near Sedan. The Germans reached the coast at Abbeville south of Dunkirk. Frans watched the English escape from Dunkirk across the Channel but he did not join them and came home instead. We were very happy and relieved to have him back home safe and sound.

I should mention here that mom’s father Zjef Weekers also had a harrowing adventure in those fateful days of May 1940. He had volunteered to serve with the air raid alarm guard. At ten in the morning of May 10 he received a telephone call from the commander in Den Bosch that the guards had to report in Den Bosch that afternoon. The guards from Weert departed by bike forthwith. To make a long story short, the group got caught up in the mass of retreating soldiers and eventually reached Dunkirk. After many more adventures Mr. Weekers made it also back home in Weert. He wrote a long report of his experiences. I have a copy of it, 12 pages of handwritten notes. It is too much to translate. I must also add that at that time I did not yet know my future wife or her family.

Daily Life Under Occupation

Meanwhile life under the German occupation had resumed its normal routine. Everybody was back at work. The six o’clock curfew was moved to 22:00. There was a general restriction to travel more than six km from where you lived but that also was removed when France surrendered to the Germans and the war in the western part of the continent was over.

In October of that year I was laid off when the rough work of laying electrical cables in the central laboratoty was finished. When I reported to the arbeidsbeurs (employment bureau) I was told that the only work available was in Germany. Because we lived so close to Germany workers could go there as grensgangers i.e. live at home and commute to work by bus. That did not sound too bad. I was assigned work in a weaving factory in Rheidt, a twin city with Monchen-Gladbach. The city is about 50 km straight east of Roermond, close to Dusseldorf.

Commuting turned out to be tougher than I had thought. The bus picked up workers in Beek, Elsloo, Stein, then Geleen, and a few more in Sittard before heading over the border in Tuddern, then on via Geilenkirchen to Rheidt. The bus stopped in Geleen-Lutterade on the Rijksweg in the centre of the town at 5:30 in the morning. I left home shortly after five by bike and left the bike in a supervised fietsenstalling. The bus was of the school bus type but with manual transmission. The ride to Rheidt took about an hour and a half. Work at the factory started at seven, a coffee break at ten, lunch from twelve to one, and work till five. Then back on the bus and by seven in the evening I would be having supper at home. That’s a long day by any body’s reckoning. Saturdays we worked till twelve.

The work itself was not too hard if you did not mind the racket made by a hundred weaving looms.

When we first started a woman (most of the Germans working there were women) showed us what to do and how to do it. Each of us (most of us were boys my age who had been unemployed and had limited work experience) were assigned a loom to operate. All you had to do was to keep a keen eye on the work the machine did and to stop it immediately when a thread broke and fix it. If the machine were not immediately stopped the cloth it was weaving would have a fault or a hole in it. If that happened the cloth would have to be unraveled which was very difficult and time consuming. Hence you had to be alert at all times. Once you had mastered the skill of fixing broken threads with a weaver’s knot and were confident enough in operating a loom you were put in charge of two or more looms. Many of the women ran as many as six looms. Nowadays spinning and weaving are completely automated but the factory in Rheidt was not that modern.

I worked there through the fall and winter of 1940-1941. In early March I got bronchitis which turned into pneumonia. Naturally I stayed at home which was all you could do in those days before penicillin. Moreover the doctor said that besides bronchitis I suffered from exhaustion due to the long days I had been putting in all winter. He prescribed rest and a tonic for which he gave mother the recipe. After about two weeks at home I got notice to report to a doctor in Rheidt for a check-up

He declared that I was fit to return to work. Our doctor at home disagreed so I stayed at home for another ten days or so.

When I returned to work I was told that I would not be paid any sick leave because I had not come to work when the German doctor had declared me fit. Naturally I was unhappy. At the same time the other boys from Limburg who worked there were unhappy because they felt they were underpaid. While I was absent they had upgraded to operating three or four looms but they still had received only beginners pay. They were in a mood to strike, and when the horn sounded that the shift had begun we stayed in the lunchroom. It was decided that I and Harry Peters, a young man from Berg, would go to the manager and present our grievances.

The manager told us rather firmly that striking was illegal and that he did not negotiate with striking workers. He told the two of us to go back to the workers and tell them that they had to get to work immediately, and we two had to leave the plant right away or he would call the Gestapo. Needless to say we did not waste any time to get out of there. Even so I thought the manager was a pretty decent guy for not calling the Gestapo right away as he was expected to do. We walked around to kill the time and at five in the afternoon we boarded the bus and went home.

When I checked with the employment bureau a few days later I was told that all they had to offer was another job in Germany. I said no thanks and stayed at home that summer. I made myself useful by helping mother, looking after the garden and raising rabbits. We had rented an extra piece of land to grow potatoes and vegetables, and still another piece sown with clover for the rabbits. It was a good growing year; the red clover grew a meter tall so that together with carrots from the garden the rabbits got lots to eat. I helped father to build more cages and before too long I had to take care of 140 rabbits. For the duration of the war rabbit meat was a staple of our diet.

War Time Administration

As the war dragged on consumer goods became more and more scarce. The first things to disappear from the shelves of the stores were goods Nederland used to draw from her colonies like coffee, tea and tobacco. Instead we got ersatz coffee made from tulip bulbs and cigarettes made from tobacco grown in Belgium or France. Butter and meat were also among the products that became scarce shortly after the Germans invaded. Butter was replaced with margarine but the quality of the margarine deteriorated so much that the companies that made the stuff did not sell it under the old reputable brand name. The same was true for the cigarette makers. All cigarettes were sold under the name Consi. In time, just about everything became rationed except potatoes, fruit, and fresh vegetables. Those we grew ourselves anyway.

I should explain as briefly as possible how the apparatus of the state functioned under the German occupation. When the army surrendered on the fifteenth of May 1940 the Queen and her family together with most ministers of the cabinet (and most of the gold held by the Nederlandse bank) had fled to England. They left the bureaucracy in charge to keep government running as well as possible. Hence all of the department heads and all of the civil service and the police forces stayed on their job and carried out their duties as before. Hitler appointed a Reichs Kommissar named Seyss-Inquart to be his liaison with the civil government. The Wehrmacht operated independently from the Reichs Kommissar but the Geheime Staats Polizei (Gestapo) and the Sicherheits Dienst (S.D. the security service) worked closely with him.

In general the Germans did not involve themselves with the day to day operations of the Dutch bureaucracy. One exception was their obsession to get rid of Jews in the civil service and in universities. The firing of three professors at the technological university in Delft was followed by the arrest of a student who had organized a protest meeting and a brief strike. The student was sent to a concentration camp in Germany where he died in 1942. The dismissal of a Jewish professor of Law at the University of Leiden similarly caused a protest meeting where the actions of the Germans were condemned. An eloquent speaker, professor Cleveringa, who spoke movingly at the meeting was arrested and held in jail for eight months. To avoid further troubles from the universities the Germans demanded that staff and students sign a declaration promising not to cause troubles. Staff as well as students refused whereupon the Germans closed all universities for the duration of the war.

Meanwhile, the bureaucracy carried on with the task of government. The Germans wanted Dutch industry to work full tilt. To spur production, wages were raised. So were the prices of agricultural products, especially those of grains and oil seeds as well as beef, pork, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Farmers were encouraged to produce as much as they could manage. Farmers had never made so much money. Other changes in regulations favoured farmers who farmed on leased land by extending the term of leases to five years with a right to renewal.That gave the farmer greater security and promoted better husbandry. It appears that this measure had long been advocated by the civil service but rejected by the politicians. That wartime regulation was still in effect in the 1970’s.Of course, most of the farm production went to feed the German army and the population of Germany. If Dutch people wanted some extra meat they had to buy it “black”at sharply higher prices.

In the summer of 1941 Jan and Jo got married. Because it was war time and there was a shortage of all good things to eat Jo’ s parents did not host a wedding party as was the tradition. Thus the wedding was a sober affair. Our family held a little party among ourselves. Jan and Jo went to live in Beek where they had managed to rent a walk up apartment. Housing was scarce because almost no houses had been built in the depression years. Luckily, they did not have to live in Beek for very long. One or two years later they came to live in our street, the Esdoornstraat, number 11, I believe.

One Sunday in June 1941, I went with Sjaak and Hein Borger, and a few other boys to Heel to swim in a lake there. We left very early for it took us at least an hour and a half by bike to get there. It was a beautiful hot day without a cloud in the sky. We enjoyed the outing tremendously. In the afternoon about half a dozen German soldiers showed up also for a swim. One of them had a radio with him and they were listening to an army station I think. From them we learned that the German army had begun an attack on the Soviet Union. It was the twenty second of June 1941. Everyone knew instantly that this was do or die for the Germans and for the Russians as well. I will never forget that day.

To this day every time I pass through Heel on my way from Geleen to Thijs and Riky in Horn I think of that Sunday in June 1941.

That summer Jack and Hein Borger decided that they wanted to set up their own business making furniture. They built a lean-to behind the shop that father had built in our yard. They kept their jobs for the time being and worked there in the evenings after work. They got an order to make a bedroom ensemble for Frans who was planning to get married. It was the only order they ever finished because they could not get supplies of materials. War time was not a good time to set up a business. Later that year or early in 1942 Jack quit his job with Thuis Best and went to work in a furniture factory in Heerlen. Hein worked there too.

That fall I went again to the employment office to inquire about a job. Again they offered a job in Germany. This time however an official who worked there said to me,”When you come back the next time don’t say that your last job was in Germany because then we are obliged to offer you work in Germany only”, so a few days later I went back and said that my last job had been in the construction of the central laboratory. I was then told that there was a job opening in the distribution office in Geleen. I applied there and was hired.

At the time, the distribution system was undergoing a radical overhaul to make it more efficient and less vulnerable to cheating. To start the new system one person in every household had to come to a distribution office with the “stamkaart” (the master card) of every person in the household and sign a receipt for the actual ration cards which was a card with a four-week supply of numbered ration coupons. Each week the central distribution office announced which numbers were valid that week to buy bread, butter, margarine, meat etc. Every fourth week a certain number would be designated that the households had to present with the stamkaart to obtain a new supply of coupons. I used the occasion to create several “virtual” persons to have some extra cards.

With the introduction of the new system, the distribution service set up a crew of part time workers who worked one week in four when the new cards were distributed. I was moved to the full time employees and became one of a group of four, later three, and finally just two who made up the buitendienst, literally translated the outdoor service. We didn’t work outdoors, however, but we provided the full line service in the outlying towns of Beek, Elsloo, and Stein which belonged to the distribution region Geleen. As such we dealt with applications for shoes, bicycle tires, for textiles, took in bread coupons from bakers and issued permits to buy flour, etc. etc. The most interesting part of the job was that we met a lot of people and heard a lot of wonderful stories.

War-time Experiences

While I worked in the ration offiice I made several good friends One, Jules Bessems, I still visit if I can, every time I go to Holland. Jules and I made provision to have some extra spending money and a piggy bank while the time was right. I would give Jules coupons and he would find a buyer for them. I let Jules handle the business end, and just ask him when I needed some cash. This allowed me to give my entire pay to mother to support the household.

In January 1942 Frans and Mai got married in the church in old Geleen where the family Boesten lived. In spite of the war time scarcity it was a good wedding feast with plenty to eat and drink. It had been cold for a couple of weeks already but that evening as we walked home there was a mild wind blowing and the snow was melting. Unfortunately, the thaw did not last long and the weather soon turned cold again and it stayed cold until well into March. That winter a lot of German soldiers froze to death on the eastern front. The Juliana canal froze over that winter too, so there was lots of ice to skate. I did not enjoy it too much because I suffered enough cold going to Beek every day by bike for my work so that biking to the canal in my free time to go skating was not all that appealing to me. There were some fields close to home that had been flooded by the heavy rains late in the fall that had frozen over and offered a modest alternative to skate on and I made full use of that in my spare time.

Around this time, February-March, Sjaak quit his job with Thuis Best and went to work in a furniture factory in Heerlen where Hein Borger was working who earned almost twice as much as Sjaak did at Thuis Best. What happened next is best told by Sjaak himself. The following is my translation of a letter sent by Sjaak to our sister Nellie in Geleen. Nellie was checking out whether Sjaak might be eligible for a pension following his heart attack and a subsequent coronary by pass operation. It appears that his eligibility depended on whether Sjaak had been a “resistance fighter”.

The letter is dated 20 May 1980:

Beste Giel en Nellie

We just received your letter of 10 May and of course our thanks.

I do not think that I can be called a resistance fighter.

In the beginning of 1942 I resigned from my job with housing corporation Thuis Best and took a job in Heerlen in a furniture factory where Hein Borger worked. I believe it was called Benschop. I had worked there for only about four or six weeks when a couple of officials accompanied by Germans in uniform showed up. They were looking for volunteers to work in Germany, but there were no volunteers. They then wanted the two persons who had been hired last. I was one of them and they asked us to sign a contract. I told them that I had to think it over, and that I would like that my friend went along. They agreed to that and the factory fired me on the spot. When Hein did not want to go to Germany and I neither, we went to another factory, also in Heerlen, but I can’t remember which factory it was. We had been there for only two weeks when the same thing happened. We knew by then that several persons who had refused work in Germany had been picked up and no one had heard from them since.


Thus we had agreed that if this happened again we would sign the contract. That was better than “strafkampen” (concentration camps), and the (promised) conditions in the work camp and the wages were so good that we were willing to have a go at it, and we thought that it was not really a free decision to support the enemy, and ,we thought, if things did not turn out well we could always get out.

But when we arrived in Swinemunde14 we had to hand over our passports and other identity papers, and to travel we needed special papers, and we had to wear the tag with the name of the firm at all times, and we sat on an island and it was tightly controlled. Now we knew that we were prisoners , and we began to scheme how we could escape from the island. So one day in June we hid a row boat and in the evening we beat it out of there. We thought that if we rowed hard we would be free, and we had half empty bottles of whiskey with us, so that if the Germans picked us up we could say that we were celebrating. At five in the morning we were picked up and after a stiff interrogation we were allowed to return to work. (Graatje Muifels from Swalmen, Hein and I) I then went to the railway station in town and bought three one-way train tickets to Vierssen.15 I persuaded Graatje and Hein to travel with me. We did not have proof of leave (a permit) so we would have to be very careful.


We departed the same evening. I believe it was my birthday, June 15,1942. Most trains in Germany were made up of single cars with no walk through connections. So we did not board until we were sure that there was no inspector in the car, and we always waited until the train was already in motion. That was a very tiring and scary game but it worked. At every stop we jumped off and usually back on the same train. Sometimes we let one or two trains go by because we saw too many SS men and inspectors. So we passed through Stettin, Berlin, and Hannover, and now the last stretch. But after three days without sleep and hardly anything to eat we slept in, and at the last station before Vierssen an inspector and an SS man came on board. We had to show our tickets and then our Urlaubschein (leave permit) which we did not have, of course. Immediately we were arrested and in Vierssen we boarded another train to Braunschweig (Brunswick) together with three other officials. (I don’t know if I spell all of this correctly, wrote Sjaak). where we had to immediately appear in Court. So we landed in a cell with some twenty other bandits, mostly jews, and some returned with bleeding heads and teeth kicked out of their mouth after their hearing. Then it was our turn. Hein and Graatje said that I should do the answering because it had been my idea and I was a pretty good talker. Where they hadn’t counted on was that I could be pretty headstrong and when we came before the judge and were accused of breach of contract, and pay for the return trip (to Swinemunde) for us and for two police men, I said that they had it all wrong (and that) in our contract it said that we would live in a beach resort. We would have radios, free transportation, free Sundays, 10 hour workdays, 5 days per week, and the Germans had violated every point.


The judge said then that we should be really happy that we could make a contribution to the public good, and that we all under the leadership of Hitler were moving to a better future. I said then that in our opinion Hitler was mad. They then went at us and beat us up, and we heard the sentence: 6 weeks special work camp, and two days without a meal. So we sat another two days in without eating in a cell with perhaps 70 other criminals, we couldn’t even lie down there was no room.. Now and then new people would be brought in and now and then some would go, but it was very quiet. No one dared say anything. I was very sorry I had brought Hein and Graatje in this mess through my hatred of Hitler and his Germans and I told them that. Both said that it was for the best. In Watenstedt- Hallendorf,16 the camp to which we were taken, I got number 7413 and never will I forget the misery I have experienced there, and if it hadn’t been for Hein Borger I would have died there. Twice he has saved my life there, I cannot write about it because my nerves cannot cope with it. When I was released from the camp in Kiel on 31 August 1942 at six in the morning I had nothing left but a pair of old shoes and overalls full of holes and a train ticket to Swinemunde.


My weight was down to 49 kilo and my breathing was very rapid and painful. It took more than a day to walk from the prison to the train station and I fainted every 5 to 10 minutes. Every time I came to I had something to eat again, thrown at me by people, but nobody dared to speak to me. Finally I arrived in Swinemunde. It was again Hein Borger who helped me and Graatje to get a leave permit at the end of October because Geleen had been bombed and Hein’s father had asked for the support of his son.

Of course when I was back in Holland I stayed as an onderduiker, and no one but an onderduiker knows what that meant. It looks fine, adventurous, you meet a lot of good people, but you remain a fugitive. I haven’t done anything great, but I am a resistance man through circumstances. I told everyone about the camps, the persecution of the jews, the hangings in the camp, the dogs who tore people to bits and the great starvations and the whippings.

Then one day there was a raid in Horst on a Sunday morning at 11 o’clock I believe. There were soldiers on horseback and motorcycles. I was in a cafe and couldn’t get away. One boy ran away but he was shot down in a potato field.


We were put in prison in Horst, then with sticks tied to our legs and handcuffed in a bus to Venlo. Another court. All onderduikers were in the same large room with the judge. I was the first one of the 23 who had to step forward to be interrogated. There I stood, and I lied and dissembled and played the hypocrite and in the end I was congratulated by the judge and let go.17 The others have never come back.18

I saw in their faces that I had let them down for I had always been their hero with the biggest mouth. I wanted to show them that you could only get out of trouble if you went along with them but they did not understand that. I went back to Horst and was more alert. Meanwhile I went to Geleen now and then on foot and mostly over country roads. At the end of August (1944) I met Hein again and we heard that Belgium had been liberated. Hein was engaged in a bit of smuggling so we went across the border somewhere near Maasbree I think and there the Germans had just hanged six men they had picked up, and the people were very afraid that they would see us, and they strongly advised against Hein’s plan to cross the heath by night and said that it was full of minefields. Then we heard that Nijmegen was occupied by English paratroopers, so we set off in the direction Nijmegen. When we were halfway we saw more than 500 German tanks direction Nijmegen. We went back to Belgium to report that information to Hein’s brother who had a radio transmitter.


Then we heard that south Limburg was liberated. We played hide and seek for a few more days and finally we were liberated in a small hamlet close to home. I don ‘t remember the name of the place. And then we heard that the Americans accepted volunteers and we enlisted immediately.

This is a brief account; there are a thousand experiences and a full account of my conduct and misconduct would fill three books, may be in my old age, but no I can’t do it, for even now I was overcome three times while I was writing this, and a complete biography I could never give.

I hope that this account is satisfactory, and I don’t care whether I was or was not a resistance fighter, but I was a Nederlander and a resister through circumstances, and I was very reckless and so I have experienced 2001 adventures, some incomprehensible some unbelievable. I believe I have known more good people than most, and there are so many whom I have to thank more than once who have done more for me than for themselves.

And I have also seen the worst suffering in the world at work, and the crying and the screaming of tortured people, and I have felt the warm final pressing of the hand of the dying.

I will write another letter in a few days. Much love from us all.

Nettie and Jack

So we see that for Jack the years 1942, ’43, and ’44 were one long nightmare of slavery, of suffering, of fear, of hunger to the point of starvation, and of humiliation. It is a wonder that he came through these years without going insane.

These were also very trying years for father and mother. When in December 1941 the Japanese launched their offensive against the United States and the Dutch government in exile declared war on Japan they knew that their oldest son Harry was now involved in the war causing them great worry. Their and our worry increased a great deal when in February of 1942 the Japanese fleet sent the Dutch East Indies fleet to the bottom of the Java Sea and destroyed the Dutch air force in which Harry served.

By early March the Japanese had occupied the main islands and cities of the Dutch colony. We did not know whether Harry was alive or dead until we got a little note from him via the international Red Cross sometime in 1943, the first and only sign of life since the German invasion and occupation in May 1940. All the letter said was that he was alive and well and a POW of the Japanese. We were allowed to send Harry a note back. The note must be no more than 25 words including the address, just as Harry’s letter had been. Naturally, we were all glad that Harry was still alive which gave us reason for hope.

With Harry in the Far East, and Mien, Jan, and Frans married, Jack in Germany and later onderduiker in the Peel, our household had become pretty small. Gerrit was barely eleven when the Germans came and still in elementary school. He must have started Ulo in the fall of 1942 or ’43, I don’t remember. By then there was an Ulo school in Lutterade so that he didn’t have to go to Sittard. At about the same time Nellie, who had stayed at home helping mother, left home to take a job as live-in housekeeper with vrouw Kusters, wife of a farmer who operated a big chunk of land leased from the state mines. That farm is now gone and the land is now part of the big chemical complex that stretches from Lindenheuvel to Beek along the A2 auto weg.

On October 5,1942 Geleen was bombed by the RAF. That evening I was playing cards in the home of Mr. Bergmans. We had heard planes come over and the sirens wail but we ignored that because that happened frequently. We were shaken out of our indifference by a very loud bang. Looking outside we saw bright flares lightening up the sky. The children had woken up and came downstairs. We thought it wise to go to the cellar for protection. We were in the cellar for maybe ten or fifteen minutes when there was a very loud bang close by. I looked out of the little basement window and saw a very bright fire in the middle of the road right in front of the house where a phosphorous bomb had exploded.

That was too close for comfort. If the bomb had fallen ten meter our way it would have set the whole house on fire, We decided to evacuate to the school playground which we could reach through the garden in the back of the house where there was a gate that gave access to the playground. There we lay down on our tummy. Five or ten minutes later we heard bombs whistling over our heads, then an unbelievably loud crash and a fountain of fire sprang from the house of butcher Aalmans about twenty meter from where we lay. What to do next? We decided to head for the open fields which then were not far from where we were. (The area has been built up since then.) There we lay in the grass until the bombardment was over.

While the family Bergmans returned to their home I ran as fast as I could to our home in the Esdoorn straat to see if our family was all right. Luckily they were. One house in our street was burning, no. 32 a few houses down and across the street from us (we lived in no. 27). A house on fire in Lindenheuvel was not as spectacular as here in western Canada because the houses were all built of bricks. Only the roof (under the tiles), the floors and the furniture would burn. Nevertheless, the house would be unusable for the time being and many had to be torn down because the damage was too great.

All in all the nieuwe kolonie of Lindenheuvel had escaped rather lightly from the bombardment compared with the ouwe kolonie, where the Java straat and the Kampstraat were hit hard and nearly all the houses and the atelier19 in the Sumatra straat were completely destroyed.

The greatest damage was done in Lutterade. The railway station building was burnt out and the whole street that runs parallel to the railway line lay in ruin. A friend of mine, Hein Savelkoul, died under the rubble of a cafe (pub) there.

In the days following the bombardment it was said that 110 people had been killed, but a report by the Heemkunde Vereniging of Geleen published in 1982 lists the names of 83 persons including the body of one young boy who has never been identified and 22 seriously wounded. 83 homes were completely destroyed and another 103 homes had to be demolished because they were too heavily damaged to be repaired. Many other houses had lesser damage. In all, some 3000 people were made homeless. That is a lot considering that Geleen had a population of only 16,500 at the time. There was also considerable damage to the above ground installations of the mine Maurits. The central power station was knocked out and fire damage put one of the shafts out of commission for weeks. Coal production was far below average for several months as a result of the bombing.

To this day it is still not clear whether Geleen and the staatsmijn Maurits were the deliberate targets of the RAF bombing raid or whether the bombers were simply off target. According to RAF Bombing Command quoted by the Heemkunde Society that evening some 250 bombers took off from several airfields in southern England for a bombing raid on Aachen.20 Together they carried explosive bombs (79 bombs of 4000 lbs and 90 bombs of 1000 lbs) and incendiary bombs: 60 phosphorus bombs of 250 lbs, 5,172 phosphorus bombs of 30 lbs, and 126,000 so-called termite bombs21 of 4 lbs), a total load of 490 metric tonnes. The weather over England and the North Sea was bad but over the continent the sky was clear and there was little wind. Since according to Bomber Command no other missions were carried out that night it is likely that some “pathfinder” planes mistook Geleen for Aachen and lit up the sky with flares whereupon a group of some 30 planes circled over Geleen and dropped their bombs causing death and destruction. It was one of those nights that those who lived through it will never forget.

For our family the bombardment had one unexpected but fortunate after-effect; Jack came home as related above.

The war dragged on and there was increasing scarcity of everything. The quality of the bread was getting worse, the milk began to look almost blue as every trace of cream was removed from it; butter had completely vanished from the store shelves, margarine was getting worse in quality too; meat rations were down to 50 gram per person per week, and smokers had to make do with one package of 20 cigarettes per week. There was precious little to celebrate as I turned 21 that last day of 1942 and the “Happy New Year” with which people greeted each other the next day was never more sincerely meant.

Our sombre mood was brightened a bit by the events on the eastern front. The Red Army launched a winter offensive The soviets broke the German encirclement of Leningrad and re-established an overland supply route to that city. In the south they drove the Germans out of the Caucasus and they launched a massive attack on the German armies in and around Stalingrad. The outcome was catastrophic for the Germans.

After the war the German generals confirmed that they lost 1.2 million men that winter in dead, wounded and prisoners of war. Their satellite allies of Italy, Hungary and Romania lost another 500,000. At the beginning of the attack on Russia I had bought a large map of the soviet union and we had kept close track of the front lines all the time. Now we could see just how far the German armies had been driven back. The German losses gave our morale a boost, which is what we badly needed for at home things kept getting from bad to worse.

The Germans began a system of mass conscription to work in Germany. So they announced one day that all males born in, say, 1921 who were not working in an industry vital to the war effort had to report for a physical examination and if found fit were put to work in Germany. I received notice that I had to report for a physical in Hoensbroek on a given day. By then I had become too valuable as a supplier of ration cards to onderduikers to be sent to Germany. The evening before the physical Hub Smeets who worked full time for the help-onderduikers organization came to our house. He had a little bottle of clear liquid. With a clean white rag he rubbed some of the liquid on the skin in the hollow of my left elbow, and told me to do the same in the other elbowback and in the back of my knees and in the groins.

“Tomorrow morning you will have a bad case of eczema”, he said, “if the doctor asks if you have had it before just say that it comes and goes, about every three or four months” The next morning I had great difficulty riding my bike to Hoensbroek but the examination worked as promised, I was declared unfit and was given an Ausweis. (permit) to stay in Nederland. I became deeper involved in the onderduikers help business, until at the end of the year I was asked to help Hub Smeets full time. I applied for and was given a leave of absence from the distribution office, and Hub paid my salary until I returned to work in the distribution office.

There was nothing exciting about the “work”. In fact I found it tedious and dreary. The number of onderduikers kept growing as the pressure by the Germans for more workers increased. Hence more ration cards were needed and more money to help families who had lost a breadwinner. We had a reliable person in the distribution office who supplied us with ration cards after I left.

The most important source of the money was the Catholic Church. Once a month a special collection was held in every church in the diocese for the “special needs of the bishop”. Every catholic knew what the special needs were: help for the onderduikers, and people gave with great generosity. In Limburg and Noord Brabant the Church had always had great influence, and during the war when the politicians had fled or were lying low and there was thus no legitimate worldly authority — the Church was the one institution with credibility and it had the organization to match. The parish priest in any hamlet or village was always a good person to contact if you needed to find a place for an onderduiker.

So Hub Smeets and I spent the winter of 1943-44 pedaling our bikes through south Limburg handing out ration cards, inquiring if the hosts had trouble,and occasionally moving an onderduiker from one place to another. I recall one instance where a Jewish woman who had been hiding in Geleen had to be moved because the hosts could no longer cope with the anxieties of hiding a Jewish person. Hiding a jewish person was a crime in the eyes of the Germans and was severely punished if one got caught. You can well imagine how tension in a household would build up over time and that some families in these circumstances needed relief. We picked the woman up in oud Geleen. She must have been in her forties or early fifties, thin and dressed in black. I took her on the back carrier of my bike. Hub rode some fifty meter ahead of me. If he saw any danger he would jump off his bike and fiddle with the light. (In Holland all bicycles were required to have lights which during the war when there were permanent black-outs had to have a “cap” with a narrow slit for the light.) We rode from Geleen through Neerbeek and Beek to Elsloo and from there to Meers, an isolated hamlet on the Maas, without incidents. We delivered her to our contact, a school teacher, who would row her across the Maas to Belgium (I believe he did that the same night ). From there she was to be taken to northern France and hopefully on to Spain or Portugal. I did not know the name of the woman and I did not want to know. I believed that the less you knew the less you could betray if you got caught and interrogated by the Germans.

Fear of getting caught was never far from my mind, and knowing Jack’s experience with the German police made me even more conscious of the need to avoid arrest. That feeling of insecurity caused by fear is what I remember most from the winter of 1943-44. That and the seemingly endless biking through the rain. It seemed that hardly a day passed that I didn’t get soaked. It was just plain misery. I cannot recall the exact sequence of events but at some point I returned to my job with the distribution office.

I would have liked to pass over the rest of the war time experiences but there are still a couple of matters I must mention. In January 1944 father turned sixty and he wanted to retire. Unfortunately he was not entitled to a pension from the staatsmijnen because he was already over forty when he started to work there. The staatsmijnen were willing to pay him 32 gulden per month for his loyal service, but that was not nearly enough for him and mother to live on. I agreed to continue giving my salary to mother until the war was over. I had promised myself that after the war I would go away and see the world.

So father retired and explored ways to make some extra money. On a farm where now the road runs from the A2 in Urmond to Lindenheuvel and Sittard several giant beech trees had been cut that had formed part of a hedge around a fruit orchard. The trunks, about a meter in diameter and one or two feet above ground, were left in the ground. Father offered to dig them out and haul them away for free. The farmer was only too happy to agree to that deal. So father set to work digging and cutting out the stumps and had them hauled home by a local dray man. At home he sawed and chopped the trunks into manageable blocks and put Gerrit and his friend Sef Lutgens to work chopping them into kindle wood. He sold the wood for a gulden a sack. He had no trouble selling them.

That summer Nellie who had been working for vrouw Kusters fell ill and came home. She had a very high fever. At first the doctor did not know what it was. He brought along another doctor, a young one who was going to take over the practice. He checked Nellie and took some blood samples which he had analyzed. The diagnosis : Nellie had typhoid fever. The doctor said that her chances of survival were very slim. None of the drugs they had in their pharmacy would help. They said that there was a new medicine smuggled in from Switzerland that could perhaps be bought on the black market that might help, but it was expensive. It cost a hundred gulden. We paid. Nellie was taken to the hospital in Sittard by ambulance. There were more difficulties. Nellie had to be put in isolation and someone had to stay with her day and night. That cost extra. We paid that too. The new medicine worked and Nellie recovered be it ever so slowly. Nellie was barely back home when Mien’s little boy Jan fell ill with the typhoid fever so he was taken to hospital. Luckily he survived as well although it took a long time for him to recover completely.

It was when these critical illnesses traumatized our family that the allied armies landed in Normandy. Although we had longed for the invasion to happen for four long years it now barely registered in our family for at least a week. With Nellie

en Jantje out of danger the course of the war became everyone’s focus of attention. We hoped and expected that the allies would break through the German defenses any day but progress seemed painfully slow.



The breakthrough did not come until early September when the British reached Brussels and the Americans entered Belgium near Namur and headed for Liege and Aachen. For three days thousands and thousands of German troops streamed through Geleen on their way to the Heimat. We thought that the Germans were defeated and that the war was over. We were wrong. When the soldiers reached their homeland they were re-organized and regrouped to carry on the fight. The push into Belgium was part of Montgomery’s plan to capture Nijmegen and Arnhem called Operation Market Garden.

On September 13 the Americans liberated Maastricht, barely 20 km from Geleen. Orders from the Ortskommandant were posted that able bodied males report to the Rijksweg in Geleen to dig foxholes, but not many showed up. On Sunday German soldiers were blowing up switches in the railway yard in Lutterade. Pieces of rail were blown high into the sky. To me it was a clear sign that they were about to retreat from Geleen. Many young people gathered on the rijksweg to see what was happening. Here too there were signs of rearguard action. Small groups of German soldiers with ammunition belts slung over their shoulders walked slowly, not in formation but by two’s or three’s in a southward direction, smoking and looking very tired.

Looking at their faces I felt sorry for them. I had conflicting feelings. I knew that these were probably the last German soldiers I would see and that I should be delighted that liberation was at hand, (and I was of course) but the sight of those soldiers with care-worn faces made me sad. I felt real pity for them.

Sure enough, the next morning, Monday September 18, American tanks were on the Rijksweg when I went there to have a look. Nobody was working that day. Groups of people talking excitedly were everywhere. For us the war was over at last. I could go home and sleep in my own bed again without fear of being picked up. I had been staying with the Bergmans since early August when I was advised not to stay at home and risk being arrested in the final days of the war.

The American advance stopped in Sittard at the German border.

The situation was confusing for us We didn’t know where Jack was – he had left a few days earlier to go and meet the Americans. Why hadn’t he stayed at home we said among ourselves and he would be free. A few days later, I don’t know how many days later, he and Hein showed up, but not for long. They joined the American army who used them on guard duties. When somewhat later the Dutch stoottroepen (volunteer army) were formed they joined them.

Although we were now rid of the Germans that did not mean that the misery was over as well. Ever since the allied invasion in France the food supply system had been breaking down. The bakers had no flour to make bread. The grocery stores were empty because the wholesalers had no inventories. The milkman did not come because the dairy had no milk. We got milk from a farmer in Einighausen and we managed to buy some grain from a farmer as well. We had bought a little mill early in the war and ground wheat and rye to supplement the bread we bought on the ration coupons.

A few weeks before the liberation Mr. Bergmans had managed to buy a couple of sheep from the nuns in the Geenstraat in Lutterade. The nuns were afraid that the Germans would grab them because in the last few months of that summer they grabbed every thing they could get a hold of. We had to lead the sheep home through the field paths in order not to attract attention. The sheep were so fat that they had to stop every few hundred meters to rest. We were afraid they might get a heart attack if we drove them too fast. Lei, Mien’s husband butchered them. He had worked in a butcher shop when he was young. So we did have some meat although I did not like the mutton one bit. I still don’t. All told, the last few months of the war were the most difficult as far as food is concerned. The whole food supply system had broken down and the coming of the Americans did not change that.

Hub Smeets introduced me to an American officer of the OSS, (Office of strategic studies) He was a major if I am not mistaken and his name was Meier I believe. He needed an assistant he said and asked if I was willing to help him for a while. I said I would give it a try. I soon found that the work was  boring. I had to sift through papers and correspondence seized in the homes of alleged Dutch sympathizers and collaborators of the Nazis to see if there was anything noteworthy in them. The officer spoke fluent German but he could not read Dutch. I did that for a few weeks and then I quit and went back to my job with the ration office. I later learned that the OSS was the forerunner of the CIA so if I had stayed with the officer I might have ended up working for that organization!

In November of ’44 we moved from Esdoornstraat 27 to Kerkhoflaan 43, a big house that had belonged to Kurz a groenteboer,(greengrocer,vendor of fruit and vegetables) who was a German and a Nazi who fled with his family to Germany when the German army withdrew from Geleen. Being German he had refused to pay taxes to the Dutch government and his house was seized by the Dutch fiscus (revenue department) when he fled. Father had set his eye on that house as soon as it became clear that Kurz was gone. There were more applicants for it but after I had asked Hub to put in a word for us we got it. It was a three story house with four bedrooms on the first floor and one bedroom in the attic.It had a big annex with an equally big basement and a stable for two horses.

There were also two low buildings, one containing the toilet and a large laundry room and another serving as a hay shed. It had a big garden as well. The rent was set at 30 gulden per month, double what we had paid in the Esdoornstraat.

Soon after we had moved the American troops were pulled back and for a few days we were in no mans land. Then the English took over. What is now known as the battle of the bulge had begun, the German counter attack in the Ardennes with the aim of cutting off the exposed American first army and Antwerp being the ultimate target. The Germans did not get farther than Bastogne where the Americans held them until reinforcements came and drove them back, but for a few weeks it made us nervous.

There was a world of difference between the Americans and the British in the way they behaved toward the civilian population. The American soldiers sought no contact with the people except when they were looking for female companionship. They kept close together making camp in ochards and meadows and slept in tents. The English went from door to door asking if people had room to billet one or more soldiers. We now lived in a big house and we had room for more than one. One bedroom was requested by an officer, two other soldiers, Len and Philip took the attic room. The soldiers belonged to the desert rat division. They wore a red rat on their upper sleeve. They had fought in North Africa. The division set up its headquarters in the Barbara school next to the church.

The billeting of the soldiers was a blessing. They gave us bread and other food stuff and that was very welcome. They also were good company and Gerrit and I could now practise our English. Nellie too learned quite a bit of the English language. On Sundays they ate dinner with us. The soldiers were glad to be in a home and to sleep in a warm bed. They stayed with us until after New Year when they moved on. Around Christmas they put on a concert to which we were invited. Philip sang “I am dreaming of a white Christmas”. He had a beautiful baritone voice and he got an enthusiastic applause. They kept in touch with us for a while even after they had returned home to England after the war was over. I believe that Nellie still got the odd letter from Len after I had moved to Canada.

When the English had left I thought that it was time for me to move on and to start doing what I had promised myself all during the long German occupation: to go and see other parts of the world. The Dutch government-in-exile had opened a military recruiting office in Brussels so I told my parents that I was going to Brussels to enlist in one of the armed services. The next day I said good bye to father and mother. When we embraced mother said to me: “Wat moet er toch van ons terecht komen” (what is going to happen to us? or, how are we going to cope?) I didn’t know what to say but I gave her an extra hug and left. Our contact in Meers would take care of my bike until I came back or until one of the family members would come and collect it.

There were a few more young men who also were headed for Brussels. He rowed us across the Maas and we walked to the nearest train station and bought a ticket for Brussels. We arrived in Brussels in the afternoon, checked into a hotel and the next morning reported to the recruiting bureau. You could enlist with any branch of the military you wished. If you enlisted with the army or navy you would be sent to England for training, if you enlisted in the American Marine Corps you would be sent to the U.S for training.

I couldn’t make up my mind but I went through the physical. By then it was lunch time and I was told that I could come back after lunch and make my choice. All the while my mother’s farewell words kept haunting me. In the end I decided to go home. I didn’t go back to the recruiting bureau. The next day I boarded a train and went home by the same route that I had gone. Father and Mother were glad to see me and I was happy to be home again.

When the British left South Limburg the Americans returned but did not mingle with the population like the English had except for tempting girls with chocolate and beer. The cafe’s as we called pubs profited from the money that the Americans were spending profusely. It seemed that they had unlimited amounts of Dutch money. They probably printed it.

There was no fighting in and around Geleen although at least one battery of field artillery was stationed in a field near the Heidestraat in Lindenheuvel. They fired shells long distance apparently over the fields and at targets beyond Sittard. The houses that stood a little across the street from the cannons suffered broken windows and sagging and cracked walls from the blasts. Several had to be torn down after the war. The newspaper had stopped publishing and radio contact with the rest of Nederland was broken, so we did not know much of what was going on. Of course, there was no lack of rumors. The sad fact was that the people north of the great rivers were going through the most terrifying months of the war. Finally in early May the Germans capitulated and the war was over.

The Groenteboer

Soon after the national and local governments began to function again father applied for a licence to start a business in vegetables and fruit. He was told that he needed not only a middenstands diploma but also a certificate of proficiency in the specific trade of vegetables and fruit. Naturally I was asked to get that certificate, and I duly enrolled in a course given for that subject in Maastricht.

The course was given in the evening hours and I found it a total bore. At the end of the course in November 1946 I received the required certificate.

A few months earlier I had left the rationing office and accepted a job of bookkeeper for a hardware wholesaler in Beek. A woman, the owner’s daughter, I believe, who had done the work before showed me the ropes and after that I was all alone in the office. The woman would come in once in a while to have a look but that was it. I felt pretty lonely, being used to the bustle and collegiality of the distribution office. I stayed there that winter after which I switched to a similar job for a contractor, Houtvast, in Geleen who was building a subdivision of 50 houses in Brunsum. There too I was the only one in the office but I had a bit more variety in the work. I wrote bank drafts to pay the bills and I prepared the pay envelopes for the workers and sub contractors (workers were still paid in cash those days). Often I accompanied the boss to the work site in Brunssum, especially on Fridays to hand out the  pay envelopes.

Meanwhile father wanted to start the groenteboer business. Mother was worried about it. She said to me that father thought that he could manage that but that in her opinion it was too much for him. I was bored with the bookkeeper job and I thought I might as well give the business a try. So, I had to turn my savings into an investment in a horse and wagon and some capital for inventory and cash flow. Because I didn’t know anything about horses, gear, and wagons father did the buying of those things. I did the buying of the vegetables and fruits at the auction.

1943 - Oma & Opa Janssen in Geleen

1943 – Oma & Opa Janssen in Geleen

1950 - Wim with de zwarte & groentewagen

1950 – Wim with de zwarte & groentewagen

On August 24 of 1946 Jack and Nettie got married. They had not known each other for very long, maybe half a year, and we did not know Nettie at all. But, they were old enough to know what they were doing. We all hoped that Nettie was a strong woman because we thought that was what Jack needed. Jack had always been more impulsive, more adventurous and less predictable than his brothers and sisters and his experiences during the war had probably made him more vulnerable.

It turned out very well for Jack. He could not have married a stronger and more devoted wife than Nettie. Because the supply of houses was still scarce in Lindenheuvel they had to look elsewhere. They found rooms in Spaubeek, at first with a small farm outside the village, later in the village itself.

Around that time I noticed an ad in the paper from the Institute for Social Sciences in The Hague inviting interested persons to enroll in a course inStaathuishoudkunde en Statistiek(Economics and Statistics) to be offered in Heerlen. I was interested and went to Heerlen to learn more about it. The course would be given by two professors on Saturday afternoons over a period of at least two years after which those who were ready could apply to write a state supervised examination. I forget how much it cost. I decided to sign up. If I was successful it might offer me a chance to get out of the rut I had worked myself into. I talked with father and mother and they both were happy that I was going to study to improve myself. Father would take over my vegetable route on Saturday afternoons.

So I started my study in economics together with about twenty other young men. The subject was entirely foreign to me and I hadn’t been inside a classroom for ten years. It took me about a month to figure out what it was all about. It was not always easy to study at home. I had to work all day six days a week so I had to study at nights when I was often too tired to concentrate. I fell asleep more than a few times with my head on the book I was supposed to read. I was not alone in that for as time went by more and more students dropped out so that when exam time arrived in 1949 only seven or eight were left.

We had to travel to The Hague to write the tests. There were probably some fifty or sixty persons from all over the country writing the tests. In the morning we were given three hours to write a long essay explaining the economic cycle. In the afternoon there were about half a dozen questions requiring shorter answers of one or two paragraphs. When the exam was over I was not too happy with my performance. I felt that I was not well prepared but I had done my best. For the next couple of weeks I waited rather nervously to learn the result. Great was my relief when I got a letter that I had passed the written test and I was invited to come to The Hague for an oral exam. I passed that too and I was awarded my M.O. Diploma.

In 1946 or ’47 the house we lived in was put up for sale by the government revenue service. The notary public told my father that there was still price control and that he could not let the bidding go on beyond the price set by the government. Also, the current renter had priority. Here we would say the right of first refusal. The auction was held in Hotel Neerlandia on market square in Geleen.

There were plenty of potential bidders. The notary public explained the procedures that would follow and the restrictions applying to the process. Then he opened the bidding. Father opened with f.6000. Immediately someone shouted f.7000. The notary said stop. The price is set at f.6700 and asked father if he would accept that. Father said yes and the auction was over. I paid the 700 gulded down payment. Father had already several people who were anxious to provide the required sum for the mortgage. The mortgage rate was five percent which was higher than the rate on savings offered by the banks.

Wim in front of the kerkehoflaan house - 2010

Wim in front of the kerkehoflaan house – 2010

Meanwhile father had acquired a substantial number of potential clients to whom we could deliver coal from the mine on a monthly basis. Mineworkers received for a nominal deduction off their pay four hl (hectoliter) of coal per month but they had to arrange for the home-delivery themselves. There were quite a few kolenboeren in and around Geleen who delivered coal for a fee, at least three who delivered in Lindenheuvel. Father had seen, rightly, that coal delivery was a good complement to the groenteboer business.

The going rate for delivery was 40 cent per hl. In practice the coal was of course never measured in hl anymore than wheat was measured in bushel baskets, but it was weighed and deemed to be 75 kg per hl. We used tightly woven jute sacks made to hold one half hectoliter (37.5 kg) When we came to the coal depot the empty wagon was weighed and we handed in the coupons for the amount we were going to load. The coal was in box cars parked on the railway track. We backed the wagon up to the boxcar, and father held the sack open while I shoveled in the coal, four and a half shovel worked out to half a hectoliter. When it turned out that we were over weight we were sent back to correct it After a hesitant beginning we were seldom over or underweight.

The heaviest part of the work was the delivery. We had to carry the sacks from the wagon to where the customer stored the coal. Many, probably most, customers stored the coal in the cellar so we had to carry the sacks from the street to the house and then through the hallway and often the living room and down the stairs into the cellar and dump them in a corner. We  had some customers who wanted the coal in the back of the house but did not want us take the short route through their house. For them we had to take the long way over the path behind the houses. In those cases we carried one hectoliter (75 kg)  at a time.

At first father and I did the work alone, then Jack wanted to work with us, and I had to invest some more money for a second horse and wagon.

We typically loaded 24 hl on the small wagon and 30-36 hl on the big wagon, so that were 48 sacks and 60-72 sacks. After Jack had joined us father no longer had to carry sacks. The winter months were always the busiest months for coal and then we had to make two trips to the coal depot to keep up with the demand of the customers. Thus the coal and vegetable businesses complemented each other very nicely because the winter months were a poor time for vegetables. The two businesses also complemented each other in the weekly cycle. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday were the days we sold the greens and Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we delivered coal. Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier that in those days selling bread, milk, and potatoes and vegetables from door to door was common in the Netherlands and probably in most European countries. People did not yet have cars and there were as yet no supermarkets. It was only natural that buying the daily needs at the door was preferred by most housewives.

In 1948 Harry finally came home from the East Indies. He had been gone for ten years, nearly four of them in Japanese POW camps in Thailand and Burma. He had aged somewhat and was also thinner. He did not talk much about the war or the camps. When he once remarked that the Japanese were mean to their prisoners Jack said that they could not be meaner than the Germans. Neither Jack nor Harry wanted to dwell on their experiences. To our great surprise, Harry announced a few weeks after his arrival that he was going to marry – but not to the girl he had been engaged to before he left and who had waited for him during the war, Annie van Kan.  Instead he would marry Lies van de Looverbos, also from Lindenheuvel. I am not entirely sure what caused the break-up between Annie and Harry but I felt sorry for Annie. I had gotten to  know her well during the war and liked her a lot.

Harry and Lies married on the same day that Nellie and Giel got married , so we had a double wedding and wedding feast. Harry told me that he much appreciated that I had been a support for father and mother all this time. He insisted on paying for the installation of a bathroom in the laundry room as a token of his appreciation. I found that a very nice gesture. Later that year Harry had to report back for duty in Indonesia and a short time later Lies followed him there.

1948 - Sjaak on the delivery wagon

1948 – Sjaak on the delivery wagon

Emigrating to Canada

A few weeks after the wedding of Harry and Lies and Nellie and Giel, I met Mariet Weekers the 24 year old sister of Piet Weekers, star footballer (striker) with Lindenheuvel’s football club “Wilskracht”. Piet and his wife Jacqueline had recently come to live in Geleen where he had been hired as a “mijnpolitie” (company police) for the mines. Weert was their home town. Jacqueline was expecting a baby and Mariet had come to help with the housekeeping.

Jacqueline was a customer of ours and she introduced Mariet to me. After I had seen her a few times at the groentewagen I asked her out to a dance. She agreed and we enjoyed each other’s company. We went out together several more times that fall and winter. By Easter time I asked her to marry me and Mariet said YES. We did not set a date yet but I introduced Mariet to father and mother who liked her instantly. I went to Weert and was introduced to her parents, who had no objections to our intentions to get married.

In May my mother fell when she was carrying a box of lettuce out of the basement. She had a concussion and a broken wrist. She spent several days in the hospital for observation. Mariet came to help in our household and from then on she stayed with us pretty well full time. On August 8, 1950 we married in the St. Martinus church in Weert.

1950 - 8 August - Marriage mass St Martinus kerk, Weert

1950 – 8 August – Marriage mass St Martinus kerk, Weert


1950 - Wim & Mariet; and with Flower girls Corrie & Nellie

1950 – Wim & Mariet; and with Flower girls Corrie & Nellie

Fortunately the house in the Kerkhoflaan was big. Mariet and I got the largest bedroom in the front of the house. My parents took the largest of the bedrooms in the back. We got the backroom on the main floor and father and mother took the front. The two rooms were about the same size. Mariet shared the kitchen with mother. Mariet liked my mother very much. They got along fabulously. Mariet learned a lot from mother. She got along very well with father too. They joked and laughed a lot together.


1950 - Mariet on the groentewagen

1950 – Mariet on the groentewagen

That fall Sjaak asked for a raise. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give it to him because there just was not enough money in the business. I was barely breaking even and was unable to set aside money for depreciation. If one of the horses had died suddenly I would not have had the cash to replace it. Sjaak then said that he was going to emigrate to Canada. I couldn’t blame him. In May 1951 Sjaak, Nettie and their three little children Ennie, Jack and Wilma departed for Canada aboard the steam ship Volendam, if I am not mistaken the same ship on which Harrie had gone to the East Indies in 1938.

An hour after they had left mother discovered that Jack had left his leather coat behind and she asked me to bring it to him because she said I am sure he will be needing it in that cold land. So I took the first next train to Rotterdam and found Jack and Nettie and gave them the coat. This is one of the little things that has stayed in my memory.

With Jack gone and father retired I had to give up the coal delivery business and sold one horse.

Meanwhile Mariet had become pregnant. She was very happy with the prospect of having a child and she conscienciously visited the midwife and went to consultations provided by the “Green Cross” – an organization that provided first aid and mother-and-baby services. Early in the morning of 13 September 1951 the baby was born. The baby weighed 3600 gram. We named him Paul because we liked that name and there were already enough Jacques in the family. He received Jacques as the second name after my father and Marie as the third name in honour of the holy mother, as was quite customary in the catholic regions of Nederland.


1951-52 - Mom with Oma & Opa Weekers and Paul

1951-52 – Mom with Oma & Opa Weekers and Paul

After 1949 when father turned 65 and Sjaak had come to work with us, father had gradually withdrawn from the business. The Dutch parliament was busy designing a general pension scheme for all citizens over 65 years of age. An interim act was passed while the definitive version of the scheme was worked out. If I am not mistaken father began to receive a pension in 1952 or 1953. 

In the winter of 1952-53 I gave English lessons to Sef Lutgens and his girlfriend Fien Drummen. Sef was a close friend of Gerrit and of the same age. He was also a friend of mine, although I was a good deal older. Sef had gone to trade school and worked in the metal workshop of the SBB, the chemical complex of the state coalmines. He wanted to emigrate to Canada.

The Dutch government had been promoting emigration ever since the war had ended. There was a general fear that the widespread unemployment of the 1930’s would return once the shortages and the damages caused by the war were over. The government would even pay for the moving cost of persons and families who did not have enough money. Tens of thousands of families responded by emigrating to Canada, Australia, and the USA in the ten years following the end of the war.

1950 - Sef Lutgens & Wim

1950 – Sef Lutgens & Wim

Gerrit, Mariet & Sef

Gerrit, Mariet & Sef

In the summer of 1952, I learned that one of the two stores on the Bloemenmarkt owned by the housing corporation was becoming available. The day after I heard that I met the superintendent on the street and spoke to him. I told him what I had heard and he confirmed the coming vacancy. I asked him politely to take me as tenant and I thought that my chances were very good. After all, he knew us very well, and Jack had worked for him for at least five years.

To my surprise he said,”You should ask the pastoor”. I thought what has he got to do with it, but I also thought that my chances with the pastoor might even be better because he also knew us very well. He had come to our house every month to collect one gulden to help pay off the mortgage on the church. He had started that practice in the early 1930’s soon after he was appointed pastoor of Lindenheuvel. His predecessor had done all the building for the parish and accumulated an enormous debt that pastor Leessens had to pay off.

His parishioners were hard working but not rich miners most with young and growing families. Wages in the 1930’s were not high, to put it mildly, and parents had a hard time making ends meet. In Sunday collections they gave one or maybe two pennies, rarely a dime. The pastor was appalled and in a sermon one Sunday he talked about the meager yield of the collection. He then promised that he would personally go to each house of the parishioners who were willing to donate one gulden. Father who was normally extremely careful with money said, “I have respect for that man. If he is prepared to come to our home for one gulden then I am prepared to donate one gulden every month.” So the pastoor had been coming to our house every month for more than 15 years. He usually chatted for a little while, collected his gulden and left.

So, I went to see the pastoor about the store. I explained that the store on the Bloemenmarkt would be of great help not only to our business but also to our young family. Although we got along well with our parents, and our parents loved little Paul very much, two families in one house was not ideal. In the long run friction was unavoidable, particularly if Mariet should become pregnant again. The pastor answered, “My good Wim, being a groenteboer is nothing for you. You are much too good for that. Wouldn’t you rather have a good job with the state mines? I shall make a few phone calls this evening and I’ll let you know tomorrow with whom you can speak about a job.”

That came totally unexpected and it disarmed me. I would love to have a decent job that offered me a better future. I had never aspired to be groenteboer, I had never liked it. That’s why I had studied to get a diploma that could help me get a good job. Unfortunately I had received no offer so far, and now the pastor gave me hope that some doors might open. I accepted his offer and within days I had an interview with one of the big shots. He referred me to a person who arranged for a number of interviews and tests. Everything seemed to roll along smoothly until I had to see one more person who worked in the personnel division. He brought me down to earth by offering me what sounded suspiciously like a minor clerk’s job with a commensurate salary. In other words he made me an offer that I couldn’t accept. I didn’t accept it, but I was devastated.

For years I asked myself what could have brought about that sudden change until several decades later Tiny suggested an explanation. She reminded me of a meeting of the executives of the hand ball clubs at which the priest who was the spiritual advisor proposed to fire two officials whom he considered unworthy without giving a reason for their fall from grace. I got up and reminded him and the meeting that the officials had been elected by the annual general assembly and that they could only be dismissed by the same. The argument became heated, the meeting chose my side and the priest did not get his way. Tiny said, “you can bet on it that the priest (Boymans was his name) phoned the pastoor that evening to ask him what kind of a guy you were and that the two of them decided to punish you”. Tiny’s suggestion made sense to me but we will never know for sure.

A week or so later Toon Kuipers, my fiercest competitor, talked to me at the wholesale vegetable auction. He said ” Wim, I hear that you were interested in renting the store on the Bloemenmarkt.” I said Yes. He said “you were way too late, I had reserved it already months ago, When I heard about it becoming available I went to see the pastoor, slammed thousand gulden on the table and said that I wanted to rent it, and I got it.” What an irony. Here were the Kuipers brothers who never went to any church, let alone the catholic church, getting the lease on a store that I wanted with the help of the pastoor who had come to collect a gulden from our family every month for more than 15 years.

I felt betrayed and I was totally disgusted. I swore I would never talk to the pastoor again. I also realized that I must make a clean break with the place if I ever wanted to get ahead, and that the quickest and cleanest break was to emigrate. I talked things over with Mariet. She simply said, “If that is what you want to do let’s do it. Wherever you go and whatever you do, I go with you and I stay with you.” I was greatly encouraged by her attitude and I felt good that I had finally made a firm decision to change course. Still, the responsibility for that all-important decision weighed heavy on my shoulders.

I applied to the Canadian embassy for an immigration visa and they sent an information package and an applcation form with a lot of questions. Canada preferred immigrants who had a trade such as carpenters or bricklayers or any of a host of machinery and metal workers trades. Academic qualifications were not in demand. People without a trade could be admitted if they had proof that an employer would hire them upon arrival, especially if they were willing to work on a farm. I wrote to Jack and he was happy to supply me with the name of a farmer who was willing to hire me.

Mariet and I had to go to The Hague for an interview and a physical. We had to bring a chest X-ray along. After that we received word that our immigration application was approved. All that remained was to book passage and to pack our personal possessions that we wanted to take along.

The booking of passage by ship was done by the Dutch government. Transportation from Halifax to North Battleford I had to arrange myself. The date of departure from Rotterdam on the steamship Waterman was set at 6 June 1953 at 16:00 hours; boarding to start at 12 noon.

I sold the business for 1100 gulden, barely enough to cover the cost of the horse and wagon and other equipment and inventory. I did not have to pay income tax on the proceeds because they were less than I had invested in the business. I received a statement from the tax department that I did not owe any taxes, which was needed to get the emigration permit.

As luck would have it we had visitors from North Battleford a week or two before our scheduled departure. The vistors were Fathers Fournier and Michaud who were the father-provincial of the Oblates in Alberta and Saskatchewan and the parish  priest of North Battleford respectively. They were on their way to Rome and were bringing greetings from parishioners in and around North Batttleford to their relatives in Holland. They were staying with the Oblates in their convent in Valkenburg while they were in Limburg. The were accompanied by an Oblate from that convent.

When I told them that I was allowed to take only $75 in Canadian money with me ($30 each for Mariet and me and $15 for Paul) because of exchange controls they suggested that I take whatever Dutch money I had left over to the bursar of the convent in Valkenburg. Then when we had arrived in North Battleford father Michaud would give me the equivalent in Canadian money. I had close to 800 gulden left which I took to Valkenburg and after we had settled in North Battleford I received $200 from him. The abillity of the church to act as clearing house thus stood me in good stead.

It was hard to say good-bye to all the brothers and sisters and really hard to say farewell to our parents. We thought that we would not see them alive again. Considering the distance and the cost of travel it would have been entirely unrealistic to think that we could save enough money for a return trip any time soon. Father was already 69 years old and mother nearly 61. The parents of Mariet were of the same age as my mother. Mother had offered to leave little Paul with her and father. She said that leaves you both free to seek work and get ahead faster. Indeed it might have but Mariet didn’t even want to hear of it. So the good-bye was difficult; my parents had become very fond of Paultje and he got an extra long and sweet hug.

I had arranged for a cab with a trailer from Lutterade. He was at our house in the Kerkhoflaan at seven o’clock in the morning. On the way we stopped in Weert where Mariet said good-bye to her mother. Her father and her sister Leny went along with us to Rotterdam where they said good-bye on the pier before returning home to Weert. The die had been cast; there was no turning back.


The Voyage

I felt as if Mariet, Paultje and I were all alone in the world. We had no one to fall back on, from now on we had to rely on our own wits. The responsibility weighed heavy on me as the boat steamed past the Hook of Holland onto the North Sea. The weather was beautiful, a bright sunny day without wind. The sea was as smooth as a mirror. The next day, Sunday, was another fine day but when we had crossed the Irish Sea and headed into the Atlantic Ocean it got rough. Crew members went around to the cabins and locked the portholes, Then it began to storm and Mariet became seasick.

We were not in the same cabin. Mariet and Paul shared a cabin with two or three other young women, and I was in a cabin with three other young men. Mariet felt best when she did not move around and stayed mostly in the cabin. I took little Paul out on the deck. I was lucky that I made him wear his harness or else he would have jumped into the ocean. The stormy weather lasted three or four days but by the time we reached Canadian waters the sea was calm. It was Sunday and rather than steaming into Halifax harbour the boat dropped anchor a few miles off shore.

953 - 14 June - Wim & Mariet with Paul on the deck of the SS Waterman

1953 – 14 June – Wim & Mariet with Paul on the deck of the SS Waterman

Early the following morning the ship docked at Pier 21 in Halifax and the disembarking began. We were among the first to walk into the customs hall. The customs officer checked our passport and asked a few questions – among others if we had brought any meat with us. Mariet had gotten a few sandwiches with rookvlees (smoked beef) from the steward. The customs officer demanded to see them, took the smoked beef and threw it in the garbage and handed the sandwiches back. Welcome to Canada.

We walked into town. We knew that we had a long journey by train ahead of us and we had to buy some food. We bought bread, butter, and some sandwich meat. The train was due to leave at 2 p.m. and it did. The train was pulled by a steam locomotive. The passenger cars were of the old colony class type with wooden benches and a wooden baggage rack overhead that could be used as bed for little children. It was summer and the train was hot and stuffy. There was of course no air conditioning. For fresh air we had to open the windows. With the engine belching black smoke the soot would sometimes blow through the window. We quickly realized that the journey was not going to be a very comfortable one.

The first place where the train made a brief stop was Truro. A few of the immigrants got off for a moment to stretch their legs. One of them was wearing klompen. Almost immediately he was approached by a man who wanted to buy his wooden shoes but the Dutchman wasn’t selling. I soon got tired of looking out the window and when it turned dark we fell asleep. How we managed to sleep in that train I don’t know but somehow we did. In Montreal we stopped for several hours. Some of the immigrants who were headed for B.C. and southern Alberta transferred to Canadian Pacific. We and most of the passengers stayed on CN.

In the Montreal station were ladies of some organization who helped mothers with children. They showed them where the rest rooms were and offered them coffee and a snack. So Mariet used the occasion to freshen up and give Paul a wash. Next it was on to Ottawa where we stopped for about an hour. Then the train headed north to Capreol and the wilderness of northern Ontario. I was kept busy much of the time by the Canadian immigration officer who was on board. He quickly discovered that I could speak English so he came to me with immigrants who had trouble making themselves understood, and others who had letters of reference that had to be translated.

At about nine o’clock on Thursday morning we arrived in Winnipeg where we had a stop-over of 12 hours. Thus we had a chance to wash up again, which we badly needed. Then we ventured into town. Right across from the station on the corner of Broadway and Main was a small deli. We went inside for we wanted to eat something. He didn’t have much what we liked but he did boil each of us an egg. Then we walked up Broadway. I asked a mailman where we could find “a big store where all kind of things were sold.” I didn’t know the name “department” store which I learned from the postman. He directed us to the Eaton’s department store. After we had a look around we had a bite to eat and walked back to the station. The train left at nine o’clock that evening and we reached our destination, North Battleford, the following evening at ten o’clock.

North Battleford

It was dark by then, I did not see Jack who had promised he would get us from the train. Then I heard him shout: “Wim, Wim!” I looked around, and there he was, almost unrecognizable. His head was all bandaged up and what you could see from his face was swollen. He told us that he had walked out of the hospital to meet us. He drove us to his home in the pitch black night. While he drove us he told us that he had an infection caused by bites of flies on the cadaver of a dead cow. He had to get back to the hospital that night after he delivered us at his home. The house was a two story building. It had no lighting except a coal oil lamp. Nettie was awaiting us. The kids were in bed, but Ennie woke up from the noise we made and joined us in the room. I don’t recall what was said that night. I only know that we were dead tired and were glad we could sleep in a bed after a week sitting on a bench in the train.

We stayed a few days with Nettie and then we moved to the house of Leo Vany about three miles away.  He did not have separate living quarters for us so he provided room and board. That plus $75 per month were my wages. The work was not a challenge. Leo Vany had a quarter section of land in summerfallow. A good part of it was badly infested with quackgrass. He showed me how to hitch up the plow and the harrows. He had an International Harvester Farm-all tractor, which seemed to be the most popular power source for farmers at that time. My job was to plow the land and harrow it and try to get rid of the quackgrass in the process. So I plowed all day, every day for a week, harrowed the quackgrass roots together and when they were dry set them on fire.

On a rainy day, when I could not work in the field, I had to clean the chicken coop – which he said had never been cleaned for as long as he could remember. I asked him if the manure had to be spread on the field, but he said that was too much work, and to just dump it somewhere in the bush.

Meanwhile Mariet cleaned the whole house from top to bottom. She scrubbed the floors and washed the walls, another job that hadn’t been done in living memory. Little Paul could play outside, but to make sure he wouldn’t walk out of the yard and get lost mom hooked his harness onto the clothes line so that he could walk back and forth but not walk away.

Mrs. Vany had seven children and number eight was due shortly after we got there. On the morning that she said to her husband it is time to take me to the hospital he said let us first milk the cows. They barely made it to the hospital in time. The farmer would have liked me to help him milk the cows, but I told him that I could not milk and that I had no intention to learn it either.

It did not take long for us to make a few new friends. Word spread around quickly that we were new arrivals from Holland. The first to come to see us were Beppie and Tom Wyatt. Beppie was a war bride who had met Tom in Amsterdam while he was in the Canadian army. They got married and Beppie came to Canada after the war. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Reusen were not happy to see their only child move to Canada and followed her and settled in North Battlefored. Tom had a farm not far from the Vany’s. Mr. Reusen had a job as store clerk in the co-op store in town. In Amsterdam he had worked in the post office. Nettie told me that in their old age they very much regretted having left Amsterdam.

Next we met (or rather Mariet met) Mr. Nijman. We had gone to church in North Battleford one Sunday with Jack and his family. During mass Mariet didn’t feel well and went outside for fresh air. Mr. Nijman who had also gone outside spoke to her, asked her if she felt all right now, and inquired where she was from. Mom told him that we came from Holland. He was genuinely interested and told her that he was from Holland as well, but had come to Canada long ago. When he heard that we were on a farm he said that if we were looking for something different he might be able to help.

That was good news, but I was not sure whether I had an obligation to stay on the farm. The consulate in The Hague had told me that I was expected to work there at least for a year. Tom Wyatt suggested that I ask the Justice of the Peace that he happened to know for advice. He drove me to meet him one evening. The justice said that I was free to quit the farm anytime I wanted, and that I should let him know if the farmer refused to let me go or threatened to withhold my wages.

After a month on the farm Mariet told me that she could not hack it anymore. Beppie Wyatt offered us that Mariet and Paul could stay with her while I was still working at Leo Vany’s. When I told the farmer that Mariet would be leaving he said “if she leaves, you can go too.” It seemed to me that he valued Mariet’s work more highly than mine. So we left the Vany farm after just five weeks and stayed with the Wyatts for a few days.

I went to see Mr. Nijman and he offered me a job at the place where he worked in the Dominion Fruit wholesale warehouse. He was assistant manager there. We were lucky to find a little house to rent in the back yard of Mrs. Pleski’s house. It was small but it did have a kitchen stove. With some of the money that the Oblate fathers had exchanged for me we bought a couch that could be converted into a bed. (The big wooden box with the linen and clothes had arrived when we were still at the Vany’s. Most of the dinnerware set was broken but all else was ready to use.) Mariet had soon made the little house into a cozy home. We were both very happy that the difficult stint on the farm was behind us and that we now had a place to ourselves.

The Pleskis were good people, Ukrainian. He was a yard worker with the CNR. They had one son who was about my age. He made a living buying car wrecks from SGIO, the Saskatchewn Government Insurance Office and restoring them in the garage behind the house. Mariet got along really well with Mrs. Pleski, who was crazy with little Paul.

1953 Dec. - Paul in North Battleford

1953 Dec. – Paul in North Battleford

The work at Dominion Fruit was not hard. It consisted mainly of preparing for shipment orders that the salesmen had chalked up. I also had to look after the hot lockers where incoming tomatoes and bananas were kept until they were “ripe”. The bananas were usually sold in boxes of ten pounds, the tomatoes in little packages of four tomatoes each with a cellophane lid. Both the tomatoes and bananas came from central America green as grass and it took a couple of days and nights to reach the right colour. The pay was good, the personnel were unionized and the contract had a COLA clause.

Although still strange to the country we began to feel a bit more secure. Mariet made some friends, among them Charlotte Nijman who was married to Jan Nijman the eldest son of Mr. Nijman. Jan was a postal clerk who sorted mail on the train, mainly on runs to Saskatoon and Prince Albert. We have kept contact with Charlotte Nijman to this day. Our daughter Charlotte is named after her.

On Saturdays Jack and Nettie usually came to town for their shopping and then visited us. On Sundays Jack would pick us up and drive us around to see the country side or go to Jackfish Lake.

Life was humming along until one night in November there was a knock on the door,and when I opened there was a priest who asked if he could come in. “Of course!” I said. He introduced himself as Father Paradis. He said that he had heard from Father Michaud, the parish priest, that I was a teacher and he had come to ask me to become a teacher on an Indian reserve. I told him that I was not a teacher but he persisted and asked what education I had and he soon concluded that I was qualified enough to teach little children. He asked me to

become teacher in Red Pheasant Indian Reserve about 25 miles south of Battleford. I told him that that was something I had to seriously think about. I certainly would not give him an answer that night.

Gone was our newly acquired peace of mind. On the one hand I saw that accepting the offer could be the first step up the ladder toward my ultimate goal, a university degree and intellectually challenging work. On the other hand it would mean more uncertainty, greater risk, and a drop in income and our standard of living. The salary for a permit teacher was only $120 a month, Some $50 less than I earned by Dominion Fruit. I had a secure job, we were comfortable in our little house and enjoyed our new friendships. All of that would be sacrificed On top of that and most important, Mariet was pregnant.

In the days following I was interviewed by Mr. Bell the Indian Agent for the Battleford region and by the superintendent of Indian schools. They assured me that the job was mine if I wanted it. Mariet and I talked it over and over again. Mariet simply said, “You decide what you think is best. What ever you do, I go with you”. In the end I accepted the offer and at the beginning of the new year Father Paradis moved our belongings to Red Pheasant reserve and I became a teacher.

The church served as the school building. There were brand new desks and books and plenty of school supplies. I had about 15 students from kindergarten to grade four so I was not overloaded with work. The priest’s quarters served as our residence. As on the farm there was no electricity and no running water which was a significant step back from what we had at Pleski’s, especially for Mariet. We had a very helpful neighbour in Ernest Nicotine who lived close by. He carried water from the well to the house for Mariet. In the evening he came to light the lamps, and he frequently came over for a chat.

We had no car, however Father Paradis came Saturdays to drive us to North Battleford so we could do our shopping. He also drove us back and stayed overnight to say mass on Sunday morning. All told we managed pretty well in Red Pheasant. Mariet was expecting a baby in the middle of June. The doctor advised her to come in early and she did, such that she spent nearly a week in hospital before Willie was born on June 14, 1954. It so happened that Beppie Wyatt occupied the bed beside her, giving birth to twins a few days later.

1954 Red Pheasant - Father Paradis Paul & Ernest Nicotine

1954 Red Pheasant – Father Paradis Paul & Ernest Nicotine

Paul (age 3)

Paul (age 3)

Teachers’ College

Earlier that year I had applied to the department of education for a student loan to attend Teachers’ College in Saskatoon, as the Superintendent of Indian schools had urged me to do. He had also advised me to write the University of Saskatchewan and ask them to evaluate my diploma in economics from Holland. I was invited to an interview with professors Britnell and Fowke of the Economics Department. Father Paradis drove me there. The interview was very friendly. As for the evaluation they said that it would be wiser to wait till I had enrolled at the U of S and taken at least one class in economics. The Department of Education let me know that I was eligible for a student loan which would be granted when I actually registered at Teachers’ College.

When the school year ended on June 30 we moved from the reserve to stay with Jack and Nettie until we would move to Saskatoon, where I was to go to Teachers College in September. Jack had quit his job as hired farm hand and was now a caretaker farmer for a cattle dealer named Caplan. His farm was a few miles south of Battleford on Highway 4. It had a quarter section of crop land and several quarters of hilly pasture. We stayed there for a few weeks. Then we were moved to Saskatoon by Father Klein, to whom we had been introduced by Father Paradis and who seemed to have connections all over the place. We stayed temporarily in the house of one of his connections, who was on holidays. Father Klein introduced us to Sister O’Bryan who ran the catholic welfare office in Saskatoon.

Mariet and I were both nervous and edgy. We had no idea how we were going to get through the coming year. The little bit of money we had managed to set aside would not last long if we had to start paying rent and buying groceries. Sister O’Bryan introduced us to a young couple who were looking for a housekeeper/baby sitter. The man worked for CNR and the wife was a teacher. They had a baby boy. Sister O’Bryan proposed as a solution to their problem and our problem that Mariet and the two little ones move in with them and look after their baby as well as ours. The wife had accepted a teaching position in a rural school near Langham, about 30 miles north west of Saskatoon. Mariet agreed. It solved our most immediate problem, finding food and shelter for our children.

I found a job with a small contractor who was fixing up an old hog barn on the south west side of Saskatoon where a cattle dealer and auctioneer (Blacklock, if I remember well) had bought a feed lot with corrals. The barn had been built on a log foundation. The logs were rotten and the barn was sagging badly. The contractor had jacked up the barn; the logs had to be removed and a foundation dug. I was one of a crew of three he had hired to do the work. He paid one dollar an hour. That was the minimum wage in Saskatchewan at the time.

The summer of 1954 was the wettest on record in Saskatchewan. As I remember it, the rain would come in short but heavy showers. One minute the sun would shine, the next it would rain cats and dogs. The heavy rains turned the stockyard into a sea of mud. The cattle in the corrals could hardly move as their legs sank deeper and deeper into the mud. Hardly a day passed without a steer sinking so deep in the muck that it had to be towed out with the help of a winch. One other young guy and I were mostly responsible for mixing cement and hauling it by wheelbarrow to the barn, where the new foundation and floor were being poured.

At times we had to help dig the rotten logs out of the mud. It was hard and dirty work but at a dollar an hour I didn’t mind it. I worked there until the Saturday before school started the day after Labour Day. I had a room in the downtown YMCA until that weekend. The rooms in the Y were actually meant for emergency shelter, I believe, but sister O’Bryan had persuaded them to house me for a low fee. That enabled me to save some money. Unfortunately, I had to find new accommodation when school started.

On weekends I visited Mariet and the kids in Langham. I could see that she was not entirely happy with the situation but she told me that she could cope with it. Paul and baby Willie were doing well.

After registration, orientation lectures, and the introduction of the staff members, we were given an I.Q. test. We were told that when the tests were marked we would be assigned to one of nine classes of about 40 students each. I was assigned to room A. We also had to write a test in the English language and grammar. I got the highest mark of the whole school, which gave me a good deal of pride and pleasure. We had a variety of subjects to study such as child psychology, literature, composition, art, but the emphasis in all subjects tended be on the practical aspects of teaching.

The Department of Education had given me credit and grade 12 standing in all required subjects except analytic geometry and trigonometry. A special evening class once or twice a week was offered to students at teachers college who had deficiencies in required grade 12 subjects. There were about 30 students in that class which was given in the technical-vocational school. Hino Pringnitz, who was also in room A in the teachers college, and I were among them. At the end of the term, I got 100% in the exam and my grade twelve diploma from the Department of Education.

All students at Teachers College also had to do two stints of practice teaching. In the fall I had to do that in a grade four class in a city school; and in the spring in a multi-grade rural school some 15 or 20 km outside Saskatoon. All told, Teachers College proved not to be too great a challenge for me. In June 1955, two years after arriving on a farm in Saskatchewan I was given that province’s teacher certificate.

Things were not going so swimmingly with Mariet. After about two months with the teacher in Langham she told Sister O’Bryan that she did not want to go back there. She told me that the woman was too bossy and that she favoured her baby at the expense of Paul and little Willie. Sister O’Bryan was a bit frustrated and I was very worried. I shared a room with another student and there was not a place I could go with Mariet and the children. We didn’t have the money to rent a suite or house in the city, so what could I do?

Sister O’Bryan had an other acquaintance, an older bachelor farmer near Harris,Sk about 75-100 km south-west of Saskatoon, towards Rosetown, who could use a housekeeper. Mariet agreed to give it a try. On Friday evening I took the bus for Rosetown and I told the chauffeur where I had to get off. The farmer had told me the name of the corner and had promised to pick me up there. It was dark when we got to the place where I had to get off. There was no farmer.

According to what he had told me he lived two miles down the country road. It had rained that day and the road was one great mud puddle. It was so dark that I couldn’t see where the puddles were. After what seemed to be an eternity, I reached the farm house. Naturally, Mariet was glad to see me. She had given up hope that I would come as promised. The farmer said that he had gone to meet me but that the bus did not come. He must have been too early or the bus too late. I stayed till Sunday evening when the farmer drove me to the highway to meet the bus.

I think it was less than a week later when the farmer drove Maùriet and the two little ones back to Saskatoon and Sister O’Bryan and left them there. To the best of my knowledge the good Sister phoned father Klein who had brought her that client and who then arranged for Mariet and the children to stay with the family Haaghebaerts, who operated a dairy farm about 8 miles north of North Battleford.

That was far away from Saskatoon but at least Mariet was now with people she knew. We had met them when we lived in North Battleford. The Haaghebaerts were from Flemish-Belgian descent. They had a lot of children the oldest of whom Mariet knew: Camille a young man in his twenties, and Marie also in her early twenties. Furthermore, Mariet was now close to Jack and Nettie. When I visited her there the following weekend she was in a much better mood. The fact remained, however, that we lived separately.

955 - Christmas for Willie & Paul at home on the reserve

955 – Christmas for Willie & Paul at home on the reserve


Sometime later Father Sullivan, who conducted religious class for catholic students at Teachers College once a week after regular hours, asked me how things were going. I told him not too well, and if matters didn’t improve I might have to give up my study to look after the needs of my wife and two little children. He said that would be a shame but he agreed that living apart from the family was not good either.

He offered to “make an investment in me” and asked how much money I would need to keep the family going for the remaining school term. I estimated $125 per month. He would talk it over with the bursar of St.Thomas More College, where he resided, and let me know. In the mean time I should look for suitable accommodation. I soon found a basement suite in a house on Fifth Avenue in Saskatoon. Shortly thereafter we were re-united and the worst of our ordeal was over.

The basement suite was not big but it was heaven to us after what we had been through. We had a living room which also served as kitchen, a shower, a bedroom and a bathroom. That was all we needed. The people upstairs were also renters. The house belonged to Mr. Ostevik a retired farmer. He was Norwegian by birth. He was a good man who treated us fairly and sympathetically. He had a big Deutz diesel tractor sitting in the yard, where little Paul liked to play on.

We had to live very frugally but we managed. Mom got an old baby carriage from Sister O’Bryan which enabled her to go for a walk with the children. The man who ran the convenience store on 33rd street close to fifth avenue offered her a part time job in the after school hours. Now she made even a little money. Sometimes she brought some unsold french fries home with her. She did not work every night but only when the owner asked her. She liked the job because it got her out of the house and she met other people. Hino became a regular visitor and we enjoyed his visits. It seems we had always things to discuss, be it school, things from our past, religion, whatever. We have remained friends to this day.

955 - Hino with Mom, Willie & Paul in Saskatoon

955 – Hino with Mom, Willie & Paul in Saskatoon

Willie & Paul with Dad

Willie & Paul with Dad


When the year at Teachers College was coming to an end it was time to look for a job. I did not have to look far. The Superintendent of Indian schools offered me the job of teacher in Thunderchild reserve. Starting salaries in Indian schools for newly graduated teachers were a bit higher than in most rural schools in Saskatchewan: $2000 per year, while most ads in the newspapers listed $1700 or $1800 as the beginning salary. The Superintendent also told me that I would get credit for the six months I had taught in Red Pheasant which would push my salary up to $2100-$2200. In addition there was no charge for the teachers quarters.I said that I would like to see the place before making a definite decision. He said that I could pick up the keys in the office of the Indian Agent in Battleford anytime. Mr. Ostevik offered to drive us there even though it was approximately 175 miles each way. So, on one sunny summer morning we stepped in Mr. Ostevik’s Monarch and headed north. We reached the reserve around noon.

The school was a new building. It had opened the year before with a permit teacher in charge. The teachers quarters consisted of one bedroom with a double bed; The living room was fairly large and nicely furnished with good quality table and chairs, as well as a sofa. The kitchen was roomy. It had a wood and coal fired stove. There was an ample kitchen cabinet with drawers, a sink with a pump — although we were warned that the water was not fit for drinking. It came from a cistern in the basement which was fed by rainwater on the roof. There was a bathroom and septic toilet.

Mariet was impressed and delighted at the prospect that she would be living here. There was no electricity, however, and no running water. Drinking water was in plentiful supply in the well some 25 meter from the house.

1955 - Paul with Dad

1955 – Paul with Dad

school children at Thunderchild Reserve

school children at Thunderchild Reserve

I accepted the teaching position and in the last week of August, Jack helped us to move our stuff to Thunderchild. Jack also made two bunk beds for Paul and Willie. On the weekend before school started the missionary came to the reserve and introduced himself to us. He was Father Casarotto. He was a bit shy but he turned out to be a nice man. He came from Italy and he had only been a few years in Canada. He was stationed in Onion Lake where the Oblate fathers ran a residential school.

We got along well together. When I told him we had no car he said that he would come every Saturday and drive us to town, Turtleford, to do our shopping. That was a great relief.

That year 21 children enrolled in the school, from beginners to grade six. Except for the beginners the children had gone to the residential school in Onion Lake, as had most of their parents. There was also a two room Anglican school on the reserve of which Mrs.Ross was the principal. She had been there for a long time already. Indian Affairs classified Thunderchild as semi-isolated. It was situated about twelve miles north east of Turtleford. Only five or six miles of that was on a gravel highway,(no.26), the remainder by a poorly maintained country road that lead to Brightsand Lake. There was no graded road on the reserve itself, only trails.{New roads to the reserve have since been built.)

That winter and our first year in Thunderchild were indeed memorable. I had taken a correspondence course from the university, English 2, as it was called in those days, English literature and composition. I aced the exam.The winter of 1955-56 was a wicked one. We got snowed in very early. The municipality had barely finished plowing the roads open when a new blizzard made them impassable again. From the first week in December until May the reserve was not accessible by car or truck. It was the 10th of May when I saw the first truck drive past the school.

The school and teachers quarters were heated by a wood and coal- fired hot-air furnace. In January we ran out of coal and then out of wood. Since all of the trails on the reserve were impassable coal had to be hauled in by sleigh, a slow and costly procedure. To make matters worse most of the horses on the reserve were too weak by then for lack of food to pull a sled. The Indians did not put up hay for the winter. They let the horses scrounge for their own food. Unfortunately for them that winter the snow was so deep that the horses could not reach the grass underneath. As a result most horses starved and froze to death.

Only Louis Yellowmud’s horses were still fit enough to work and he did the freighting of coal. Even father Casarotto, who had a winch mounted on his truck, could not make it to the reserve. He had to leave his truck on a farm close to the highway and hitch a ride with a sleigh the rest of the way. Luckily we had bought a good supply of food before things got too bad. Mariet baked her own bread and we always made sure we had enough flour, sugar, potatoes etc. in the house. We had a cold storage room in the basement where we kept the potatoes and other food products, so we did not go hungry.

In June of ’55 I bought my first car, from Paul Pleski, a rebuilt Dodge Mayfair. It was a beautiful car and it served us well. Getting a driver’s license was pretty informal and easy. I stepped into the Department of Highways office and asked for a driver license test. They gave me a form, I filled in the answers and handed it in. The examiner looked it over, then asked if I had a vehicle with me. I had Paul Pleski’s truck, which I drove for a couple of blocks and he said that is good enough. We went back to the office and I got my license.

We spent the summer in Onion Lake residential school as guests while I helped the maintenance man with remodeling some of the rooms. We also spent some time picking and preserving Saskatoon berries which grew there in great quantities.

We spent four more years in Thunderchild during which I got three more university credits for successful correspondence courses. We also spent three summers in Saskatoon while I went to summer sessions at the university.

1956 - Paul & Willie in their bunkbeds

1956 – Paul & Willie in their bunkbeds

Paul with the Star children in Thunderchild

Paul with the Star children in Thunderchild

In 1956 Jules was born in the hospital in Turtleford. (Oct. 29). On our way to the hospital I heard on CBC radio that England, France and Israel had invaded Egypt. Meanwhile, a bit of our own drama was unfolding in Turtleford, of which we were blissfully unaware. Mariet had visited doctor Yeager that afternoon between four and five o’clock. He was the doctor who gave mom prenatal care and was to deliver the baby. We were barely home from that visit when she went into labour. She said “I believe the doctor had brought on the labour”.When she had been admitted to the hospital she told me I could better go home with Paul and Willie because there was no telling how long it would be before she gave birth. When we went back the next day Jules was born, a healthy eight pound baby, but Mariet’s leg and foot were in a cast. When I asked what had happened, I was told that after the birth she complained of a cold foot that didn’t seem to warm up. The doctor had ordered an X-ray and found there was a hairline fracture in one of her foot bones. So he put on a cast. Then I found out that Dr. Yeager was gone and a new doctor fresh from England had taken his place His name was Richards, I believe.

No one would tell me why Dr.Yeager was gone or where he had gone to. It was weeks later that I found out from Forest and Mrs. Armstrong, who had a farm just outside the reserve and who had lived there since 1907, that doctor Yeager had been forced to resign and was being treated in Saskatoon for drug addiction and that doctor Richards had taken over his practice. (and apparently his hospital accreditation). At any rate the new doctor presented me promptly with two bills, one for delivering the baby and one for putting Mariet’s foot in a cast.

I protested that I had already paid Doctor Yeager for delivering the baby. I paid the bill for the cast but not the one for the delivery. The Doctor then had the only lawyer in town threaten me to garnishee my wages. I told him that before he could do that he had to go to court and I would fight him in court any day. In the end I lost the battle when the doctor and the lawyer got the only banker in town to pay the doctor out of my account. I had a fight with the banker but in the end there was nothing I could do about it. It is a good illustration how the misters Big in a small town used to run things in those days.

Now we had three children but we still had to make do with the one bedroom. Every night mom had to pull out the couch to make it into a bed for Paul and Willie. Jules slept in a crib. I asked the Indian Agent to add a room to the building but nothing happened.

Meanwhile the enrollment in the school had grown to 41 or 43 from beginners to one grade ten boy. The growth came from more students switching from the residential school to mine and from more children in the beginners grade. Teaching all those grades everyday kept me busy. I was told that a classroom would be added in the basement in the next budget year, but there seemed to be no plans to add another bedroom to our living quarters.

In the fall of 1957 Sask. Power brought the power line right into our yard, but that is where it stopped. The Department of Indian Affairs had not budgeted for the wiring of the school, so that we looked at the power pole all winter without having electricity in our house. Then in April with the new budget year a small contractor from North Battleford with two or three workers came and put in the wiring and finally we had electricity and with it good lighting which had always been a major concern of mine. Now we could also throw away the old battery operated radios none of which worked properly.

That summer there also came a crew of carpenters who built a second classroom in the basement and in September a second teacher arrived, Walter Linklater, fresh from teachers college and an Indian from Fort Francis in northern Ontario. Walter taught grades 1,2,and 3 in the main classroom upstairs and I had grades four to eight in the downstairs classroom. I was now principal of the school and received an allowance for that. My annual salary was now a little over $5000.

1960 - Jules (4 yrs.)

1960 – Jules (4 yrs.)

Michael (1 and a half yrs.)

Michael (1 and a half yrs.)

On 23 March 1959 Michael was born in North Battleford. Mariet did not want Doctor Richards in Turtleford, whom she considered to be a money-hungry quack, partly because he had put a useless cast on her foot and then charged us for it. So we decided to take another doctor in North Battleford. That doctor also looked after Jules who had taken ill a few days earlier. When mom checked into the hospital I asked Dr. Cook to examine Jules. The doctor thought that Jules had a touch of pneumonia and recommended to keep Jules in the hospital for observation.

By the time I got back to Thunderchild Forest Armstrong had received a phone call to let us know that we had another baby boy. (We still had no telephone ourselves.) The following Saturday we drove to North Battleford to get Mariet and the baby from the hospital. The doctor thought it best to keep little Jules there because he was not responding to treatment. We visited Jack and Nettie to show off the baby, did some shopping and went home.

A few days later Forest Armstrong came to say that Dr. Cook in North Battleford wanted to speak with me and that it was urgent. Thus I went to Armstrong’s to use the phone. Dr. Cook said that Jules seemed to get worse instead of better, that he had contacted the University Hospital in Saskatoon, and that they recommended that I bring Jules in immediately. It was already late at night but when I told Mariet what I had just heard she insisted that she go along to Saskatoon. We woke the children, packed them in the car with some blankets and drove off to North Battleford to pick up Jules and then on to Saskatoon. It was in the middle of the night when we arrived at the hospital.

Two intern doctors were waiting for us in the pediatric department. They had many questions but there was little we could tell them that they didn’t already know from doctor Cook. Finally we could go home. It was dawn before we were back in Thunderchild.

The next day there were more phone calls from the university; more questions, some of them weird. Did we have exotic birds, no, could the child have been in contact with an exotic bird somewhere else, to the best of our knowledge,no; and so on. They were still searching for the cause of the illness. Finally they asked if I would give permission to do a biopsy of Jules’ lungs. Permission granted. Two days later they had found the cause. Jules had a fungus on his right lung. The fungus threatened to overwhelm his lungs. Then they found a medicine that killed the fungus and Jules began to respond. A few days later he was out of danger and still a week later he could go home.

Unfortunately, his lung had suffered a good deal of damage. We were warned to keep a close eye on him and to contact a doctor at the first sign of a cold or fever. The doctors hoped that the lungs might heal over the summer and that the most affected lung would not collapse. If the illness returned, an operation to remove part of the lung would be necessary. Things went well with him for a while but in the fall he took sick again and a big part of his right lung was removed. Jules was not yet three years old.

That summer we spent in Saskatoon again, as we had done the previous two years while I was attending a summer session at university. When summer school was over by mid August we went camping in the Rocky Mountains until the new school year began. Now that there was a second teacher my work load was considerably lighter, and I had more time to relax and to s pend with our growing family.

There had also been a change in government in Ottawa that began to affect life on the reserve. In 1957, after having been in power for 22 years the Liberals lost the election to the Conservatives under the leadership of John Diefenbaker, who formed a minority government. The next spring Diefenbaker called a snap election in a bid to get a majority. The Conservatives won with a landslide of 208 seats in a House of Commons that had fewer than 300 seats at the time, thus thumping the Liberals and all but wiping out the CCF. Diefenbaker was a lawyer and a strong believer in human rights. He introduced a Bill of Rights Act in parliament that easily passed. Under that legislation the Indians got the right to vote and the right to buy alcoholic beverages, rights which they had not enjoyed for over a hundred years.

At the end of the 1958-59 school year Walter Linklater, our new teacher, married Maria Horse — one of my former students, a nice,friendly girl, always ready to smile. The Superintendent of Indian schools thought it wise to transfer Walter to another reserve far removed from Thunderchild. I have spoken with Maria several times, years later, when we lived in Winnipeg. Usually she telephoned when she and Walter passed through Winnipeg on their way to, or return from, Fort Francis, Walter’s home base. The last time I talked with her was three or four years ago. They now live in Saskatoon.

Walter’s place was taken by Marilyn Giberson who hailed from Emma Lake, north of Prince Albert, the same area where Hino came from. In fact they knew each other and Hino tells me that he still maintains contact with her. She and her husband Purly owned a mobile home which they parked in the school yard. She was a sunny lady and we got along well.

In December 1959 Mariet and I became Canadian citizens. Earlier that year I had received a letter from the Saskatchewan Department of Education reminding me that the law required that in order to qualify for a permanent teacher’s certificate I must be a Canadian citizen, and that I now had resided in Canada for six years and thus should apply to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. I acted accordingly and in due time I was notified to appear before a Judge of Queen’s Bench in Battleford. The Judge, a friendly old man received us in his chambers, we had an amicable chat, and then he swore us in. So, on December 11,1959 Mariet and I became Canadian citizens. Our citizenship applied automatically to the children, although Paul who was born in The Netherlands is also a Dutch citizen. Willie, Jules, and Michael may become Dutch citizens by applying to the Dutch consulate in Toronto, since they were born while Mariet and I were still Dutch citizens. Charlotte has no such automatic right because mom and I were Canadian when she was born. In fact Mariet was pregnant when we had our interview with the judge. Charlotte was born on 3 June 1960.

1960 - Charlotte (3 mos.)

1960 – Charlotte (3 mos.)

Dad with the boys in front of the new wagon

Dad with the boys in front of the new wagon


We now had five children but were still living in the same one-bedroom apartment. The crowding was becoming intolerable. I had discussion with the superintendent of Indian schools. He offered me the principal position of the four room school in Poorman Reserve about 80 miles north of Regina near Quinton, SK. The teacher’s apartment had a kitchen, large living room, a fully equipped bathroom and three bedrooms. As well, there was electricity, running water and central heating.

That was a vast improvement over Thunderchild and we decided to move. It was the end of the holidays and we had to move within a week.

When we arrived in the school we ran into one great and unexpected drawback: the place was unbelievably filthy. It looked as if it had never been cleaned. It probably wasn’t. Mariet had never been afraid of cleaning a place up, and she went at the job with a vengeance. After sleeping there for one night we discovered something worse than dirt: the place was infested with fleas and bedbugs. When we sat on the couch even for one minute fleas were crawling all over you. We threw the couch out and put it in the yard more than twenty meters from the house. To get rid of the bedbugs I removed all baseboards in the rooms and took them outside where I could scrape and wash them clean. We scraped and washed the walls as well, then sprinkled DDT powder all along the walls before putting the baseboards back. Before too long the house was clean.

When the Indian Agent came by to make our acquaintance he asked why the couch was sitting in the yard. I told him that it was full of lice and that I did not want it back in the house. I also asked him to order a new couch for us. He grumbled a bit but he complied.

The farm instructor on the reserve was Mr. Goodfellow. He and his wife were very nice and we soon became friends. (The Department of Indian Affairs has done away with the position of farm instructors on reserves because the Indians showed no interest in learning to farm, although they had asked for it in their treaty negotiations). Our nearest neighbors south of the reserve were Bill Deutsch, and another mile or two south was the farm of Ernie Engel. Quinton and the area around it was settled largely by Germans with the odd Scandinavian and Dutch in between, It did not take long to make friends with our neighbors and to talk on a first name basis.

The Indians on Poorman reserve (it now has a Cree name) were not nearly as easy to get along with as in Thunderchild. In our first week there the chief came to me and demanded that I take my children, Paul and Willie, out of the school and send them to the school in Quinton because they were not Indian. I told him I had no intention of doing that, and when he kept arguing I told him that if he didn’t like it he could lump it, and take his grievance up with Indian Affairs. Not a good start as far as public relations were concerned.

1961 - Poorman Reserve - Mom & Dad

1961 – Poorman Reserve – Mom & Dad

Jules, Paul & Willie

Jules, Paul & Willie

1961 - Michael, Charlotte & Jules in Poorman

1961 – Michael, Charlotte & Jules in Poorman

University of Saskatoon

That winter I took one more correspondence course from the university, my fifth, and when completed, the equivalent of one full year of credits towards a bachelor degree. In the summer of 1961 I went to summer session in Saskatoon again. This time Mariet and the children stayed at home in the reserve. Mariet felt not the least afraid; she had a telephone now. The Deutsch’ and Goodfellows’ were close by and Jerry Deutsch was about the same age as Paul who was nearly nine.Every Friday evening I drove home for the weekend. When the summer school was over we spent the remaining part of the holidays on the beach of Jackfish Lake north of North Battleford where we had rented a cottage.

I did not take a correspondence course in the following winter season, but I received a letter from the University of Saskatchewan that I had been awarded a scholarship of $250, tuition fees for a full academic year at the university, for having the highest average mark in five correspondence courses. The letter said that actually one student had a higher average but he had notified the university that he was unable to accept it. I decided to accept and to enroll in five courses in the 1962-63 academic year. We managed to rent a fully furnished house in Saskatoon, at 820 Colony St. for $125 per month. The landlord was another ex Dutchman, Arnold Schrijvers. We had saved some money and I also asked for a refund of the pension deductions for the seven years I had put in with Indian Affairs, so we figured that we could make it. We really had to do a lot of penny pinching that year but we got through it.

We left Poorman reserve at the end of the school year and moved to Saskatoon. I took a class in physics that summer,before starting my courses in the regular academic year. I got credit for several classes in economics on the strength of my M.O. Akte from Holland. Together with the credits from the correspondence courses and summer school classes I had enough credits to get my B.A. degree with honours in economics. At the end of the academic year I won one of the two scholarships of $1750 that the Economics Department offered that year for post graduate studies.

Around the same time I was also offered a graduate student job with the Centre for Community Studies, which was located on the university campus, if I agreed to write my master’s thesis on a subject with which the Centre was then concerned. Here I have to digress a bit from the story to explain what the Centre was and what it was doing.

In the period after WWII Saskatchewan experienced rapid economic change. Of particular concern was the flight of people from the farm to the city. In 1941 more than 60 percent of the population lived on farms, in 1961 only 33 percent still were on farms. As the farm population dwindled many rural villages and towns suffered serious declines too, and many people in rural areas lived in poverty. In order to get a better understanding of the problem the Saskatchewan government had established a Royal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Life in the 1950’s. Out of that commission grew the Centre for Community Studies which conducted ongoing research in rural problems.

The federal government had similar concerns and had set up the Agriculture and Rural Development Administration, ARDA for short. On the basis of census data ARDA declared Census Division 16 in Saskatchewan a low-income region that was eligible for development assistance. ARDA contracted with the Centre for Community Studies for detailed studies of a host of issues. It was in that context that I was hired by the Centre to study and report on The Impact of Public Institutions on Rural Housing Investment in the Prairie Provinces, which became the title of my master’s thesis.

In the fall of 1963 we received an invitation to attend the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents on 18 November. Of course we did not have the money to go. Then, to our surprise, Sjaak phoned and said that he was going and he asked if I would go along. Mariet said immediately “Yes you must go also, I will look after the kids”.

1963 - Janssen Family - Opa & Oma (front); Jan, Nellie, Mien, Wim, Frans (middle); Harry, Sjaak, Gerrit (rear)

1963 – Janssen Family – Opa & Oma (front); Jan, Nellie, Mien, Wim, Frans (middle); Harry, Sjaak, Gerrit (rear)

To save money Jack and I decided to travel by train to Montreal and fly from there to Amsterdam with KLM. The CNR still operated passenger trains in those days. To attract travellers, the CNR advertised red, white and blue days. On red days the fare from Saskatoon to Montreal was only $29 one way. KLM fare to Amsterdam was around $600 I believe. This was before the jet age. The plane was a DC – 6 and the flight took 13 hours.

Father and Mother and Gerrit met us at Schiphol and we travelled by train to Geleen. It was a very happy “weerzien”. Jack and I were amazed how Geleen had changed in the ten years that we were gone, and how life had changed as well. The celebration was terrific, and there were a great many relatives from both our parents. We stayed three weeks. By then we were anxious to see our family again. Still I had spells of homesickness after the visit.

1963 - 18 November - Opa & Oma Janssen 50th Anniversary

1963 – 18 November – Opa & Oma Janssen 50th Anniversary

The two years I spent at the U of S and my work at the Centre for Community Studies greatly influenced my world view, the way I approach economic and social issues (Weltanschauung is the German expression). In the two decades from 1944 to 1964 Saskatchewan was the most progressive province in Canada. That is where the CCF was born and where the first social demcratic government in North America was elected and ruled uninterrupted for 20 years. Saskatchewan is where the first publicly financed hospitalization and medical care insurance were enacted under the leadership of T.C. Douglas and where a host of other progressive programs were introduced.

The Centre for Community Studies was a workshop of socially progressive intellectuals who were committed to the ideals of co-operation and social justice. No one was surprised, therefore, that when the CCF lost the election in 1964 one of the first acts of the new Liberal premier Ross Thatcher was to announce that there would be no more public funding for the Centre in the upcoming budget. Luckily for the Centre the new government could not cancel the contract with ARDA.

Grande Prairie

I enjoyed working at the Centre and with the members of the staff, but after two years of penny pinching it was time to find work that paid better. I came across an ad from the yet to be established junior college in Grande Prairie, Alberta, inviting applications for instructors in a number of subjects, one of which was economics. I applied and I was accepted. Some time later I received a letter from the Superintendent of schools in Grande Prairie that the junior college could not start in the fall and had to be postponed for a year. He asked me if I would be agreeable to teach grade 11 and12 social studies for a year until the college got off the ground. He offered a salary of $9000 per year. I accepted and we began to prepare for the move to Grande Prairie.

Luckily Hino Pringnitz had also been going to summer school that year and he had been visiting us frequently during that time. Hino and his wife Jenny were going to teach in a rural school in Deadwood, a distance north of Grande Prairie. I had to look for a house in Grande Prairie and Hino wanted to see the place and area where he was moving. We decided to go together on reconnaissance.

We left Saskatoon one evening in Hino’s Volkswagen Beetle. It was our intention to take turns driving every two hours, but once we had passed through Edmonton Hino kept falling asleep behind the wheel, so he asked me to take over. I drove all through the night. When it was day again we freshened up in a road stop rest room before driving into Grande Prairie. I had telephoned Mr. Riddell, the Superintendent the day before we left and he was in his office when we arrived.

After we had talked a bit about my job and the plans for the junior college he showed us around the school and then gave me directions to two houses that were for rent. The first was half of a duplex, the second had only just come on the market. It was a new home that was inhabited by the guy who had built it. He was a small contractor who was going up north to work for an oil company. He would like to sell the house to me but I told him that I preferred to rent, at least for a year. We agreed on the rent and the deal was done and we returned to Saskatoon. The next week we moved to Grande Prairie and I began my teaching job.

Grande Prairie High was a school with a large body of students. The town of Grande Prairie had a population of around 12,000 and the school also served a large surrounding area. My task was to teach Social Studies in grades 11 and 12. If I remember well, there were four groups of 30 students in each of grade 11 and 12. It was a heavy load and at the end of the day I often was exhausted. When I was teaching all subjects in multiple grades with only a few students in each, I often thought how nice it would be to have only one or a few grades and only one or a few subjects to teach. Now I had only two subjects in only two grades and I became more frustrated and more exhausted than ever. Even after teaching there for weeks and months, I did not know most of the students and had no idea how well or how poorly they were doing.

It did not take long to get to know the best students who were always ready to answer a question and take part in a discussion. The bad characters who frequently acted up and never would respond were easy to spot also, but I found it difficult to get to know the many students who seemed to pay attention and who did not cause troubles but who never volunteered to raise questions or to offer answers either. Some of them might have problems but I could not find out because I never had time to spend with individual students. I found it very frustrating. The reasoning behind the consolidation of schools into larger and larger units was that they could offer better library facilities, bigger gymnasiums for phys-ed, and highly qualified teachers in a greater variety of subjects. All that is true but in my opinion much of the advantages of the large school is nullified by the fact that the ratio of students per teacher in any particular subject gets way too high.

1965 - Grande Prairie – Paul and Dad

1965 – Grande Prairie – Paul and Dad

1965 - Grande Prairie – Paul and Dad

1965 – Grande Prairie – Paul and Dad


I was invited to stay another year at Grande Prairie High but there was still no assurance that the junior college would get off the ground in the following year. In the meantime I had agreed to do a study of education in Census Division 16 of Saskatchewan, which I was to start in the holiday months. I had also accepted a teaching position at Holy Cross high school in Saskatoon. So when the school year was over we packed up and moved back to Saskatoon. We rented a house on 5th street near Lorne Avenue (112-5th st.).

That summer I worked at the Centre for Community Studies on my education paper. I was also asked by the dean of the correspondence school if I were willing to correct and mark assignments sent in by students taking Economics 101 by correspondence. I said yes since we could use the extra money; we had hardly any furniture; we had been living mostly in rented homes that were furnished. We had bought a little in Grande Prairie but now we had to buy more.

That fall we received a telegram that papa Weekers was very ill, and that he wished to see Mariet. So we decided that Mariet should fly home and take Charlotte, who was then five years old, along. I would look after the four boys. Paul was already fourteen and Willie eleven years old, Jules was nearly nine and Mike six. Paul went to grade nine at Holy Cross and the other three went to St Joseph school. Mariet stayed five weeks and had a good visit with her father and the rest of her and our family. Her father died a half year later.

When school started I was assigned to teach social studies in grade nine and ten. The principal, whose name I have forgotten, had just obtained his M.Ed or Ph.D Ed. at some American (or maybe British) university. He was full of himself and weird ideas about organizing the school. In our first staff meeting before the start of school he started off with a banal observation that the reason that we are here (the school) is for the students. Everything we do must be centered on the student. He then recited a long list of rules for the students: the girls should wear uniforms, the boys should wear shirts and ties, etc.etc.

When in the end he asked if we had any comments I could not resist but observing that it struck me as odd that he said that everything centered around the student but that his rules all seemed to be focused on the running of the school. It was not smart for me to say that but at the moment I found the irony too great. The principal did not seem to be too pleased with my quip and relations between us remained cool for the remainder of the year.

The teaching set up was the same as in Grande Prairie. There were four classes of grade nine and four of grade ten. I struggled with the same frustrations of being unable to help individual students who might have difficulties. It was therefore with a mixture of worry and relief when at the end of the year it became clear that the principal did not want to renew my contract. Much as we liked to be in Saskatoon, I began to look for a place in the country where the schools were not so big and the classes would be smaller. I was not in a hurry for there were lots of openings.

Then around the middle of July I received a phone call from Winnipeg. The caller explained that he was Ralph Hedlin and that he was the principal of Hedlin-Menzies, a firm of economic consultants. He had been referred to me by Leo Kristjanson a professor of economics at the University of Saskatchewan. He invited me to come to Winnipeg for an interview. That sounded very interesting and a few days later we all got into the station wagon and drove off to Winnipeg.

1966 - Mike & Charlotte outside 512-5th St., Saskatoon

1966 – Mike & Charlotte outside 512-5th St., Saskatoon


We booked into a hotel and the next day I went for the interview. Both Ralph Hedlin and Merril Menzies took part in the interview which went well and I was hired on the spot. That night Ralph took Mariet and me for dinner to toast the new addition to the firm. It was agreed that I would start work there on 1 August. We stayed a few more days in Winnipeg to look around and let the kids enjoy the swimming pool. Then we returned to Saskatoon to prepare for the move. Hedlin Menzies paid the moving costs.

On August 1, which was a civic holiday, I drove to Winnipeg alone because we did not yet have a house there to move into. Mariet stayed behind with the children; most of the furniture was in storage with the mover. Within two or three days I had found a house to rent on Ash Street and I phoned Mariet that I would come on Friday and that we would move to Winnipeg the day after. Paul was with the family of a friend holidaying near Prince Albert and would come a week later by bus.We lived in the house on Ash Street for 25 years.

1966 - Dad with Charlotte & Mike at Grande Beach

1966 – Dad with Charlotte & Mike at Grande Beach

Charlotte with Mom (First Communion)

Charlotte with Mom (First Communion)

I enjoyed working at Hedlin Menzies. The senior members of the firm were interesting people. Ralph Hedlin was a Uof S graduate in agricultural economics who had worked as a journalist on agricultural matters. He also had been involved in politics and actually campaigned with Duff Roblin who became the popular Progressive Conservative premier of Manitoba from 1958 to 1967. Ralph was a real promotor and business man.

Merril Menzies was the opposite of Ralph in that respect. He was the quiet studious kind and very good hearted and had a Ph.D. in economics. He had been an officer in the Canadian Army in WW II and a senior civil servant in Ottawa. He had been an adviser to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who roped him in and got him involved in politics against his will. Merril still had a lot of friends in the federal civil service. Clive Davidson who was retired from the Canadian Wheat Board knew everything about the grain trade; so did Jim Clarke who had been president of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Their names and their connections lent prestige to the firm and helped the firm to get consulting contracts. Of course they also were valuable as advisers to economists such as I who did most of the research and writing of reports. The Hedlin Menzies offices were on the fifth floor of the Chamber of Commerce building on Lombard Street.

Working at Hedlin Menzies was interesting but also challenging. The profitability of a project depended on completing it on time and within the budget as well as on the quality of the work.

Since salaries were the major component of the cost it was critical to estimate the time needed to do it be correct. The first project that was handed to me had been negotiated by Ralph Hedlin himself with input from Jim Clarke and other senior members of the firm. It turned out that they had vastly underestimated the complexity of the project and therefore of the time needed to complete it. Moreover, the client, Shell Oil company was easily the toughest bargainer he had ever run into.

They did not want to hear of extending the time period and the extra money that would involve. Nevertheless I finished the study on time although two secretaries had to work during the weekend to type, xerox and bind the copies. Hedlin was so angry that he had not held out for a price that was at least twice as high that he did not want to present the report to Shell himself and let me do the presentation and answer the questions the Shell people had. I got plenty of kudos from Ralph, Merril, and Jim Clarke. My reputation was made. From then on Ralph

would ask me to provide an outline and estimate of the cost before making a definitive bid for a study that involved me. I did a lot of studies during the time I worked there and they all came in under budget.

Hedlin Menzies was expanding. Shortly after I was hired Ralph set up an office in Toronto and somewhat later also in Vancouver and hired a manager for each. Roger Schwass was the manager in Toronto. Roger had been in the communication business, particularly in the rural development area. He had long worked on rural programs for the CBC. One of the first persons hired for the Toronto office was Harry Weijs. He was asked to come to Winnipeg by Ralph Hedlin for an interview. After the interview he dropped into my office while I was working my head off on my first project. It turned out that Harry was from Sevenum, a village south of Horst, so we were born only a few kilometers apart. We talked for a few minutes; I did not have much time to spare and Harry had to leave for the airport. We would see a lot of each other in the future.

When I had finished my report for Shell Oil, Ralph asked me to deliver it to their office in Toronto and to answer any questions they might have. He also asked me to be prepared to stay in Toronto for a while to help Harry Weijs with a study for Quaker Oats Canada. I could take a break every two weeks to be with my family in Winnipeg for a weekend. So off to Toronto I went.

The Hedlin Menzies office in Toronto was a modest affair on the second floor of a two or three story building on Bloor street only a short distance west of Yonge street. That location would only be temporary, as Ralph had leased space in the head office building of Imperial Oil on St. Claire Avenue.

The Bloor St. building suited me fine; there were only four of us, Roger Schwass, Harry, I and one secretary, Gloria, a pleasant and very efficient young woman. Harry and I worked well together so that we made headway with the study. Quaker Oats Canada had its headquarters in Peterborough, Ontario in a huge flour mill that now stood idle most of the time. The mill was built to supply flour to the United Kingdom and Europe but that trade was long since dead. Those markets now demanded wheat and other grains and did the milling themselves.

Our project was mostly concerned with the animal feed division of the company. Quaker Oats had then just launched a new breakfast cereal named Captain Crunch. It was a huge success and the marketers in the company’s headquarters in Chicago advocated to abandon the feed mill division entirely and concentrate all efforts on breakfast cereals. The head of the company in Canada thought that was a big mistake but he had trouble convincing headquarters. That is why he called on us to do a study of the animal feed division and its prospects. We finished the project on time and accompanied Ralph to make the presentation to the executives of the company in Chicago. The result was that the animal feed division was saved and the head of the Canadian branch was very pleased.

In the fall of that same year(1967) Harry and I did a study for the National Grain Company in Winnipeg on the prospects of its feed mill division. in British Columbia. We spent three weeks in B.C. gathering data, interviewing executives, and looking at the situation in the Peace River region. That report was also well received. Then Hedlin Menzies landed a huge contract with the Ontario Department of Agriculture on a problem that had beset agriculture in all parts of Canada: farm income.

Again, I was called to Toronto to assist the staff there with that study. Again, Harry and I did most of the work as we examined the structure and methods of marketing of the agricultural supply industries as well as the processing, wholesaling and retailing of food products. I spent a lot of time in Toronto that year(1968).

In those years Mariet was often alone with the kids while they were growing up. She was ever vigilant and maintained discipline, sometimes wielding a wooden spoon.

The ambitious plans of Ralph Hedlin to expand led to dissatisfaction among staff in the Toronto office who complained about too-heavy management and their expensive lifestyle. They demanded that the firm be converted to a partnership. Ralph promised to develop a model and put it to a vote among the professional staff. Not long after that, he sprang a surprise on the staff when he circulated a letter that the company was merging with the Toronto firm of Acres Consulting International. If I remember correctly, Acres paid $1.4 million for the company. No doubt that was a good deal for Ralph and Merril Menzies and the managers of the Toronto and Vancouver who apparently had received 5% each of the shares. I believe that those shares had come from Merril’s original 50%.

There followed a rather tumultuous meeting in the King Edward Hotel in Toronto that I attended representing the Winnipeg staff. After several proposals to soothe the anger of the staff were rejected, Ralph suggested that the staff meet in a seperate room and come back after an hour with a counter proposal. That we did. Personally, I was not at all upset with what Ralph had done. I saw it as a good deal for Ralph and Merril and a stabilizing measure for all of us.

I told the Toronto colleagues how I felt and that the Winnipeg staff were of the same opinion. I suggested that there was little they could do about it and they might as well make the best of it. In the end they asked me to be their spokesman and that we should ask Ralph to let all the persons who were working in the company share in the profit he had made to the tune of $100,000. After some tough talk management consented. I proposed a formula to distribute the money among staff in a fair manner with the lowest paid staff members, the secretaries and clerks to be paid first. They left it all in my hands. Nevertheless, even though we had reached a satisfactory accord, attitudes had changed and the former collegiality that I had enjoyed so much never returned.

It was in the spring of 1968 I believe, when two NDP members of the Manitoba Legislature, Sam Uskiw and Ben Hanuschak, came to our office in Winnipeg and asked Ralph Hedlin if he were willing to travel to Dauphin on a Saturday to attend a conference on agricultural policy of the NDP and give his opinion on a proposed policy platform of that party. Ralph agreed and asked me to come along to answer “nuts and bolts” questions. It turned out to be a very interesting meeting. Ralph gave a brief speech and when questions were asked he referred most of them to me. I was asked to comment on specific points in their agricultural platform and we had a lively discussion. I felt good about it and Ralph, always conscious of good public relations was also happy with a day well spent. For me the meeting that day would have far reaching consequences.

In May of 1969 the Conservative Premier called a snap election for June 25. To everyones surprise the NDP won getting 28 of the 57 seats in the legislature. When Larry Desjardins, who was elected as a Liberal in St.Boniface, promised to vote with the NDP they had just enough votes to control the house. Sam Uskiw became the new minister of agriculture and rural development. Shortly after he was installed in his office he called for me and asked me to prepare a report for him on the marketing of feed grains within the province. In the months following he called me frequently on specific issues.

Soon we were on a first name basis – he called me Bill, I called him Sam.

One day Sam asked me to come to his office and he would take me to see the premier. The office of the Minister of Agriculture is in the south east wing of the legislative building. Before we went up to the premier’s office on the second floor Sam asked me if I would come to work for him, not as a consultant but full time as his personal adviser. The visit with the premier was really an interview to see if the premier agreed with the agreement. I confirmed to the premier that I was willing to work for Sam. We chatted for a while. The premier asked me a few questions on a number of issues in agriculture , rural development, and aboriginal matters. He seemed quite satisfied with my answers and he nodded to Sam that he could go ahead and hire me.

The deputy minister, Murray Cormack, advised that it would be more correct to establish a civil service position in the department and hold a competition rather than make a political appointment. A position of Director of a Planning Secretariat was advertised, I and three other persons applied. A panel of the Deputy Minister and two Assistant Deputy Ministers interviewed the applicants, and I was hired. So began my career in the civil service. Three years later, when Murray Cormack resigned after the NDP was elected for a second term I was appointed deputy minister.

I would need to write a book to describe my experiences as Planning Director and as Deputy Minister of Agriculture. Besides, those experiences do not belong here. What I have written is meant to be the story about our family background and our experiences in our struggle to make it in this country. By the time I joined the department of agriculture you, the children, began to have your own experiences which no doubt you still remember.

Final Thoughts

I realize that what I have told here of our life has dealt mainly, too much, with me and too little, far too little, with your mother. In a way that was unavoidable and also a reflection of our family background. Mariet and I were raised in a place and time where it was considered normal and taken for granted that the man in the family went out to earn the daily bread and the woman was the mother of the household who looked after the children and ruled the household.

Your mother fully accepted that role and gave it all the love and energy she had to give, and she had lots of both. She was also the one who was most sorely tested in the difficult first few years in Canada. On the farm she worked hard as a maid servant which was not a role easy to accept for a person of her upbringing. She was again thrown into that role in the period September-December 1954 while I was going to teachers college, which was doubly hard for her because we were forced to live apart. It broke my heart to see the pain in her eyes when I visited her and the two little ones on weekends.

I have never forgotten the sacrifices she made to enable me to study and pursue my career. I am grateful that I could repay some of the debt I owed her by taking care of her in the last days of her life.

1984 - Monday 26 January Mr. Janssen, resident of the home, celebrated his 100th Birthday!

2000 - 8 August - Willem & Mariet Janssen on their 50th Anniversary

2000 – 8 August – Willem & Mariet Janssen on their 50th Anniversary