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Families

Johanna Schel
March 1954 – Waterman

My name is Johanna Schel. I left Rotterdam on March 2, 1954 with my husband, Johannes, whom was called Jan, and my three year old son also named Johannes but known as Jan Willem.

I vividly recall boarding the S.S. Waterman. I can still see my mother standing between many people as I was thinking if I would ever see her again. She took a deep breath and I could see her pain. I will remember that for the rest of my life. My husband held up our son for our family to see as we bid a last goodbye. The crossing took eight days with my son bunking with me while my husband bunked with some other men elsewhere on the ship. My son was constantly travelling between the two locations. It amazed me that he never got lost. The seas were rough which added to the anxiety of not knowing if we were doing the right thing in immigrating to Canada.

My husband was a blacksmith by trade and had been working in his father’s blacksmith shop selling and repairing farm machinery and shoeing horses. The business was handed down from generation to generation. Would this lost future opportunity to Jan Willem be significant? These things go through your mind at the time.

On March 10,1954, we landed in Halifax and took the train to Toronto. It was not easy to find work due to the language barrier, nor was it easy to find accommodation. My husband started off working as a bricklayer while I found work as a graduate nurse at the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in Mimico. I was a registered nurse in Holland. As regards accommodation, we found a basement room on Royal York Road with a Dutch family.

Our fortunes changed approximately one year after our arrival. Response to an ad in a Toronto newspaper secured employment for my husband as a blacksmith for a private stable of show horses (Hackney Horses) in Downsview (suburb of Toronto). After four and one half years, the farm was sold to the Downsview Airport and we were asked to relocate to the new stable location in Mount Tremblant, Quebec. At this point, my husband decided to start his own business based in Concord, Ontario. He became a travelling Ferrier shoeing horses throughout Ontario and also acted as the official blacksmith for the Canadian National Exhibition and Royal Winter Fair in Toronto for many years until his death in l981.

What became of my son? Well, he became an engineer and lawyer and now represents contractors for purposes of bargaining collective agreements with the union representing blacksmiths and boilermakers. As for the lost opportunity for the son to carry on the family business – well, it appears that the connection has been maintained but has just taken a different turn.