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Children

Lina Douwasma
January 22, 1952 - Zuiderkruis

After a tearful good-bye to friends and neighbors in our little hometown of Ens in the Netherlands, our family, consisting of Dad and Mom and four children, ranging in age from three to ten years old, on the morning of January 22,1952, piled into a rented car which would bring us to Rotterdam. There we were to board the ship that would take us to our new country – Canada. In the years after the Second World War, that meant the land of our liberators; the land of promise and plenty. Even young children knew that!

But to a ten year old who had never traveled much, the first leg of the trip, driving across the Netherlands, already seemed long. In reality, the Netherlands is a small country and we arrived on the docks in Rotterdam sometime that morning. We were told that, because of a clerical error, my little brother Fred was missing from the passenger list and we would not be allowed to board right away. When the problem was finally cleared, we were hurried along, quickly our picture was taken (see enclosed photograph) and walked the gangplank onto what seemed to me to be a huge ship, the Zuiderkruis.

The first few days on board were a lot of fun! We ran up and down the stairs, played hide and seek in the nooks and crannies with the children of other immigrants, and made new friends. We were amazed to see the tables laden with all kinds of delicious foods, especially fruit like oranges and bananas. In the years after the war, the Netherlands was still re-building and food was expensive and ration stamps were still used for a number of years to buy food and other necessities. My sister and I wore hand-knitted dresses and my brothers wore knitted shorts and sweaters as well. Mom’s hands were never idle! On the enclosed picture, the younger children are all wearing jackets and clothes made from worn adults’ outerwear. I felt very proud as I had a new store-bought coat. I was getting too big to have a re-modeled one!

We loved to see a movie in the theatre on the ship and on Sunday, we had a church service there as well. However, as we processed further into the Atlantic, the trip didn’t so seem enjoyable anymore. A fierce gale blew and most of us were seasick. Those who weren’t helped the stewards who had their hands full looking after the young children whose mothers were ill. I decided I would not get seasick, but one day I couldn’t bear the thought of food and didn’t go to the dining room for breakfast. One of the Moluccan stewards who often talked to me, asked Dad, "Where’s Lina?" Dad told him I was sick and he was very sympathetic and gave Dad an egg from the table for me. I remember thinking that it was very nice of him, but the last thing I wanted to eat was an egg! We were in the first cabin right in the front of the ship. One day I was looking through the only porthole and I saw a huge green mountain. "What is that mountain doing there?" I thought. Then, I panicked because I was sure we were going to crash! Suddenly that mountain moved and I realized it was a huge wave! I turned around quickly and walked into the lounge where there were no portholes. The problem was solved!

As Dad wrote later in his memoirs, after nine days on a "rough and rowdy sea", we heard the cry, "Land, There’s land in sight!" We hurried to the deck only to be disappointed. The land was a thin gray line on the horizon and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer anytime soon either. We went about our play again. But toward the evening we could see the houses of Halifax built against the hills. For us, who came from a very flat country, it was an unusual but welcome sight.

I remember walking from the ship to a big hall where Dad had to answer some questions. Then mom and dad went to buy some food for the train trip to Ontario. They had already found out that it would be more economical to buy ahead instead of on the train. Mom, who felt she didn’t know enough English, wanted dad with her. As the oldest, I was responsible for looking after my little brothers and sister and the suitcases! While I was attending to my crying three-year-old sister, my brother Bill, who was seven, suddenly disappeared! My heart lurched as I thought of what could have happened to him. I didn’t dare leave the little ones to look for him and I didn’t dare approach any of the strangers around me. When I got up enough courage to ask someone, I realized I didn’t speak their language! Soon I discovered Bill’s impish grin from behind a big pillar and he pointed toward another hall. There were Mom and Dad buying groceries. They weren’t far away after all!

We loved the taste of Canadian white bread, sliced at that! It tasted like cake to us and it was the first of many pleasant surprises. Sometime that evening we boarded the train for a two-day trip to Toronto. The bed made of two train seats was fascinating to us! We soon found however, it wasn’t all that comfortable to sleep on it with the four of us but Mom and Dad needed the other to sit on. Despite the hard bed, we slept quite well and I woke up the next morning to find Mom blowing on the frozen window to clear a spot we could see through. Traveling through Quebec in the beginning of February we really couldn’t see anything at all, and we found ourselves at the train station in Hamilton. Which is now also considered a historical building. There, the kind ladies of the Imperial Daughters of the Empire generously gave us a glass of milk and as many cookies as we could eat! Eventually, we were picked-up by Dutch people, total strangers who had come to Canada previously. They found us a place to stay with other recent immigrants until work for Dad and a home, a three-room cottage, could be found in Burlington, Ontario. Yes, the first years were difficult. We weren’t used to the cold, the language or the customs of our new country. There were days of hard work under the burning sun in the summer, days of unemployment in the winter and days of anxiety when Mom needed a serious operation just after the first anniversary of our arrival. But we made it! Thanks to our parents’ hard work, their resourcefulness, perseverance and faith in God, we did not feel deprived. Thanks to the kindness of our Canadian neighbors, who helped us through the first hard years. We felt we belonged here.