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Families

Cathy Bos
June 1953 – Groote Beer

It was in the early fifties. There were a lot of people in Holland talking about "going to Canada." Many people were looking for a new start in life, a new adventure. My oldest sister Liz’s fiancé wanted to get married and immigrate to Canada to buy a farm. It was practically impossible to buy a farm in Holland at that time and Canada offered that opportunity. My father had worked for a farmer for as long as I can remember. My older brothers all worked for farmers. We lived in a new, government owned, rented townhouse with running water and electricity. We were living fairly comfortably.

After Liz and her new husband emigrated to P.E.I. in 1952, things started to progress fairly quickly. Liz urged the rest of the family to join them in Canada, a beautiful country with wide-open spaces. My parents were 55 years old when they decided to take 7 of their children, Sebastian 22, John21, Ben 19, Jerry 18, Cathy (myself) 13, Robert 11, and Greta 9, to Canada. (Jean 20, stayed in Holland, she was to join us the following year with her new boyfriend).

One of the first things we were required to do was to have physical and mental examinations, to be vaccinated and X-Rayed. This was done by Canadian doctors and personnel, with the help of an interpreter, because we did not speak a word of English. When the time came near for our departure, we had movers come to pack our furniture into a large crate. We slept on the floor for a week or so and borrowed things from neighbours to keep us supplied until the day of our departure.

Then came the day to say good-bye to my friends at school, my teachers, cousins and neighbours. I was quite happy with my life, had lots of friends. I was a fun loving 13 year old. Leaving all that behind to go to a strange country was terribly hard. I cried many tears that day.

My parents arranged for two cars to pick us up and drive us to Rotterdam harbour. It was June 19th, 1953 when the Bos family boarded the "Groote Beer". It was a beautiful, big ship. We were taken to our cabins, which slept 6 people on bunks. My father and my 5 brothers had a cabin to themselves, while my mother, my younger sister and myself shared our cabin with 3 other female passengers. This arrangement worked out very well, as we spent most of our time in the boys’ cabin so we could be together as a family.

We had our meals in a large dining room, which were served at 3 different sittings. The food was of the best quality, and the service was excellent. There was entertainment, such as shuffleboard, films and even a library on board. Most people got quite seasick and I was no exception. After a few days, I got used to the rocking of the boat and started eating again. We spent 7 days on the rough ocean.

Finally we spotted land. This was Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. We were received into this huge building where we had to go through customs. The majority of people were guided onto a train, which was waiting just outside the building. It was heading west, to Toronto and even farther. We were going to Charlottetown, P.E.I. It was Saturday and the train had already left, there was no train going on Sunday. This was explained to us through a Dutch interpreter.

They put us up, right there at the harbour overlooking the water. The building had bars over the windows. It may have been a prison at one time or a place where they kept stowaways. We were treated very well and were free to come and go as we pleased. Some people were not allowed to leave the building, they were probably illegal immigrants or stowaways, I really don’t know. We had our first corn flakes and potatoes with the skin on (my mother always peeled the potatoes). Bacon and eggs, Canadian style, went down very well. My mother insisted we eat all the food, to show our appreciation. During the time we stayed at the Harbour, at least two other immigrant ships arrived. One from Norway, I believe, and one from Italy. We mingled with the new arrivals without restrictions, and watched them go through the same process we went through. On Sunday morning the whole family marched up the Halifax streets to go to the nearest Catholic Church.

We boarded the train early Monday morning. We had our first glimpse of Canada from the train windows. It was a lovely summer day. The train made many stops. It was early evening when we arrived in Charlottetown. Liz and her husband greeted us at the station. They had bought an old car and one of their friends was there with a pick-up truck. It was about a 10 mile ride to their home. The first few miles were not so bad, but then we ended up in a dusty red clay road. Liz and her husband, Nick, lived in a big, old farmhouse in Mermaid, at the end of a long lane way, close by the Hillsboro River. We enjoyed the hot Canadian summer, running barefoot through the hayfields, picking seashells on the riverbank, and roaming through the woods. After a week or so, a Mr .D.A. MacDonald came to visit. He hired my Dad and brother John to work on his farm for $125.00 a month. This included the use of the pick-up truck to go to church and store with. He also provided the house.

When the crate with our furniture arrived, we moved in. The house was an old and dilapidated building. There was an outhouse, no electricity, and a water pump in the yard. The bedrooms were stripped down to the rafters. There were mouse droppings and cobwebs all over. There was an old cook stove in the kitchen and a few old pieces of furniture. We got busy scrubbing and cleaning the place. My mother hung her lace curtains and, in no time, turned the place into a home.

My oldest brother, Sebastian, went to London, Ontario, to meet up with his girlfriend. Ben and Jerry found work on other farms in the area, including board. Cathy (myself) 13 Robert 11 and Greta 9, were to start school after the summer holidays. We did not have much contact with other people; the nearest neighbour lived about ¼ mile away. We could not speak English, so we kept to ourselves that first summer in Canada.

September rolled along and we had to start school. We waited at the gate for the school bus to pick us up. It was a pick-up truck with a home made wooden box on the back. Robert and Greta were dropped off at the first little schoolhouse, which held grade 1 to 5. I went to the next one room schoolhouse with grades 6 to 10. It was in Fort Augustus. The school was a frame building with wooden floors. It had old desks with scratches and ink marks all over and chewing gum stuck on the bottom. There was a wood stove in the middle of the room. This was a far cry from the lovely new school I went to in Holland.

I still remember the first day very well, I occupied a seat near the back of the class, and I felt very strange and uncomfortable. Then the priest entered the classroom. He asked me something but I did not know what he said. I could say "Yes" and "No" and I could count to ten, which was the extent of my English vocabulary. The priest put up his fingers so I assumed he wanted to know what grade I was in. So I said "sex". The priest corrected me and said "six". I said "Yes". This was my first attempt at English. From then on, life became very difficult for me. I had turned 14 during the summer. I decided to do grade 6 over again because of the language. I felt very lonely and depressed. I missed my friends. I needed someone to talk to. My parents couldn’t guide me. They were worse off than I. It felt as if I had to start my whole life allover again. I used to sit there staring at those school books. I just couldn’t read or understand any of it. There was no one to translate all this for me. It was utterly frustrating. I had trouble keeping my tears back. If only I could go back to my own school. Why did we have to move at a time when life was just starting for me? No one ever asked if this was the best thing for me. This was total immersion, swim or drown.

The children were kind. They helped me in every way they could. They did not understand me either. They had never met a foreigner before. I am sure they thought I was stupid, dumb or both. They included me in their games, such as baseball. There was only so much they could do for me. I had to learn the English language all by myself. Slowly, I learned one word at a time, names of places and things. Then forming sentences. When Ben and Jerry came home on week-ends, we played "word games", teaching each other new English words we had learned during the week. My mother placed more responsibilities on me. I had to take her shopping, talk to people that came to the door. I hated doing all that. She said, since I was going to school, I could speak English now. My command of English was still very limited. My mother did not meet many people, being at home all the time, so she learned very little English.

Gradually, things started to improve. I went to some of the local square dances with the girls. All the girls were lined up against the wall waiting for the boys to come over to ask them for a dance. The boys were outside hanging out around the trucks. They had a bottle of moonshine under the seat. Drinking and driving was no crime in those days. By now I was 16 years old and in grade 8. My parents had bought a farm. The house was at the end of a long lane way. The P.E.I. winters are very severe. We left the car on the road. There was no way that we could keep the long lane way clear of snow. Every morning we trudged through the deep snow to meet the school bus. We missed a lot of days at school. Spring was not much better. When the thaw set in, the red clay roads became very muddy and greasy. The ruts in the road were so deep that the vehicles got stuck right up to the axels.

Money was very scarce in those days. We milked a few cows. Planted turnips and potatoes. The crop was plentiful, but the prices were very low. My mother told me to quit school and find a job in Charlottetown. I hitch-hiked into town and went to the employment office. They found me a position in a doctor’s home, a family with 4 children. The doctor’s wife provided me with a uniform and a white apron. I ate in the kitchen while I served meals to the family in the dining room. I made $40.00 a month including room and board. When I went home on week-ends I handed my wages over to my mother (the same as my brothers) to keep the family afloat.

I started dating my future husband when I was 17 years old. We moved to Ontario the following year. (My boyfriend and I), got married in 1959 at the age of 19 and started raising our family.