Skip to the Content

Single Men and Women

Wilhelmus Petrus Gouweleeuw
April 18, 1948 – Kota Inten

I worked for my father as a Market Gardener for eleven years. During the war we had lots of damage done to our business. There were three boys in our family and my younger brother was engaged to be married. I am the oldest and I could see that there was no way of having a future in Holland. During that time, I had my feelers out in different countries – France, South Africa, Australia, and England, but I could not get the satisfaction I was looking for. I remembered that after the war was over, the Canadians were looking good to me. Then, two boys in my neighbourhood invited me to their home one night and told me that they were leaving Holland to immigrate to Canada. They also told me how to go about it. They started in late 1946 and in 1947 they went away. The place that they went to was Bradford, Ontario, called the ‘Holland Marsh’. They had people there that sponsored them. Their luck was better than mine because their church people, the Dutch Christian Reformed, were their sponsors. In my case, it took about eleven months. The Catholic Churches were not prepared for that kind of thing.

In the meantime, I found myself a beautiful girl and we fell in love. Her name was Theodora Cornelia Maria Van Houdt. She was 20 years old. I told her of my plan and she thought it was great to do. Even her parents thought it was a great idea. Our plan was to get married before we left Holland, but the closer it came to the day of getting married and leaving the country for Canada, a sudden change came in. Her mother told us that there was no way she would let her go to Canada. I was kicked out of the house and her father was sent out after her to see where she was going. We kept seeing each other in secret and we made a plan that I would still go to Canada and when she turned 21, I would make a plan to get her over to Canada. In the meantime, it was slowly going to the final round.

On the 9th of March 1948, I was handed a visa. My sponsor was a Canadian farmer. Mind you, I never worked on a farm before, but I felt myself young enough to change jobs and still remain in agriculture. My sponsor’s name was George Davidson. His address was RR #1 Blackwater, Ontario. I was ready to leave on April 6, 1948. That was the day I boarded a ship called the Kota Inten, transported from the Holland America Line, docked in Rotterdam Harbour. I shook hands with my father and my stepmother (my own mother was killed on September 17, 1944, during the war). I kissed my darling girl goodbye and repeated my promise to call for her in 1949. She would be 21. We all went to the pier where the Kota Inten was docked. It was early afternoon and many people were there to see their relatives off, hugging and kissing each other. I waited until all my stuff was on board. The bow of that boat would be my quarters for twelve long days. I went back to the upper deck to wave at my company and with a feeling of pain I wondered when I would see them again. Finally, the boat was untied and a whistle blew three times, saying goodbye to Holland. With a sigh and a tear, I thought it might be forever.

We entered the Hook of Holland in the early afternoon. In the meantime, I went down to get organized for the trip across. It surprised me that all I could find was a hammock. They were stacked three high. I was lucky to be in a corner so I did not have to share one above and below me and had enough room for the rest of my luggage. In the meantime they announced that dinner was ready. The cook and his assistants joked about the food – potatoes, veggies, and of all things, fried sole. They told us make sure to put the fish back into the sea because they belonged there! After that, we went back on deck. We waved goodbye to the people gathered on the pier at the Hook of Holland. Most of us went down in the bow. Later that night some of the officers came around and distributed to all of us, a carton of American cigarettes, of all things, Camel. We thought the world of this, but we smokers got a real surprise once the officers were gone. The bellhops came down and wanted to trade the smokes for English Virginia cigarettes. They offered us one for one and the majority of the men traded and so did I. Later on, we found out that they sold them for twice the price in Canada as soon as they landed!

I spent that night getting to know some of the people. The air vent went on the blink so when we woke up the next morning, the smell was practically horrible. After breakfast, I went on the deck; it was a bright morning. You could see the south coast of England and there was a light breeze with some sun, but it was cool enough to dress warm around midday. The families came together with their children on the top deck. I also came to know a family with seven children; that was a man from the southern province in Holland (Brabant). He was a miller (flour mill), but during the war his windmill was completely destroyed, and with tears in his eyes, he told me the story. When it came to rebuilding his mill, the government told him if he had f75000 they would build it for him. The mill was also his home and they were lucky to get out alive as everything else burned.

I sure felt for this man. The best was that he and his family ended up in the Blackwater area. We talked a lot on that ship. He had been in Canada before, during the Depression, but he and his buddy were in British Columbia and they could not make a go of it, so they both came back to Holland. His name was Bouwman, his friend was Ben Van Treek (both passed away some years ago). The trip across for me was very boring – no entertainment, no bar, not even soft drinks. They were twelve long, lousy days. The majority of the people were from the two northerly provinces, Friesland and Groningen. The trouble was the Frieslanders had short fuses. So many times we had the luck to see a fist fight about an empty chair! On the third morning at 4:00 AM, I heard a funny noise. The ship was kind of rolling sideways. I got out of my hammock, went to the stairwell to go out and I walked right into a wave that came through the door. It took two men to close that steel door. That was the start of a three-day storm under the coast of Ireland. I waddled as best as possible to the breakfast room. I took the table at the centre of the room, but with every bite I felt a bit of a grumble in my stomach. Two men sat across from me. One stood up. "I never get sick," he said and he sank back into his chair (I think he had porridge). All of a sudden, the bow of the ship went straight up in the air and slammed down to level. The guy that bragged flew off his chair. The bowl ended up in his lap and he was sicker than a dog! But looking at that man, it was also the end of my breakfast for the next three days. I went back to my hammock until that night. Two young boys came and asked if they could borrow my leather coat. I made a fast deal – bring me a good size plate of food and coffee. Fifteen minutes later, they brought me bread and a can of coffee and they had my coat for the night. I had no problem eating in bed but could not stand up.

The next morning I was trying to go to the main deck. I found out that the double steel doors were bashed in from outside. They yelled at me to stay away from the doors because they were trying to cut them open with a welding torch but the sea water kept dousing the flame. It lasted three hours before we could get out. When the storm was over the next day it was sunny and the weather was warmer. About three quarters of the people on board were seasick. Of all things, a baby was born during the worst part of the storm, but mother and baby were doing just fine. We continued for days until we hit a part that became tropical. It was so hot that we were not able to sit on the open deck – sunburn galore. That lasted for a few days and then the temperature leveled off again. On the 16th we felt cool air crossing the water. I had never seen a dolphin and five of them were shooting like jets beside the ship. They were a playful bunch but later that afternoon, the captain came on the horn and told us to go on deck to see a huge iceberg. What a sight that was, with the sun shining on it, like a huge crystal column! Everybody was very excited about that!

Two days later, we saw Halifax on the horizon. To me, it could not come fast enough. The closer we came to the city, the darker the clouds and the cold started, with wet snow, sleet, and hail. When we tied down on the pier, all the people went on deck. The Frieslanders started singing their Provincial Anthem (they had their own) and next, the Dutch Anthem. After that, we had supper on board and were told in no uncertain terms to stay aboard and not leave the ship. That was Saturday night. In the meantime, the dockworkers started to unload the ship. We sure did not get very much sleep that night because of the rattling of big chains and engines that goes with that job. The next morning (Sunday) in alphabetical manner, we were called. Our papers were checked. I said goodbye to a gentleman connected with the Holland – America Line; a friend of my father’s. He took the trip with us. I gave him my last letter to hand to my dad. I asked him how he liked it; "lousy" was his answer.

After being processed on board, I went into the hall to have my baggage checked. Besides my own stuff, I had also an order of vegetable seeds for a neighbour of ours to take to the Holland Marsh in Ontario. The young interpreter told me to open everything. I had to explain that it was cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, beans, etc. in Dutch currency +f100. When that was explained to the customs officer, he told the young fellow to tell me that it was illegal to bring the seeds into the country. I was shocked out of my socks! I told him that I did not want any trouble. In haste I took the stuff, put it on the floor and told the boy to take it home with him or do with it what he liked. I could not speak English or understand it. The boy was ordered to pick up the bags and burn them in an active incinerator. Ten minutes later, I left the shed shaking like a leaf! It shook me so bad, I thought they were going to deport me, but later on the boy told me it was not bad at all. That afternoon, I had my last meal on board before boarding the train that would take me east to Ontario. I went downtown to pick up some cigarettes, fruit and sweets to have on the train. When I got back, I found my spot on the train. When I got back, I found my spot on the train and waited until 6:00 p.m. to leave for Ontario. Finally, they handed out the last orders and we were on our way.

We took our places and enjoyed the scenery. Going partially through a mountain, we passed a small farm near the track. We even saw the odd bear and even a deer grazing among a herd of cows. At dark, they would turn the heat on. There was always frost in the mornings and a lot of times we woke up with no heat. It did not bother me, but for families with seven to ten kids, it was awful at times. My luck was that I had to share my compartment with an older couple in their mid-40’s. I had no intention of sleeping in between them, so I had to crawl up above them in a wooden luggage compartment. I got on top and started coughing and sneezing but it was dark up there and I could not see a thing until the next morning. A loud noise woke me up. I found out they were taking water in for the locomotives (three of them). I tried to have a bit of a wash to clean up. I was wearing a white, sheep woolen sweater, but when I looked in the mirror it looked like I had crawled out of a coal bin! I had coal dust on ONE side of me. It looked to me like they had never cleaned that train car in the last ten years (afterwards I made a general complaint). Some people had put their small kids to sleep in the small compartments (so much for CP of CN, thank you!) I tried to clean myself up as best as I could and went to the next car to have some breakfast. I met a man from Immigration and we shared a bit of a conversation. I had a good breakfast of brown toast with ham and coffee ($.75 Cdn). Later that day I had a steak dinner for $1.50. I had never had that in my life!

The next day we saw something that could never possibly happen today. The railway track ran beside a highway. In the afternoon I could see five motorcycles that seemed as though they were having a race with the train. They were the type of motorcycles that were used during the war. Each rider had a man behind him and they were waving at the train. When we went over the first overpass, the train signals were put on for them to stop, but they did not stop. The run started all over again. This time, on the next overpass, they stopped and five boys got on the train. What had happened was, at the last place where the train took water in, the passengers were told they could leave the train for forty-five minutes. The five boys forgot the time and arrived too late. How they ever got those motorcycle men organized is still a mystery to me but they all got to their destination.

By that Tuesday morning, I woke up to find a few of our train cars were uncoupled and found myself on the end of the train. I looked to find the Immigration man, of course, feeding his mouth. I had coffee with him and asked what had happened. He told me that the train had stopped in Montreal and one half of the train was left there. I hadn’t heard anything about it. He told me with a little luck, we would be in Toronto the next day at about 8:00 A.M. and there, he was also getting off the train. Well, he was right. Between 8:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M. we entered Toronto. There were a lot of people at the station. It was really warm up there. All these women came to the train, opened up the doors and of all things, they spoke Dutch! Later, I found out they were Red Cross volunteers. They gave out sandwiches, coffee, tea, cakes, etc. The press was there also and that is where these women came in. One lady came to me and asked if I did not mind to be interviewed by a Toronto newspaper. I told her I couldn’t speak English. "No problem," she said, "I’ll ask in Dutch and she would answer in English." I explained that my goal was to try to become a Market Gardener; that I was single and my sweetheart was still in Holland until I was able to get well established. But in the meantime, I was going to work for a farmer because I could not get a market gardener for a sponsor. My contract was for one year for anything in agriculture in Canada. When the interview was over, I asked her if she knew where I could get a haircut and a shave. She brought me to a barbershop and in a half-hour my hair was cut, I was shaved, and sort of cleaned up. They took me and another family to the area for a train to Lindsay. I do not recall the name of the family but that man was to work for a nursery (flowers, greenhouses).

At 11:30 A.M. I entered the Blackwater Station and I was delivered with a rural mailman in a little old truck. He delivered on the steering wheel side and I packed mail on the right. When I saw all the farmer’s homes and barns, I knew this would be my country if they accepted me and they sure did. When I finally came to the house my sponsors George Davidson, his wife Eileen Davidson and their two boys Larry and Morley met me. What the mailman and George talked about by seeing me, I would not know. I finally was home for the next thirteen and a half months. After lunch, he showed me the farm and the barn. He had two mules, tall with big ears, and slow as Toby’s rear. It was a very simple life and to make me understand we used hand signs, etc. It took me about three months before I was really able to have a bit of conversation. Eileen taught me, usually after supper. She would put a few sentences in Dutch on a blackboard to try to make sense out of English.

About five weeks later, I helped about 35 neighbour farmers having a barn raising. That farm was the Baker family who had had a very bad fire. Apparently a wire had shorted out and totally burnt the barn down. I have never seen such a helpful bunch of people. By the time the day was over the whole frame was up. They invited me in for supper and I could not believe my eyes. There was a 20-foot table with food on it, like you would see at a wedding in Holland. You could not find what I found here. I wrote a letter to my dad and told him how rich these Canadians are, maybe not money-wise, but with food I have never seen in my life. In general, I really found this country life great.

I used to listen to the radio, even though I did not understand. They were very cooperative because I am Catholic and they were United Church. They always made sure I could go to church on Sunday. One Sunday, about the third month, I went with a neighbour farmer to church with his five kids on the back of his truck to the Uxbridge Sacred Heart Church. There I met Mr. Bouwman and his sons. It was a real surprise as we were both on the Kota Inten. I went after church to his home. It was my Sunday off from the farm and I had a pleasant day. I had to walk about three miles to Greenbank to catch the bus home. In the fall we went with young people to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. We met some war veterans, some who had been in Holland and my English was slowly coming up to par. We had great times. To my sweetheart in Holland, I wrote steady love letters. Sometimes, I sent little things to her; once a silken shawl hidden in a newspaper, by seamail. That took about two or three weeks, but she got it all. Summer and fall were over and we had our first snow.

I had saved up a bit of money and bought my very first car. You won’t believe it, but it was a 1929 Model! Ford 4-cylinder. In September, George Davidson’s brother-in-law had asked me if I had any brothers. I told him I had two of them but one was married. He also would like to sponsor an immigrant so I wrote to my brother Pete and after a few ooh’s and aah’, he agreed to come. He arrived in either late October or early November.

1948 seemed slowly to crawl to an end. It was getting near Christmas and Pete and I were planning to celebrate with friends we had made in the Uxbridge area, but when Christmas Eve came, a storm broke loose with high winds and dumped three to four foot piles on those small gravel roads. That was the loneliest Christmas in my life. We were stuck around the house for four long days. Then New Year’s Eve came and most of the snow was bulldozed away and Pete and I spent the New Year’s with friends of ours. The winter of that year was not all that bad except one Sunday we were on our way to church and we hit a steep hill. It had been raining in the morning, but the highways were all right except for that hill. My old Ford hit a four-foot bank sideways. The engine did not kick out so I tried to drive away. When my steering wheel did funny wobbly things to my steering, I stopped it down the hill and both wheels, one in front and one behind had bent their thin spokes so badly that I had to buy new ones. George Davidson found two wheels for $5.00. He laughed like the dickens when he saw me coming home and so did some of the parishioners. Finally the time was getting closer for Dora to come over here. At the end of March she turned 21 and started to get ready. She was staying with my father and step-mother, who supplied her with the money that was coming to me after my mother died during the battle of Arnhem. After she had received her papers, she boarded a train to Brussels, Belgium. From there to Paris, France and Paris to LeHabre and boarded a ship from the Cunard White Star Line. Her landed date in Quebec City was June 7, 1949. She ended her journey in the Blackwater Station on June 9, 1949. I met her at the station. She was so excited she nearly pushed the conductor off his seat! She got a warm welcome from George and Eileen.

From that time on we started to get ready to get married. Arrangements were made in the Sacred Heart Church in Uxbridge. The priest was an Irishman, Father McCibney. We got our license and the date was set as the 14th of June 1949. There was only one in the church because the government required us to be married in thirty days. It was a kind of a disappointment because we had nothing by $300.00 and an old car. When the day arrived, Dave (WWII vet) was going to take Dora to the church. It was a sweltering hot day, 85-90 degrees F., but the sky was clear. When I came to the church, I found nobody there. Apparently, my brother Pete had held Dora and Dave for coffee in town and let me sweat it out! Finally, they came in and there were only a few people in the church. Between the two of us, we only had one relative, my brother, and a friend of ours and his wife (Anna Denouden, who was the maid of honour). When the ceremony was over, the papers were signed and there was a blessing from the priest. We went then to the home of a farm friend, the Bakers. They offered us a beautiful dinner. It was very simple but they were great people. The same people that I had helped raising their barn and when it was all done and over with, we went to our friends and stayed overnight in Leaksdale. The next morning, we were on our way to the Martyr’s shrine in Midland and stayed there a few days. During the daytime, we also had an eclipse so I had to turn my car lights on and it lasted for over one hour.

After four days we went south through King Township on our way to Niagara Falls. We toured for three days, surprised at the beauty of this country. There were huge orchards and grape vines, a rich area like I had never seen in my life! When we finally reached the falls and the mighty sound of nature, we spent a few days. After that, we drove back home to the farm. We arrived at about 10:00 P.M. and everyone was already in bed. We went to bed because we were very tired. The next morning, I got up to help with the chores and after that we had breakfast. George broke the news to us that he didn’t have room for another couple so I would have to find another place and job. He paid me what he owed me and we discussed what to do next. The Irish priest, at that time, was getting immigrants by the dozens around the Uxbridge area. We phoned him and he told us he had a farmer on a beef cattle ranch south of Uxbridge who needed help. He told the priest to wait until he had a place for us to live, but the house he had, had to be fixed up. The result was, we were kept in the local hotel for one week and stayed for two weeks with a neighbour. The hotel was fine, but the neighbour was slightly different. His name was Douglas Hall, a pilot of a bomber squadron in WWII. He tended some sheep and had some chickens, a bunch of kids and an English War Bride, but somehow, we made it work until the home was ready for us to move in. When we did move in, there was some furniture, but very sparse – we did not have any of our own. He paid me $100.00 a month, but Dora had to work in the ‘big’ house two days a week for $2.00 a day. He was what they called a ‘gentleman farmer’ and the place was called "The Sand Dune Farms Scottish Short Hornes," all purebred stock. He had a business in Toronto, a collection agency, and rumour went around that he took a poor old man from the area’s last cow, to pay off a $45.00 debt.

In September, I ran into some bad luck. I was struck down by a light touch of polio and a local doctor was called in who suggested I should go to the hospital. I told him I did not have any money and Dora could not speak English well enough to leave her alone. He must have seen my position so what he did was, he went personally to all my friends and told them not to come and visit me, so that he could keep me in isolation. After two samples of stuff out of my spine, with no medication, I slowly got to feel better. After the fourth week, I was back to work again. He told me to absorb as much as I could of the summer heat and that worked like a miracle. My boss docked me for those weeks off and we had to live on $25.00 that month. It was a likeable job with those animals and I was doing great again. In October, Dora gave me notice that she was pregnant. We were very excited about that and it didn’t even bother us that we had hardly any money. We were as happy as little kids with a toy, but worse was yet to come.

Summer went, the fall weather came and went, and then my brother Pete came to board with us, but that only lasted until January. November and December stayed very mild. At Christmas we went to the midnight mass in the pouring rain. That weather lasted until the first week in January and then the snowstorm came, non-stop. Within two weeks, there were big banks four to six feet high and Dora was not able to go to the ‘big’ house. One of the workers came down with a fever that lasted for weeks. That January was horrendous; it never seemed to stop. The worst part was, I went to town to buy some coal but I was told the mineworkers went on strike. I really panicked that time because I didn’t know where to get fuel. I talked to my foreman and all I got from him was, "Sorry man." My boss, when I told him, answered, "Sorry, but there’s a big tree lying in the ditch beside your house and you can have that." After I checked the tree out, it was really so full of water, it would take four weeks of hot drying weather to make it burnable. In our bedroom, the frost crystals were eight feet high on the walls and we slept under a pile of blankets and a load of coats. The water and potatoes froze over in the living room. I brought dead limbs out of the bush and that went on until the end of February. Then the foreman handed me a note from the boss that, as of the end of February, I was out of a job (thank you very much!).

I was lucky though, my brother told me he wanted to quit his tannery job and go back to the farm he used to be on. He did put a word in for me at the tannery and lo and behold, the owner hired me at $.60 an hour. To find a place to live was something else. They did not like to rent to people who had kids or whose wives were pregnant. The only place I found was a large house where there was only one room upstairs. However, it was better than nothing. We borrowed some chairs, a bed, and a table, and that lasted for a few weeks until after I started my job at the tannery. In the meantime, I found a little apartment in town. A lady, who was an invalid, rented it out to us for $18.00 a month. It was not very big and after two months at the tannery, I had a chance to go to General Motors in Oshawa. Within a week I was hired and started on a maintenance gang. The pay was like a gold mine, $1.09 an hour! For the first five weeks, I was never home on Sundays. With the lines down, we were always very busy on Saturday and Sunday, but that started a dream of buying a home for us. On July 21, 1950 our first daughter was born and for the next ten years, we were blessed with nine more kids. A son born in 1951; a daughter born in 1952, another daughter in 1953; another daughter in 1954; a son in 1956; a daughter in 1957; a daughter in 1958; a son in 1959 and the last one, a daughter in 1960, a happy busy household!

Through the years, I was transferred to the car assembly line and this took its toll on my health, bad enough that I quit my job at GM. In 1957, I found a job in construction when they were building the St. John’s Training School in Uxbridge. After it was finished, I got a job there as a Maintenance Man and worked there for twenty years. With our kids growing and married (seven kids found jobs in British Columbia), we decided to move to Parry Sound, since we already had a cottage there. In the 1960’s, we sold the place in Uxbridge and moved to the cottage for four months. During this time, we bought a permanent home on the same Mill Lake. Being semi-retired, I bid on a job with the Canadian Coast Guard and my wife and I spent four summers as part-time Lighthouse Keepers. The year I turned 65 all the lighthouses were automated.

What I have left for us, the beautiful life we have lived here in this great country I call my home. A land where our offspring can live in peace and harmony.