From Holland to bowling in Canada
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Marja and Gerry Vanderbeek left the Netherlands with their two sons, $400 and faith in the future. They would eventually move to the United States, but they initially immigrated to Canada where Marja had a brother.
Gerry: It was Marja’s father who encouraged us to go to Canada or Australia. “Spread your wings,” he said.
Marja: I had one brother in Australia and one in Canada. They would write us letters and my brother in Canada wrote the nicest letters so we decided that we were going to go there.
Gerry: Oh yeah, he wrote about seeing the mountains from his house. And for us living in Holland, where everything is flat, mountains were always a fantasy. He said, “You come, you don’t work for a month and we’ll go out and explore British Columbia.” That was just what we wanted to hear.
We were able to get our visas in about two weeks.
Marja: And we got some extra money from the Dutch government. They were encouraging people to leave at the time because they were worried about overpopulation. We each got $200, Canadian.
Gerry: Yeah, that was all the money we had in our pockets. We really had nothing, no job waiting for us. We had two sons, one was 16 months and the other was 3. But we were young and too stupid to think about failure. Failure? That’s impossible.
Marja: (laughing) Yeah, we never thought of that.
Gerry: So on our flight from Holland to Canada I met some Dutch people, who had immigrated to Canada years before and had become successful. They said, “Young man, let us give you some advice. When you go to Canada don’t hang around with the Dutch because they are always complaining. Become Canadian as fast as you can. Do as the Canadians do.” I locked that in my head.
When we first arrived, Marja’s brother picked us up in this big finned Mercury, and I thought, “Wow, this looks good.” Then after about a day he said, “Hey, listen, I promised you that I would take you up into the country but I can’t really do that. We can go today but tomorrow I have to bring the car back. I’m out of work and, by the way, how about loaning me some money.”
Marja: So we didn’t have the vacation with my brother. And we discovered that the only way you could see the mountains from his house was if you stood on the toilet and looked through the little window. I had to take the kids to the park to play because there was a garbage pit in between the houses where he lived. He lived in a bit of a slum.
Gerry: So we were kinda stuck. We enjoyed our day of driving and sightseeing and the next day we all walked to downtown Vancouver, which took us half the day. We went to every bank and applied for a job.
Marja: We took the boys with us. They were very cute and everybody was enamored with them.
Gerry: So I got a job and started the next day. I remembered what the people on the plane had told me so on my first day I asked my supervisor how I could get involved. He said, “We have a bowling team that you could join.” And I said, “OK, that sounds good, sign me up.” I had no idea what bowling was.
So I came home and told Marja, “Hey, we are going to go bowling. Let’s get the kids dressed up.”
Marja: We all got dressed up.
Gerry: I put another clean shirt on because in those days in Holland you had no casual clothing. Even on Saturdays you had a necktie on. I had only two suits that I brought from Holland, so I changed into the other suit and put on a different necktie.
We finally showed up at the bowling alley after a long bus ride. We were late and everybody was already having beers and bowling and here we come with two little kids and a business suit. They just stood and looked at us. But their attitude was “OK, whatever.”
I had to bowl and I had no idea what to do.
Marja: That was the last time we did that.
Gerry: So the next day in the office I didn’t say I was going to quit bowling, I just asked, “What else can I do to improve my English and to improve my fitting in.” And they said, “You know what, we have this new program called Dale Carnegie and the bank will underwrite half of the cost. So I signed up for Dale Carnegie and that went really well.
Marja: They had socials so we were able to bring the family.
Gerry: Yeah, that worked a lot better than bowling. I have never been bowling since.
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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