After the Second World War, a large number of Dutch citizens immigrated to Canada through Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in search of work, asylum and a better life. From 1928 – 1971 the Dutch were the fifth largest ethnic group to come to Canadian shores. Prescott resident and a Dutch native, Rene Schoemaker, shared with the Immigration Partnership staff his own experience coming to Canada in 1952.
“I was born in The Hague (Den Haag), the Netherlands. My father was Dutch and my mother was a German. She became a Dutch citizen in the 1930s, and married my father in 1945. My family immigrated to Canada mainly due to the aftermath of the Second World War and the German occupation in Holland.
During the war, my father and uncle had been collected by the Nazi’s – they were sent off to a work camp in Germany for one year. They worked on a machine gun line. There were many different people at these camps, Polish, Austrians etc. My father did not like to talk about the one year he spent there. After his return back to Holland my father joined the Dutch Underground, they would do nightly raids, steal gas… disrupting everything. My mother would hide my father under the floor boards in their home.
After the war, my parents wanted to start a new life elsewhere. They had experienced so much trauma – everyone was so hungry. They were deciding between Australia and Canada, but ultimately chose Canada, because they had heard of an airplane crash on route to Australia, so they decided to go by boat (to Canada).
My family arrived to Canada in July 1952 – I was 7 years old at the time. We travelled by boat, it took 8 days. I remember the main hallway had paper bags taped up with band aids, in case the passengers got seasick. I also remember them serving us potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes! We arrived in Halifax at Pier 21, and then transported to Brockville. My parents came over with a small fortune of $130 CAN, and we had 3 or 4 crates with our belongings, that would arrive by rail a few months later. The first few months we lived out of our suitcases in an assigned cottage with many other Dutch immigrants across from what is now ‘Green Things Landscaping’ near Sharp’s Lane. Our sponsor was our family neighbour from Holland who had immigrated to Canada the year before. He was a barber in Brockville and we lived with him and his family for 3 months during the winter of 1953.
In the spring of 1953, we moved to the Barbara Heck House, located near the Blue Church in Maitland, where we lived until 1959. We were 4 families living in the house at the time. There was one bathroom/tub, and each family had their own day to use it – ours was Tuesday.
We had a garden outside of the house where we grew root vegetables. In the basement my mother would bury the vegetables in bins with sand to keep them dry. I remember my mother would paint the turnips with candle wax to preserve them. On Sundays we would take the bus for 25 cents to attend the Dutch-Reform Church in Brockville. When the DuPont Company bought the property on which the Heck house was sitting, we moved and lived above the Blue Lantern restaurant until the 70s.
My parents were brave. They gave everything up to come to the unknown to start fresh. That’s what war does to people.
Today, I live in Prescott with my wife, who was born and raised in here. We have been married for 45 years, have two daughters, and three beautiful grand-children. I have always had many hobbies, including doing taxidermy for 14 years. I was also on the national skit shooting team for 20 years. I enjoy fishing, deer and moose hunting, as well as reading history books. I love to travel, we often go back to Holland to visit cousins, aunts and uncles, but also love to discover other destinations such Spain, Portugal and North Africa.”
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in California, USA but my family moved to the Highlands of Scotland when I was 2. I grew up in the North of Scotland in a small town called Invergordon – it played an important role in WW1 and WW2 because of the naturally deep harbor area. I have deep ties to Scotland, its history, landscape and culture however, I have always had an overwhelming sense of being home since the first step on Canadian soil over 12 years ago now.
How did you come to live in Leeds Grenville?
I moved to Brockville 8 years ago after I graduated from St Andrews University in Scotland. A week after I graduated, I moved to Brockville and began my journey in this beautiful part of the world. Originally I came to Brockville because my husband – a recent Kingston St Lawrence College graduate – gained his first career job with a local employer. While he has since moved on from that employer, I have made deep roots here with the Employment + Education Centre and do not plan on going anywhere soon!
Do you have any personal/cultural traditions that you love to celebrate?
I love Scottish music – a band called the Red Hot Chili Pipers can often be heard blaring from my car as I find the music really energizing. I have also been known to enjoy a good Scottish Whiskey from time to time. Yes, we do eat Haggis and yes, it is actually really good!!
What advice would you give to somebody moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
Get involved with community organizations, groups etc. There are some really amazing people in this community – you just have to look for them. Volunteering and getting connected with community organizations allows you maximum exposure to so many different people – it’s a fantastic way to meet people and grow your networks.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I like to spend time with family and friends – I am very much a homebody and like to spend time at home in the house or yard. Because all of my family live in Scotland, we spend a lot of time on Skype over the weekends – thank goodness for technology! We also love to take our daughter down to the water front to play in the parks – there is nothing better than watching the joy in a toddler’s face when they go down a slide!
When Ben Mukherjee was in 3rd grade he knew he wanted to be a chef. Originally from Varanasi, India, Ben went to high school in Delhi, where he graduated with a specialization in Hotel Management.
In 1994, at the age of 18, Ben moved to the United States to further his culinary education. “I definitely experienced culture shock – at that time, people in the US where not that open-minded,” said Ben. Ben shared with us one of his first memories, “I was asked by a teacher to stand up and introduce myself in front of a room of 2000 students. I said my first legal and traditional name… there was 13 seconds of silence afterwards. I think people had a hard time digesting it. It was quite embarrassing,” said Ben. Ben’s legal and traditional name is Shoubendou, pronounced, Shou-ben-dou. After that experience, Ben decided to keep the name Ben and drop the rest to make it easier for others. “I believe in not getting caught up in the small details of pronouncing my name”.
With over 25 years of experience in the hotel and restaurant industry, and having lived in numerous cities across the United States, Ben has many stories to tell. He was a regional manager for various corporations in the United States and Canada including India's Best "Taj" Group of Hotels, Hyatt hotels, Ritz Carlton Hotel, Yum! Brands and many more elite institutions including the White House in Washington, DC.
In 2013, Ben moved from Virginia to Kingston when he took a new job. “The first 3 months I absolutely hated it – it was the snow! People told me that Kingston had one of the worst winters that year,” said Ben. When asked what he had heard about Canadians before moving to Kingston, Ben responded, “I had heard that Canadians were a lot more reasonable, and that their level of tolerance was much higher. For example, in Kingston you never hear a honk – in NYC there is no tolerance towards traffic or people. That is a strength of Canadians, they have tolerance towards everything – traffic, humans, and even ignorant people. Life can wait for three seconds to let someone cross the street.”
Not long after he started his new position in Kingston, he was asked by his employer to transfer to Alberta. After declining this relocation opportunity, Ben left the firm and decided to go out on his own. In 2014, Ben established himself in Gananoque when he opened his own take out and catering business specializing in fine Indian cuisine, called 1000 Island Take-Out & Catering.
Today Ben lives in Kingston with his wife and daughter, but continues to operate his business in Gananoque 6 days a week. Ben currently acts as a mentor to a Syrian refugee who would like to start his own catering business. “The language barrier is quite challenging, but I do my best by communicating through sign language and drawing sketches. My wife and I try to give them rides whenever we can,” said Ben.
Ben’s advice to an immigrant moving to a new country? “If you live in the moment you’ll be a happy person. If you live in the past you will never be happy.”
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Brockville at the Brockville General Hospital. I was raised in a neighbourhood close to Westminster school and then my family moved down to King Street. I live in a very Syrian and multicultural household that is rich in culture. My parents love to share their culture and help others better understand their Syrian roots by sharing their food and language.
This summer you are selling Syrian baked goods and food at the Brockville Farmers Market through the Summer Company program delivered locally by the Leeds Grenville Small Enterprise Centre. Tell us, why did you decide to participate in the program and start your own business?
It was kind of shock factor, I realized going into grade 11 and I still didn’t know much about business, or much about my parents culture and their food, because my mom mostly made the food when I was growing up. I wanted to pass on my culture to other people I know and I also wanted to experience Summer Company. It’s a really good program for an individual to grow, meet new people and learn about business.
Do you have any personal or cultural traditions that you love to celebrate?
We have a celebration called Eid al-Fitr. I call it the “big Eid”, because we have two Eids, the "big" and the "small" Eid. The “big Eid” is right after the month of Ramadan, we all get dressed up, we get presents, we have a big party, and it’s a huge celebration. If I have school that day I get to miss school and I get to hang out with friends from the Muslim community. My mom and I make desserts, Syrian cookies and baklava. It’s a great day and you feel so embodied in your culture that it makes you feel at home, but you are at home – if that makes sense.
Why is it important for you to celebrate Eid?
I feel like in my day to day life I get so caught up in community events, going to school, homework, sports, extracurriculars, my part time job. Celebrating Eid helps me remember where my parents came from, who I am, and it also helps me remember how lucky I am to live in an amazing place like Canada. Canada is a blessing and everyday I’m thankful for living here, because my life could have turned out very differently if I had not lived here.
What advice would you give to a newcomer moving to Brockville/Canada?
It will be a learning experience, but you will have an amazing support system to help you and answer your questions. Be ready to work hard but also enjoy the culture and the amazing kindness and respect that Canadians show to newcomers and to visitors.
What do you love about Brockville?
Everything! The waterfront in particular is spectacular and beautiful. I also love all of the small businesses downtown. Now having participated in the Summer Company program, I can truly appreciate how hard they have to work to keep their businesses open and to make them as amazing as they are.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like to read or bring my younger sister to Hardy Park, she is practicing to ride her bike right now. Hardy Park is great because there is so much to do, the volleyball nets, the gazebo, the play structure, and all by the water, so if my sister wants to go swimming we can do that too!
A few weeks ago we met Fae MacKay from Merrickville, this week, meet one of her younger brothers, Hal!
Hal is nine years old and lives in Merrickville with his family. Like his sister, he has helped out with the village’s local refugee settlement group, Rideau Bridge to Canada. When asked what advice he would give to a newcomer moving to Merrickville he said “they should live on or just outside of Main Street, that way if they don’t have a car they can walk to all of the restaurants and stores”. That is some good advice Hal!