Despite its policy of neutrality, the Netherlands were dragged into the war when Nazi Germany invaded Holland May 10th 1940. For the Dutch it became increasingly clear that British and French troops would not be able to reach the Netherlands in time to turn the tide against the Germans.
After severe bombing, the Dutch forces surrendered five days later, and the government and royal family went into exile in London. The Netherlands suffered under German occupation.
Over the next few years as many as 20,000 houses were destroyed and 65,000 people required to move. It was mandatory for the Dutch to work on German projects – those who refused were forced into hiding. Hardship and food rationing was everywhere. There were strict curfews, limits on what could be read or heard, and scrounging for food. Citizens were in a constant state of turmoil.
The winter of 1944/45 was extremely harsh and there were casualties from exhaustion, starvation, cold, and disease. Relief did not come until May 1945.
Holland was liberated largely by Canadian troops with the assistance of the Polish armored division plus U.S. and Polish airborne forces. By the end of the war the Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe.
On May 4th of each year the Dutch hold Dodenherdenking (Remembrance of the dead) for the people who fought and died during World War II). Two minutes silence is observed at 8:00 p.m. The next day, May 5th, liberation is celebrated, and festivals are held in most places with parades of veterans.
After the war a large number of Dutch immigrants moved to Canada (including a number of war brides). During the war Canada had sheltered Crown Princess Juliana and her family. This made Canada a popular destination, and our government encouraged the influx.
One of those emigrating couples who left Holland for a better place to raise their family, was Elle and Tjitske Ellens with eight of their ten children. (Unfortunately, Elle died 12 years later and didn’t live to see all of his children make a successful life). Theresa Beute of Palmerston is one of those children who is quite content with the ups and downs of her life over the past 65 years.
In the old country there had been much talk of leaving the hardships of Holland and emigrating to Canada. Theresa recalls that they were just kids and didn’t understand what was going on. All she knew from overhearing her parent’s late night discussions was that they needed money, so she got her piggy bank and emptied it on the kitchen table to help pay for the trip.
They spent 10 days on the boat and nearly everyone was sick except their mother. The ship landed in Quebec, and there Elle found the crate which held their clothes and personal belongings was falling apart. He had to find tape and rope to hold it together for it still had to travel to Toronto. While at the train station the girls were given a banana – that was the first they had seen a banana in years and they were thrilled.
The family boarded the train again and lumbered towards Union Station, Toronto. There, during an immigrant reception, they had a meal while waiting for their sponsor to take them to their new living quarters. Unfortunately the crate with their belongings was nowhere to be found (it ended up in Alberta and the Ellens’ were without their possessions and clothing for nearly three months).
While waiting for their ride to their final destination in Holland Marsh, officials from the Canadian National Exhibition caught sight of two little girls who they thought were twins. The Ex was to open the following day and the President wanted a representative from the Dutch immigrants to be at the official opening. They approached Mr. Ellens to see if one of the girls could be that ambassador. He was a little hesitant but finally said “If you take one, you take them both, because they’re inseparable”.
None of the family spoke English, but a Red Cross worker had been nearby and not only acted as an interpreter, but agreed to be responsible for the girls the following day.
When the family arrived at their first Canadian home (later dubbed the Chicken Coop), it was nearly 10:00 at night and the father had to beat a path to the door through the weeds. Despite being exhausted after a long trip, excitement ruled, and the family was up bright and early the next morning. The sponsor’s wife had provided the girls with fresh dresses and neatly washed and pressed hair ribbons. The Red Cross worker, Hermine Saliers, was their escort for the day.
The headline in the Saturday Evening Telegram, August 28th, l948 read “Two Young Dutch Girls Tour “Ex” Wonderland – Their First Outing in Canada”. The article began with “ The Canadian National Exhibition has had many visitors, but until its 1948 opening yesterday it has never been able to boast the entrance through its portals of two such patrons as Jitske and Akke of Wieringen, Holland.”
Saliers, herself a Hollander, was determined to let the sisters, aged 10 and 11, experience everything possible at the Ex. They tried popcorn, candy floss, hotdogs and soda pop. Ice cream was a treat as the only time they had it before was given at school when a new princess was born.
This was the first time they had ever seen a child of another color, and while trying not to be rude, the blonde Dutch girls gazed wonderingly at the small child with the dark skin and tight curly hair.
The sisters tried the various rides but were very apprehensive about the Ferris Wheel. Big sister Jitske (Theresa) made the decision, and despite the fact they thought they would be sick from being so high in the air – the girls went back later in the afternoon for a second ride on “the big wheel”.
They laughed themselves to tears in the amusement buildings as they stumbled through the Fun House and watched their crazy reflections in the rippled and distorted mirrors in the Glass house.
It was a fully packed day and the girls were more than ready for home when the time came. But they were lost on the way home as the girls certainly didn’t know the way, and Hermine knew nothing but Holland Landing. Jitske saw a steeple and said there must be good people in there because it’s a church. Ironically an uncle of their sponsors lived next door and he was able to direct them.
Their “coop” was sparsely furnished. There was no stove so Mrs. Ellens had to do cooking on an outside fire. Monday was always washday and with 10 people there were lots of socks. After the washing Akke and Jitske (Agnes and Theresa) had to turn the socks inside-out to make sure all the sand was out of them, and then hang them up to dry. Father secured a job, and the mother made the best of everything teaching her children to do likewise. As it turned out, their sponsor had no money to support them in the first place, and his work for Elle was done in a few months. The Ellens’ went looking for another spot. The father did find a good job but the pay was less. By scrimping, saving and being wise the family was able to purchase a car the following year. In the back yard they had a goat for milk and chickens for eggs. The Dutch Christian School was built in the Holland Marsh in 1943 and that’s the first Canadian school the children attended. The tuition for the three of them was $136 a year (today it’s approximately $10,000.)
A surprise to a fellow in Hamilton came when he read that Saturday Toronto Telegram. He recognized the names and the girls in the picture as two of the sisters he had met in Holland. Allan Guyatt was one of the Canadian soldiers liberating Holland after the war. They were camped not far from the Ellens house. The family could smell the stew cooking, and often the kids went over for leftovers. The girls were frequently treated with gum and chocolate. Allan and his friends would come to the house on Sundays and go to church with the Ellens family.
Guyatt was disappointed with the Dutch Christmas because there were no presents. What he hadn’t realized was that they had already done that during St. Nicholas Day on December 5th.
Most of the soldiers were shipped elsewhere after Wieringen, but Guyatt returned to his home in Hamilton, Ontario after Christmas.
After reading that 1948 newspaper article he was able to make contact with the family. They still stay in touch, and Allan and his wife have been in attendance at several family reunions.
Guyatt is 90 now. He and Mary reside in Caledonia.
The Ellens remain a close-knit family. Locally Alice lived in Listowel, Agnes Kamerman (Akke) is in Agincourt, and Theresa Beute (Jitske) has been in Palmerston for the past four years. They host family reunions every five years a reminder “of all that has been”.
This year, which marks the 65th anniversary of their immigration to Canada, the two younger sisters decided to re-live that day at the Exhibition. Agnes contacted the President of the C.N.E. She asked what she had to do to visit the same places and do the same things as
65 years ago.
The girls found identical dresses, had their pictures taken at the same entrance gates, and had an all’round fun time visiting their old haunts (but they didn’t eat as much junk food!) They attended exactly 65 years to the date – August 27th.
A little 6 year old girl ran up to them and asked why they were dressed alike. Theresa told her to go find her mother or grandmother and they’d relate a long story.
Theresa and Agnes were presented with a “goodie bag” compliments of the CNE, but it wasn’t until they got home that they found a royal blue velvet case containing a gold colored medal “Commemorating the 135th Anniversary of the Canadian National Exhibition”.