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GUEST COLUMN: When Canada was a welcoming place

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Thea deGroot

On July 10th, 1957, I arrived in Canada as a new immigrant.

Due to a war-housing shortage in the Netherlands, my parents, two sisters and I lived upstairs in my grandparents’ house. I don’t remember how crowded we must have been, just how close my grandparents were.

My dad, a welder, had acquired a good job at Royal Philips and eventually was offered a company row house – spacious and brand new; a neighbourhood full of young children and the freedom to play together. Life was very good.

In the 1950’s, many Dutch people were immigrating and coming back with enticing tales of freedom and opportunity. My parents caught the immigration bug and decided to move to Canada.

A huge wooden crate was made to hold our worldly possessions. Then it was time to say goodbye to all we had known and all those we loved. Grief and excitement rolled together. We got on a huge boat with all the comforts of life on land.

Sighting land was the highlight, then on through the St. Lawrence Seaway to land in Quebec City and board a train to Windsor – a Dutch community awaiting us with a house and essentials. Some of the excitement wore off as we were in an old house – rats in the basement and unsatisfactory work for my dad. I do remember my non-crying mother in tears as she sat on one of our huge suitcases.

Soon we moved again to other communities for meaningful work – upstairs a downtown storefront, later into rooms above a garage. My parents must have longed for the new house we had left behind. Missing our extended family left a huge hole in our lives – there was no Skype or Internet in 1957.

Eventually, work at Massey Ferguson in Brantford and our own home enabled education – producing a teacher, a nurse, a social worker and an entrepreneur; something all immigrant parents desire for their children.

I think of Canada as my home and am thankful for all it offers.

My white family had to learn a new language. Our poverty was manageable. Our foods smelled and tasted much the same as other new arrivals. Our ways of worship were similar. We were invisible minorities. The Netherlands was peaceful and free when we immigrated. We weren’t running away from anything or anyone. Our life was not in danger. We did not get on a rickety boat in the Mediterranean. We did not flee for our lives. We were not being bombed. Canada was welcoming.

Today, there are more refugees in the world than during WWII. Our borders are shut to most of them. I mourn the Canada that was in the ‘50’s and during the time of welcoming the Vietnamese.

Today’s Canada is not the Canada I celebrate and not the Canada I am thankful for. As global citizens, most of us who were welcomed from somewhere else, we can do much better than what we presently put on offer.

Thea deGroot is an active Canadian citizen in Sarnia who immigrated at eight years of age and was seasick for most of the 10-day ocean crossing

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