It was Saturday noon when we arrived in Winnipeg. Now what, we had tickets for Petersfield thirty-five miles north. However, we didn't have to worry about that, a man came on the train and asked for Mr. and Mrs. Kaas and Mr. and Mrs. van de Berg in plain Dutch. He turned out to be an old immigrant and helped new arrivals. He led us out of the station to a car and truck which would take us to the farm in Petersfield.
It seemed we all had to go to the same farm, but no. Karl Schalk had applied for workers but they did not come, so he kept on asking and finally he got two families, us. No problem, he went to ask Frits Koch if he would take a young couple. Sure, Frits said, I could use them for a while. And so, it came to pass we arrived at a farm in Manitoba on August 1, 1948.
What a fantastic reception at the Schalk's place, dinner was all set. You could eat and drink whatever you fancied: beef, sausages, potatoes, meat, vegetables, coffee, milk, even beer. Never ever had we seen a table with so much variety. Indeed, Canada was a wonderful country, for sure.
We settled in a new but sparsely furnished house which Frits had built. He was still a bachelor, thus he could use Margaret for housekeeper and I could help in the harvest, which was about to begin. This of course was right up my alley, he had two tractors and no cows or other animals.
The day after our arrival was Sunday, we would like to go to church. Frits said, "Take my car." It was a brand new Chevrolet. He did not even ask if I could drive. He explained in German where the church was, and away we went.
A couple of weeks later, Frits went to a party Saturday night and was unable to make it home before church time on Sunday, so we started to walk.
We were only gone a short distance when along came the neighbour. When he saw us walking, he knew the reason. He started his car and drove us to Church. He was not even Catholic.
After the service, another family offered to drive us home. It was only a couple of kilometers. This was what we called hospitality - always ready to help each other regardless of religion or status. We were so impressed with the way they treated us and each other that we promised each other, that is, Margaret and I, to follow their style and attitude in life. It was very different than what we experienced at home. When they had church parties here, we were asked to attend, they did not even mention for which denomination or religion, everyone went, Protestant or Catholic. It did not make any difference.
Soon, work on the farm started. I drove the big old John Deere pulling the self binder along the wheat fields. This contraption cut the wheat, pushed it into a bundle, then wrapped a string around, tied it and dropped it on the ground.
Later, we went "STUCK" - that was picking up the sheaves and putting them together to form a teepee, four to six to a tent so they could dry. When dry, the thrashing machine would come: a big monster with gears, belts, wheels and pulleys and big noise. Frits's Massey Harris kept this machine growling. With it came four wagons, each with a team of horses and two men to each team. They speared the sheaves and threw them onto the wagon until it was full. Then they drove to the thrasher and pitched the load into the gulping monster, one wagon on each side. As fast as they threw it in the thing would swallow with a loud roooomph. It would spit the wheat out into a pile on the ground at one end, and blew the straw out the other end.
The labourers who came with the machine were young unmarried fellows, who travelled from farm to farm during the harvest season. There was also a Blackfoot Indian amongst them.
The machinery Frits used was left on the spot where he had finished, right in the field somewhere. At one place, we found his truck, a 1920 white single-wheel truck with wooden spokes - a four-cylinder gas engine, block and head one single casting.
The farmer said, "Let's go and start the truck." Easier said than done. I tried to crank the engine, no luck, totally seized up. Frits said, "We put some coal oil in - that will loosen it up." We did and came back a week later. Now it should turn. I jumped on the crank with no result, still seized. Frits had better find out why it would not turn. Frits knew how to: you took out a spark plug, which was on top of the engine, where we put coal oil in last week, and looked down into the hole. However it was so dark in there you couldn't see anything, so you struck a match and held it over the hole then looked down.
I didn't know what Fritz expected to see, anyhow, he looked, and when the match came over the hole ........ WOOOOOOOOSH like a little explosion, which it actually was, but Frits did not see anything. He did feel something: a hot fiery flash which shot out of the hole. When he straightened out, he looked at me. I could not help myself, I felt like exploding in laughter, his eyebrows and the hair which stuck out from under his hat were all burnt off. I asked in my broken German which he always spoke, "Was haben Sie gesehen?" "What did you see?" He did not answer, but on his face I could read the words, "Go to hell."
When the threshing was done, we had to disc the grounds. Frits had a thousand acres. For this, I got to drive the big Massey which was fun to drive, a powerful machine like that. Frits borrowed a three-bladed tiller to plow one of the fields. I hitched the tractor up and took off in low gear. Frits walked behind to see the results. We plowed only about 15 cm deep. I asked him, "Do I go too fast?" He said, "Nein, schnell fahren ist ganz gut."
Aha, schnell is faster, so I started to shift gears and put the pedal to the metal, as the saying went. Frits started to run but not very far, I left him behind. Those ploughs were equipped with a safety device: if you hit a solid object it would automatically disconnect. Maybe on paper, because when I hit a rock at the speed I was ploughing, it went up in the air, turned around and an upside-down plow was following me. I had to get a chain to pull it over to the normal operating position.
People asked if we wanted to buy a farm. No, we couldn't buy no farm, we didn't have no money. "Oh, that's alright, you pay later." Well, how much for a farm. Eighty cents an acre for the land, and $1.00 an acre with buildings. Wow, I thought, that was cheap. But we were no farmers and it was no good to start something if your heart was not 100% in it.
Dutch Emigrant Families Assisted by the Immigration Committee of the Christian Reformed Church in North America 1946-1963 from Archives, Calvin College. This PDF contains information about 9703 Dutch emigrant families, including Full Names of individuals, spouses and children, Family size, Origin in the Netherlands, Arrival Year, and Destination in Canada. (By the way, family Kaas was not one of the families assisted by the Christian Reformed Church).
Recruiting Of Farm Labour Urged As Function Of Farm Labour Service. Labour Gazette, Ottawa, 1949.
"Ontario: Movement of farm labourers from the Prairies for short-term employment in Ontario was small in 1948. Of the 2,500 asked for, only 920 reached Ontario. ... Nearly 4,000 Dutch immigrants arrived in Ontario between April and September, 1948. Farmers were 'most anxious to secure farm workers from Holland,' but housing difficulties presented a big problem in the cases of immigrants having large families.
Manitoba: Spring flood conditions and the influx of Polish veterans resulted in a reduced turnover of farm labour in Manitoba during the early part of the summer of 1948. Dutch farmers, supplemented by displaced persons were brought in to assist with the sugar beet crop. ... Only 100 men were available to be sent to Ontario to meet the demand for harvest help there. On the other hand, some 700 eastern harvesters helped with Manitoba harvests, later in the season. ... Wages were higher than in 1947 ... to $100 per month being offered prior to harvest, with day wages of seven dollars to nine dollars per day when threshing became general."