A 1950s winter: new Canadians

Here in Toronto, we’ve gone into lockdown again, and may or may not emerge before Christmas. The news of so many small businesses being hit hard is worrisome, to say the least. But it’s a necessary thing that we stay home to slow the spread of this awful virus.

If you’re thinking of giving books for Christmas, many small independent bookstores have done an amazing job getting set up for online sales or curbside pick-up. We hope you’ll support them, and think of our books too, for those lovers of history and family history who might be on your list.

In keeping the snowfall we received yesterday, here is a little gallery of wintry family photos featuring “characters” from our first book, The Occupied Garden. These images show our dad’s family in 1951, the year they first came to Canada from the Netherlands to start again after the Second World War. To me they capture the excitement the children felt about their new world — well, the boys, anyway — and how different it all was for them compared to where they’d come from. I wish the pictures were in colour, for Opa looks particularly stylish, and Oma’s “swing coat” was apparently bright green, sewn by a family friend. I think now how brave they were to have left everything they knew, and all of their family and friends. Their first stay with a cruel dairy farmer near Aylmer, Ontario, was disastrous, but they got themselves out of that horrible situation and persevered — something they’d become quite good at during war, and for which my sisters and I will always be grateful.

Gerrit and Cornelia den Hartog on board the Volendam in March 1951.
With the children on the Volendam. From left, Rokus, Gerry, Niek, our dad Koos, and in back, Rige. March 1951.
Our dad, Koos, our grandparents, Gerrit and Cornelia, then dad’s brothers Gerry, Niek and Rokus. A dapper lot! Port Burwell, Ontario, 1951.
Niek chopping wood. Port Burwell, 1951.
Gathering at the water pump. Niek in fine form with a rifle, and our dad Koos, foreground, wearing an adolescent oh-brother expression? Port Burwell, 1951.
More woodcutting, Port Burwell, 1951.
Niek with a pig, and his mother Cornelia in the background. New territory for a gardener’s family.
Waiting for letters from home? Rokus, Rige, mother Cornelia, our dad Koos, Niek, and Gerry with a grin and a snowball. Port Burwell, 1951.
Wintry day, Port Burwell, 1951.
A similar scene in the Netherlands. One of my favourite photos by my dad, Jim “Koos” den Hartog.