Goodbye Dear Family

My friend, Vicky, and I were chatting about the immigrant experiences of our parents. Many were funny; others were poignant. Vicky told me that when her mother wrote home about her life here in Canada, her father took his daughter’s stories and published them in a Dutch newspaper column. However, many immigrants’ stories have never been published let alone recorded. Their stories are wonderful testaments to human resiliency, perseverance, ingenuity, community and faith. We need to share their stories before they are forgotten because many of our parents and grandparents are no longer with us. .

Welland is a city built by immigrants from many different countries. In keeping with “Throw Back Thursday” I would like to give people the opportunity to share their stories and those of their parents and grandparents. If you have a picture and story to share, please send it to us and we will try to share one each week. Here is our first installment:

Goodbye Dear Family

In today’s world of internet: Facebook, facetime; Skype, emails, it is hard to imagine the great chasm immigration created between immigrants and their families back home. Alkema family 1954This picture is of my mother-in-law, Tjitske with her family in 1954. She was already engaged to my father-in-law, Jan but wouldn’t join him in Canada for another 3 years. In the meantime, they carried on a courtship by correspondence. She is the young woman on the left looking very poised at less than 21 years of age…younger than each of my Alkema Jaap&Geertjechildren already. In those days when people immigrated they did so knowing that they might never see their loved ones again. Special events like weddings would probably be missed. In fact, when Tjitske and Jan married in 1958 here in Canada, only Jan’s sister Gerda and her husband were present.  Photos became very important leaving a record of the significant events that Tjitske missed back home: Like her brother Jaap’s wedding above and the funerals of her father and grandfather. Alkema, Pake Bergsma graveAlkema, Pake gravestoneBut she never focused on what she missed but rather on all she gained by coming to Canada.

Canada was indeed very much the land of new horizons. After my mother and her sister immigrated as teenagers, they decided that their weddings would be done the Canadian way: diamond engagement rings; beautiful white wedding dresses; bridesmaids, a large wedding celebration with a wedding cake. You can see in this picture that my mother did get her wish.Corry & Simon wedding group pic Her aunt, a skilled seamstress sewed her classic wedding dress. I hate to think what the cost meant for these cash strapped immigrants! For my grandparents this was all a bit foreign and complexing… what exactly was a “Canadees” wedding? My grandfather finally thought he had answered this question after both these sisters were married. At my parents’ wedding during the double ring ceremony one of the rings was dropped and had to be retrieved. A year later on my Aunt Willie’s big day, another wedding ring went rolling. Opa leaned over to my grandmother and said, “So this is what makes a wedding Canadian?”

History within these walls.

IMG_1156If you are visiting Welland for the first time, you might note the rich cultural heritage of the city…particularly evident on Saturday mornings at the local farmers’ market at Market Square. IMG_1107IMG_1126A memorial just down from the market beside the canal pays tribute to the people who built the Welland Canal. It is fitting, therefore, that the world is coming to Welland for the 12th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships because the world lives in Welland. Here at the European Pantry we celebrate this rich heritage of cultures. We carry a wide variety of ethnic imports and are always looking to find those products that bring the taste of home into the kitchens of Welland. IMG_3209Apropos then that our store here at 30 Avenue Place is located in a building that also has a strong cultural history. Today we had an enjoyable visit from yet someone else who has a family connection to the building.  It was a pleasure to meet Josephine Davies nee Ort.  Several members of her family lived here about 65 years ago. She told us of her German immigrant family, the Orths who settled as farmers on Forks Road south of Welland. Two Ort(h) sisters, Anna and Louise, married  two local Templain brothers, also of German heritage.  When Louise’s husband died soon after the marriage, she moved into 30 Avenue place.  Her sister Anna settled across the street at 23 Avenue Place. After both Anna’s husband and Louise died, Anna moved into 30 Avenue Place with her daughter Marjorie. Josephine said that Anna and Louise were real city girls despite their farm upbringing. They used their exceptional seamstress skills to keep themselves dressed to the nines.  Louise worked at a fancy store just a block over in downtown Welland….so dressing well was important.

So the walls of our store which once watched the activities of both German and Hungarian families must smile now as the descendants of these immigrant groups SAM_2135come here to find the foods that connect them to their roots.  And our city, built by immigrants of so many cultures, smiles as we welcome the dragon boat racers of the world!