Maria Nieuwboer celebrates 60 years in Canada

Now living in Quesnel, this Dutch immigrant knew it was the right decision to move to Canada

  • Jul. 11, 2012 10:00 a.m.
Maria Nieuwboer has enjoyed her 60 years in Canada.

Maria Nieuwboer has enjoyed her 60 years in Canada.

July 24 will be a big day for Maria Nieuwboer. That was the day 60 years ago that she and her husband Nick landed in Halifax, N.S. from Holland.

Maria took time recently to recollect some of the earlier days and how they finally settled in Quesnel.

Nick had applied to immigrate to Canada in January 1952 but received no word until he was asked to have a health check in April. He and Maria had been engaged for four years and were married June 5, 1952. That was the day they received word they could either sail June 12 or July 16. They chose the latter date to give time for preparations. Nick had a job at the Canfor mill in Merritt. Their only expense was $96 for shipping their possessions.

The two of them, along with many others, boarded the Groote Beer (Great Bear) which was actually a warship. It was the last voyage ever that old ship would be taking passengers before it was pressed into action in the war.

Men and women were separated on the ship. Children stayed with their mothers. Maria shared a cabin with another woman and her baby. She was assigned the top bunk but was sick every day for the nine days it took to cross the Atlantic. Maria was soon given the bottom bunk.

When they docked at 1 p.m., July 24 and first stepped on Canadian soil they were greeted with a strong odour of fish. After waiting five hours, they boarded the train and six days later arrived in Kamloops. Many of the ship’s passengers got off IN Winnipeg for jobs on farms. Nick was glad he hadn’t signed on for work on the prairies. Train fare was paid by Canfor and he was issued work pants and a towel. He worked August, September, October and November earning $1.29 per hour before the mill closed for the winter. He received a total of $56 for unemployment benefits but Maria was too proud to ask for financial help. They survived on credit at the grocery store which they paid every month. Maria was pregnant at the time and when Dr. Gillis died in 1966 ,she paid the last of his bill.

While Nick worked at Canfor those four months, they slept in the mill’s lunch room for six weeks until a house was ready. A Dutch friend had found a small place for $25 a month. She recalls there was no counter. They had a rough time but they had a lot of good times. Remembering when everyone went to the lake in someone’s car still makes her smile. Nick had wanted to go back to Holland but Maria said no. They had agreed to work for three years.

At that time, Merritt was a cattle town. Cattle would be driven down the street. Maria added she had never seen so many sheep in her life.

Both she and Nick found it difficult to learn English. Purchasing necessities in the general store was awkward because many items were hidden and a person had to ask for them. More than once she had to use sign language. Reading comic books really helped her learn English. Nick picked up a lot of swear words that were used by fellow workers.

Maria’s sister Tina DeWit, husband Peter and five children came to Canada in 1957 and stayed with Maria and Nick for eight months in a two-bedroom house. Their husbands built two houses in Merritt. Tina’s family moved to Quesnel in 1965 and five years later Maria followed.

In October, 1960 she and Nick became Canadian citizens. Maria says she’s never been sorry they came. They have made the trip to Holland four times to see family there.

In January 1970 Nick came to Quesnel in a snowstorm and started working for West Fraser without missing a day’s work. Maria and her four children arrived at Easter that year 42 years ago. The oldest, Veronica, was already here. Maria sold the house in Merritt.

For the first three weeks in Quesnel, they moved in with her sister Tina with their five children, until they rented an apartment just down the street from her. They later rented a house on North Fraser Drive, then Baker Drive, later Carson subdivision before moving into Fraser Village in 1992.

Nick passed away Dec. 7, 2000.

Since March 2012, Dunrovin has been Maria’s home after serious illness. She is thankful to be able to have a full diet and improved health again. On Sunday, July 22 from 1 – 3 p.m., friends and family will have the opportunity to celebrate with Maria in the day care room at Dunrovin Park Lodge.

– submitted by Ruth Scoullar