Bob Groeneveld has been sharing his Odd Thoughts with Langley readers since before the Blair Recreation Centre was built.

Odd Thoughts: Big Bear delivers better future

Tens of thousands of Canadians arrived by boat in the 1950s, escaping the devastation of war

By Bob Groeneveld


On a whim, I typed a name into my internet browser, and the result sent a shiver through me.

It was a shiver of delight, of discovery.

It wasn’t nostalgia. I had no actual memory to make a sentimental association.

But it was something very much like it.

The name I typed into Google was not that of a person, but of a boat. A ship, actually.

It was the SS Groote Beer, and instantly, I was looking at a picture of that magnificent vessel.

Now, before the wise-acres get started: no, it has nothing to do with alcohol. “Groote” is Dutch for big, and “Beer” translates to bear.

It was the ship that took me – and tens of thousands of others through the 1950s – from The Netherlands, a country impoverished by German occupiers during the Second World War, to Canada, a vast expanse of opportunity.

I have no memory of the trip aboard the SS Groote Beer, the landing in Halifax, or the train ride across vast expanses that astounded my parents and older siblings. I’ve been told the stories, but I wasn’t born until a few months after our family got to Vancouver Island and took up residence in their first Canadian home – a converted chicken coop.

That’s right. That was my first home after I was born in West Coast General Hospital: a renovated chicken coop.

My parents took advantage of a post-war settlement agreement between Canada and the Netherlands. Holland had too many people at the time, and Canada, then as now, had room for more.

Like so many emigrants from so many countries who crossed their fingers, packed up their kist (look it up) and kids, and stepped out beyond their horizon, my parents started over in a story-book country, with a culture they didn’t know and a language they didn’t understand.

Their most valuable possession was the dream they shared for their children.

I’ve seen pictures of that first home in the Alberni Valley. It wasn’t much. But it was everything.

It was the beginning of everything that every one of us kids has now.

The thousands of miles that the SS Groote Beer took our immigrant families, and the thousands more we all travelled by train, were inches compared to the vast distances we’ve travelled to become who we are today.

Just as it embarrasses me when I see the way we treat those who were here before us, I am also shamed when I hear us talk about denying tomorrow’s Canadians the journey that we took – that we were given the opportunity to take – when we stepped out into a better future.

We’ve been slamming the door on our indigenous people while feasting on the opportunities that their land has provided us, and with equal arrogance, many of us want to hold closed the door that would give others the very opportunities that brought us here.

We aren’t just Canadians.

We are Canada.


In a past life, Bob Groeneveld was editor of the Langley Advance and the Maple Ridge Times. Now he writes when and what he feels like. He has been sharing his Odd Thoughts with readers for more than 40 years. Visit with him on Facebook.

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