Since we launched the exhibit Maple Leaves and Tulips: 75 Years, Then & Now, at the Juno Beach Centre (JBC) and on our website, many Canadians have shared their family stories with us, including JBC guide, Olivia, whose paternal grandparents were of Dutch origin, and immigrated to Canada after the war.
Olivia’s grandfather, Arie Kamphorst, was born in 1917 in Amersfoort, Holland. He joined the Dutch military prior to the war and served with the Royal Netherlands Army, before going underground into the resistance after the Germans occupied Holland. After the liberation in 1945, he was recalled into service at Kamp Amersfoort, which the Red Cross ran for a short time. He was involved in ‘Repatriation Camp’ and ‘Arrest and Residence Camp’ efforts. In 1953, Arie, his wife Francina and their three children immigrated to Canada. Their fourth child was born in Canada in 1958.
In order to learn more about her family story, Olivia turned to her father, George, and aunt, Femma.
George recalled a story his mother would share about the family’s wartime experiences in Amersfoort: “The family knew it was likely they would have Germans coming to the house in search of our dad and his father who was also involved in the resistance. The women of the house had rehearsed a story that they planned to give the Germans in this situation. The story was that they were previously taken away by other German soldiers and that they had not heard from the men since that time. One day, their fears came true with Germans banging on the door. Luck came their way: precisely at this time, an Allied bombing raid started and the Germans quickly left to seek cover. They never returned. Amersfoort had a significant rail yard that the Germans used for their purposes. The Allies regularly bombed the nearby trains/yard to disrupt German transport capability and this particular bombing raid may have saved their lives.” About the liberation: “Our mother was one of the people in the cheering crowds in Amersfoort welcoming Canadian soldiers as they marched through town after having liberated the city in 1945.”
Femma shared memories of arriving in Canada 1953 at the age of 5, after a nine-day journey:
“After the long train ride from Halifax we arrived in Lethbridge looking like dusty sooty kids. It was pouring rain and despite being sponsored by a Dutch church, no one was there to meet us. I also remember my Dad having to carry me on his back while also carrying our suitcases as I had so much mud caked on the bottom of my shoes that I couldn’t walk. The house that had been pre-arranged for us was a shock and a far cry from the civilized existence we were used to in Holland. It was in the middle of nowhere and did not have electricity or water and plumbing…
Immigrating meant not knowing if we would ever go home again, if we would see our families again. We had to learn a new language and new customs. For Dad, coming to Canada was a truly liberating experience. I am certain had he been alive today he would have few regrets, if any. For Mother it was a difficult journey. Although she came to call Canada ‘home’ I believe her heart and soul remained in the Netherlands.”
Olivia describes her own efforts to connect to her grandparents’ story: “There are family photos, artwork, small knick-knacks and pieces of furniture left behind that belonged to them that I always recognized as being theirs, but I did not get the chance to know their story from their point of view or to know them as grandparents. My paternal grandfather died in March of 1970 in Toronto, Canada and my grandmother died 29 years later in 1999 when I was only three years old – far too young to ask her questions about the war and their immigration from the Netherlands to Canada. I often regretted not having my paternal grandparents in my life; for a long time I had been asking questions about them and had an interest in their life stories, so much so that I learnt a substantial amount of Dutch myself, in an effort to connect better to one half of my roots and heritage. I’m thrilled that their experiences during the Second World War and of post-war immigration can now be shared so many years later, especially at the Juno Beach Centre, a museum in Europe that shares the same nationality as their adoptive country and their liberators.”
Thank you, Olivia, George and Femma for sharing your family’s story.
Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.