The Beaverbrae Reunions are this weekend! There are so many stories to tell, but here are just a few of the photos and anecdotes former ship passengers and their family members have shared with us over the past few months.
For more on the reunions, visit www.clwr.org/beaverbrae2015
My mother, grandmother, and aunt came to Canada via CLWR.
The ship they sailed on was the Samaria, and they landed in Montreal before taking the train west to relatives in Fairview, Alberta. My mom tells some fascinating stories about the ship. She was the only one in her family who didn’t get seasick, so she found another little girl (my mom was 7 at the time) and ran around the ship, including venturing into the restricted first class area. Eventually they got lost and were brought to the captain. While their parents were being fetched they were given oranges to eat – a real treat to post-war children!
The photo is captioned “Lotte, Ingeborg and Nelly, leaving Europe. Cuxhaven, Germany, October 13, 1949.” Rebekah keeps it beside a picture of people she met in El Salvador in a refugee resettlement there, as a reminder that in so many ways we are all refugees.
My mom Elsie, and her parents arrived in Canada on the Beaverbrae on June 8, 1950. My mom celebrated her 21st birthday on the ship (June 7).
Breakfast on the Beaverbrae: My mom had never seen bacon strips before and enjoyed eating the bacon for breakfast. She said people became seasick and so fewer would show up for breakfast. All the better for her and her friend Ursel, who happily had more helpings of bacon! She said that the plates already had the bacon on them. She had eaten bacon before but the “strip form” was new and “alluring.”
The ship docked in Quebec City. The first Canadian building they saw was the Chateau Frontenac. My mom gets emotional when she tells me the story and has been back to Quebec City twice since.
My mom, feeling homesick, was touched by the warm welcome given by a group of people at the port, smiling and shaking their hands and giving everyone an English Bible. They were dressed alike and much later my mom found out that this group was the Salvation Army.
Two trains were awaiting the new immigrants: one headed for Ontario, the other for out west. Another goodbye to the friends made on the ship-goodbye to Ursel who was heading to Edmonton, while my mom and her parents took the Ontario train to Kitchener. While travelling in wild, forested and rocky northern Ontario, my mom and her father wondered where in the world were they coming to live? My grandma was more easy-going and took things in stride. Finally, having arrived in Kitchener, they were picked up by Mr. Dick, (a member of Kitchener Mennonite Brethren Church where my aunt and uncle attended – very close to Bethel Lutheran Church, in fact), accompanied by Tante Frieda and Onkel Corny.
My mom and her parents were sponsored by a Mennonite farmer from Elmira. My Tante Frieda had come to Canada one or two years previously and I believe she approached the farmer and asked if he would sponsor them. The farmer felt in his heart that the Lord would want him to and so he did. We are grateful to God and to him for his kindness (he and his dear wife passed away not long ago.) My mom worked in Kitchener afterward to pay off the debt and my grandparents worked on the farm and ended up living there for several years after. We stayed in touch with the farmer and his family over the years. They were a lovely and generous Christian family who felt like family to us.
Richard sent us a photo of his mother, Olga. She came on the Beaverbrae in July 1954 through a loan she received through CLWR.
Henning shared some memories he wrote on the 50th anniversary of his family’s arrival in Canada:
After an 11-day sea journey on the Beaverbrae, having embarked in Bremen, Germany on March 17, we reached the port of St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. As we needed to await full tide, we stayed another night on board, and when those world-record tides of 39 ft (12 m) in the Bay of Fundy reached near maximum, we were allowed to depart the Beaverbrae and set foot in Canada, our new country, on March 29, 1951. We first saw the wharf quite high up above us; yet when we exited it was down a gangplank!
En route, across the Atlantic Ocean, on March 22, we celebrated Brita’s first birthday. On a most stormy day, we heard an announcement over the ship’s loudspeakers, to alert us of a baby carriage rolling back and forth on an upper deck. We saw it – it was Brita’s baby carriage! Hearts stopped! However – relax, no one was inside. Brita – you had not been forgotten!
I also remember the avid swing use by a few of us. Swings on very long ropes. Yes, I remember doing this even at relatively high seas. The ship ‘rolled’ forwards into the depths and arose from there again, and we swayed crosswise on these swings! But who ‘we’ were, I am not so certain anymore: most of my siblings did not feel too well, especially on such days.
Let’s not forget Easter – and the egg-rolling we did there! How, you, Mutti, probably with Tante Inga’s help, and perhaps others, were able to arrange this, I have no clue! However, eggs were rolled! Indeed, if my memory serves me right, we rolled on top of one of the dining tables of the Beaverbrae. I know we didn’t have to bend down. Of course, there were many questions and questioning glances of the non-Balts aboard. A number of their children, however, joined us with great gusto and joy.
Early in the morning of March 28, 1951, when I awoke and ascertained that Papa was no longer on the lower cot of our bunk bed, I jumped up and dressed quickly and went outside to find him. I knew that was the day we were expected to arrive in Canada. I went onto the main deck and searched everywhere. No one to be found. Then I went onto the next higher deck. Also no one. And if I am not mistaken, then on the 3rd deck up, the highest deck we passengers were allowed to go to, I found Papa and Herrn Eric (he had binoculars!). It was sunrise – in the morning dawn we could just make out LAND. Yes, it was the east coast of Nova Scotia! So, CANADA! And we three – after all, the ship’s crew was not visible on the open deck – were apparently the only ones of the approximately 900 immigrants who experienced this unparalleled view! Aside from us, the deck was completely empty, devoid of any people. At least, in my memory.
The long train trip towards Penticton followed. En route, on March 31, we were even able to celebrate my 9th birthday. I remember long birthday candles for me – held by me and my siblings and others. And I received a leather belt from my dear parents! Probably most of the passengers who were in our train compartment looked at me with cheerful glances and sang heartily “Viel Glueck und viel Segen” (a German birthday song – wishing luck and blessing).
Then came Winnipeg. My mother with Holger and another woman and her daughter left the train because the children had measles. On we went to Calgary: where for some reason there was a 12 hour stop-over. A delay! After all, we wanted to continue quickly to our new home. To Oliver!
And we were not allowed to walk too far from the train. Thus I mainly remember the train tracks of Calgary! One of the train officials (in any case, he wore a uniform) was apparently quite happy seeing our identification tags (which we wore around our necks). It had our name on it and “Oliver, B.C.” Of course we thought it most silly that he, instead of (what we thought) ‘bay-tsay’, pronounced it ‘bee-cee’. After many hours we descended the long mountain from the east towards Penticton, down into the Okanagan Valley. There, on April 4, Pastor Lang greeted us and we were all packed into his car. Thus we went to Oliver, and our new home! Everything needed to be explored most intensively, the house, the farm, the shed, everywhere!