An old Antigonish and area tradition was revisited Saturday (May 4) with the holding of Dutch Day, which took place at the Heatherton Community Centre.
Peter Van Den Heuvel was one of the main organizers and he noted more than 210 people attended the evening event.
“Some who came from Holland with their children, those children and others who were the first generation to be born in Canada, gathered at the Heatherton Community Centre for an opportunity to revisit the memories of their early years and to reconnect with old friends,” Van Den Heuvel said, in an email response to the Casket.
“There was Dutch music with Francis Duykers on the keyboard, a slideshow of old photos, lots of memorabilia to look at, and a great meal catered by Sizzler BBQ of Truro. By all accounts, the evening was a great success, and while annual events may not be in the cards, no doubt there will be other gatherings at some point down the road,” he added.
Van Den Heuvel noted how the event used to happen with regularity.
"In the 1950s and 60s, the Antigonish Dutch community gathered every summer for a ‘Dutch Day,’” he wrote.
“It was an all-day, family event with food and games, music and dancing, and it was a chance for the Dutch immigrants to get together.
“Barring a one-time event in the mid-70s, it has been more than 50 years since these gatherings were regular events.”
The slideshow of old photos – more than 400 – was organized by Karin Fleuren.
“Old black and white photos were submitted which we were able to put together in a DVD presentation,” Fleuren said.
“It brought out a lot of memories for people who recognized themselves in their childhood; and their friends and so on.”
She noted most of the photos were from the “immigration era of the 1950s.”
“Some of them were set in the Netherlands prior to immigration and some were of the voyage, from Rotterdam or Holland to Canada; most of the immigrants came in through Pier 21,” Fleuren said.
“There were later immigrants as well, some coming by plane. Because we had all these pictures submitted by those families, we had quite a photo display.”
As for what part of the Netherlands most of the immigrants were from, Fleuren noted the southern part of the country.
“From the provinces of North Brabant and Limburg,” she said.
“Some from a little further north and a little further west, but this was from agricultural areas and families who came here were, for the most part, farmers who had been invited to come in by the Extension Department of St. F.X.”
Fleuren noted the evening was made very special by the fact a number of those first immigrants were present.
“Some of the original immigrants are still with us; a handful of the older folks now in their 90s or 80s … I think about a half a dozen or so,” she said.
“It was so nice to see them; the last witnesses and participants of the era who are still with us.”
Mary van den Heuvel described the event as “great from start to finish.”
“Last night was the first gathering of Dutch immigrants in Antigonish in a long, long time,” she wrote in an email.
“When we were all very young, there were Dutch Days, when Dutch families got together at the beach in Lismore or at the Bethany Grounds, once a year. What a fantastic evening we had, with a beautiful slideshow, music, a meal and the meeting of old school friends and cousins ... so many great conversations.”