The first four decades of the twentieth century had been characterized, insofar as Dutch immigration to Quebec was concerned, by:
- relatively low numbers of immigrants;
- mostly working class immigrants, and some agriculturalists;
- relatively high level of success among the latter, and a low success rate among the former;
- a laissez-faire attitude overseas towards emigration;
- only sporadic support from within the Dutch community in Canada on an ad-hoc basis.
The war years (1939-1945) clearly form part of this period as immigration was virtually at a stand-still. However, the war wrought important changes on the Canadian economy which touched everyone including the Dutch in Quebec.
For one thing, the war production brought employment which gave great relief to immigrants and native Canadians alike. A prime example is the sharp increase in production and consequently in number of employees at the Noorduyn Company. In 1939, only 130 people were employed. By 1943 their number had swollen to a peak of 11,500 (CAHS Journal, 17, 3, 1973: 70-72). These represented, as mentioned earlier, many nationalities.
Old institutions were strengthened or reorganized and new ones arose to meet special wartime needs. Thus, Red Cross services were extended to include a Dutch section. Its main task seems to have consisted of the preparation of gift bags for "the boys on the front". The sewing of these bags and filling them with candy and handmade socks kept 17 to 30 ladies busy at regular sewing and knitting bees (V, Tape II, side 1).
Also, the foundation "Free Holland on the Sea" (Nederland ter Zee) was established to aid and entertain the seamen who called on foreign harbours. Documents held by V show that the Montreal branch received its funding through the New York office of the Foundation. Activities took place under the supervision of Consul and Mrs. Luden, aided by a committee of 5 or 6 ladies from the Dutch community, including V's wife. Several nights a week they held "open house" in a rented room at the Allied Seamen's Home on Notre Dame Street. V recalls that, on a busy night, 40 to 50 men would be present (V, Tape II, side 1, 8:35).
The ladies of the committee would visit any sick seamen and assist the others with their shopping. In the meantime, the V's continued to invite small groups of sailors to their home or to take them to a friend's farm for a Sunday picnic, (see photo s in V's collection) in addition to "looking after the sick boys" as before. Clearly, the task the V's had set for themselves (and had executed since 1934) was overlapping with the task the Consul's wife was empowered to do through both the Red Cross committee and the "Nederland ter Zee" Foundation. This could easily lead to competition and conflict which, according to V, happened indeed. He remarks that his wife felt snubbed by the Consul's wife who, in fact, had usurped her position. But no one could forbid the V 's to visit sick sailors and with Miss Bates of the Allied Seamen's Home as their trusted communication line, they often beat the Red Cross ladies to the seamen's bedside.
Also, V paints the picture of a lonely Consul's wife waiting, with coffee and beer ready, to receive the sailors on Sunday night and being annoyed when they came in late (i.e. after opening time), fresh from a day in the country with the V's.
To what extent class difference played a role is not clear. But it seems not too far fetched that V, himself from a working class background, but now with the freedom, the motivation, and the means to entertain and help "the boys" was quite popular around the harbour front, but not necessarily equally appreciated in the more refined consular circles. Matters seem to have been smoothed over at the departure halfway through the war, of Consul and Mrs. Ludens when V's wife was asked to take over the presidency of the Montreal branch of "Nederland ter Zee" from the Consul's wife. In time, she received a decoration from the Dutch Government for her efforts in this capacity. The captains and sailors never forgot the V's committee work. It was likely on their recommendation that the Holland America Line in the mid-fifties offered the couple a free trip to Holland, First Class, on one of their luxury liners (Documents held by V and inspected by author).
In addition to gaining from a buoyant war economy and the demand for its involvement in the expanded institutional work, the small Dutch community benefited from the presence in Ottawa of Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her family, who resided at Stornoway (now the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition). Frequently, (monthly according to V) the Princess and her entourage would visit Montreal and particularly the Sunday Night Open House for the seamen. The Princess' simple taste was much appreciated (she poured her own coffee, for instance).
All sorts of events surrounding the royal presence gave rise to social occasions to which at least part of the community was invited, e.g. visits by Queen Wilhelmina, and the birth and baptism of Princess Margriet. The Holland-Canada Society held commemorative services for fallen Dutch servicemen which were attended by royalty.
However, the sudden availability of prestigious invitations, of positions on committees, and of monies to organise events with, were scarce resources sought after by more people than could be accommodated. This is the likely explanation of friction, jealousy, distrust, and ugly gossip that V refers to with some bitterness, even after so many years. Class, religion, and personality differences tend to all come into play in such a situation.
War time related community groups appeared all over the country, not only in Montreal. By the end of the war, they mostly disappeared, and that is what happened here too. However, Canada's industrialisation had taken great strides during the war and the government was able to keep the momentum going when the war was over. The accompanying tremendous post-war immigration wave would more than rejuvenate ethnic communities all over the country, the Dutch community of Montreal not excepted.
1 It should be noted that only about one percent of the population of Dutch origin recorded in 1901 was born in the Netherlands. The rest was presumably born in Canada or the United States.