It took Albert Van de Pol less than a day to decide Canada was the place for him. He has never had reason to change his mind and doubts he ever will.
He immigrated to Pictou County in 1976, having married Wilma Meyer, a Canadian girl, a few years earlier in Holland.
“I never had any plans to leave Holland but after a while, she wanted to go back. She was born in Glengarry, Pictou County, delivered by her father during a snowstorm. Her parents had come to Pictou County to farm in the 1950s but when she was 11 they went back to Holland, only to return to Canada later,” he said.
The youngest in a family of eight in Gelderland, Van de Pol said it was not easy for him to leave.
“Most of Wilma’s family was in Pictou County again so I understood her feelings but my family was very much against it. I remember my brother said I should have known better than to marry a Canadian, my sister said I’d be back in two years and my mother was not one bit happy.”
The young couple made a deal that Albert would give Canada a try for Wilma’s sake and if he was unhappy, she would go back to Holland with him.
- de Pol’s first impressions of the country and county were not great.
“It was April, pouring rain and cold, with snow banks still along the roadsides. It was late in the day when we arrived and I remember everything looked so messy compared to Holland with all its pavement and cobblestones,” he said.
He went to sleep at his in-laws’ in Bridgeville wondering what he had done but the next morning he awoke and took a good look around.
“I went outside and there were big open fields and a brook running past. There was a big woodpile and a chopping block in the yard. I picked up an axe and started chopping wood and after a few minutes I looked around again and I knew this was the place for me. That is how fast I fell for Canada.”
Still, it was not easy moving to a new country, with a new language and customs. He remembered trepidation he felt the first time he had to answer the phone.
“About all the English I knew was yes or no but I picked it up and I was lucky because it was a Dutch dairy farmer from Lorne.”
It was nine years before he returned to Holland and then only to visit.
“You never stop missing family so I am lucky that I get back quite often these days.”
In his 41 years in Pictou County, Van de Pol has done a variety of work, from landscaping to market gardening and raising pigs on his farm at Mount William.
“The pigs, that was hard work and in the end I lost my shirt but that is life. You win, you lose, you try something else.”
He cleaned out the pig barn and began offering storage, a business which has grown rapidly through the years.
“That’s my main business these days, storing goods in lockers and storing cars, boats and recreational vehicles for people who don’t have the space.”
Another arm of the business is a shop at the foot of the farm driveway where he offers used goods, collectables and antiques.
“My daughter, Teresa, works in the business and I’m glad to have her because the Internet and Kijiji have brought big changes. We don’t get the traffic we once got but we sell online, too. Teresa has a degree in computers and is very good at that side of the business. For me, it is interesting to see what sells at what price and where it goes.”
While he is talking, a cast iron collector from Prince Edward Island drops in, as he does a couple of times a year. Van de Pol has nothing to offer him at the moment but they chat and discuss the value of various items, including a massive ornate 1860s sideboard.
“I like the game, the going back and forth on a price to decide what it is worth to me or you but I don’t always have room to move anymore.”
People’s tastes and the quality of furniture have changed through the years, he pointed out.
“We used to do a good business in pinwheel crystal and bone china but nobody wants it anymore. We used to go to a lot of auctions to pick up furniture but most of what is available today isn’t of the best quality so I don’t often go.”
One of his most enjoyable projects was helping to furnish a seniors’ home in Antigonish.
“They had the idea that older folks would appreciate older furniture and I think they were right. We found a lot of good pieces for them.”
Another big change is the loss of his wife, Wilma, who died of cancer eight years ago at 54.
“We were partners in life and in business and losing her changed the way I look at things. I don’t care about getting ahead any more. It is more about seeing my three girls get ahead.”
Just back from a trip to Holland or The Netherlands, he can’t help making comparisons.
“People in Holland, a country half the size of Nova Scotia, are very business-minded. When you come into a store, they give you their full attention, not like here where if you can find anybody, they don’t want to talk to you. The Dutch are more aggressive and I think that’s a good thing.”
The Dutch also take a more liberal approach to life and Van de Pol believes that is a factor in a steadily declining crime rate, to the point where the country is regularly closing under-utilized prisons.
“They don’t care about marijuana or the ladies who are in business but we’re still hung up on free trade between provinces.”
Canada, though, has his heart.
“The only think wrong with Canadians is they don’t know how lucky they are. Where my brother used to milk cows, Holland now has 10 kms of cars, bumper to bumper every day. I’m happier to look out my farm window and see planes come in to Trenton airport, the waterfront and the windmills in Lismore.”