Tag Archives: history

Fishing at a neglected historical site.

The mouth of the irresistibly-named Rat River, which forms the meandering southern boundary of the Providence campus as it flows toward the Red River of rebellion and flood fame, lies about 20kms northwest of Otterburne. Dixie had heard that someone had caught some fish at the mouth and since it was nearby I planned to try fishing there with Olivia. That plan was waylaid by a brief but painful bout of strep throat. Today, however, was the day.

Google maps’ satellite view indicated that access to the mouth of the Rat River was a short gravel road off one of the main highways. The map didn’t indicate anything topographically or otherwise significant, but in fact there is a gate there indicating that we would be entering Mennonite Memorial Landing Site.

The gate.

I thought it wasn’t much more than a reasonably well-kept nature area until I noticed the marble monolith standing some way back in the forest.

The Monolith.

On it was engraved this significant historical information:

THIS IS THE SITE OF THE FIRST LANDING OF MENNONITE SETTLERS IN CANADA. ON 1 AUGUST 1874, THE “INTERNATIONAL,” A STEAM-POWERED RIVER BOAT, LANDED HERE WITH THE FIRST CONTINGENT OF 65 MENNONITE FAMILIES. BETWEEN 1874 AND 1880 SOME 7000 MENNONITES CAME TO MANITOBA FROM GERMAN-SPEAKING COLONIES IN SOUTH RUSSIA (UKRAINE). THE MAJORITY ARRIVED AT THIS SPOT… (read full text here)

How about that? If that isn’t a significant historical site, I don’t know what is. But why isn’t it on the map? Why isn’t there any signage on the highway nearby? How many Manitoba Mennonites know that it all started here?

All of this is on the Red River floodplain. You pass through treeline fifty yards deep, in which the monolith marking the site’s historic significance stands. The other side opens up into clay covered in fresh vegetation–the water on the Red River rises high in the spring even in non-flood years such as this one. The boot-sucking shore of the river is littered with old cans, broken beer bottles, recently gorged-on watermelon husks, and other detritus. It’s a shame that such a significant point of interest is treated more like a dump for those fishing there. But it’s otherwise a beautiful spot (and great company)!

The scenery.

The smile.

(The Red River is about 30 feet to the right. It didn’t occur to me until now to take a photograph facing west to the place where the two rivers meet!)

But I’m not writing this piece of faux travel literature to bore you! No, I say, it was a monumental day in the Vandersluys household!

So Olivia and I came here to go fishing together. We made our way down the dirty, sticky shore. There were a couple of men already fishing. They spoke in a foreign language. As we approached, I assumed it would be German, but it sounded more like Ukrainian. We moved off to our own corner of the shore, farther into the mouth.

The men were casting their lines and letting their poles sit on forked branches jammed into the clay on the shore. I couldn’t tell what they were using for lures, but I felt conspicuously wrong in taking my standard cast-and-reel approach. They brought in a fish each as we were setting up. The caught a couple more while Olivia did some practice casting with a de-hooked weighted lure and I cast-and-reeled my generic rubbery/wormy lure. I kept spying on them to see what they were using. I couldn’t tell. Looked like fresh bait–chicken livers, maybe?

Olivia was ready to fish with a real hook. I asked her which hook and rubbery lure thing she wanted (you can tell I’m a fisherman, right?). She picked what she thought were the brightest and best colours. Away she went. One of the other guys had switched his lure to a large spoon/floating-fish kind of lure.

I cast out my line a couple of times. Then I hear splashing and–what do you know!–Olivia has a little jack on her line! Huzzah!

The catch.

Closeup of the fish and the lure:

The fish and the lure.

The other guys noticed. A friend of theirs who must have been fishing around the bend came and I think took a picture. I slipped and slided around the shore trying to get a quick picture of Olivia with the fish so that I could unhook it and let it go before it died. I got the picture and the fish jumped off the line on its own!

A good morning with Olivia.

(Here’s my first time fishing with Madeline and Luke. Here’s Luke’s first catch, several years later. Madeline is due to catch her first fish this summer, I think.)

This is where I used to live 3

So Google Street View has reached Heerlen, The Netherlands, the place of my birth and the first seven years of my life.  I can “walk” around my old neighbourhood.  How cool! Technology! So here’s the third installment of a series of posts which will only be interesting to me and possibly some members of my family. Posts 1 and 2 and here and here.

I’ll post some highlights. Valeriusstraat 9, my home for seven years. Bathroom to the right of the front door (with the five-on-a-die window), livingroom to the left of the door. Above the living room is a bedroom–originally shared by my brother and I, then it became my parents’ room. The two windows above the door and the bathroom is a very small room that my brother had as a bedroom in later years. The door was green in our day:


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There used to be a hazelnut tree on this corner. I think you can see its stump in the grass. We would pick the hazelnuts and then stomp on them on the sidewalk across the street in front of Maik’s house (the picture after next–basically just turning slightly to the right where you’re standing):


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My (sometime) friend Maik’s house. If you look down the street along the same row, our house was the one at the elbow:


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The entrance to the back pathway which ran between the houses for what be about two city blocks. Unfortunately, the Google Street View Car didn’t/couldn’t go in there, we won’t be able to peek in to my back yard:


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Now turn 180 degrees and you would have seen a parking lot, beyond which there was a field where I used to kick the soccer ball around and pick wildflowers for my mom. Madeliefjes, I think (I’m not sure what that would be in English.) There is now a row of houses where there used to be parking lot. But on the left in the picture below the field beyond.

Straight ahead where the office building is located used to be a much larger field where I wasn’t allowed to play on my own. They used to have some sort of carnival there. It is where I first smelled a certain combination of beer and smoke (beer tents) and laid eyes on those pulpy beer coasters emblazoned with the Heineken logo. Scent and nostalgia are closely linked for me. I’ll always think fondly of this place whenever I smell a certain combination of beer and cigarette smoke.

To the right in this field were bushes which for some reason terrified us. We thought “hashkickers” (hashish frogs?) lived there. Maybe someone found some needles there, in which case the fear may have been our parents’ doing.


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A couple of blocks away from here is my kindergarten. Turn 90 degrees left from this point, walk down the street until the large intersection, hang a 90 degree right down the street that runs along the row of apartments and here it is:


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That’s a rotating sign on top of that tall building in the picture below. I could see it from my bedroom window at night, glowing blue and red. For some reason even the thought of it is comforting.


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At the opposite end of our street and around the corner, somewhere along this row of buildings was Arie de Friteman, where we would buy “patat”–french fries with mayonnaise and other deep-fried goodies.


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I’m going completely on memory of the streets, but I think this is where my best friend from the first day of kindergarten (we are still in touch to this day) lived. I remember sleepovers at his place, playing with his cool pirates Playmobil set, his piles of Suske en Wiske comic books, drawing pictures of cars with their hoods up, and the one time I crapped my pants in my pajamas. (My mom has now confirmed the location. I’m amazed how well my memory of the streets are. I was 7 years old when we moved. It has been 25 years since I was on these streets, but I can still find my way around.)


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For some reason I think my brother’s scouts meetings were in this church, which is just across the way from my childhood friend’s house. But my memory might just be making things up now. It sure look familiar, though.


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This is the hospital I was born in and where I had at least two operations to put tubes in my ears. I still have the little stuffed toys I received as gifts from my parents after my surgery.


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In this next picture you will see a church steeple in the background. On the street in front of that church was an outdoor market that we would go to every now and then. I can smell the fish and hear the church’s bells. I also distinctly remember there being a calliope. Through one of these doors and down the stairs there used to be (or perhaps still is) a toy store where my mom would sometimes drop me off while she went to the market.


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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate my elementary school, even after a phone call to Mom. I’m picturing the concrete tiled school grounds. At recess we would dig holes in the dirt around the perimeter and play marbles. Only I rarely played because I liked my marbles too much and didn’t want to lose any. I’ve never been much of a risk taker. I also wasn’t able to find the library or the building where the church my dad planted met. Apparently that building has been torn down and the whole neighbourhood, including streets, redone.

One thing I can’t fail to notice as I wander the streets of this old Dutch city is that Dutch people are not big on large lawns. Good for them. I could do without a large lawn and I think the kids could, too. In fact, I would go so far as to say that front lawns are a completely useless feature in a property and only create unnecessary work.

I think I’d happily live in Heerlen.

The small south Saskatchewan town of Caronport, where I spent the next 12 years of my life also has street view on Google Maps. Perhaps I’ll do a post about that sometime, too.

Unknown history

I flew out to British Columbia in the new year to visit my family.  My dad is failing quickly and my mom is still adjusting to life at home alone, so we thought it would be good to spend some time with both of them.  Dad doesn’t remember me anymore.  He doesn’t really remember mom anymore either, even though she visits him every day and feeds him his supper.  I’m not sure what to make of it.  I’ve been strangely unemotional.

For her birthday, my brother and I took my mom out for a nice dinner. We got to talking about dad and how every day mom needs to remind him who she is.  And then she’ll tell him stories from the past–how they met, where they lived when they got married, the work they did as a young couple.

And then somehow we started talking about mom’s pre-marriage life. It’s a fact that children usually are not privy to everything that goes on in their parents’ lives.  If there are problems at work, for instance, the kids usually don’t hear about it. At least, they don’t understand what they hear or don’t remember it. Only as children enter adulthood do some of these things from the past, which would have been meaningless to a child, come to light.

I knew, for instance, that mom had worked as a nurse in both England and France.  I didn’t know that she had done her nurses training in the Netherlands (we are Dutch). I knew that she had delivered many babies in her years as a midwife, but I did not know that she had studied midwifery in England.

And then it got more interesting yet. I knew that she had worked in France, but I didn’t know that she had first applied for work in Norway, but that given language requirements she chose Paris, France, instead, where she worked as a nurse and studied French at La Sorbonne, one of the oldest colleges at the western world’s oldest university.

And after France–and of this I knew nothing–my mom had applied to the U.N. to work in the middle east teaching women about hygiene. She was accepted and was supposed to go to Israel to learn Arabic.  This was unfortunately cancelled due to either the 6 Day War of 1967 or the White Revolution in Iran begun 1963 (given the years, I’m guessing it was the 6 Day War).

Then she met my dad, and the rest is history.  Isn’t that crazy? If we had never asked, I’d have spent the rest of my life thinking mom spent a few years working as a nurse before meeting my dad, getting married and raising us kids.  That’s not a bad story, of course–it’s a very important one, in fact–but it would have been incomplete, and it sheds light on mom’s adventurous and lively character.

I’d like mom to write a memoir.  Other people feel the same way.  I wish now, too, that I would have spent some time recording some of dad’s life stories as well.  As it is, I have small fragments of stories: German soldiers coming to their farm during World War Two; bombs blowing up so close to their farm that the barn roof jumped off the walls; traveling across Canada and working on farms.  Unfortunately, there are countless more unknown details than revealed facts.  We are left fragments of a story–more gap than story.

This is a lesson: ask your parents questions about their early lives, before they met each other.  Write it down.  Record it. There is much to be learned.

More than one “kind” of truth?

(Off-the-cuff thoughts on a Saturday night.)

When the creation accounts, the Exodus, and the Exile were in turn challenged for their historicity [by the method of critical history which arose out and was the essential tool of the Enlightenment], Christians sometimes practiced strategic defeat: this or that aspect of the Bible could be relegated to myth or legend, but the “important stuff” remained true.

What was seldom noted, however, was that both attackers and defenders had accepted the same definition of truth.  The greatest triumph of the Enlightenment was to convince all parties that empirically verifiable truth, in this case historical truth, was the only sort of truth worth considering.  (Luke Timoth Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels, p. 60)

Even many (most?) Christians have a hard time grasping the notion of truth being anything other than that which is empirically verifiable.  My knee-jerk response to the above paragraph is What other kind of truth could there be?

I’m sure he’ll provide some answers later in the book.  But the author makes an interesting point nonetheless.  The problem with many of the debates that Christians engage in these days—abortion, 6-day creation vs. evolution, to cite two examples—is that we participate without first questioning whether the very ground rules by which we are operating in these debates are acceptable.  The fact is, we tend to debate on Enlightenment terms.  Johnson will argue (I suspect) that perhaps those ground rules should not be acceptable to Christian—at least not to the exclusion of others.

The problem with Intelligent Design, for instance, is not the argument that the origin of the universe is in an intelligent being.  The problem is (perhaps) that ID tries to operate within a purely empirical framework against a “foe” which has historically been the one to lay down its own rules—ID has entered the fray by accepting and working under terms with which it ultimately may not agree.

UPDATE: There’s more: after I clicked “publish” on this post, I continued reading the book.  After the above quote, Johnson briefly (and simplistically) outlines four responses of the church to Enlightenment empiricism (or rationalism or modernism), one of which he calls “active/resistant”, in which pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism falls as well as modern-day Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism (which, I guess, is my tradition).  Johnson has this to say:

The active/resistant response is the most obvious and visible.  It regards the challenge of modernity (and therefore of historical critical inquiry) as a threat not only to specific biblical passages or particular tenets, but to the entire perception of the world given by faith.

…The active/resistant option would like to think that it is defending tradition against the corrosive acids of rationalism.  But in its fundamentalist version, the conservative stance is profoundly paradoxical, for it seeks to root Christian convictions precisely in the historicity of of the biblical accounts.  By so doing, it finds itself co-opted by the very framework of modernity it is sworn to oppose, for it accepts the crudest form of the correspondence theory of truth as its own, and it enters into the debate seeking to ground the truth of the Gospels in their referentiality.  (pp. 61, 62)

Seems my thoughts weren’t that far off of Johnson’s.