Preserving Stories of the Dutch-Canadian Immigrant Experience

“We are dealing with treasures,” said archivist and library technician Bonita Bjornson, pointing to the stacks of boxes of letters, diaries, old postcards, scrapbooks, passports, family portraits, ship passenger lists, train tickets, and other materials on the shelves. So treasured are they, in fact, that most of them are cared for in a locked climate-controlled room.

The treasures are part of the Gerry Segger Heritage Collection, established a couple of years ago at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta, thanks to a $400,000 gift from Gerry Segger, a member of St. Albert (Alberta) Christian Reformed Church. Most of Segger’s donation was used to create the secure room for the collection, an area comprising almost one kilometre of storage space. It is believed to be the only one in Canada devoted to acquiring, preserving, and sharing historical materials related to the Dutch-Canadian immigrant experience and the traditions of Reformed Christianity in Canada, including German Reformed.

Exploring the Gerry Segger Heritage Collection can be a very emotional experience for visitors. Recently, a group of seniors from Edmonton’s West End CRC traveled together on a school bus to view the collection. The photographs, especially, and the anecdotes shared, aroused much laughter and many tears.

A large group gathered around a photo of a Classis Alberta meeting taken prior to its split into North and South. One senior exclaimed, “There are no ladies!” Bjornson had difficulty getting people to tear themselves away from two enlarged 1952 photos entitled “Entertainment night at Second CRC,” in which individuals were seeing themselves as children or pointing out parents or siblings, many now deceased. Alyce Oosterhuis became tearful when Bjornson displayed the  letters that Oosterhuis’s mother, Jo Horzelenberg, had mailed from Canada to her family in The Netherlands, beginning in 1952. The letters abruptly ended when Horzelenberg died unexpectedly at the age of 48.

Such old letters and photographs may not have much apparent value, but Segger says, “When immigrants pass on, most of our heritage (usually) gets thrown in the garbage.”

The Gerry Segger Heritage Collection continues to welcome the donation of archival materials so they can be stored, translated, and made available to be shared with future generations.

West End CRC seniors gather around a photo at the Gerry Segger Heritage Collection. West End CRC seniors gather around a photo at the Gerry Segger Heritage Collection. West End CRC member Alyce Oosterhuis (l) and Heritage Collection archivist and library tech Bonita Bjornson. Archivist Bonita Bjornson talks to West End CRC seniors at the Gerry Segger Heritage Collection.

About the Author

Janet A. Greidanus is the Banner’s regional news correspondent for classes Alberta North and Alberta South/Saskatchewan.

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It is a major undertaking by King's to organize all this material. Our collective thanks to the Segger family to provide funding. King's will continue to work with others in the Canadian immigrant Community to make this a truly world class collection.

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