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Wilma de Haan
Wilma de Haan

Lives Lived: Wilma de Haan, 98 Add to ...

Beppe (grandmother), traveller, memory keeper. Born on Dec. 31, 1917, in Piaam, Friesland, the Netherlands; died on May 31, 2016, in Stratford, Ont., of natural causes, aged 98.

Wilma Bakker grew up in the Netherlands, in an era when one was expected to stay within one’s class. Her father worked for a lumber company whose employees lived in company housing, which was considered low class. When eight-year-old Wilma informed her classmates that she was going to travel some day, her teacher told her, “A little girl from company housing does not travel.” Wilma’s schooling ended at 14, when she went to work on a farm as a live-in maid, who was also responsible for milking the cows.

At 21, she married Casey de Haan and after living through five years of Nazi occupation they immigrated to Southwestern Ontario in 1948. She was 30 at the time, and had three sons and two daughters between the ages of five months and eight years old. After three years of working for others, she and Casey bought a farm where a third daughter was born and Wilma and her family proudly became Canadian citizens.

When she was 39, the family headed west to British Columbia in a convoy – car, truck and trailer. With the trailer, Wilma finally had hot and cold running water and an indoor bathroom. For more than two months, they excitedly explored Canada and the United States before finally arriving in British Columbia. They settled in Langley, where Wilma had her seventh child, her fourth daughter, in 1959.

Two years later, the family returned to Trowbridge, Ont., where they farmed for 18 years. Wilma was a loving mother, but a strict disciplinarian. She believed in giving back to the community and was an active member of the Trowbridge United Church Women and the Federated Women’s Institute. She was very musical and enjoyed singing with her family group, the de Haan Singers, at weddings and community events.

After Casey died in 1979, Wilma moved to Guelph where she volunteered, sang with the Menno Singers of Kitchener-Waterloo. and travelled the world sightseeing and visiting relatives. In 2003 she moved to Stratford, where she lived in two retirement homes and enjoyed twice-yearly RV trips.

Wilma never lost her sense of humour and zest for life. With a twinkle in her eye she told her daughters, “You have more grey hair than I have” (which was true) and with a hearty laugh she often exclaimed, “You know you are getting old when your children are also collecting Old Age Security.” She was a lifelong reader, and she cheered with raised arms when she won a game of Scrabble.

When a grandson arrived from Australia, too late to have a last visit with his Beppe, he was surprised to see his life laid out in her dozens of scrap books. She had kept every poem, letter, card, announcement, and newspaper clipping about him and all the other members of the family. Wilma was proud of her seven children, 27 grandchildren and 43 great grandchildren who are doing things she couldn’t have imagined when she was a little girl.

B.B. Carmen Johnson is Wilma’s daughter.

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