A Gritty and Compelling Immigration Memoir

26 June 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

I Remember It Well, Betty Kampen, van Ommen.  Meadville: Christian Faith Publishing, 2022.  Softcover, 140 pages.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading several memoirs of Dutch immigrants to Canada and Australia.  You might think they all start to sound the same after a while.  They don’t.  Sure, there are some similarities.  For all these immigrants, there were enormous challenges and those immigrating to Canada generally had a tougher time than those going to Australia.  But, despite that, every immigration story is unique. 

Betty Kampen has written an honest and captivating account of her family’s immigration to Canada in 1954.  She relates her childhood memories of life in the Netherlands prior to immigration.  We learn about rural life near the village of Zalk, in the province of Overijssel.  When she was 10 years old, the family set out for a new life across the ocean.  One of the unique aspects of her story is that it was a large extended family that migrated – a family that included three generations.  Betty’s parents also had a unique reason for wanting to move to Canada – but to find out, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Upon arriving in Canada, the van Ommen family settled in the Orangeville area.  Being farmers in the Netherlands, it was natural that Betty’s family would want to farm in their new home too.  Of course, there were many hurdles to overcome, not the least of which was the long, cold Canadian winter.  Once the snow disappeared, then there was the spring mud clogging the roads.  Nothing was easy.    

From the Netherlands to Canada, Betty also richly describes church life.  What was worship like in the Reformed Church in Zalk in the early 1950s?  How did these immigrants adjust to things like Canadian funeral customs?

The last few chapters bring us closer to the present.  Betty tells the story of how she met and married Rudy Kampen in 1964.  Eventually they also settled back in Orangeville, where they raised their four sons.  Sadly, one of those sons passed away in 2010 and the author is candid about her struggle with that and how her faith was tried.

I really enjoyed reading I Remember It Well.  It’s not only well-remembered by the author, it’s also well-recounted.  She’s included many family pictures throughout too.  If you appreciate immigration memoirs like I do, this one is a must-read.

Originally published in Clarion 72.8 (June 9, 2023)