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Elsie van Leeuwen

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S: Elsie van Leeuwen - Stories of my Life

FC: Elsie van Leeuwen | Stories of my Early Life

1: The pictures and anecdotes in this collection go back almost a century and cover various facets of the history and lives of the family as told by Elsie. It is hoped that the memories and legacy that Elsie left will not be forgotten. | Made with love by Laurie van Leeuwen April 2012

2: E | My mother and father met in the Kootenays. They were married in 1920. | My Dad

3: My dad was a traveller. When he was quite young he left Finland and came to New York. He could read and write many languages so he got a job as an interpreter with the British Embassy. He soon became bored so jumped onto a ship bound for China. In Hong Kong he met and married the daughter of a wealthy Mandarin. Two daughters were born--Fran and Alice. Eventually he brought his wife and children back to Canada. His wife died and he was left to bring up the girls on his own. | My Parents

4: While on the boat from China back to Canada, my Dad met a Finnish man, who introduced him to my Mom. My Mom had come with her sister to North America earlier and worked as a hotel maid in Spokane. She returned to Finland when her sister Fanny became ill and wanted to go home. While my mom was there she married and had two children, Benny and Marietta. The marriage didn't work out so she returned to North America. Benny, who always felt like a real brother to me, eventually travelled to be with her. Marietta remained in Finland with her grandmother because she had been ill and was suspected of having tuberculosis. Much later I invited Marietta to come to Canada to live and I paid her airfare. But because she had no English language skills, she could only find work as a housekeeper and she begged to go back to Finland (although she told me later she regretted it).

5: Benny | Dad, Mom, Benny | Mom | Me with Marietta | Benny

6: Dad never kept in touch with the Winter family back in Sweden. However, because the Winters were ministers, records of the family were meticulously kept. I decided to do a search for relatives on my father's side, and found a Gideon and Karen Winter. I phoned them and discovered them to be my father's brother's children (my cousins)! I eventually traveled to Finland where they were living to meet them. I still am in touch with Rosemary and Karl-Erik Westerlund, their children. | My mother's sister had planned to come to America on the Titanic but all tickets were sold out so she came on the next boat

7: My Father's Aunt was the famous Finnish writer, Maila Talvio. A carved bust of her is on display at the University of Helsinki. | My Mother | Maila Talvio | My Father

8: Living in the 1930s in Coquitlam was much different from today. There wasn’t much money around so you learned to survive on what you had and what you could grow. When my dad bought the land in Coquitlam there was a house on the property. He built a barn with an attached sauna, because every Finnish home had one. | Childhood Memories

9: The Whole Family | Me and Eddie

10: Me and my Brothers

11: Our water came from a well and we used a pump in the kitchen. We had cows and chickens and a big garden. Mom made us drink fresh milk from the cow and I believe that is why I have strong bones. My mother worked very hard on the farm but always welcomed neighbours for a visit. The coffee pot was always full and hot on the stove.

12: It was amazing what my mother could cook on the old wood stove. Some favourite meals my mom made included Swedish meatballs, lanttula (Finnish turnip dish), potatoes and other root vegetables and homemade dill pickles. We had cherry trees so mom always had canned cherries. There were also raspberries, huckleberries and salmonberries growing wild in the neighbourhood. | Mom at the Stove

13: EMe and Benny | We never had much money but we never went without...and we always had nourishing "organic" food!

14: One thing I remember not too fondly was the fact we had an outdoor toilet, with old newspaper and catalogue sheets for toilet paper. No matter what the weather we had to venture outdoors to use the facility!

15: Every Friday in New Westminster there was a Farmer’s Market and everyone looked forward to going. In the community a few people (mainly bachelors) had cars so they would take whoever wanted to go that week. | Mr. Bailey, who lived in a little shack up the street, had a car with a rumble seat and he would regularly take neighbours to the market. He once bought a baseball and bat for us kids and invited us to play in his front yard. He seemed to enjoy sitting on his porch watching us play.

16: When I was growing we played outdoors a lot, at games like hide ‘n seek and tag. In the winter time we would toboggan down Como Lake Road, as the road became a dead-end at Schoolhouse Road and there was hardly any traffic.

17: When I learned to swim I went to Como Lake a lot. The Larsons built a float for swimming and there was also a raft you could take out to the middle of the lake. The boys would sometimes go all the way to Mundy Lake. The girls didn’t want to swim there because the boys told them it was “bottomless”. The boys also told me they swam in their “birthday suits”. I couldn’t remember when my brother had got a suit for his birthday.

18: Eddie, Dad, Mom and me in 1939 | Childhood friends

19: I went to Mountain View school and every day I would meet Annie Kozub, who was like a big sister to me. We had to leave at 8am and it took half an hour. Annie Kozub and Edna Philip were my best friends at school. Edna also came to Sunday School with me. A very important person in our lives was the Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Keats. She and her husband were from England and they lived in a big house at the end of Porter Street. Mrs. Keats was very community- minded. She formed a Girls Club for the neighbourhood and we met once a week. We had a president, a treasurer and secretary, and we did sewing and other activities. | Good friends

20: One the first Saturday in December my brother and I would go to Vancouver to ride the “Joyride” train at Spencers department store. I remember when I bought a harmonica...I played that thing constantly.

21: Every Saturday there would be a live vaudeville performance. I never went but one of the dancers came to our school once to teach us some tap-dancing moves. | We also went to New Westminster to go shopping and to the movies at the Columbian and Edison theatres. I remember going to see “Snow White” for 5 cents and a Nabob coupon.

23: Between Grade 11 and 12 I got a job at the Royal Columbian Hospital. It was the best $100 I ever made in a month and a half! I rode my bike to be there at 7am. I worked in one ward in the old wing, getting breakfast to patients, and even had to scrub the wooden floor! I worked 7 days in a row before getting a day off. It was war time and they were short of help. I had thought then of becoming a nurse but it took 3 years to get your RN and you had to live at the hospital. My dad offered to pay for me to go to business school so I decided to change my career direction. The hours were better and I was good at working with numbers. After school I was hired by North American Life.

24: At one point the company wanted me to go to the Victoria office to straighten things out as it was a mess. I also was asked to train a new girl. I thought it would be for a week or two. The company set me up in a guest house and paid all my expenses. I invited my step-sister Fran over to have dinner one evening. She was working in Victoria as a nurse. We became reacquainted and soon were good friends. I found out that the company wanted me to stay another month. When Fran heard what the company was paying for the guest house, she wondered if the company would pay for me to stay with her. My boss said whatever made me happy. So I stayed with Fran for the next month. It was a wonderful turn of events because we became very close!

25: I worked for North American Life for eight years until I married and began the family. | With Norma and Lloyd | Me and Wim | In Victoria

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  • By: Laurie v.
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  • Title: Elsie van Leeuwen
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  • Started: over 5 years ago
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