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Sharing news remains the Windmill Herald’s focus at 50

News bulletin filled a gap in 1958

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

The outflow of unprecedented numbers of emigrants from the Netherlands, particularly to Canada, was already subsiding by the time in 1958 that the first issues of an as yet unnamed newsletter were being delivered by letter carriers. In fact, the bold moves of acquaintances Hans Blom and Johan de Haas in setting up retail stores to serve the local Dutch immigrant community, can be seen as part of a new era in the life of this emerging group. Dutch Canadians were consolidating, and flexing their entrepreneurial muscles in a new environment. The rise of the community’s (import) business core, among other things enriched the new Canadian (and American) experience with back-home flavours and familiar products.

Resourcefulness was no stranger to these two entrepreneurs who survived the years of shortages in the Netherlands during and immediately after the Second World War. The Hague coal merchant De Haas, who had boarded the second ship with immigrants to Canada in September 1947, had also been selling vegetables in the old country. Blom, whose paternal family was in the clothing and dry goods business in Friesland, was also involved with war-time resistance and initially joined the Dutch army in 1945, and as an officer was given leave to immigrate to Canada. Both used their previous business experience to establish themselves in the Dutch community, where their businesses became household names.

Not so fast, decreed local license inspectors, who frowned on Dutch immigrants doing their business the old country way, peddling door-to-door and selling from their homes. Dry goods peddler Blom and green grocer De Haas, who also supplied Dutch imports from his truck, became convinced that opening their own store would be a good move, and to maintain regular contact with their customers, they decided to publish a monthly newsletter to attract them to their adjoining stores in Burnaby. The first issue of June 1958 primarily focused on the merchandise available at Blom’s Store and Holland Shopping Centre, which notably included a selection of Dutch books and personalized wall plaques.

Community effort

The very unpretentious mailings, stenciled, folded and stamped by the De Haas children, met with great response. The openings attracted many well-wishers, and people not on the mailing list were soon calling to get a copy of their own. A few immigrants who had already established a business, wanted regular advertising space to make themselves known, while others submitted classified ads to sell or buy. Thus the publishing business, although small, became a regular part of the monthly routine.

Keen community involvement is also evident from the response to a contest to give the bulletin a name. From the dozens of submissions, the publishers chose “Goed Nieuws” (Good News) as the best pick, although this name became somewhat contentious a decade later when the newspaper started to evolve towards an in-depth news format and also published stories on happenings that in no way could be described as good news. The current name, the Windmill Herald, was introduced in 1970. (Hollandia News, a separate Ontario publication, was founded by former Chatham-based fieldman John Vellinga in 1954. Since 1986 it has been continuously published as the Central/Atlantic Canada edition of the Windmill Herald).

Blom and De Haas (the latter eventually turned his share over to Blom who appointed his son Ted as managing editor and publisher), both continued to focus on their stores from which they eventually retired. They have since passed away. The Windmill Herald has continued to grow over the years.

Fourth dimension

Published in two sections for some years now, one in the Dutch language and the other in English (called the Windmill Post), the newspaper bridges the language divide that runs through most subscribing families. With its bilingual content, the newspaper engages both sides with its news format.

Published in three different editions, each with strong regional readership concentrations, the Windmill Herald’s reach has steadily expanded, and now includes the entire North American continent. The fourth edition, or rather dimension, of the Windmill Herald is called It is the popular internet location where people can browse through posted English language articles on Dutch subjects, frequently finding information to help them discover or rediscover their Dutch roots.

All three founders, Hans Blom, John de Haas and John Vellinga left a publishing legacy through the Windmill Herald. Since the 1970s, many employees made valuable contributions to the paper, with several staying ten years or more, the longest for twenty. The other very significant part of the 50th anniversary story is the ongoing support of the subscribers. This 50th anniversary is a community event. Thank you all.