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Two unrelated Roffel families seem to follow each other in print

‘Official’ introduction 64 years after Waterman journey ended

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

On June 17, 2012 it will be 65 years ago since two separate and seemingly unrelated Roffel families climbed aboard the Dutch troop carrier Waterman, a ship anchored off the quay in the middle of the Rotterdam harbour for their one way trip to Canada. Apparently, they were never introduced to each other, since neither clan was aware of the other’s shared 9-day Waterman connection until recently. They may well have bumped into each other aboard the ship at some point.

Although they say they are not related, they do share plenty of similarities. For example, both families numbered seven people with the parents originating from the Emmen region in Drenthe, although both bid their country farewell from the different places where they had migrated earlier. Geert Roffel and his family lived in Eindhoven, North Brabant where Geert worked at Philips. Bouke Roffel earned his living at a textile factory in Hengelo, Overijssel. (Migration patterns in pre-WWII Dutch society are another, very interesting subject meriting much more attention from genealogists.)

Geert Roffel (44) was headed for the Holland Marsh Dutch settlement, while Bouke Roffel (43) was going to Chatham, Ontario, where each was received into a local, pre-WWII small Christian Reformed community.


The similarities in the immigration history of the two families do not end there. Each appears – nameless – on the pages of the book To All Our Children. Bouke’s family made it into the book on the top left corner on page 38 by way of an official Canadian government photograph, titled: “A healthy Dutch immigrant family”. Geert’s family made it into Albert Vander Mey’s book by way of a group picture taken in front of the Newmarket, Ontario railway station, and located on the bottom left corner of page 142.

The pictures of each family also appeared in newspapers. Geert’s family hit the pages in a range of Canadian daily newspapers the day after they were photographed in Montreal following their immigration clearance on June 26, 1947. Unwittingly, the Geert Roffel family was caught up in a very well-coordinated government media campaign to warm the Canadian public to its plan to repopulate with Dutch farm labourers the country’s rural areas which had lost so many young people to Canada’s war effort. Three Canadian hostesses, ‘the Misses Bush, Norman and Moquin’ who they met at the Central Station, forwarded them a press clipping the following day featuring their picture, an item still in the Geert Roffel family collection.

The photograph of the Bouke Roffel family made its way into the Windmill Archives after it was featured in a 1978 article on Dutch immigration in the Windmill Herald and was reused later in Vander Mey’s book as well. It too may well have made it into the daily newspapers in late June 1947.


But would Bouke and Geert’s families ever become aware of their shared Waterman history? That moment came when Geert Roffel’s information, submitted by daughter Helen Roffel Westerhof, was entered into the database of Project I Remember, positioning itself just below that of Bouke Roffel.

Following up on the receipt of the Geert Roffel form, Helen was asked about her connection to the other Roffels on the Waterman. Surprised, she confirmed she had all seven listed on the form, but others? No, there were no other Roffels aboard the ship. But evidence confirms there was! So, at last, G. Roffel clan please meet the B. Roffel clan.

Project I Remember

The search for the vanguard of Dutch post-WWII immigrants continues, and new entries with the June 17, 1947 Waterman journey, all Kota Inten, Tabinta and the 1949-1951 Volendam Canada-bound sailings are received each week. The project is far from complete. A form may be requested by e-mail to: windmill”at”

Also requested is information for an updating effort on the pictorial contents of the numerous anonymous photographs in the book To All Our Children. People or families whose photographs appear in this book may wish to photocopy the picture (please identify the page number) and going from left to right, number those on it and list the names by the number, scan the material and email it. The information will become part of a revised Companion to the book To All Our Children, tentatively scheduled for publication in 2012.