News Articles

Peddlers helped create cross-country distribution network

Generated demand for Dutch imported products

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

OAKVILLE, Ontario - Siddeburen, Groningen-born entrepreneur Fred Hageman was quite surprised recently when he learned that after 45 years a picture of him had turned up from his early business career days when he called on fellow Dutch immigrants in Ontario, peddling Dutch imported groceries and textile products between Kingston and Oshawa. The import business was a step up from his first job on the farm which in 1949 paid the 19-year-old immigrant $45 a month.

Hageman sold his merchandise from a Chevrolet panel truck. He carried textile products - obtained from importers Jan Kok, Holtzheuser, Van’s, Top’s and Anne de Boer - around in suitcases, taking them into the homes of customers. The travelling salesman often found his customers by watching for traditional window dressings (‘gordijntjes’), an identity symbol of Dutch immigrants. One day in 1955 when he stopped at Berthes and Sjoerdje van Terwisga Ferwerda in Picton, a picture was taken with Mrs. Ferwerda standing next to the suitcases with merchandise.

Sneek-born Bert Ferwerda who became a widower in 1959, this year June celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary with his second wife Trudy (Woelders). Just recently, he came across the snapshot and submitted it to the Windmill Herald’s archive collection on the Dutch food import business, prompting a phone conversation with Hageman who remembered his calls on the Ferwerdas. Bert Ferwerda worked for department stores and nursing homes in Stratford and London. Although pushing age 80, he is active and performs a one-man band act at over twenty nursing homes in London and vicinity, mainly playing hymns for the elderly.

Hageman went on to manage a Bata shoe store in Trenton, before he (re)turned to produce farming and a sludge trucking operation. Later on, Hageman entered the housing business and now with his sons operates highrise buildings in Toronto and suburbs, leasing out 750 suites.

Hageman and numerous other peddlers of Dutch imported products - every area in the country had one or more - helped create a demand, laying the foundation for a flourishing coast-to-coast distribution network and employment for dozens of immigrant families. Some of their products have become a North-American staple item.