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Dutch Canadian receives book via Internet in intercontinental ceremony

Home village honours community-minded pioneer

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BORSELE, the Netherlands / LANGLEY, Canada - An elderly Dutch immigrant couple in Langley, British Columbia played a significant role in a book presentation ceremony half a world away in their place of birth, a small island village in the Nether-lands. The Zeeland municipality of Borsele, which sponsored the publication of the book, had arranged the participation of John and Maria Traas (nee Brug-geman) via a two-way Internet connection. Borsele mayor E.J. (Jaap) Gelok in the widely publicised event also exchanged greetings with Langley mayor Kurt Alberts.

Villagers of Baarland marveled at the instant linkage with the Traas family in Canada. They witnessed the speeches by both author Jan de Ruiter and their mayor as well as the responses by Mr. Alberts and the Traases. The Dutch Canadian couple had no idea they actually would participate in and view the entire presentation in the Netherlands. Their enjoyment of the event visibly in-creased, especially when they recognized family and friends in the crowd. After the official program, Baarland family and friends exchanged greetings with the Traases.

Warfare and floods

The book Baarland, land tussen Honte en Zwake (Baarland, land between Honte and Zwake) is part of a series of fifteen covering all of the municipality’s villages. It traces the 725 years since the village and its church first were mentioned in a document. Baarland was not spared the devastation of warfare: invading Flemish troops burned it down in 1295 and Scottish soldiers, largely trained for warfare in the mountains, liberated the delta village (situated well below the sea level) in October 1944. The quick surrender of the German garrison in Baarland saved it from sustaining many casualties and extensive damage.

A more serious, ongoing threat to survival was the Scheldt (the western arm originally was called Honte, the eastern sea arm Zwake), particularly during heavy storms and springtides. Rising sea levels washed away the protectives dunes, leaving the area exposed to the effects of the North Sea and forming islands where previously had been plains. Already in the 1300s, local lords diked flood-prone land section by section giving rise to numerous polders in South Beveland (the book gives a thumbnail history on each).

Zeeland’s ongoing struggle with the sea also impacted Baarland in modern times. Although it escaped a high casualty rate in the February 1953 Flood, the Traas orchard was hit hard by the salt water inundation, forcing the decision to make a new start across the Atlantic. Baarland however remained ‘home’ for the Traas family. They regularly corresponded and occasionally visited it while building a fruit tree nursery, specializing in apple and cherry understock. While Traas Nursery Ltd. has been run for years by John Traas Jr., its founder remains active among the trees.

Monument preservation

The involvement with his home village also involved concern for historic objects, particularly a disregarded baptismal font. A history-conscious man, Traas had often wondered why the centuries-old font had been relegated to serve as a drinking trough for horses on the area’s slothoeve (manor farm). Although in recent decades it had been put away in a museum storage room, Traas felt it belonged in Baarland’s historic Reformed Church. A ‘chance’ visit to Langley by villagers from Baarland turned out to be a golden opportunity to press the issue. After about two centuries, the baptismal font has been put back in its original place next to the pulpit. The book generously credits the Canadian Baarlander for this monument ‘restoration’. The grateful community in a generous gesture then presented John Traas with Baar-land’s first dedicated history book in an intercontinental ceremony, perhaps a most fitting way to start off the family’s 50th anniversary of arrival in Canada.