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Farming still part of the Gerrits’ experience in Nova Scotia

Clan reunion marked 50th anniversary of arrival

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

SHEFFIELD MILLS, Nova Scotia - A commemorative plaque, a family cookbook, a reunion t-shirt and a linden tree planting all were part of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Berend Jan and Johanna Gerrits clan in Canada. The family with nine of their ten children settled in the Annapolis Valley, a two-hour train-ride from Halifax where their ship the Waterman had docked at Pier 21. Nearly 200 family members attended the reunion.

The Heemserveen, Overijssel family purchased a farm in Sheffield Mills the following year. Three of the seven sons went on to farm on their own in the vicinity, initially dairying but later branching out into a range of crops and poultry. Four of the third generation continued the family’s farming tradition which firmly had been established in the Netherlands. The farm near Hardenberg only was sold when the family had established itself in Nova Scotia.

Son Gerry H. Gerrits, a historian, pursued an academic career, wrote his doctrinal dissertation on the theological thought of Gerard Zerbolt of Zutphen (1367-1398), a Dutch priest. More widely known are his books on the Dutch in Nova Scotia. One is a scholarly study of the Dutch agrarian community and its huge impact on the sector in Nova Scotia, the other one was written on the Dutch as part of a series on the peoples of the Maritimes. An Associate Professor of History, he teaches at Acadia University.

From the early 1950s forward, Dutch immigrants not only rejuvinated Nova Scotia’s failing agriculture, they also soon took charge in leadership roles on all levels. Many farmers have gravitated into the agricultural service field as well, taking care of the sector’s infrastructure (such as dealerships and supply) while others branched out into food processing.

All of the Gerrits siblings, aged between 75 and 56, attented the reunion. Nine live in Nova Scotia, the other one in Ontario. The next generation has found a livelihood in a range of occupations and fields outside agriculture.