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Bradford and area served by Dutch store entrepreneurs for over fifty years
Purveyors of a transplanted Dutch experience
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
BRADFORD, Ontario – The re-opening of the local Dutch store, renamed Dutch Treats, brings to mind again the extent of progress since pioneering entrepreneurs introduced Dutch imported products to the area in the early 1950s. Nearly everywhere, the early pioneers loaded their Dutch products in cars or vans and called on immigrant households to sell to customers at the door. That is how John Bonsma established his business in Newmarket, from where eventually he called on about 500 customers each month, covering an area from Georgetown to Port Perry, and from Bradford to Toronto. Bonsma sold his Variation Store to the Veenstra family in 1954. The Tjoelker family also owned the store for a while. The last owner, Coby (Niemeyer) DeBruin for years ran the business until it was closed.
Opened in a nearby hamlet in 1953, Springdale Food Store also carried a line of Dutch products until it closed in 1988, when owners Auke and Addy Ellens retired. By then, recent Dutch immigrant and former Zutphen cheese wholesaler John Medendorp and his wife Joanne had taken over Dick’s Dutch Canadian Store in Bradford, which had been on 15 Holland St. East since 1966. Predecessor Dick Teekens had bought the business from the Hamstras, who operated it at first from their home as did many others throughout Canada.
The Medendorps renamed their store ’d Olde Stee and operated it for 23 years until Louise and Cor Den Bleker took it over last fall. The Den Blekers recently unveiled the store’s new name, Dutch Treats, when Bradford Mayor Frank Jonkman (a greenhouse manufacturer and builder) cut the ribbon for the re-opening ceremony. Although the new owners continue the basic business plan, they also want to put Louise’s experience as a gift basket designer to good use. Dutch Treats in a basket can be a very innovative way to introduce others, such as the next generation, to Dutch taste, traditions and identity.
With the Bradford, Springdale and Newmarket areas attracting numerous Dutch immigrants in the post-WWII era, there have been others as well who contributed to Dutch heritage retention. In addition to Coby Niemeyer De Bruin’s Variation Store, her brothers Elzo Niemeyer (Willowdale and later at Richmond Hill, now operating under different management) and Harm (at Rexdale, since closed) long were focus points in their respective areas. To the north in Barrie, the Van Niekerks operated Continental Specialties.
In 1950, looking for ways to supplement his income from a farm job, John Bonsma got involved in the business when he answered an advertisement by Burlington, Ontario-based importer Van der Velde (later Van’s Imports). Van der Velde was looking for agents to sell Dutch cheese, and Bonsma was ready to make it happen. He soon added the Holtzheuser and Kok imported lines and printed up his own price list. With a prospering business came the need for help and expansion. Wanting to be home more, the Bonsmas soon opted for farming and got out of the Dutch import business.
The early method of taking the products to the doorstep was a familiar approach to many immigrants who, back home, were used to have the baker, the butcher, the grocer and the milkman, and others as well, delivering their goods. The time-consuming door-to-door practice evolved into fixed outlets as the immigrants got their own transportation, a development which also was underway back home. A number of stores still deliver upon request however but orders need to be called in first and will be dropped off if the customer lives close by.