A Visit with Henry Gorter
I had the pleasure of visiting with a member of the Kilbride community one hot summer day reminiscing of the days he lived in Friesland as a young boy and then his family moving to Canada when he was 14 years old. The person I am speaking of is Henry Gorter “Florist”, as the sign indicates at the end of his driveway.
Henry was born on July 2nd 1913 in Friesland, which is in the northern part of the Netherlands. Here his father owned a store and also sold supplies to other stores in the province. Quoting from a book that Henry lent to me, “Frisia is part of the Netherlands, but you had better not say it belongs to Holland if you want to keep on friendly terms with the Frisians – who, by the way are among the friendliest people in the world”. The Frisians have a language of their own that differs greatly from Dutch. Henry told me that he understands both Frisian and Dutch, whereas most of the Dutch people could not speak Frisian.
As times were very difficult, Henry’s father decided to bring his family to Canada where they believed life would be better. In the spring of 1927, Henry, his parents George and Gertie, and two brothers, Siebe and Ralph, first lived on New Street in Burlington where they farmed. His two sisters, Siem and Hendrika remained in Holland. Siem was already married and Hendrika was to be married that summer. Siem and her husband moved to Victorville, California the year after Henry came to Canada, where they had a dairy farm. They had to buy their feed for over 200 cows. Henry was telling me they would buy 20 tons of grain that would last about 2 weeks. The hay all came from the Imperial Valley. Hendrika remained in the Netherlands.
In the spring of 1934, Henry and his parents moved to Kilbride to the 25 acre parcel with a house at the corner of McNiven Road and Kilbride Street, which was then owned by Mrs. Gollens. They rented from her until sometime in the early 1940’s when she sold the property to Henry. Henry’s father had passed away in the fall of 1935 from a stroke he had suffered in January of that year.
When they first came to Kilbride they were market gardeners and took their produce to the Hamilton Market. Henry recalls some prices – tomatoes and carrots would sell for 10 cents for a 6 quart basket. You could buy a basket filled with 18 cucumbers (3 layers of 6) for 15 cents. Two dozen heads of lettuce sold for 75 cents. Henry remembers that they would plant about 8,000 lettuces and as luck would have it, it would be ready for picking right after the lettuce was done in Burlington. He also remembers when Danny Smith, asked him to plant 5,000 tomato plants in exchange for one Guernsey cow. At the time, roast beef cost 25 cents a pound. They use to buy their butter from Robert Sault, Sr. for 22 cents a pound. They also sold tomatoes to the Canadian Canners factory in Burlington (where the Venture Inn is located now). They would get 25 cents a bushel; these would be made into tomato juice.
They also grew some flowers. One day a chap came to the house and asked Henry to make the wedding bouquet for his bride. Henry said he had never done this before but would try. The rest, as they say, is history! People started coming more and more for flowers and eventually Henry gave up the market. Henry told me that they never had to do any advertising; people found out about the business through word of mouth.
Edna Anderson’s sister was getting married so Edna came to Mr. Gorter’s flower shop to arrange for him to make her sister’s wedding bouquet. This is how Henry met his future bride. Henry and Edna were married on October 25th 1947 in St. Paul’s United Church, Milton. They had two sons, Jim and Ken. Jim and his wife, Helen, live in Newark, Ohio with their three children, Robert, Larissa and Steven. Ken and his wife, Alice, live in Parhal, Ontario (which is in the Kingston area). They have three children Jennifer, Brandon, Shalaine.
As Henry’s mother was still living with them, they found they needed a larger home. In 1951 Henry contracted two men, Archie Cairns and Jimmy Lambert, to build them the house that Henry still resides in. Henry gradually sold off most of the 25 acre parcel of land, and now owns the 1.8 acres that the house is located on.
As the business flourished, Henry recalls the long hours and not coming in some nights until 10 p.m. They were doing a wedding every weekend, delivering the flowers as well. People came to the greenhouses to buy their bedding plants. Henry took a course at the University of Guelph for two weeks which cost $40.00. He says that he learned a lot from the course which helped him in his flower arrangements and wedding bouquets.
Henry and Edna were both active members of Kilbride United Church. Henry served on the Board for many years, while Edna was in the choir and also led a junior choir. The boys both attended Sunday School faithfully. They would drive to Carlisle United Church in the summer months when Kilbride Church was closed.
Henry has made about three return visits to his native Friesland, and still enjoys talking about his time that he lived there. He showed me a book filled with pictures of some of the landmarks that are still there and that he remembers as a boy. He showed me two pairs of wooden shoes and told us how they were made and why these shoes were worn by people. The shoes were never allowed in the house, and during the winter months they enjoyed sliding on the ice with them, wearing and extra pair of socks for warmth.
When I asked Henry what he enjoys about Kilbride the most, he told me that it was definitely the friendly neighbours and how everyone helps each other out when you need it. Every Sunday a neighbour who lives up the road, either delivers him his supper, or invites him over for the meal. Tina and Dits Ditoro are always dropping in for a visit and making sure everything is alright.
Henry is usually at home, or you can see him on his lawn tractor making the trip up to pick up groceries and his mail, so if you see him please take a minute and say Hello! I guarantee you will be glad you did. I know I sure am!
Contributing Author: Debbie Cragg
Source: Kilbride Chronicles, Issue 5, page 16
Transcribed by: Lyndsey Innes