Amid the Neerlandia celebrations, a portrait of unity
Centenarian Anna Schuring cradles one-month-old Aliyah Viersen
They are divided by nearly 100 years, but for a few tender minutes last Saturday they looked as one.
As Anna Schuring cradled baby Aliyah Viersen, a portrait of human unity was created which captured the all-inclusive spirit of Neerlandia’s centennial celebration.
Every stage of the human life cycle was embraced in a three-day party that paid tribute to the hamlet’s pioneering founders and looked to the future with glowing confidence.
Anna, who turned 100 Tuesday, July 24, was born around the time the founding fathers were sailing from Holland to realize their dream of a better family life. Coming here in 1928, she was a member of a generation to build on the foundation.
Although Aliyah is only a month old, she is a part of that original dream, a dream of future generations prospering on the fertile land.
To Neerlandia parents Arnold and Melissa, of course, she is also a beautiful gift whose arrival helped make the celebrations even more memorable. They looked on as people in the sun-soaked Neerlandia Public Christian School grounds gathered to take photographs of Anna and the sleeping baby.
The symbolic photo op was thanks to Neerlandia Historical Society president Dave Terpsma, who wanted the youngest person at the event to meet the oldest.
Earlier, age and youth were fully represented during a spectacular parade of up to 50 floats that commemorated the pioneers. Many of those taking part were dressed in traditional Dutch clothing; some wore wooden clogs.
Old farming machines, tractors and horse-drawn carts abounded in testament to the hamlet’s rich agricultural tradition. One sign on a vehicle read, “Johannes Peters Sr. 1891-1979 This tractor was his car Suzie.” Another sign said “Froma Family.”
There were also plenty of antique cars, including Lambert Veenstra’s 1929 Model A Ford, 1967 Galaxy Convertible and 1971 F100. These were later displayed with several other classic models on the school grounds.
“I love the old cars, they were so simple,” said Veenstra. “They also look good. It’s just the starting that is a little more complicated.”
Also in the parade were MLA for Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, Maureen Kubinec, Barrhead County Council, Barrhead Town Council and emergency vehicles.
Barrhead RCMP officer Con. Kirk Fisler headed the line-up, dressed immaculately in his Mountie’s uniform. His wife being Neerlandian gave the day greater personal significance.
Later he would take part in the light-hearted husband calling competition when the crowd heard some elaborate – and often shrill – ways to summon a spouse to supper.
What many would not have known is that Fisler had been on police duty the night before. He slept for about three hours before getting ready for the 9:30 a.m. parade.
“Actually it wasn’t a problem,” he laughed. “That’s all the sleep I needed.”
He was right, for he never missed a step. And he looked just as lively when he answered his wife’s call several hours later, emerging from the tent where the husbands were hidden.
After the parade the huge crowds that had lined the streets drifted into the NPCS grounds. On such a beautiful summer day, many took advantage of a concession booth serving juices and hot drinks, before deciding how to spend the afternoon.
One option was to go on a horse-drawn hayride through the hamlet or a bus tour of the homestead, something which continued through the day.
Dozens of children made a beeline for the water ramp, others had a go at throwing horseshoes.
Another option was to see demonstrations of pioneer crafts and skills in the school gym.
Alja Helmus was at one end of the room, seated at a rag rug weaving loom and wearing the traditional costume from Staphorst, a municipality and town in eastern Holland with which she has family ties.
In another part of the room, Sya Strydhorst sewed with a machine at least 110 years old.
“I learned to sew on this machine,” she said.
Several feet away, acting curator of Barrhead Centennial Museum, Sheldon King, gave demonstrations of rope making, an activity that fascinated many children, who helped with the process.
Outside, people began filling the bleachers and tent for the afternoon entertainment. After watching Dutch Kompen Dancing performances and a sheep shearing demonstration, they were treated to mutton busting, always a crowd favourite as youngsters tried for dear life to cling to a sheep (see Sports section).
Adding to the fun and mayhem were two clowns Bozo and Bubbles, who tried to ensure none of the rides ended in tears. Mostly, they were successful.
After everyone had assembled for a group photo, with the cameramen atop a scissor lift, the pioneer competitions began in earnest: log-sawing, nail hitting, laundry hanging, husband calling and arm wrestling, which attracted as many women as men.
In the beard competition Mike Visser walked away as the overall champion, sporting a golden crown.
Visser also won a separate category: he grew his beard in two months, faster than his rivals.
“I’m normally clean-shaven,” he said. “This beard will be coming off today.”
As the evening closed in people gathered for a fellowship services followed by a free beef-on-a-bun supper.
To members of the Neerlandia Historical Society it was a glorious end to a glorious day. Although it is hard to estimate how many came during Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday, the figure is believed to be thousands, not hundreds.
Board member Rose Olthuis said the event had seen many reunions of family members, old neighbours and former classmates. Some came from Holland for the occasion.
“We had a wonderful time in our community,” she said. “We enjoyed the event immensely and I felt it was very successful. The number of people who came exceeded our expectations.”
She paid tribute to volunteers who were willing to pitch in and make sure the event ran smoothly.
“I can’t say enough about the volunteers. They were always there when we needed them,” she said.
Olthuis said the celebration managed to sustain the terrific momentum it gained from Thursday’s Taste of Neerlandia. The wow factor continued with Friday night’s fireworks, the parade and supper.
“We were truly blessed,” she said.
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