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Dutch Reformed Bingo in Canada

The social and cultural networks of CC's early days

When I was an adolescent in the late-70s and early-80s, Calvinist Contact was the place to find out what was going on, for the Dutch Reformed immigrant community in Canada. CC wrote about the wider world in which we lived. And it shaped our smaller ethnic and religious world. It reflected the ease with which Dutch Reformed folk made connections with each other, figuring out people that they knew in common. My father is a master at it. Think of it as “Dutch bingo.”

Look at the March 5, 1982 edition. I was in grade 10. The front page has stories about a “larger role for Canada in human rights,” the “Polish Church survives martial law,” and “Christian schools prepare themselves for the computer.”

I remember all those things. Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister and the new federal constitution of 1982 and human rights were major parts of his platform. The Cold War was heating up again in the early 1980s, with the communist suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland. And we got computers in Smithville District Christian High. 

There are also stories and columns – some in English, some in Dutch – about mass media, theological controversy, pastor-church relations, missions, the social gospel, Hare Krishna, Redeemer College (it would open later in 1982), Christian Reformed congregations and local Dutch immigrant communities, books and more. 

These stories shaped how we understood our worlds, small and big. And in the “Classified” section you can see the networks that shaped everyday life. News about births, marriages, anniversaries, deaths. Ads from across Canada from Christian schools looking for teachers. Dutch Reformed folk looking for jobs or employees on dairy farms and in manufacturing. Personal ads. In one a 40ish dairy farmer is looking for a “serious lady” 30-40 years old. Calendars of church, arts, and political events – a Christian Labour Association convention, for example, with Bernard Zylstra from the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto speaking. Our people, our institutions. Onze mensen, onze instellingen.

Becoming more Canadian

Three ads stand out for me as representing the larger immigrant experience. One is from KLM, the Dutch national airline, selling trips to the Netherlands. Many in the immigrant community still had family “back home” in the “old country” and visited, siblings, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles. But the experience of immigration was becoming distant enough to be memorialized. The second ad reflects this. It announces the sale of Delft Blue-style tiles (very Dutch!!) depicting the ships that brought immigrants to Canada after World War II. Among them is the Groote Beer, which my father’s family came on in the mid-50s. The third ad is from the government of Ontario, in Dutch, celebrating Canadian pride in the new federal constitution of 1982. We were citizens of Canada and proud of that too.

Today, reflecting the ongoing Dutch Canadian story, the paper is called Christian Courier. Its deep roots remain Reformed. It still has a bit of a Dutch flavour. And it’s as lively as ever. But Christian Courier now speaks to Christian and Canadian audiences beyond the immigrant community that founded it. I have friends who write for it. And occasionally I see a notice about a birthday, or death, of someone I know.

As a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame in the late 1980s, I experienced how “ethnic bingo” is not unique to Dutch Reformed folk but common among immigrants. Irish Catholics and Italian Catholics, I soon discovered, had similar kinds of insider stuff going on. The details varied but the “grammar” or logic of Irish and Italian “bingo” struck me as similar to my experience.

A small story from that same March 1982 issue of CC pulls all of this together for me. In a piece entitled “Skylights,” William R. Rang wrote about a father, a “mum grower,” that he knew. Greenhouses were a big part of the Dutch Reformed economy where I grew up. I worked in tree nurseries and greenhouses for about 10 summers.

In his story, Rang wrote about how the father thought that his rebellious daughter perhaps was coming back to the church. Rang used the care and patience a grower practices to nurture plants to describe the father love for his daughter.

The content of the story speaks to my church and work experience. I remember “Mr. Rang,” a lay preacher, occasionally leading worship services in my church. His son Lloyd, one of my best friends from high school, university, and grad school days, writes for Christian Courier today. Bingo.

This article first appeared in Origins Online from Heritage Hall at Calvin University. If you’d like to contact the author, you can email William Katerberg here.


  • William Katerberg

    William is professor of history at Calvin University and curator of Heritage Hall, the archives of the University, Calvin Theological Seminary, and the Christian Reformed Church.

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