One of B.C.’s newest citizens reflects on the value of immigration

“People who come by choice to another country will do everything to contribute to that country.”

Nienke Klaver, 71, has lived on four continents and travelled through more than 40 countries.

So when she became one of Canada’s newest citizens, you can be sure that was an informed choice.

“I feel like every place in the whole world should be like a little United Nations, eventually,” she said. “I like the idea that Canada is a mosaic. Everyone brings their own culture and I hope they keep their culture and their food and their traditions. I think everyone contributes to Canada in that way.”

The swearing-in ceremony was held in a Kelowna hotel last Friday. Klaver was one of 88 people from 14 countries who promised to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

She described the experience as “interesting…I was sitting beside a gentleman from India and on the other side there was a man from the Philippines. Before I talked to someone from Britain and someone from Vietnam. I would have loved to go to every person and ask where they were from and why they moved here.”

Klaver was 30 when she left Holland, for Canadian shores.

A violinist for the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, she moved to Victoria to be with her partner, and earn her masters degree in violin performance.

Even though it was her decision, and she would return to visit, the transition was painful.

“I was sitting at the airport and just bawling my eyes out. I felt so terrible for my parents, because that was two kids that moved away. It was very difficult, extremely difficult. I still get kind of teary-eyed when I think about it.”

Klaver reflected on that memory as a room full of people committed to Canada.

“That’s what made me emotional, to think about that. It is traumatic to leave your own country. It was traumatic for me. Even though it was my own choice, it was difficult. But what if that is not your choice and you have to flee your own country?

“For me it was different because the Netherlands and Canada are similar in many aspects, like freedom of speech and the rights that you have. But I imagine that some of the people came from countries where there is not that freedom. It just made me wonder how they would feel taking that oath to become a Canadian – how it made them feel inside.”

Being raised on stories of how her parents and older siblings survived the Second World War gave Klaver an indelible appreciation for justice.

Her father would travel hundreds of kilometers on foot to trade valuables for food, and on one occasion he hid under the kitchen floor when soldiers came to round up able-bodied men to work in German factories.

“Growing up with that, and then hearing of the Canadians liberating the Netherlands…hearing my mother talking about it, it always brings tears to my eyes. We were freed by another country, and by people who didn’t know us and put their lives on the weigh-scale.”

Klaver and her husband Ed Staples have travelled extensively. They lived for four years in Chile and 10 years in Japan, teaching at international schools, while they traipsed around the rest of the globe in their spare time.

When it was time to retire from their respective careers, they decided to settle in the Okanagan and even spent their first two summers here building a home near Coalmont, while living very Canadian-style in a small log cabin on the Tulameen River.

The couple has made its impact on the community and the province.

Four years ago Klaver convinced Princeton council to paint one of the first rainbow crosswalks in rural BC.

In 2012 she was behind a petition to keep the emergency room open 24-hours at Princeton General Hospital. That effort was eventually successful and led to the formation of the Support Our Health Care Society. That group has affected significant improvements in local health services.

Both Klaver and Staples now work in leadership roles with the B.C. Rural Health Network and the B.C. Health Coalition.

An accomplished photographer, Klaver said one of her favorite things about Canada is its natural beauty, and the opportunities that offers for outdoor activities like camping and hiking.

“We have so much space here,” she said. “And for sure I believe we do need immigrants. Our population is aging and often immigrants contribute so much to our country. They are hard working people. When people say immigrants are a drain on the system, I don’t believe that is the case. Research shows that is not the case.

“People who come by choice to another country will do everything they can to contribute to that country.”

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andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com

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