Johanna Magdelena Weijand, (also spelled Weyand), was born on October 4th, 1924 in Apledoorn, Holland. She grew up in Deventer with an older brother, Christian.
The family was torn apart as many other families were, while Germany occupied Holland during World War 2. Johanna and her mother managed as well as they could, while her father spent the war in a concentration camp because he was in the armed reserve and was also a business partner with a Jewish gentleman. Her brother, only 11 months older than her, also spent time in a concentration camp but escaped only to be sent to an internment camp in England as there was a language barrier and the Allies could not decide if he was a spy or if his offer to help fight was legitimate. After the war the family was reunited but all suffered from varying forms of PTSD so the reunion was not always happy.
During the liberation of Holland largely by Canadians, Johanna met a few Canadian soldiers who told her how nice Canada was. So Johanna worked as a governess for a few years saving her money to immigrate to Canada like so many other Dutch people were doing. There was a government program in Canada at the time, to help young people from war torn Europe immigrate to Canada, with sponsors volunteering to employ them at appropriate jobs so these immigrants could learn English, assimilate and be self reliant quickly. In 1948 Johanna made the trip, by herself, on a ship to Hoboken, New York, then by train to Montreal, and on to Saskatchewan. She was hired by Dr Sauer, (a medical doctor), and his wife in Regina, as a house keeper and companion for their teen-aged daughters. These young ladies had a fine time teaching Johanna all the bad words they knew. Soon she learned to refrain from using these words when her efforts to say them correctly caused great amusement. The harder they laughed the more convinced she was that these were not “good” English words and phrases. Many years later when one of her own daughters asked her what she learned to say in English first, she promptly said, “Go to Hell”, stating that it was a most useful phrase!
Eventually the Sauer’s girls grew up and Johanna was ready for a change. She saw an ad in the Western Producer for a housekeeper required for a farmer with 3 little girls near Fiske, Saskatchewan. About 6 months after they met, Bruno Heinrichs and Johanna were engaged and married soon after, on November 16, 1951. Many years later, Bruno was reading that same newspaper and by chance came upon a personal ad that read, “Fat, friendly female looking to meet a gentleman for companionship”. That honest ad, compared with the ads posted by men who described themselves as great catches, was the subject of much hilarity in the household that evening.
Although Johanna’s family in Holland had nick named her, “Anny”, she often went by “Nanny” for her jobs. When Bruno asked her what he and his household should call her and she replied, “Nanny”. He refused, “No way, Nanny is a female goat’s name”. So they agreed on Nancy instead as “Jo” and “Anny” were not to Johanna’s or his liking and they both wanted it to be simple for the children. The name would stick for many years until they retired from the farm, when Johanna decided to go back to her given name. Bruno, of course, continued to call her Nancy for the rest of his life.
Upon her marrying Bruno, Johanna was disowned by her family in Europe for marrying a man of German heritage, a farmer, and a widower with children. After her father passed away she returned to Holland to be reunited her mom and brother almost 20 years after she’d left. Her mother finally made the trip over the Atlantic to meet her son in law 21 years after Johanna and Bruno were married.
After marrying, Johanna set about the task of learning to speak, read and write German since Bruno’s first language was German and there were many German speaking people in their community. She already was fluent in English but she always would have a noticeable Dutch accent. When Bruno’s relatives wrote him a letter, he would hand it to Johanna to read to him while he drove the 9 miles home from the Fiske post office. Eventually she was ready to write a reply to these letters, using a little gray translation book that featured English, German, Dutch and French. Bruno, who considered this to be an onerous chore, encouraged her to do so. They had many pleasant discussions about correct grammar and other ways to word sentences to make meaning more clear. One can only chuckle at how many “private” letters contributed to her German lessons.
Together Johanna and Bruno raised another 5 daughters: Brenda, Sherry, Kathleen, Pamela and Carmen. A son named Tracy Bruno came last. There was so much confusion about the unisex first name that very soon he was called by his second name. Friends joked that the two of them become so accustomed to girl’s names, that they were a bit mixed up when they finally had a boy!
Johanna learned to sew, knit and crochet as a child. She became very accomplished at these skills as a busy mother who wanted her children to be well dressed for all church activities and other special occasions. In the evenings at the farm her hands were always busy even when she was watching TV with the family. There seemed to be no sewing project she couldn’t tackle; wedding dresses, graduation dresses, fancy drapes, curtains, dress pants, dress coats, dressy hats, and horse costumes. If she didn’t have a pattern for it, she’d make one. Many ladies in the community came to her when they needed a special outfit. Johanna retired her sewing machines when she was in her eighties but she still knitted or crocheted. Some of those creations included a full length wedding dress, many beautiful sweaters, vests, baby clothes, and a sweater-dress for herself. When her eyesight dimmed and her arthritic hands made it hard to do the job well, she started to lose interest in starting new projects, but recently upon hearing that she was to be a great grandmother again in November 2023, she was already planning what to make for that next great grandson.
Johanna had a green thumb. She had the patience to fiddle around with a balky houseplant to get the blossoms to appear for her. She loved Orchids as they didn’t look like much until there was a flower on them. Gardening was a passion for her. Bruno, being a farmer, encouraged her and there was always a big garden at the farm which was shared with families in need such as those belonging to seasonal farm employees in the neighborhood. With great energy Johanna “broom trained” the farm dogs and all of the barn cats to stay out of her flower beds. She canned just about everything cook-able until Bruno bought an extra deep freezer and insisted there would be no more bubbling and gurgling on the stove, night and day during the late summer and fall.
While most people feel a bit old when their first Old Age Security cheque comes in the mail, Johanna considered it a windfall. She was very careful with money and she saved to travel when she could. After they retired and moved to Swift Current, Johanna and Bruno took a few nice trips to Hawaii, Florida, and Eastern Canada. A cruise to the Caribbean was a lot of fun too. Together they watched baseball, soccer and horse races but she found something else to do when a hockey game was on as it made no sense to her. Johanna often said that the years spent in Swift Current with her husband were the happiest years of their marriage. It was very hard for her to leave their house there, even 10 somewhat lonely years after Bruno passed away. She had nice friends in Swift Current but eventually she missed her children and grandchildren too much to stay there so she moved back to Rosetown in 2013.
Near the end of March of 2021, after managing on her own in a seniors’ apartment throughout the Covid epidemic, Johanna started to have frequent falls. She decided to try out living at Rose Villa where she would have help anytime of the day or night. She found it to be quite an adjustment but eventually settled in and enjoyed the considerate care provided by the staff. Johanna remained as vivacious and well dressed in her nineties as she had been in her thirties. She was quite well informed about world events and although visiting tired her out, she loved seeing her family and their many children, grandchildren and, of course, puppies.
Around 7 pm on Friday, June 30th 2023 Johanna was tucked into bed a little earlier than usual. She was not sick but she had been feeling very tired. Not long after she slipped away peacefully; no drama at the end of a life well lived. Bye Oma.
A Celebration of Life will be held at the Rosetown Alliance Church on Monday, July 10, 2023 at 11:00 a.m.