Written by George R Bordewick
Transcribed by Mika Bartroff 4/8/10
My father was born in a small fishing village (fiskevaer) in the Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. My mother was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania of Belfast Irish parents. I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. How did we all get together? Briefly stated, northern Norway is temperate all year round which may be surprising to some. The Gulf Stream flows up the coast and in the north the cod fishery was the largest in the world. From 1896 to about 1900 the Gulf Stream departed from its usual course along the coast and diverted itself a couple of hundred miles westward.
This unfortunate turn of events resulted in the cod following the stream. In those days the fishermen used open boats, propelled by a square sail and oars when necessary, and the fish were out of their reach. My Grandfather, Bergithon Bordewick was in partnership with his brother Eivind in a fish buying and exporting business. Industry practice is that the buyer stakes the fisherman at the beginning of the season, and settles with him at the end, paying him for his catch and deducting for provisions, nets and other gear supplied during the season.
By 1900 Bergithon and Eivind were in desperate straits. Bergithon elected to go to Antwerp in Belgium where he had business connections. His family consisted of his wife, Leonharda, and three sons, Bjarne, Hans, and Harald. They remained in Antwerp for about six months, but they were not comfortable. They were mistaken for Englishmen, and the Flemish, who were sympathetic to the Dutch in the South African Boer War. Feelings ran high against he British, and on one occasion they were spat upon by indignant patriots.
Leonharda had a brother who had left Lofoten previously and was well established as a Ship Broker in Hull. Bergithon made a connection in Grimsby, which is across the river from Hull and he engaged himself to a firm of ship brokers. The three boys had a tutor in Henningsvaer, and must have had a good start in the English language. They attended school in Grimsby, and Clee Grammar School (“Fan Mentis Honestae Gloria”), where they did well in their studies and became ardent soccer players. Bjarne (my father) was a good student and successfully passed the entrance examinations for Cambridge.
My grandfather was not entirely happy with his situation and the family looked around for better prospects. My grandmother had a sister who had emigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, which was then a boom town, and in 1910 they decided to try their luck in Canada. Grandfather found employment with the Atlantic-Pacific Steamship Company, and remained with them until the opening of the Panama Canal, which put the A-P out of business. It had employed ships on the Eastern seaboard which transshipped their cargo across Central America by rail, and thence by other vessels northward to the Pacific Coast of the United States and Canada. Apparently, other established lines were able to perform intercoastal freighting more efficiently than the A-P which went out of business. Bergithon then found employment as Dock Cashier with the Evans Colman and Evans Co which had a dock and stevedoring business, and were coal merchants.
My mother, Mary Dunlop Park, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her parents, Robert and Elizabeth Park, had emigrated to Philadelphia in the early 1880’s. He was a cabinet maker. They had seven children, all born in Philadelphia, one of whom died when a young man. The economy of the United States was in a precarious state, and my grandmother said that when the Democrats were in power, the Republicans did everything possible to make it impossible for them to succeed. As they controlled the business of the country, this was probably easy to arrange. President Teddy Roosevelt had much to do with disciplining the “trusts” and other business combinations.
About 1900 the family went back to Belfast, Northern Ireland where they remained until 1911. My grandmother had a sister who was married to a canny Scot from the Hebrides. He had gone to the Yukon and struck it rich during the Gold Rush. He was in the real estate business in Vancouver, BC, which was then a boom town and expanding rapidly. The family decided to come West and one of the sisters, Rhoda came out first, and followed by the others soon after. They did well, and lived in Grandview, a suburb of Vancouver for many years.
The influence of sisters and a brother who prospered elsewhere had a great influence in the movements of the two branches of the family. However the element of chance entered into the presence of my wife’s family in Vancouver. Her father, Daniel Thomas Jones, was born in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. “Merthyr” is Welsh for “martyr” and commemorates the death of an heroic Welsh damsel who was murdered by the heathen.
A group of young lads from Merthyr and vicinity resolved to go to the Canadian prairies to harvest wheat, which they did, accompanied by Daniel. At the end of the job some were for going back to Wales, but Daniel and others tossed a coin to see if they would go West to Vancouver, or East to home. The toss was in favor of Vancouver. During his stay in the Prairies, Daniel had met a beautiful young Welsh girl (who later did not remember the occasion), and they met again in Vancouver while pursuing the common interest of choral music. They subsequently married and had four children: Marjorie, Edwina, Merle and Ivor.
I attended Zion United Church in Grandview, Vancouver, BC during my youth, and while attending a youth meeting in downtown Vancouver, made the acquaintance of Merle Jones. She was the only girlfriend I ever had. I had access to a bicycle built for two, and we enjoyed many rides together. Her home was near undeveloped land owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, and we picked berries, cut Christmas Trees and did other things in those leisurely times.
The Great Depression lasted from about 1930 to 1937, but our fathers were fortunate, and I was able to pick up a job, assisted by a gentleman who was a leader in one of our youth groups. Thousands had a very difficult time, but we were lucky. These easy times were ended by World War II.
My wife, Merle, and I have been blessed with four children...all of whom are doing well. We have two grandchildren...who show great promise.
That’s how we all got together.