Herb and Map Zylstra have a love that has carried them over the ocean and through 70 years together.
On Aug. 19, 1947, the couple made a vow they have joyfully observed for 70 years. Herb, 93, and Macheltje (Map) 91, Zylstra celebrated their milestone anniversary on Saturday with a mammoth party that saw relatives and friends from all over the world in attendance.
Their own family consists of six boys and two girls, with 29 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren, and Herb estimated about 130 people were expected at the party. But a beautiful summer day saw the attendance grow to about 160 at the outdoor party at Mike Weir park.
Herb says the first time he saw Map, he had just returned home to Holland after enduring two years of forced labour in a Nazi factory near Dresden, where he witnessed the now famous Allied bombing raid on that city.
It was love at first sight. “My sisters were in the choir with her,” he said. “I saw her sitting there and I said, ‘that’s mine’.”
At first, the union was not a popular development for Map’s family. “They didn’t want her to leave Holland,” said Herb. But her family eventually accepted their daughter’s departure and through the years, four of Herb’s sisters and two of his brothers, as well as one of Map’s sisters, joined them in Canada.
The couple, just 23 and 21 at the time, immigrated from Holland by sea just after the war aboard the Tabinta, landing in Montreal. From there, they traveled to Cayuga, Ontario where their sponsor lived.
The ocean voyage, just four weeks after they married, was not a planned journey. “We weren’t supposed to come at that time but my brother and his wife were not able to come so we took their place,” said Herb. His sister-in-law was pregnant and too far along to make the voyage. “When we were half way across the ocean, we got a telegram that the baby had been born,” he added. That baby girl, now in her late 40s, was expected to be on hand for the anniversary party.
Herb worked on a farm during his first four years in Canada, but he eventually got a job at, and then retired from, Polysar in Sarnia, progressing from fork lift driver to the position of supervisor and crew leader. Map was busy at home near Petrolia caring for a growing family. All eight of the Zylstra children were born at Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital in Petrolia.
The Zylstra’s have belonged to the Christian Reformed Church in Sarnia since their arrival, at first attending services in Dutch at the First Christian Reformed in Sarnia because their English was not good. They now attend Living Hope Christian Reformed Church near their home in Sarnia. And after 70 years of love, with a loving family never far away, one look at Herb and Map Zylstra tells you she is still his.