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Albert van der Heide’s passion for print

He’s been publishing and selling newspapers and books for more than a half century

*****

If you’ve attended a conference at a Reformed church in the Fraser Valley some time in the last 15 years, you’ve probably enjoyed browsing a book table manned by a friendly, knowledgeable gentleman, eager to discuss good resources and to steer you towards wise godly literature. Albert van der Heide, owner of Vanderheide Publishing, loves discussing ideas, recommending authors, and introducing Christian readers to Christian authors.

Albert ran The Windmill Herald (and Hollandia News) for 42, years, from 1969 to 2012, when the Herald published its last issue.

Anyone who knows Albert learns quickly that he has an almost encyclopedic memory and a wide range of interests. He is one of those people who discovered his life’s passions, and found a path to make a living doing what he loves. And he’s enriched the lives of others along the way. There’s much more to Albert than book tables!

Longtime friend, former boss           

When I was 13, my first job was working in the basement of Albert and Cobie van der Heide’s residence, gluing mailing labels to thousands of Windmill Herald newspapers, and bundling them up for different towns and cities across North America. I can still smell the ink of the freshly printed papers, the musty canvas of the Canada Post mailing bags, and the sweet glue of the labeling machines. (I can still smell my first paycheck too – thanks Albert!)

In the years before the Internet, The Windmill Herald connected Dutch immigrants to news from the homeland, advertised sources for Dutch treats and events, and profiled what kind of lives these new Canadians and Americans were able to build in North America. But as a kid, I had little understanding of how Albert had come into this industry, how he had built this business, and what drove him to continue to work every day long after ceasing to publish the newspaper.

I sat down with Albert recently to learn more about his work and his life. We met in the back office of his Langley, B.C. warehouse and store, surrounded by books and filing cabinets. A couple of times, the bell rang as the front door opened, and Albert jumped up eagerly to help whoever had come in to browse, to buy, or just to chat. He relished the interactions!

While he was helping a visitor pick up some books that she needed, I saw on the wall a certificate that looked pretty official, and then I remembered – technically, I was interviewing a Knight! Albert had received the title from Queen Beatrix in 1993 in recognition of his work in the Dutch community in Canada. Van der Heide is officially a Knight in the Order of Oranje-Nassau, the Dutch royal house. When he returned, I reminded him: “Glad you could make time for me today, Sir Albert!” Albert grinned as he remembered what his dad had said after he received the title: “Where’s your horse?”

Itchy feet at an early age

Albert was born in 1945 in Zwolle, the Netherlands, and grew up on the small family farm. Already as a 4-year-old, Albert wanted to emigrate to Canada! A favorite uncle had moved to Canada in 1949, and his father had relatives in America.

At age 11, Albert had some health challenges, and could not be as active for a period of time as he recovered. What joy then when he developed an even greater love for reading! His mom would bring him armfuls of books from the library, and he devoured especially the historical tomes. From then on, all of Albert’s pocket money went to books, particularly ones that described the adventures of emigrants and travelers.

Wise counsel

In 1964, at age 19, Albert joined a work experience program taking young farm workers to Canada. It was not expected to be a permanent move, but he still needed permission from both his father, and an uncle, his Oom Hein Vruggink, who was Albert’s additional guardian after the death of his natural mother. Oom Hein was a wise man whose counsel still echoes through the years all this time later. He said that sometimes a funeral is better than emigration, because at least at a funeral you know where the body is buried! But when someone emigrates, they can just disappear without a trace. In the extended family, there had been relatives who left Holland, left the Reformed faith, and were not heard from again.

But with these warnings, Oom Hein did give permission; he even said that if he were Albert’s age, he would go along! But this was only allowed if his nephew could serve the Lord in a faithful church in the neighborhood where he would be moving. Albert was glad to report that there were Christian Reformed Churches in the Fraser Valley that he would be able to join, and the preparations began.

After six months of life in B.C., Albert was ready to make the move permanent. He loved the freedom Canadians enjoyed, the lack of bureaucracy, and the many opportunities for a young hard worker. Despite his relative lack of experience, he was managing a dairy farm with 70 cows, which was quite large compared to the average herd of a dozen or so back in Zwolle. Albert was delighted that his family back home had no major objections, and he made the move to Canada permanent.

Opportunity knocks

After a farming accident resulted in an injury, Albert decided to find a different line of work. He began selling office supplies, and print orders for a Vancouver company, and this sales job brought him in contact with dozens of Dutch immigrants working all around the lower mainland. Albert found that he was good at sales! He loved meeting people and hearing their stories, and was not afraid to ask for a sale.

In 1969, Albert’s business connections to Blom’s Stores and Holland Shopping Centre helped him to purchase the bulletin these stores were publishing together for their customers. He eventually changed the publication to a bi-weekly newspaper, The Windmill Herald.

So began Albert’s career as a publisher. For the next forty plus years, van der Heide was always under a deadline: choosing stories, writing editorials, and covering local news events, always with an eye to the next newspaper issue. Although he did not have a university degree or post-secondary schooling, Albert showed an affinity for telling stories and digging into details that readers relished. The company began publishing a separate edition for the Ontario and eastern Canada market – that came about after the purchse of Hollandia News, another long running newspaper for the Dutch community. At their heights, The Windmill and Hollandia News reached over 13,000 homes in Canada and the U.S.A. (and each one had to have an address label glued onto it by a crew of hard-working youngsters and even some old timers, in the van der Heide basement!).

The same year he began publishing, Albert met Cobie Tanis on a trip back to the Netherlands. Albert and Cobie were married in 1971 shortly after Cobie moved to Canada. After losing their first child due to a collapsed lung, the couple was delighted to welcome daughter Karin in 1977. Karin married Art Louwerse, and the two have brought four grandchildren, and much joy, into Albert and Cobie’s family.

Over the years, Albert published or helped publish books for the Reformed community, the broader Dutch community, and for a general audience. Some highlights include To All Our Children by Albert VanderMey on Dutch immigration to Canada, and In the Shadow of the Sun by Ronny Herman DeJong on life and death under the Japanese on the island of Java during the Second World War. Albert is also thankful to have been involved with the series The Flame of the Word, a church history curriculum authored by Apko Nap and Pieter Torenvliet.

The next chapter

In 2012, after a long run of deadlines and stories, Albert made the decision to cease publishing The Windmill. While he still saw a market for a periodical for the community, Albert didn’t believe that he and his crew were well positioned to make the transition away from a mostly Dutch language publication. “I enjoyed the work from day one! But once I made the decision to close the paper, I never regretted it.”

Eleven years later, Albert is still actively involved in publishing and book distribution, but without the pressures of deadline day every two weeks. “I work every day, but I have no stress!” His passion for Biblical, Reformed literature is contagious (as anyone who has browsed his book table can attest!).

Customers who walk in to the storefront are often looking for Reformed Christian answers to a specific problem, and Albert is most often able to help them with a suggested title or author. Other visitors are just curious about what the company sells, often leading to a conversation about the Gospel news of Jesus Christ. Albert is thankful that the company’s biggest sellers are always Bibles.

History of a community

Over the years, Albert accumulated an enormous archive on the history of the Dutch community in Canada: books, newspaper articles, personal journals, self-published books, diaries, letters, pictures and memorabilia, altogether representing a rich treasure trove for future historians. There does not seem to be anything like these archives in Canada. “The Dutch are not controversial; we are an ethnic group that kind of flies under the radar,” said van der Heide.

In time, no doubt there will be more interest in digging into the history of our community, but for now, it is a huge challenge to continue to catalog, store, and maintain all this material. For now, the archives remain a labor of love. Van der Heide would love to find an institution that would be willing to house and care for these archives.

A rewarding calling

It was wonderful interviewing Albert, because it’s beautiful when a Christian finds a calling that is fulfilling and rewarding, where one’s interests, abilities, and passions align. This doesn’t mean that work is without stress or difficulty, because we live in a fallen word of weeds and sorrows. We obey the Bible’s command to “pray and work,” and leave the results in the Lord’s hands. Right at the start of our interview, van der Heide made it clear that he was not looking for praise. “I want to be known as a sinner! I need the Lord, and He is the one that deserves all the glory.”

Canadians can shop at Albert’s online bookstore ReformedChristianBooks.com, while BC residents in the Fraser Valley can check out his brick-and-mortar location in Langley at Vanderheide Publishing Co. Ltd., #201 20381 62nd Ave (604-309-3924).

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