his Life

Early Years 1934 - 1950

Bert was born in Joure, Friesland, the Netherlands, in 1934 to Grietje Witvoet (nee Dijkstra) and Everhardus Witvoet. Brother to Gerrit (George), Lolle (Lowell), Thelma, Rini, Nell and Fred.

He lived through the German occupation of Holland, but that did not stop this capricious young boy from playing pranks like adding carbonation to a classmate’s inkwell  during lunch (on the urging of some older kids), causing it to foam and spill all over the desk, for which he was reprimanded. He never told on the other kids. On another occasion, he used a small mirror to reflect the rays of the sun into a German officer’s eyes. The officer chased young Bertus, but was unable to catch him. When recounting this story a few months ago, Bert displayed a noticeable glee as he told how he narrowly escaped a slap or stern reprimand in that instance.

Bert’s father Everhardus Witvoet died from an infection in the head / pneumonia in 1946, only two months after his youngest son Fred was born. Because of the war, there was a shortage of penicillin. Bert heard the news while skating in the canal with his younger sibling. As he passed, a woman called across the canal to another woman, “Did you hear? Mijnheer Witvoet is dood....” It was an unfortunate way to find out his father had died. As per the times, Bertus and the rest of the kids had to evacuate the home while the adults dealt with the matter at hand. They were told to keep quiet and their grief was not acknowledged.

Immigration to Canada, 1950

Everhardus had always wanted to immigrate to Canada, while Grietje had remained ambivalent about leaving her homeland. After his death, Grietje finally took her seven children to Canada in 1950, sailing on the S.S. Volendam I. According to Grietje, as soon as the coast of Canada came into view, she knew she had made the right decision and she never looked back.

The family landed at Pier 21 in Halifax where Bert asked a passerby to take this family photo with his newly-purchased camera. Bert is the cocky young fellow on the left, hands on hip, assuredly facing his new future in Canada

Working Years in Canada / Dating (1950 - 56)

Upon arrival in Canada and moving to Oshawa, Ontario, the older children of Grietje and Everhardus went straight to work, and Bertus was no exception. Bert worked on the line at the Goodyear Tire manufacturing company. Actually, it took a couple of attempts to get hired, as initially Bert went to his interview with the traditional Dutch “pofbroek” or knickerbockers worn by young men (and seen in the Pier 21 photo above). A day later, on Grietje Witvoet’s advice, he re-applied, wearing the more manly look of long pants.He got hired on the spot. The money earned from this job, as with the other siblings, went straight into the family pot.

Within a few years, the Witvoet siblings had earned enough income to purchase a home, and within another year or two, they had upscaled to an even larger house, renting out the first home for additional income

Bert’s “Canadian Dream” was working out well so far, and it was only topped by meeting a young Aaltje Roelofje Oldejans, a sweet sixteen-year-old who caught Bert’s eye. They met through the young people’s group in the Bowmanville CRC, where both families attended. Soon after, Bert’s brother George began to date Alice’s sister Henry (Penny), and the eventual linking of the Witvoet and the Oldejans family began to take shape.

Calvin College (1956 - 59)

Dad left his sweetheart Aaltje (Alie/Alice) behind to finish high school and attend night classes in secretarial skills while he hitchhiked off to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Because of the tight family budget, only one child could afford to pursue post-secondary studies at a time, so only after Lowell completed his B.A. was Bert free to follow his educational dreams, studying with such giants in the CRC as philosopher Dr. H. Evan Runner, English profs John Harper and Steven Vander Weele, Rev. Spijkman and studying alongside future philosopher Calv Seerveld, artist Chris Overvoorde, James Olthius and others.

Years later, Maynard and Marguerite Witvoet would study with John Harper and H. Evan Runner.  Both recall a frequent saying of Runner as he explained the principle of dualism: “What is mind? Never matter! What is matter? Never mind!

Bert and Alie continued to write each other regularly, and though there were likely many other women who crossed his path during those years, Bert remained steadfast. Once he had his B.A. in English Literature in hand, he headed straight back to Bowmanville to reunite with the woman who would soon become his wife

Wedding to Alie Oldejans (Sept. 23, 1960)

On Sept. 23, 1960, in a double wedding, Bert and Alice pledged the vows to which they would hold true for just shy of 60 years. At the same occasion Alice’s brother George married Rose Vandermeer, adding to the festivities for the Oldejans family. Bert’s brother George had already married Alice’s sister Henny (Penny) a few years earlier. The Oldejans-Witvoet legacy was born

Learning the Craft: HDCH (1960 - 64)

Newly married, Bert and Alice moved to Burlington, Ontario. Dad began a five-year stint at Hamilton District Christian High School, where his brother Lowell was already teaching.  Apparently, Lowell was the second hire of the brand new high school, and Bert was the eighth.

As Bert polished his emerging teaching skills, the family began to grow. First born was Eduard John Witvoet in 1962, then Maynard Allan Witvoet a year and a half later, in 1963. First names of the two eldest songs were chosen according to the Dutch tradition of naming the eldest after the paternal grandfather (Everhardus) and the second eldest after the maternal grandfather (Meine).

Conflict and Turmoil: TDCH (1966 - 69)

By 1966, when Marguerite Witvoet (named after the paternal grandmother, Grietje) was born, Bert had moved over to Toronto District Christian Highschool.  Unfortunately, things started to heat up politically within the school when it was found that Bert had used the profanity-riddled “Catcher in the Rye” as part of his English literature class.  In addition, he had referenced the Red Book of China as part of a cultural exploration of that nation. In Bert’s mind, his task as a teacher was not to protect young minds from the evils of the world, but to assist them in understanding and handling complex issues.

The Conservative school board did not view things that way, however, and in 1969, after Bert’s position of Vice-Principal was not renewed, the entire teaching staff rallied with Bert by not renewing their contracts until his was approved.  In a surprise move, the Board promptly let the entire staff go and rehired an entirely new faculty, further dividing the Christian Reformed community.

The political division was not limited to the school; Bert and a few others had to endure pointed sermons directed personally at them, condemning them for their liberal views. Before long, Bert and a few others started worshipping in a private home belong to Barb and George Carvaille on Taunton Road, a group which gradually expanded and eventually grew to form Fellowship Reformed Church.

On the home front, 1969 was a good year as John Peter Witvoet (named after Alice’s recently deceased brother John, and Peter Schuls, a close family friend)a bouncing blonde baby boy, entered into the Witvoet Family

The Gravy Years: Harbord Collegiate (1970 - 75)

Spurned from TDCH, Bert turned to the public school system and began teaching at Harbord Collegiate in downtown Toronto. He proved to be a popular teacher with a playful side, engaging in such activities as getting the entire class to throw water balloons on a hot day at those students with the worst attendance record, making his point while engaging in good fun.

Stephen Bert Witvoet was born in 1972, completing the Witvoet Family circle, bringing joy to all, soon becoming known as “Smiley.”

As Bert’s brother Fred noted recently, these were probably the best-paid years of Bert’s entire career, as the Christian community is not generally noted for its financial rewards. 

For Bert, however, a larger purpose was calling him, and he soon headed back into Christian education; this time, on his terms...

Entrepreneurial Visionary: SCH and TDS (1975 - 78)

Bert created Scarborough Christian High along with several others, based on a learner-centred model similar to that of Immanuel Christian School, where his children were now attending.  A small student population took part in this experimental experience.

Eventually, differing visions resulted in yet another split and Bert became principal of Toronto Christian Secondary from 1977-78.

By 1978, the steam ran out on this endeavour, and Bert’s 18-year teaching career came to a close. Despite this change in career, Bert’s passion and commitment to Christian education never faltered throughout the rest of his life

Mail Courier Business and a Return to Writing (1979 - 1999)

Stuck for cash, Bert decided to purchase a part-time mail courier business that could provide an income for the family while leaving him free to pursue his writing career. 

Bert took on a role as managing editor for Vanguard Magazine, wrote a weekly column in the Woodbridge & Vaughan News called “Welcome to My Perch,” a title that reflected his love of birds and his personal hobby of raising canaries and finches. He also wrote numerous letters to the editor of the Toronto Star and later, The National Post.

Before long, Bert’s writing career had taken off, and he soon took over the editorship of Calvinist Contact, which he later rebranded as Christian Courier. Bert also oversaw the removal of the Dutch language from the paper, in an effort to bring the newspaper up to date and refocus it from an immigrant newspaper designed to keep a community in contact to a Reformed weekly, focused on proclaiming the kingdom through Christian journalism.

So-called “Retirement” (1999 - 2015)

After officially retiring from CC in 1999, Bert took on the editorship of Christian Educators Journal and remained with them until 2009. 

He also continued to serve on the Christian School board in St. Catharines, as well as on various denominational boards in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also mentored his local church’s student pastor by taking notes on sermons and giving feedback. His daughter Marguerite joked that Bert’s retirement was just as busy as his working life; the only difference was that he was not being paid for his work.

Stroke and actual retirement (2015 - 2020)

In March 2015, Bert’s still-active pace was suddenly slowed down by a stroke which affected a major part of his brain. Amazingly, despite the significant damage noted by the doctor on the CT-scan, Bert’s language and motor skills were not affected. His family, however, noticed that Bert was not quite his old self and had lost a bit of his spark.  

Bert continued to write the occasional article, dispensing with his earlier theological/political interests and focusing mostly on family and personal matters, until 2017, when he retired for good.

For the last three years of his life, plagued by lung problems and a weak heart, Bert’s circle grew gradually narrower and narrower as his physical condition diminished, sleeping more frequently and becoming more and more internal. Nevertheless, he continued to enjoy bright moments with family and friends.

Death (March 10, 2020)

After a recent significant physical decline, on March 10, 2020 at 6:03, Bert finally found freedom from his earthly shell, surrounded by his family who were at his bedside, singing songs and expressing their goodbyes until his final breath. It was a gentle exit, appropriate for the gentle man that was Albertus Witvoet. 

We are grateful for the presence of Bert Witvoet in our lives.