Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Journey Begins (Pt. 1)

To understand the history of furniture making in the Wiggers' family it is important to understand the broader historical context of our ancestry.

Our family's roots can be traced back to the small village of Groenlo, Holland which is located in the eastern part of the Netherlands - close to the German border.

Groen translates as green, and Lo means forest, so Groenlo actually means "green forest".

Centuries ago this village was a fortressed settlement known as Grolle, or Grol. The family name Wiggers is indigenous to the area, and it loosely translates as "one who battles".

Perhaps the most recognized product coming out of Groenlo is the world famous Grolsch beer - which is renouned for its traditional swing-top bottle. The Grolsch brewery was founded in 1615, and was located alongside my grandfather Jan's original workshop.

The photo to the right shows my grandfather's workshop, which has since been designated a protected historical site. He made both furniture and wooden shoes out of this location.

During the Second World War my grandfather was also involved with the Dutch Underground, and amongst other things his shop was used as a secret way station to help smuggle shot down allied pilots and navigators back to England.

Wooden shoe making was originally done by hand. However, in the 1920s with the introduction of electricity to the area, my grandfather played an innovative role in helping invent the first machine to automate the wooden shoe making process. The original machine is shown in the photo to the right.

After the war there was a tremendous period of growth and rebuilding, which fueled demand for furniture. My grandfather then went into partnership to form a furniture company known as Thesseling-Wiggers-Groenlo. By the 1950s he closed this facility to move his family overseas to better opportunities in North America.

The photo shown here is of my father Johan at the age of 19, bearing little more than a suitcase and $40. Being the eldest son, and already trained as a cabinet-maker, he was the first to emigrate to Canada.

His first job was in the crating department of a company making equipment for radar and other microwave communications. In his spare time he made furniture in his basement workshop.

The photo shown here was taken in 1961, and it shows me at the age of 2, as I begin my informal apprenticeship with my father.

This photo shows me with my mother Ann, and my soon-to-be-born brother Richard. (As I notice all the sharp tools around me in the photo I can understand why Fisher-Price came out with their line of toy tools some years later).


  1. John:
    Enjoying your blog.
    Very nice job.
    Were did you find this particular Groenlo map?
    Your cousin:
    Robert Wiggers

  2. Thanks Robert. I found the map on Google, actually, while trying to find a photo of the old shop beside the original Grolsch brewery.