Last spring, I attended the funeral of Jack Vleeming, one of our Local 402 members who was employed by Clark Reefer Lines Limited. Jack was a lifelong trucker and a legend on the highways of BC. If you were to drive from Vancouver to Prince George and pull up to any truck stop along the way, you would no doubt run into someone who knew Jack. He was 74 when he passed away. He drove truck right up to a few months before his death from liver complications. He was as tough as nails with a gentle outgoing disposition.
When I arrived at Victory Memorial Park cemetery in Surrey, Jack’s truck was parked in front of the chapel. It was shined and buffed to perfection and was absolutely gleaming in the bright afternoon sun. You couldn’t help but get a little choked up seeing that.
In the chapel, we were given a pamphlet with a picture of Jack along with a short biography. I read that he was born in Westervoort, the Netherlands, in July 1944. I’m a bit of a geography nut, so I Googled the town and found out Westervoort is a suburb of Arnhem.
For all you history buffs out there, does “1944” and “Arnhem” mean anything to you? In September 1944, when Jack was less than three months old, the Allies attempted to take the bridge in Arnhem over the Rhine River during the Second World War. This would have enabled them to invade Germany and hopefully end the war before Christmas.
What followed was one of the most famous battles of the war, later immortalized in the book and movie A Bridge Too Far. Without a doubt, Jack’s parents and his three siblings would have been hiding in a basement or cellar during the battle. I’m sure Jack’s mom tried to comfort him as the bombs and shells were falling nearby.
The Allies were unable to take Arnhem and were driven back to southern Holland. The following winter was one of incredible hardship and death in the Netherlands. Known as the Hunger Winter, upward of 20,000 Dutch people died of starvation as the German armies took the majority of the food out of the country. Jack’s dad, along with most of the able-bodied men in the Netherlands, was most likely conscripted by the Germans into forced labour for the remainder of the war.
This is the family history Jack was born into. He lived through some of the most cataclysmic events in Netherland’s history. If you’ve ever wondered where Dutch people get their famous stubbornness from, part of it comes from stories like what Jack and his family lived through.
Jack’s family moved to Canada in the early 1950s as part of a huge wave of Dutch people who immigrated to Canada. He grew up near Calgary and started driving truck in his early 20s and kept at it until just before he passed away. He will be deeply missed by his family at home and by his family at Clark Reefer Lines.
Jack’s son, John, followed his father’s footsteps and got into trucking himself. He also worked for Clark and was part of the bargaining team during the first set of negotiations in 2013 after the workers joined Local 402.
During the negotiations, John—just like his dad—was tough as nails. He was also a pleasure to work with, and his outgoing personality helped push negotiations to a successful conclusion.
A few years later, John ventured out on his own and started a new trucking company. I kept in touch with him over the years. John is an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan, and when they won their first Super Bowl in 2018, I sent him a congratulatory text. He responded with thanks, followed by a derisive comment about my beloved Seahawks.
Jack’s daughter, Natalie, also joined the world of trucking, and she too worked at Clark. Unfortunately, things did not work out for her at the company, and we took her case to arbitration to achieve a settlement. At the funeral, John and Natalie saw me walking over, and both came up and hugged me. I could tell they were thankful their union rep came to show respect for their dad.
I tell this story in honour and celebration of the life of Jack Vleeming and as an example of how CLAC touches the lives of members and their families. Sometimes, we get to touch their lives in a profound way. Jack’s funeral was a reminder for me of why I became a union representative. I get the opportunity to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives.