By : Knud Petersen
In 1951 two Danish immigrants, Willy and Jytte Andersen, stepped ashore in Montreal, equipped with C$ 100 (the maximum amount of foreign currency they were allowed to take out of Denmark) and no jobs waiting for them. Through an aunt of a friend they found a small furnished apartment-available for a month but jobs were harder to come by. Jytte finally landed an office job-and promptly was laid off the next day, as her English was not considered fluent enough. But the $10 she received with her pink slip was still a break, as by now they were down to their last two dollars.
Shortly after, Willy managed to get a foot in the door at Saguenay Terminals, a steamship company-with which he subsequently stayed for the next several years-while solidifying his formal education at night at Sir George Williams (later Concordia University), graduating with a B.Com. in 1956.
Willy was born in Vejle in 1923 and brought up to ‘becoming Jutlandic modesty and dry humour’ (klædelig jysk beskedenhed og tør humor’) … something that stayed with him throughout his life. After high school, Willy started an apprenticeship in shipping with a local company of ship brokers and agents, lasting from immediately before and during most of Denmark’s occupation by Nazi Germany. While peacefully employed with office work during the day, he was soon deeply involved-and risking his life-at night in the resistance movement, as a member of a group trained to receiving and passing on arms and explosives, dropped by British planes.
1944 saw Willy in Copenhagen, starting at Niels Brocks Handelsskole (well known commercial college)-from where he graduated in 1946, a year after the end of World War II. It was during this period that he was, one night, at a dance introduced to a charming young lady, Jytte … and in 1949, the two of them were married! But before that he first spent a year in Belgium, as a trainee at a company of ship brokers, partly to learn more about his chosen profession and partly to improve his French ( Willy being already proficient in German and English )-and then his military service couldn’t be postponed any longer.
Out of the army again 18 months later, Willy found work with a Copenhagen shipping company, while Jytte pursued her commercial education and training. But when Canada opened for immigration, the two of them-along with many other Danes-decided that it was time to try their wings abroad-in this enticing new country. Incidentally, some time after being laid off, Jytte was called back by the same company: they needed a qualified bookkeeper, and her fluency in English was not critical. (Later she moved to CBC’s International Section). In other words, things were looking up, with two incomes. In 1958 they had a house built in Roxboro …. as the family had started to grow: two boys, Stephen and Peter had arrived … later to be joined by Christine.
In 1956 Willy was approached by a German conglomerate, Stinnes Shipping, which offered him to head a new subsidiary to be opened in Montreal. However, as part of the deal he (and Jytte) first had to spend 9 months at Head Office in Germany, for Willy to absorb information, procedures and guidelines. When, at the end of this tenure, the Suez Crisis erupted, threatening to become a major international conflict, it was time to get home -f a s t ! And now home was no longer Vejle or Copenhagen, but MontreaL Canada. Fortunately, the conflict was averted, and Willy could concentrate on establishing the new subsidiary.
Acting as Montreal agents for various shipping companies could also, aside from its being an ‘around-the-clock-occupation’, present all kinds of challenges, not only in looking after all the paperwork and all the needed provisions and other supplies, but from looking after sick sailors, or sailors that didn’t make it back onboard before departure; or, for instance, to replace a pair of crushed glasses for a key person onboard … within 24 hours! In the shipping community most everybody knows everybody else, around the world, or, if they don’t, they’ll know somebody else who does. In other words, your reputation is everything! If your customers are happy with your service, more potential customers will hear favourably about you. -Just as the reverse holds true. And so, step by step, Anship Ltd. became known as reliable and for providing excellent service .. , and grew.
Your credentials, tie-ins and connections also count. After having successfully sat a written examination (at the British Consulate General in Montreal), Willy could add ‘EI.C.S: after his name, Le. ‘Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Ship brokers of London’. He was also a member of the ‘Jaycees’ and the Shipping Federation of Canada, and a quarter-century member of the TrafficClub of Montreal.
With all these involvement’s and while attending to his own new business, one might think that there wouldn’t be time for ‘extracurricular’ activities. Yet, Willy was also active in various other associations, such as The Danish Club in Montreal, being president twice. (He introduced the Club’s to this day highly popular ‘Danish Lunch’ with ‘Smørrebrød’, beer, Danish Akvavit and Danish pastry … having noticed that whereas normal luncheon meetings were poorly attended, invitations to Club members to come for ‘Danish lunch’ aboard a Danish ship in port would-with barely 24 hours’ notice-result in every single member showing up.)
When he involved himself in something, he would inevitably end up at the top, being the natural leader he was. Thus, he was for many years president of ‘Foreningen Niels Brock Canada’, an alumni, association related to his old school in Denmark. And president of the Rotary Club of Montreal, plus later, in 1998, after having sold Anship Ltd., District Governor of Rotary International District 7040. He was particularly attracted to Rotary’s international projects in Third World Countries and worked on numerous ones over the years, helping less fortunate humans.
After retirement Willy functioned as arbitrator for the Association of Maritime Arbitrators of Canada-and at one time also served as its president. -Some of Anship’s less known feats were Willy’s initiative and involvement in introducing freight contracting to Canada’s shipping market; and over the years, the very positive influence his company had on the balance of payment of his old country, by chartering Danish ships for international transports.
The ‘home language’ was always Danish. So the Andersen children grew up to become trilingual, attending English school and French immersion classes and, in due course, pursue university education’s.
Willy passed away on May 23, 2002, after a lengthy struggle with cancer. But even in hospital, towards the end, his flashing smile and dry humour didn’t completely leave him. To a visiting friend he quipped: ‘you know, by now I’ve spent time in every single ward of this hospital; except maternity’. -His sense of humour-and timing-was famous. The Annual General Meetings of The Danish Club, for instance, can never be the same again without him. While observing every prescribed form of decorum he would, with a deadpan face, intercept or question points of order-and have the entire membership in stitches; time and time again!
He gave life his very best effort. Which is what it is all about. -And we are all richer for having known him.