A year after Bill Brandenbarg arrived in Canada in 1951, he found the love of his life.
Originally from Holland, Brandenbarg found himself in Calgary working with a carpenter and living at a room and board.
It was there that Brandenbarg said he eventually met his wife-to-be, Olive.
“She was staying at a boarding house with her sister and then they moved to a house we called the Aunt Hill,” he said. “There were three aunts who lived there with one on each floor. She came to visit and that’s how we met.”
The couple planned to see a movie for their first date, but unfortunately, Brandenbarg didn’t have any money so Olive ended up paying. He said he would pay her back.
The two eventually decided to take up skating, but when Brandenbarg showed Olive his speed skates, she had no clue what they were. That didn’t stop her from buying her own pair and soon she and Brandenbarg were frequent patrons at the Crystal Rink in Calgary.
After the span of roughly a year, the two, who are now 86 and 84, were married in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Calgary.
Both said they knew they wanted to be together.
“He was pretty handsome, pretty buff,” Olive said. “He had a very charming accent.”
Brandenbarg, who worked in the railway industry, moved to St. Albert with Olive in 1966.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, the now great-grandparents plan to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary surrounded by family.
Brandenbarg credits his successful marriage to his Christian faith and believing in working through problems with Olive.
“After about 10 years, we made a commitment to follow the Lord closer,” he said. “It made a major change in our lives, and for the last 45 years, you might say, life has been very good for us.”
Olive added she believes God has blessed their marriage despite any faults they may have.
“We’re all not perfect, right,” she said. “We’re people with faults, but you have to work at your marriage. You have to want it to last. We both did.”
While faith plays a big role in maintaining the foundation of their marriage, Olive also stressed that a couple needs to have a sense of humour as well.
The two joke that when there’s an argument, Brandenbarg will simply say “yes, dear” to smooth things over.
The pair, who have three children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, also stays active together, whether that’s attending church services or playing some five-pin bowling. They even travelled the world together, including a visit through the Panama Canal on a cruise liner.
St. Albert isn’t a stranger to these kinds of stories; the community is among the top 10 mid-sized cities in the province to have a population consisting of married couples. The Gazette examined 21 Alberta cities and towns based on the 2016 census data collected by Statistics Canada to find which had the most marriages, divorces and other marital statuses in relation to their population.
St. Albert placed sixth for having the most marriages, coming in at 55.92 per cent for the population aged 15 years and over. The top spot went to Chestermere, where 61.35 per cent of the population is married.
On the flip side, St. Albert also took the 10th spot for divorces with 5.82 per cent. Wetaskiwin was number 1 in this category with 8.40 per cent.
Sue Temme, a couples therapist in St. Albert, explained the four predictors of divorce are contempt, stonewalling, criticism and defensiveness.
“As a counsellor, it doesn’t mean the marriage is over – but if those things don’t go down, if those things are going to be present in a marriage, it is more likely the couple will divorce compared to one that doesn’t have those (predictors).”
Temme, who has been practising for 16 months, describes her counselling style as being based on scientific facts and specifically mentioned the Gottman method, a strategy based on a thorough assessment of a couple’s relationship and paired with research-based interventions.
Temme said she’s drawn to this approach because it isn’t based on religious views or traditions, which allows her to focus in on what issues the couples are dealing with.
“This husband-and-wife duo, and they had other researchers as well, they would invite couples to an apartment where it was video recorded,” she said. “They would observe their interactions and not just what they say but how they say it. They also monitored blood pressure and all that. Some people can seem really peaceful on the outside, but on the inside they’re in a fight-or-flight response.”
Those measurements are then presented to the couple as well as all the other data to show them how they react when they are together. Temme said her goal is to always educate the couple first and that can sometimes mean calling them out. She said she will often ask one partner why they were being defensive or ask the other if the question they asked could be phrased in a different way.
She mentioned that if a comment or question is brought up in a harsh manner, most of the time the conversation will go nowhere.
While relationship counselling is a complicated matter, Temme added the first step is to foster a relationship where both feel respected and valued.
“The first is building a friendship, getting to a place where they can trust each other again,” she said. “That happens by sharing admiration and fondness. Looking for the good stuff, recognizing I’m in negative sentiment override right now and I have these coloured glasses on and I have to look extra hard for what my partner is doing right.”
For those who want more information, Temme recommends couples read the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson.