After falling victim to a violent assault, Helenius Postma knew it was time to escape South Africa.
His beloved country was being torn apart by poverty and violent crime (there are on average roughly 100 murders a day) and he and his wife, Adele Postma, wanted a better life for their family.
“We came to Canada because of the crime in South Africa,” Helenius says. “It’s extremely unsafe there.”
In 2006, Helenius became a victim himself.
“I was hijacked,” he recalls. “I was attacked by three men and they robbed me. They had a knife to my throat and they dragged me into the bushes. I was lucky, I managed to fight my way out of it.”
It was then that Helenius and Adele realized they couldn’t keep on living with the threat of crime all around them.
“We came for a better life, a safer life,” Adele says. “When we saw Campbell River, we saw that.”
At first it was a bit of an adjustment.
“One of the biggest adjustments for me was having big open windows,” Adele says.
“In South Africa, there are bars on the windows, electric fences, alarm system,” Helenius adds. “Every home is Alcatraz.”
“We’re so lucky here. It’s a different lifestyle,” Adele says. “This is normal.”
The pair immigrated to Canada in 2007 with their two teenaged children, 12 and 14, who at the time were just two and four years old. Helenius, a practising denturist for more than 20 years, and Adele, who worked as a teacher in South Africa, gained entry into the country as skilled workers. They arrived in Kelowna and because Helenius was required to re-certify in order to practise in Canada, he was working three jobs at once just to make ends meet.
“It was quite a tough beginning,” Helenius recalls. “I worked in dental laboratories and was delivering pizzas in the evening. It was also quite a culture shock. You drive down the main road and there’s just so many shops on either side. You don’t know what anything is. You don’t know A&W is a burger place, you don’t know what Staples is, you don’t know what the Brick is. You think it’s a place that sells bricks, not a furniture place.”
It wasn’t long, though, before the family settled into their new home. Helenius, who studied and worked in both South Africa and Germany after serving two years of compulsory military service for South Africa, successfully challenged both the dental technician board exam and the denturist board exam and became both a registered dental technician and a registered denturist, legally licensed to practise here in B.C.
After spending 10 months in Kelowna, the family moved to the Island. They eventually settled in and purchased a home in Mill Bay before moving to Campbell River last year.
Helenius set up his own practise, North Island Denture Clinic, last November in the Discovery Harbour shopping centre where it’s his mission to make people smile again.
“I’ve had patients come in and they can barely look me in the eye,” says Helenius, because they’re self-conscious about their teeth, or lack thereof. “I’m hoping to transform how they feel about themselves. It’s remarkable to see what a small change can do to people’s lives.”
It’s something Helenius and Adele, who assists Helenius at the office, know only too well.
“It’s been wonderful, we love Campbell River. It’s been quite a blessing,” Helenius says. “Being Canadian citizens means so much to us.”
And it hasn’t changed a bit since the Postmas first fell in love with the city while visiting eight years ago.
“We fell in love with how beautiful it is and how beautiful the people are,” Adele says.
And they don’t plan on leaving any time soon.
“We’re always looking for new clients,” Helenius says, “and you don’t need a referral.”
To find out more, call North Island Denture Clinic at 250-914-0025 or visit, northislanddentureclinic.com
Kristen Douglas/Campbell River Mirror
Helenius Postma and his wife Adele Postma