The Meetjesland in the north of East-Flanders, Belgium Deze blz in het Nederlands!!


The place where we now have the town center on the borders of the navigable Kale river must have looked like a good spot to settle for Ever, a Frankish leader of the 7th or 8th century. "Inga" means descendants and "haim" means somewhere to live.  When we find the town mentioned for the first time its name has already changed from "Everingahaim" to "Evergehem" and it applies only to the inner part of the old town center.

The western part, Belzele, was part of the Vinderhoute- Merendree Seigneury while Doornzele, the eastern side, belonged to the Freedom of Desteldonk.  Together with Wondelgem and Sleidinge-Saint-Baafs it was also part of the Evergem duchy with at its head the abbot of the Abbey of St. Bavo.  Only the boundaries of the parish and the town were the same.

The first few centuries of its existence Evergem was no more than a few hamlets in the Kale valley: Westbeke, Overdam, the town center and Langerbrugge.  Perhaps the great fields of the Asschoutkouter had also been brought into cultivation early on, but there is not a lot of hard evidence for that.  The same is true for the narrow strips of land on both sides of the Burggrave River where for instance Wippelgem and Kerkbrugge came into being.

Its great location (at a mere 10 km from Ghent) meant that many well-to-do citizens from Ghent chose Evergem for their country home inevitably attached to a farm that was taken care of by a tenant-farmer.  This is how the many lease-hold farms for centuries dotted all across the Evergem landscape were built.

Until the first half of the 18th Century Evergem was all too regularly plagued with the vandalism and sackings by armies come to besiege Ghent or else it were the gangs of "Geuzen" fanatical protestants who in the barely defended northern part of our Meetjesland were more or less free to do as they pleased.  Fortunately here the Eighty Years' Was didn't have the same catastrophic effect it had further north in our Meetjesland where the Sasse Canal and the Bruges-Ghent Canal were obvious lines of defense. That's why the depopulation at the end of the 16th Century lasted only a couple of months.

After many long years of terror by the French at the end of the 17th Century came a period of peace and prosperity which also meant a great increase in the population and less and less room between the hamlets.  But also the farms which had too often been split in half grew more and more uneconomical.  And the solution came with the  Industrial Revolution.  Except for a cottage linnen industry around 1825 there also came into being small trade shops: a brewery, a gin distillery, a bleach-works.  Yet Evergem remained heavily dependent on the textile industry and the crisis in that industry in the 1830s meant famine and dreadful poverty and misery.  It would take more than 30 years for Evergem to overcome all this with the industrialisation of Ghent.  The roads were hardened and railways were built and at the end of that century big factories were started up.

FarmhouseYet Evergem didn't become the industrial town which it looked all set to become near the end of the 19th century: in 1927 Ghent annexed much economically interesting land around the enlarged Ghent-Terneuzen Canal.  Evergem also became the town where so many who worked in Ghent and elsewhere only came to sleep.

In fact the southern part was lost when the "Ringvaart", the canal that encircles Ghent, was built through Evergem and much of the remaining fertile land was parcelled out for residential estates while the northern (or north-eastern) part has managed to largely keep its rural character.

Let me mention here two famous sons of Evergem: Angelus "Ange" (Angel in English) De Baets was born in Evergem in 1793.  He liked painting stage settings and the interior of churches and palaces.  He specialized in architectural paintings.  He taught at the Academy in Ghent.  He died in Ghent in 1855.

Thanks to a monograph of November 2002 by Mr. Yves De Baets we know a little more about Angelus De Baets. We are most grateful to him for allowing us to give you here more information on this great painter.  Ange De Baets was born and baptized in Evergem on 24 November 1793, the son of Joannes De Baedts from Kluizen and Joanna Judoca Vereecken from Ertvelde.  They already had two girls and one boy.  He died in Ghent on 23 April 1855 at 19 hrs 30.  His wife, Maria Bernardina Van der Haeghen survived him.  The Ghent Museum of Fine Arts (Museum voor Schone Kunsten) has three paintings and two water colours by De Baets.

August Ottevaere came from a well-to-do family.  He was born at the Chateau of Evergem in 1809.  He was the son of the Lord of the Manor of Evergem.  His father had land in several towns which had been confiscated from the diocese of Ghent and acquired after the French Revolution.  August was a pupil of Eugène Verbroeckhoven who also liked to paint animals.  He lived in Evergem and in Paris.  He regularly took part in international exhibitions and won a gold medal in a Paris exhibition.  He worked together with Jozef Pauwels from Sleidinge.  Ottevaere died in Ghent in 1856.

Source for most of the above: "Streekgids Meetjesland", pp. 71-75 by Freddy Pille.
We are indebted to Mr. Paul Van de Woestijne for information on Ange De Baets and August Ottevaere in a very interesting article entitled "Meetjeslandse Schilders in de Memoires of J.B. Lybaert" (Meetjesland Painters in the Memoirs of J.B. Lybaert) and published in the first issue of 2003 of an excellent quarterly publication called "Heemkundige bijdragen uit het Meetjesland" (Regional Contributions from the Meetjesland).

At the end of 1997 Evergem had 14720 inhabitants.

In 1977 the towns of Belzele, Doornzele, Evergem, Ertvelde, Kerkbrugge-Langerbrugge, Kluizen, Rieme, Sleidinge and Wippelgem were merged into what I will call here Greater-Evergem.  We learn from, its official and very professional looking website, that this new entity is a sizable 18,535 acres.  At the end of 2002 it had a total population of 31,410 inhabitants exactly 100 more than a year earlier.

At the end of 2005 there were in Greater-Evergem 15,810 men and 16,426 women.  Of those 32,236 persons 428 were foreigners.  The official Evergem website gives us a complete breakdown of where exactly they come from: 2 Aussis, 9 Poles, 1 Chinaman or rather one Chinese woman and so on.  But unfortunately it doesn't say how many people live in each of the nine towns that make up Greater-Evergem.

This is—in our humble opinion—not an oversight:  those concerned were not asked how they felt about this merger of their town into a much larger entity so now no effort must be spared to convince everyone that this is one rather than nine towns.

Where there were once nine burgomasters and town councils there is now only one.  Government closer to the people ?  Two things are certain: there are ever more laws, rules and regulations and more people are being governed by fewer.  There is a paradox here: government is more and more pervasive and interfering, there are a whole heap of Federal, Flemish and Walloon ministers, senators and members of parliament, yet fewer people decide on more and more things.

Please forgive me for just one example here: why not allow the innkeeper to decide for himself if his pub will be a smoking or a non-smoking pub ?  Suppose the powers that be had allowed us this little bit of freedom, you, the thirsty non-smoking customer, you open the door, you stick your nose inside and you immediately sense that you're about to enter a smoking pub.  Can you be trusted with the decision to go in or to go elsewhere ?  No, not in Belgium !  The government in its infinite wisdom has decided: "Thou shallt not smoke in any pub of the land."  There used to be another rule, something like: "Thou shallt not eat porc on Fridays !"  Do more young people now smoke because the adults disapprove or because they believe this is how they're proving they're grown-ups ?  In any case you are not allowed to decide for yourself.  And what about too much sugar or not enough exercise ?  Where will it end ?  With "Befehl ist Befehl !" ?

Here we have a few pictures taken in Evergem by Mr. Romano Tondat between 1962 and 1975.

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Most recent update :  22-04-2021
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