Why Canada is important to me
We stepped off the ship in Saint John, New Brunswick on Easter, April 22, 1957. We were at last in Canada – our new home! I had turned nine years of age, while waiting to be processed in various Austrian refugee camps, since that Christmas. My father had chosen this country as our destination: the land of freedom.
Canada had opened its doors to thousands of Hungarians following the October 1956 uprising there against tyranny, and the subsequent escapes. My family was among them. Father had been a political prisoner for nearly seven years, without trial or sentencing. Released on three separate occasions, each time there was a shift in the government, he at last saw no alternative but to leave his homeland or be recaptured again, indefinitely. I cannot begin to discuss my mother’s and father’s experiences; they have their own stories. I can only speak about mine.
Two Immigration Officers drove us to Minto, New Brunswick, then a small mining town. My father’s choice again – as he wanted to work immediately. Never having been driven in a car, I was sick during the entire journey (as I had been on the twelve-day ship crossing of the Atlantic). We were first billeted with a man called Walter. A while later, we were allowed a company house. The Anglican Church’s congregation and its compassionate Minister ‘adopted’ us with friendship and basic assistance.
I remember the neighbourhood children gifting me a pair of blue jeans – something I had never seen or owned before. They also took me to school. I spoke no English. The teachers didn’t know what to do about me. Back then, the solution was to place me into a Grade One class, nearly three years behind where I should have been. Nevertheless, it was there that my English speaking and reading lessons began. By the time summer holidays arrived, I was communicating fairly well. I still remember my first complete English sentence I spoke to a friend: “I will meet you at your house at five o’clock.’ I also remember the pride on my mother’s face as she heard these words. The next milestone for me was the birth of my brother, automatically a full fledged Canadian Citizen.
Our day didn’t come until 1962: a most memorable occasion when I, along with my parents took an oath to this country and received our Canadian Citizenship papers. By then we were back in Saint John, where my father worked as a bookbinder. I know we were poor. Yet, through hard work, they were able to save a down payment for a new house. I again had to switch schools. This was an occurrence that continued for a number of years, including when my father relocated us to Ottawa.
From this point on I have a clearer memory of events, and a better appreciation of being Canadian. I enjoyed school, which I had not, in Hungary. I was a good student. I was able to attend university through bursaries and grants. I also obtained summer jobs which helped pay for the rest of my education. No surprise – I was majoring in English Literature. And while at university, I met the love of my love. After graduation, I also had the good fortune to acquire a job with the Federal Government at Health Canada.
Husband and I travelled together for the first time to Hungary in 1978. I became aware what ‘freedom’ really meant and, how my life was blest with opportunities because I was brought to Canada; in Hungary, such prospects would never have been available to me. Upon my return, I unabashedly wrote a letter to our then Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, declaring my pride in being a Canadian Citizen, and that it was now I, who made the choice to live in this country.
My career as a Federal Civil Servant in Ottawa, Canada’s Capital City continued for thirty years until my retirement. I benefited from a number of promotions working in social service programs. In the second half of my career I was a national program and project manager. My learnings over these years were unparalleled. This was a country that valued the well-being and welfare of its citizens – from the young to the elderly. Contributions were provided to vast and varying community groups, organizations and institutions to assist with alleviating family violence. Overseeing national projects, I traveled to each of the provinces across Canada from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia. I experienced ongoing occasions whereby I met men and women of diverse cultures, nationalities, faiths and political philosophies – each committed to help make Canada a safer place for families.
Shortly after retirement, Husband, the Reverend Duncan Scott Kennedy and I moved from Ottawa to Cornwall, Ontario. He had come full circle, back to his Scottish roots in Glengarry. And then without warning, the love of my life suddenly died, all too soon.
Thus, it was that another chapter of my life began. It is in this community, where the friends I have met, the organizations I have joined, the column I had written for Seaway News over a decade, have all given me the sense of belonging – of having come home.
I took all these events as a sign to begin my new adventure – as a writer. Three of my books have been published: “The Women Gather”, “Reconnecting” and “Echoes of Footsteps”. Through each of them, I have been blest yet again, by having the freedom to voice my innermost views with a hope that others may also take something away from my stories.
As I look back on my life’s journey, I remember the day I stepped off the ship onto my new homeland, sixty years ago. Still to this day, Canada continues to open its doors to refugees seeking freedom. They are boldly welcomed to become part of this country’s cultural mosaic, enhancing not only their lives, but also that of generations to come.
In Celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary