Living in Toronto and Loving it

We lived at 41 Brookwell Dr. in Toronto from September 1, 1981 until March 1, 1983.

Those were the days, as a Mary Hopkin song from 1968, would say. We experienced living in Canada, away from the strict rules of communism and we felt free and empowered.

We embraced every new challenge with confidence and excitement. We enjoyed going to school and learning not just the language but the Canadian way of living. We were amazed how quickly our telephone was hooked up. In Romania people needed special permits and waited years until the phone line was introduced into their homes. We were happy to find out about thrift stores and goodwill stores where we could buy things we needed at low prices. In Romania we didn’t have that. Only state-owned stores and fixed prices. Thrift stores provided us our wardrobe inexpensively and we were glad nobody around us cared about fashion. Running shoes, sweat pants and t-shirts were worn everywhere. We left the European fashion sense behind us and blended in happily. We bought a used Plymouth Furry at a government auction Arpad found out about. It was cheap but reliable. In a couple of days, after doing the necessary tests and paper work he was able to drive it. Amazing! We needed to take drivers test to obtain Canadian drivers licenses but for the time being the Romanian one was good. Just a few months in Canada and we had everything we needed: a nice apartment, furnished and comfortable, a colour TV (in Romania they had only black and white TVs at the time) a car to drive around, enough money to buy clothes from thrift stores and food from food terminals. We loved looking for bargains and buying cheap. We became bargain hunters and proud of it.

After we finished school we found work too. At first Arpad cleaned offices at night and I cleaned private houses during the day. I started with two per week but after a while through word of mouth other people from the Hungarian/Jewish community called me to clean their houses.

On May 31, on Krisztina’s 5th birthday, I started working at Baycrest Geriatric Hospital and Centre for Geriatric Care, as cleaning staff. It was an on-call job but sometimes I worked full-time for weeks. Arpad was hired as assembly line worker at the Ford Automobile Plant in Oakville. The hourly wages at Ford were more than twice the minimum wage in Ontario at the time.

When we finished school in April 1982, the daycare subsidy for Krisztina’s daycare stopped and she did not go to daycare anymore. I think she was happy about that. Over the summer she was at home and when I worked during the day, Arpad was looking after her and at night while he worked I was with her. When he started working at Ford he worked in three shifts, one week, mornings, one week afternoons and one week nights. Most of the times it worked out quite well and one of us was at home when the other worked. A couple of times I happened to work until 4:00 in the afternoon and Arpad had to start at 2:00 his afternoon shift. We had no babysitter and Krisztina stayed home alone from the time he left for work in Oakville until the time I came home from Baycrest. In Romania that would have been perfectly normal but in Canada was not OK. Our friend Cuci helped us by talking with her on the phone until I arrived home. They carried out long conversations about various subjects I was told.

On days when we did not work and on weekends we took day trips to nearby lakes and conservation areas. We enjoyed driving to parks on nice summer days and barbequeing and eating our dinners outdoors.

In the fall we registered Krisztina to start Senior Kindergarten at Sheppard Public School where she attended half day classes five days a week. During the summer she befriended a little girl her age, Lisa, who lived in the same building with us. They walked to school together and her grandma walked with them on the days I worked. After school they walked home together to Lisa’s apartment and Lisa’s grandma babysat them. Krisztina stayed with them until I got home from work. We paid a babysitting fee by the hour. Back home we had her grandma and grandpa (my parents) even the neighbour who we could rely on all the time to watch her. We loved our new life but by being so far away from family we lacked the support they could have given us and Krisztina missed out on love and hugs they could have given her.

By the fall we had grown accustomed with the Canadian way of living and we liked it.

I was very happy that my little family and I had our own apartment and comfortable living conditions. The jobs we had generated sufficient income for our needs.

I was content where we were and I imagined ourselves living there for a long time.

A letter from Arpad’s brother, Öcsi (Stefan), changed everything. In that letter he informed us that he and his family decided to emigrate from Romania and apply for immigrant visa to Canada. Life was becoming unbearable in Romania and because we were in Canada he had a chance to be accepted. The only catch was that we had to sign sponsorship papers and take responsibility for them for 10 years. That meant that we had to support them financially when they arrived and be able to meet their needs of food, shelter, clothing and make sure that they won’t need social assistance. Along with Arpad’s brother and his family: his wife Nusi (Anna), his ten year old daughter, Eva and his eight year old son Csaba, Arpad’s and Öcsi’s mother, Sara (Sári Mama) also applied for an immigrant visa. We had to sign sponsorship papers for her also but for 20 years.

We started looking for homes that would accommodate the three of us plus three more adults and two children. After viewing bigger apartments and houses for lease we realized that we can buy an older house with money borrowed from a bank. Arpad saw the real estate section of a Hamilton newspaper at work. There were houses for sale in Hamilton at much lower prices than Toronto.

Hamilton was 60km west of Toronto and the Ford Plant in Oakville, where Arpad worked, was half way between Toronto and Hamilton. We found an older two story house on MacNab St North for $26,000. Because we were first time buyers we received a $3,000 grant from the government. We bought 251 MacNab St North for 23,000 dollars. We paid $3000 deposit and took a mortgage for the rest from the Bank of Montreal. Back then interest rates were 12% so our monthly payments were roughly $300. Almost the same as we paid for the one bedroom apartment in Toronto. We moved to Hamilton on the first day of March in 1983.

I was very sad we had to leave our cozy apartment and our life in Toronto. I had to quit my job at Baycrest, we had to take Krisztina out of Sheppard school. Arpad’s commute to work, to Ford in Oakville, from Hamilton, was the same distance as it was from Toronto, so that was OK.

I didn’t like Hamilton at all, it didn’t have the vibrancy and diversity of Toronto, plus we had to start all over again in a strange town. We filled out the sponsorship papers and started immigration proceedings for the family at Canada Immigration Centre. We had a couple of interviews were we had to show proof that we will be able to support them financially until they can live on their own. It was a lengthily process and by the time their application was accepted and they were able to leave Romania, it was December 1984. In the meantime we got used to living in Hamilton, although I still missed Toronto-living, Krisztina attended grade one at Centennial School, Arpad was working long hours, overtime at Ford Assembly Plant in Oakville and our family of three, grew into a family of four. On September 2, 1984, we welcomed our second little girl, Julia.

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