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.

Full House in Hamilton

The house we bought in Hamilton was an old brick house in need of some decorating but livable and close to downtown. Incredibly, it was perfect for our needs. It had many rooms, a garage and a back yard. The school was close and the market was at a walking distance inside a shopping mall called Jackson Square. The Hamilton Central Library was located there too. I walked there many times with Krisztina, where she liked spending time in the children’s section.

We occupied the first floor of the house. Being used to living in one room and then an one bedroom apartment, we didn’t need more space. There was a big kitchen, a TV room we used as living room, a living room where we set up our bedroom and the adjacent dining room was Krisztina’s bedroom. There was a four piece bathroom and another room that opened from a hallway from the kitchen that gave it some privacy. We reserved that room for Sári Mama, Árpád’s mother. The upstairs was waiting for Öcsi and his family. There was a kitchen there, two bedrooms and a bathroom. In the basement there was the laundry room, space for the children to play, another bathroom and a cold cellar. We were ready for the family to come.

Arpad worked double shifts for months and we saved enough money to pay off the mortgage on the house in one year. Krisztina made friends at school and befriended a neighbour girl her age. Her name was Patty and her family was Romanian. We got along well with the grandparents. We spoke Romanian with them except for Krisztina who being very young when we left Romania did not learn the language. She played with Patty often at our house or at Patty’s house where her grandmother watched them.

An orange tabby cat decided to move in with us. We didn’t know where he came from but he visited us often and came in the house sat on the couch and left. Until one day he didn’t leave. We named him Micus (kitty in Hungarian).

We accomplished a lot in just two years: bought a house and paid off the loan from the bank, bought two reliable cars, Árpád had a good paying job. Krisztina became fluent in English and her work at school was at the same level as her Canadian-born peers. Canada really was the land of opportunity for us to start a new life and establish roots. We were happy to bring into this world a child who had the privilege of being born a Canadian citizen. Our little girl, Julia, was born on September 2nd, 1984, one day before Árpád’s birthday. He was hoping for her to be born on his birthday but she needed a day on her own. She was a beautiful, healthy little girl and brought joy into our lives. We were happy to have a little baby and Krisztina was a loving big sister. We became a family of four, plus the cat. That was until the beginning of December, when Öcsi and his family and Sári Mama arrived. We had a full house from then on. It was a welcome change after being without family support for so long.

It was fun showing them the Canadian ways. Krisztina had two playmates in the house and a loving grandma and an aunt and an uncle. Árpád had long talks into the night with his brother.

I had help in the kitchen from Nusi and Sári Mama, and Baby Julia enjoyed all the attention she was getting. The basement became the children’s playground where they had races and dance contests. We registered Eva and Csaba to Centennial school where they attended regular school and were taught English. Öcsi found work quite fast in a machine shop even though he didn’t speak English. He had the necessary skills and that was enough.

We had Christmas together and then Easter. Big family dinners in our kitchen. At night we stayed up late and the children too.

When at school the teacher in Krisztina’s class asked the children if they go to bed by 8:00 pm, Krisztina came up with the idea of going to bed at 8:00 pm and getting up soon after. That way she was not lying when she told the teacher that went to bed by 8:00. The teacher didn’t know that she didn’t stay in bed but got up and played some more.

Our house was filled with laughter and noise. Too much noise sometimes.

In the summer especially, the children would run in and out all the time. Up to the second floor and down to the first where we lived and down to the basement. Julia’s afternoon naps were disturbed. We missed our privacy. It was time for a change.

Öcsi was working for a few months now and had a weekly paycheque, Nusi attended English classes at the community centre and the children were attending school . They liked living on MacNab Street North and being within walking distance from all the amenities. Because of this we decided to help Öcsi get a loan from the bank to buy our house for his family and we started looking for another house that we could buy and move in.

We found a free hold townhouse that we liked in the east end of Hamilton and we bought it.

Öcsi borrowed money from the bank and bought our house on MacNab street. We used that money and a loan from the bank to buy the townhouse on 349 Cochrane Rd.

Moving to the new house was a welcome change for us, except for Krisztina who had to change schools again. She finished grades one and two at Centennial School. We moved during the summer. In September she started grade three at Viscount Montgomery School.

It was a better area where we moved than the one we lived before. At Centennial School they had many children who came from problem families, nevertheless, changing schools and making new friends was not easy for her.

Moving from North-West to East and then up the Mountain and the birth of Vicki

Our new home was planned in a way that divided the space on three levels that was conveniently suitable for us. The first level was raised above the garage and had a hallway, a two-piece bathroom, a kitchen and dining area, a sunken living room that opened to a deck in the backyard, through a sliding door. On the second floor there were three bedrooms and a four piece bathroom. Sári Mama occupied one of the bedrooms, Arpad and I the master bedroom that was big enough to fit in Julia’s crib. The third bedroom was Krisztina’s. Finally she had her own bedroom with her own door. There was a big family room in the basement that we didn’t use often because the rest of the house was sufficient for us.

With Sári Mama living with us and helping with the girls, I found a job at a factory where telephone jacks were mounted on cables. I worked every day from 3:30PM to 12AM. It was not a hard job and I had the mornings free. This was the place where “Vicki” was born.

My legal name that appears on all my documents is Viorica, the Romanian translation of my name Ibolya. When I started working at that factory (I don’t remember the name of it) my coworkers had a hard time remembering my name, Viorica, and one of them shortened it to Vicki. I liked it too and from that time on it became my name.

While working there, I signed up for a Dental Assistant course at Career Canada College. It was home study mostly but I had to attend a three hour class two evenings a week.

That interfered with the job I had at the factory because I worked nights. I asked them at the factory to allow me to work days on those days but I was refused. I had to make a choice, what was more important? Working nights at the factory or pursuing an education that will result in a better job later. I chose the latter.

We lived on Cochrane Rd for a year and then we moved again. We sold the townhouse and bought a two story house on the West Mountain, It was a new house that had four bedrooms, a big kitchen, a main floor family room and a living room dining room combination. Had a double garage and an in-ground pool. Krisztina had to change schools again but having our own swimming pool eased the transition.