Final Destination: Toronto, Canada

Finally, August 11, 1981, the day we have been anxiously waiting for, has arrived. We were ready for the big overseas flight. The day before, the taxi came and took us to the Traiskirchen camp, where we collected our Fremdenpasses (Austrian aliens passports) stamped with the Canadian entry visas and our plane tickets to Toronto. We spent the night at a Traiskirchen hotel and early in the morning the taxi came and took us to the Vienna International Airport. It was all arranged by WCC, the passports, the plane tickets, the hotel, the transportation to the airport.

We boarded the plane that flew us to Zurich, Switzerland. After a few hours layover we boarded the big Boeing that took us to Toronto. It was a long flight. Longer than the usual 8 hours. We were told that because of the US air controllers strike, the plane was rerouted and instead of the usual trans-Atlantic flight we flew above Greenland and entered Canadian airspace from the north. That was unusual but we didn’t know. Nor did we know that six days before our flight, President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who ignored his order to return to work. Not having TV nor radio, we were oblivious to what was happening in the world.

We didn’t know about the US air traffic controllers strike that started on August 3.

Ronald Reagan declared the strike a “peril to national safety” and ordered them back to work. Only 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work. Subsequently he proceeded in firing those who did not return to work. That impacted air traffic for weeks.

What a time to travel by plane! But we did not know all that, found out only later.

Our flight was 10 hours long and we also had an one hour stop in Montreal. We stayed on while some travellers descended the plane to catch connecting flights.

I don’t remember much about the flight. It was long, too long. Couple of hours into the flight, I felt light headed and dizzy and my ears were all plugged. Krisztina had airsickness too. She started crying and vomiting. Poor little girl! She felt really sick and threw up. She felt a little better afterward but her clothes were all messy and smelly. I packed all our clothes in the suitcase that I checked in. I had to improvise. We went to the lavatory and I undressed her and placed her soiled clothing in a plastic bag. I took off the sleeveless t-shirt I wore under my shirt (luckily) and put it on her. It looked like a long oversized dress on her but it was dry. And this is how we arrived to Toronto.

We were tired and weary but happy when we landed. We arrived to our final destination. Canada accepted us and gave us landed immigrant status. We were nervous but we weren’t scared anymore. At the airport we had to pass through the entry process. We were directed to the immigration office, where we had to show all our documents and answer questions about our personal information. The immigration officer typed up three separate forms, one for each of us. We were told to keep those papers safe because those were our Landed Immigrant documents. After the processing we were told to present ourselves the next day to the Manpower Office for further assistance and were given the address of the hotel where we were temporarily housed. A taxi was called that took us downtown Toronto, to the hotel that was located on Charles Street, near the corner of Young and Bloor. We lived there while we looked for an apartment to rent and moved out when we rented one starting September 1.

Settling in Canada

The hotel on Charles street was an older building and I don’t remember the name of it. I think it doesn’t exist anymore. We were housed in an apartment. It was a big one bedroom apartment. We had one big room that had a sofa and coffee table and two chairs, a double bed and night tables, a table with 4 chairs, a colour TV. A bedroom with two twin beds and a dresser. A kitchen with all the necessary utensils for cooking. A four piece bathroom. The furniture was old and the TV was not working but we had everything we needed. We moved one of the twin beds into the living room, close to the double bed, for Krisztina to sleep on. She never slept alone in a room, we all slept in one room all her life and she was afraid of sleeping alone. The apartment was on the second floor and the elevator that took us there had music playing all the time. That was something new to us. As were the big cars we saw on our way to the hotel. In Europe the cars were smaller, we didn’t have the big Oldsmobile, and Cadillacs and Chryslers.

It was night when we arrived to the hotel and we had a very long and exhausting day. While Krisztina and I were getting ready for bed, Arpad went out to see whether he can find a store open to buy milk and bread. He came back amazed at what he had seen. On Young Street, people were strolling by the hundreds and many little stores were open, where they sold everything we needed. That was something new to us too. Toronto at night was amazing.

The next day we took the subway to Wellesley St. where the Manpower Office, (Service Canada, now) was located. A councillor was assigned to us who instructed us about what we needed to do. We received a cheque, I don’t remember the amount, but it was for groceries, transportation fares and other miscellaneous expenses. We were told to look for an apartment to rent, from September 1st and we will receive money for the first and last month’s rent and for furniture and a monthly allowance that will cover the cost of living. We will be eligible for English classes, ESL, for six months and subsidized all day, daycare for Krisztina while we were at school. We were told to go to the Welcome House where we can have our Romanian birth certificates and other documents we brought with us (hidden in our suitcase), translated and notarized for free.

It was all good news and we were happy. Arpad and I wanted to celebrate our arriving to Canada, with a glass of champagne. We went to a grocery store looking for the spirits section but we could not find it. We went around the aisles a couple of times with no avail. Finally, Arpad asked one sales clerk: “alcohol, whiskey, wine?” Not here, at the liquor store, he said.

Liquor store? What is that? He told us the address of the liquor store that wasn’t very far.

We never heard of alcohol not being sold in the grocery stores. We found the liquor store and bought our champagne.

In the three weeks we stayed at the hotel we experienced what living in a metropolis like Toronto was like. We liked the busy streets and the big squares where people could meet and talk and listen to music. We liked the parks with shady trees and benches and squirrels running everywhere. We liked the diversity and we felt welcomed and at home there. The term “People City” was often used to describe it and it was very fitting. We loved it and we liked everything except the mice in the apartment, but we solved that problem too. We set up a mouse trap on the coffee table we moved close to the bed. Using a deep baking pan from the kitchen that we leaned against a little match box car Krisztina had received from friends, who visited us at the hotel. We put a chocolate square under the baking pan and tied a string on the little toy car. At night when I heard noise on the coffee table, I pulled the string and the toy car rolled out from under the baking pan, trapping the mouse under it. Arpad picked up the coffee table, pan and mouse under it and took it downstairs and went out the back door and let the mouse go outside. There was a big fat cat living at the hotel, but was not interested in catching mice. We did this a couple of times during our stay there.

We contacted Arpad’s family’s friends, Ocsi (Joe), Cuci (Elisabet) and their 14 year old son, Attila. They visited us at the hotel and took us to their house and showed us around. On weekends we went on trips with them. One weekend to Algonquin Park, quite far, more then 250kms from Toronto. One weekend to Niagara Falls. During the week, Cuci drove us around to look for apartments for rent. After looking at quite a few, we decided on an one bedroom apartment in Downsview, at Keele and Sheppard. It was a nice apartment in a four-story building that had an outdoor pool and underground garage (all new to us). It was near a ravine with large green space and walking trails. We decided on one bedroom to save money and Krisztina was used to sleeping in our bedroom. The rent was $285 per month. Cuci drove us to furniture stores on Queen St. where we bought the minimum necessary items to furnish the apartment. She took us to Honest Ed’s, where we bought linen and kitchenware. We also bought a used colour TV from one of the Queen St. stores. On September 1st we moved into our new home. We were happy and grateful for all the help we received to accomplish that.

Arpad and I enrolled into the ESL program at Humber College. While we were at school, Krisztina attended daycare. It was an all-day daycare where she ate lunch and napped in the afternoon. It was hard for her at the beginning because of the language barrier. Also the food was different and she didn’t like it. She cried and was unhappy. It was all new for her and she was not used to being separated from us. The teachers were very understanding and tried to help her. One of the ladies who worked in the kitchen was European. She was asked to talk to Krisztina and try to find out what she needed. Although she did not speak Hungarian, she could communicate with Krisztina and gave her extra attention and that made her fell better.

The next six months we were very busy getting accustomed with our new country, learning the language and learning about the day-to-day living. We were eager to learn as much as we could to be able to start looking for employment and establish the life we were dreaming of for so long.

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.