November 2018 / Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
An Immigration Story:
Germany to Winnipeg to Toronto
By Werner Bachmann
I came to Canada in 1951. My future in Germany looked bleak. There were few jobs, little food and even less money. We had the opportunity to go to Australia or Canada. With the optimism of a 19 year old boy, I decided Canada was where my future lay. Canada, the land of plenty – plenty of food, plenty of jobs and dollar bills to be picked up off the sidewalk.
My best friend and I travelled to Bremerhafen where we joined many other hopeful immigrants. After a short stay in a refugee home and getting checked out by a doctor, we boarded the Anna Salen. I said goodbye to Germany as we left port on the former Norwegian aircraft carrier. I was too excited to be sad or scared. I was embarking on a great adventure!
On the ship, I got a job as a security man for $1.00 per day which I added to the little bit of money my father had given me. I vomited daily in heavy seas so after 10 days, I was very happy to land at Pier 21 in Quebec City. It was October 10th, 1951.
We were immediately shipped on a three day train journey to Winnipeg. Once there, I ate like a pig. No wonder, after twelve years of near starvation back home. I was so thin I was called “The Stick”. At 19, with very little english, I was lost. I was helped a great deal by many people but others, unfortunately, called me a Nazi. It was hard to hear but I understood that Canadians had just been at war with Germany. Many people had lost sons, husbands & brothers and now here we were competing with them for jobs. You see, there was an economic downturn in Winnipeg in 1951 so not only were there no dollar bills to be picked up off the sidewalks, there were few jobs. I have to admit, I was disappointed but I decided that I was going to have a good life here and I was going to be a good Canadian.
There was no welfare assistance but the YMCA and the Church provided meals. Delivering fliers through the winter made me some money and my friend and I rented a room with a hotplate. We would get meat scraps from the butcher for 10 cents.
I later worked at a power plant in the north putting up power lines. But Manitoba was so cold that, after a few months, my friend and I took a train to the “warm” city of Toronto. I rented a room for $8.00 per month and after a year I got into my electric trade.
Along with three friends, I lived in a house on Queen Street. I spent the weekends dancing and chasing girls mostly at the German and Ukranian Clubs. My first marriage lasted three years. It ended when she left me for an Austian ski instructor. My second marriage lasted 24 years. We had a son and daughter (and now 2 grandchildren as well). I was lucky to meet my present wife on a cruise ship. We have had our ups and downs but we are still together after 27 years. We have travelled a lot and in fact, we are taking another cruise soon.
I don’t miss Germany. My memories are of being hungry and having no money and of a very stern and rough father. However I do remember good times biking and camping in the Black Forest. Which is one reason I chose Canada for my new home, the abundant natural spaces. Fishing and camping are also my favourite pastimes here. I think I have fished (and camped) every lake north Toronto. I also have become a Hockey fanatic!
When asked what advice I would give people immigrating to Canada, I say this:
It all comes down to attitude. Staying upbeat, positive and open minded, adapting to a new culture and accepting a new way of life.
I will say to those who knock this great Canada. “Help to make it #1. We don’t have to “make it great again”. It is already the greatest! …. It was my salvation.