Hot Dogs, Ice Cream and the Studebaker

Harrison columnist Ruth Altendorf shares the fourth part of her six-part series on coming to Canada

It had been a long day and it was hard to believe that we finally were on canadian soil! But here we were and, after solving the task of fitting four adults, two children and our suitcases in my sister’s fiancee’s tiny sports car, we started the long drive from Montreal to Toronto.  Somewhere we stopped for something to eat.  It was our first meal in Canada:  Campbell’s Cream of Tomatoe soup, hot dogs, coffee and ice cream. It was a new taste sensation, the girls loved it and we all doubled our portions.

Meanwhile, my mother, who was waiting for us in Toronto, had prepared a traditional welcome dinner which we ate at 10 p.m. To say that we were truly overwhelmed would be an understatement!

The next morning we woke up to our new surroundings: Indian Road Crescent in Etobecoke, near the Bloor and Dundas intersection and in walking distance of the “High Park”. Most streets around there consisted of charming, but slightly run-down older houses, big enough for the owners not only to live there, but also to rent out. My brother and his wife, for instance, also lived in one of these houses – right next to us. Our “flat”, as they were called, consisted of four rooms plus bath and kitchen and an enclosed balcony. The floor of the balcony was quite slanted as most likely were all the ones in the neighborhood, but never mind, we were truly happy!  Especially after our first walk to and through “High Park” which we would be visiting often with the children in the future. We were also happy to find out that the school was just around the corner, since both our girls had to attend it soon. I should not forget to mention that not only was our flat fully furnished, but also featured an old, but working black and white TV set. Though we never had this luxury before, we took to it instantly and thus learned the English language in record time! Of course, it also helped us to adjust to the Canadian way of life.

Soon, however, we started to wonder how to pay for all this and Heinz decided to take action. Though Heinz had a letter from the company my brother worked for in his pocket promising him a job upon arrival, he wanted to look around a bit before accepting. When he decided to check it out with an office-job agency in downtown Toronto, I went along, just to see the city. But, while waiting for Heinz at the agency I was asked to also fill out an application. I did, not thinking anything would come out of it. We were hardly back home, however, when the phone rang. It was for me: a company by the name of Brunswick International asked me to come and fill out a job application. I agreed, mainly because I did not know how to refuse! Heinz went with me and I was asked to start in the mail room on the following Monday. They also showed me the accounting room and told me that many of their employees who had started in the mail room had worked their way up eventually to any of these jobs.

The accounting machines in those days were not silent like computers are now, they made quite a racket and looked very scary, But, to make a long story short, I accepted and worked for this company for almost 30 years.  Heinz also accepted the job he was promised and presto, we were part of the Canadian work force.

It is amazing how fast one can learn a language if totally immersed. This is especially true in regards to children. Yvonne, for instance, did not say much for a long time until, one day, it all was there. Julia handled it differently, but she also had it easier: while Yvonne had to go to school right away, Julia had a few months to adjust. But she also was a real trooper who could not wait to be part of it all. Her first sentence was “We came in a Studebaker” – a true statement in more than one way!

Ruth Altendorf is an occasional columnist in The Agassiz-Harrison Observer. Here, she shares a slice of her own history instead of her usual tales of Harrison folks and happenings. This is part four of a six-column series to appear in The Observer over the coming weeks.