The beginning of a new year has always been a favourite time for me. A time to look back but also a time to look forward and realign. This January was no exception, in fact, it was more so than usual. And so it came about that I decided to write my family’s story of our immigration to Canada. The time is right: in the year 2016 it will be 60 years since we came to this country, a time to celebrate!
I talked to friends and family members about my plan and realized that, to my surprise, the interest in my undertaking was not the greatest. We all live very much in the here and now and happily leave it to the movie makers and storytellers to inform future generations about our life and time. There is nothing wrong with this, but where is the personal touch? Where is the magic of our stories – being told by those who lived them – from generation to generation?
My husband – together with his brother and the help of other family members – has put together a most impressive family tree and history, dating back to Napoleon’s time. My father, too, did much of the same for my family though not as extensive. A cousin of my husband even wrote a book about the Altendorf history which is, of course, more than most of us can do! But, at one time, when I was already retired, I became interested and ambitious enough to relate some of the fascinating stories – some tragic or sad, some happy and funny – of family members who lived during or before my time. How sad would it be if those stories would have been lost!
But the greatest story of my own life and the life of my family I have yet to write! It is the story of our immigration from Europe to Canada. Though it will be the story of myself and my family, it also will be the story of countless others. We all came from somewhere and somewhere else before and yet, each story is unique and important. There is no doubt, however, how greatly the lives of immigrants as well as of the lives of relatives and friends who stay behind, are impacted.
The years from 1950 – 1960 were a good time to come to Canada: there were plenty of opportunities and there was lots of work. Canada needed workers and the immigrants needed work. There was a willingness in the air to help each other. There was the working towards developing the country on the side of the immigrants and in return, much effort on the side of Canada to give the immigrants a feeling of belonging – a great combination!
The story of my own and of my husband’s immigration will perhaps sound more like a mini “exodus” since during the time from 1954 – 1957 seven family members of our larger family followed each other to this country. Our trek started with my brother and his wife in the year 1954 followed by my mother, Juliette, and my younger sister in 1955. Next my husband and myself with our two daughters (ages 5 and 8) reached Canadian shores in 1956 and a sister-in-law with her husband and their son ended the trek in 1957.
There are great stories behind these few sentences that have to be told at another time. For today, however, I want to say that none of us ever regretted our decision to immigrate to Canada. As one of my grandsons said: “We are so lucky to live here, so lucky!” Yes, indeed!
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 one of a six-column series to appear in The Observer over the coming weeks.