1938 Z Juskovej Vole pri Vranove k jazeru Cowichan v Britskej Kolumbii *

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From Juskova Vôľa to Cowichan Lake, BC

So, in 1938 the family saw us off on our epic journey from Juskova Voľa to BC. Canada. Many family members came with us to the train station in Vranov where we all said our teary goodbyes. We travelled on an electric train to Kosice, and from there we took a regular train to Prague where doctors subjected us to another 3 or 4 health examinations. In those days immigrants had to be cleared by Canada's own doctors before entering the country.



Leaving Prague we couldn't find room in the train's third class compartment, therefore we were put into the first class section. From our humble home the first class seats we had were really something for us to see and to use.

From Prague we went to Paris where we stayed for a day or two, I am not sure exactly for how long, but I do remember going on a foot tour with a guide to see the cathedrals and churches, and we went to some hot baths too.

From Paris we went to La Havre where we stayed in the immigration building for those who were traveling to Canada. We had a room with a washbasin, but there was only one toilet for two floors. One time there was an old man using the toilet while we kids waited outside. Some of the kids were crying in panic because they wanted the washroom urgently. After yelling and yelling for the man to come out quickly, another man came along and pushed in the toilet door, took the man out and threw him down the stairs. He was still with his pants down. No one cared. With that the kids rushed in 2 at a time to pee in the toilet.

From La Havre we went to Liverpool where the ship didn't dock, but anchored off shore. I remember looking over the side of the ship to watch a tugboat that brought out a bunch of people who were heading for Canada as well.

After 9 1/2 days at sea on the Cunard ship, Antonia, we arrived in Halifax on April 3, 1938. During that time for three days we were not allowed on deck because of stormy weather and a rough sea that pounded over the sides of the ship. The majority of the passengers were sea sick, including my mother. I never became sick, and found a friend on the ship. The galley cook befriended us and fed us any time we wanted. We couldn't speak his language either, but he was good to us.



Coming from land-locked Central Europe we had never experienced the ocean before so we couldn't even imagine what it would be like to be out of sight of land for day after day. All the women on the ship were praying most of the time. After the 3rd day there were porpoises swimming along side the ship, and that was really, really something for us to see.



From Halifax we picked up the steam train and we assigned to a multi-lingual agent who came with us to Winnipeg. The train was noisy with only wooden benches, which we sat and slept on for the long journey across the dominion to Vancouver. We would open the windows and felt the breeze and we watched with awe as the scenery sped by us.

We met some of our family on the Montreal station. Before we were allowed to see them they had to be checked out by the officials because it was known that shysters used to fleece immigrants out of their money. When my mother convinced the officials that these people were our relatives we were allowed to spend a few hours with them on the train before we set off on our journey once more.

The next stop was Winnipeg where the agent and other families traveling in the group left us. The agent took all those who were going to farm off the train, now we were left along with a woman and her daughter who was about my age. Not knowing English we had no one to help us anymore. My mother went off the train with the other lady when they bought bread and sausage for us to eat until we arrived in Vancouver.

At Regina the woman and her daughter left the train. Before parting, my mother and this lady hugged and kissed each other. I expect they were both apprehensive about their futures. Now were all alone in a new country with a language we didn't understand.

The conductor must have sensed our fear because he rarely left our car. During one night the train must have stopped somewhere while we were both fast asleep. In the morning light both my mother and I were scared to see there was a black man sitting in our compartment who was dressed from top to bottom in white from hat down to his shoes. We had never seen or heard of a black skinned person before, nor even seen a person dressed completely in white. My mother though he was the devil himself so she prayed and prayed. The conductor saw the fear on our faces so he never left our compartment at all to make us feel secure. About a day or so later the Negro left the train and we gave a sigh of relief.



Like all young kids, especially when they are cooped up, I used to run around the cars. In one car a man gave me some gum. But I didn't know what gum was and thought is was candy so I chewed on it, then swallowed it. The man said, "No, no no," and he asked me in English was my nationality but of course I couldn't understand him. He asked again in Polish. Now I could understand that he was asking me to take him to my mother, and I did. Mum was so pleased to have someone to talk with at last, because between her Slovak and his Polish it allowed them to communicate. Even still, the conductor still kept a watchful eye on my mother. With the Polish man's help we were able to buy more food for the rest of our journey.

When we arrived in Vancouver he helped us off the train and took us to my father who was waiting for us. Dad thanked him for taking care of my mother and me. I had no memories of my father because I was just an infant we he left home. I cannot tell you how it feels to see your father that you never knew. I saw Mum and Dad hugging away and kissing, she cried and cried, and I just stood there with a feeling of "Hey Mum, who is that?"

We were in Vancouver for three days. On my father's instruction, Mrs. Toth took Mum to a beauty shop. Mum was unknowingly taken to have her waist length hair that she wore in a bun, cut short. Dad told her when she got back to the Toth's where we were staying that she was in Canada now and had to look Canadian. Mum cried and cried for days afterwards at losing her hair and for many years she kept that long bundle of her cut hair wrapped up and stored in her dresser drawer.

After our short stay in Vancouver we carried on the journey by taking the ferry to Nanaimo, and from there we traveled by bus to Duncan. I was so excited on the bus because I could see our parcels strapped to the top of the bus traveling ahead of us. We had a stop over in Duncan and then on to Cowichan Lake.

On May 1st, 1938 age 10+ I started school in Grade 1 because I knew no English words except "kiss my ass" and I was slapped for saying that!

Michal Olexa

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