Maria Rogalski

Country of Origin:

Russian Federation

Themes:

Immigration, Racism/Discrimination, Human Rights & Social Justice, Adjusting to Life in Canada

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Maria's life before Canada was intersected by the conflicts of WWII. Her family decided to come to Canada after the war. She describes the trip across the ocean, and her early years in Canada.


Story

My name is Maria Roglaski and I live in Winnipeg, Canada. Life for me before coming to Canada had been actually quite dismal. During World War II in the 1940s we had to flee our home in East Prussia because of the advancing Red Army, and finally we ended up on a farm in the very northern part of Germany, close to the Danish border. I was six years old when the war began and I was eleven years old when we had to flee, and of course we lost everything.

After the war ended we were still living on that farm, having only one room for the four of us in our family. We could not return to our home because of the Russian occupation, so we really had no future at all in Germany. My father had died in the labour camps in Siberia, so it was quite a struggle for my widowed mother and her three children. For a niece of my mother’s who had been sharing our humble home immigrated to Canada in 1949, my mother decided for our family to follow her twelve months later.

Our voyage across the Atlantic in an old troop ship named ‘The Beaverbrae’ was uneventful except for severe sea sickness of ninety percent of the passengers. The men’s and women and children’s quarters on the boat were actually separated, but feeling sick to death the men joined their wives and children so they could die together. I was in the ship’s infirmary with a severe throat infection from the very first day of leaving harbour, so I was spared that misery. My only loss was not being able to join the company of all the people gathered on deck for a time of singing and celebrating the first evening of our departure, and that was a little hard for me because I could just hear them and could not take part in that celebration.

After an eight day long crossing we landed on Canadian soil, at Quebec Harbour on August 18th, 1950, and after a train trip of two days and one night – which seemed endless to us – we arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba to start our new life in Canada. A week later I celebrated my seventeenth birthday. Three days after our arrival, my mother’s sister and I got a job as housekeeping staff at the Winnipeg General Hospital, now the Health Sciences Centre, and we were fortunate enough to live on-site and have meals and uniforms supplied. We lived very frugally on our fifty cents an hour wage. We were able to pay off our travel fare of $750, which was $250 a person, in about a year. That was a lot of money for us at that time.

I was the only one of my family who spoke some high school English, so the adjustment was especially hard for my mother and sister, and they suffered from home sickness more than I did in the beginning. Going to night school to improve my English helped me to get my first office job as a file clerk for an insurance agency, and after my boss paid for a secretarial course for me, I worked as a stenographer until I married and started my family.

Even before I became a citizen six years after our arrival, I came to love Canada because of its unique mosaic blend of diverse cultures, and for equal opportunity for all that this country offers. Having been born in Russia from German descent, and despised there for that reason and being despised as a Russian in Germany, I am grateful that in Canada for the first time in my life I am accepted for who I am as a person and not for where I was born. That is what I appreciate most about Canada, and I am proud and grateful to be one of its citizens, not by birth, but by choice.