One Person’s Quarantine Room Divider is Another Person’s Fort

Vita Seidler contracted the measles shortly after emigrating from Russia with her mother and siblings in December of 1928 to join their father in Montreal.

“…my dad met us in Montreal…Ah, the excitement! I got off and we went to another cousin that we stayed with,” Vita explained.

“They had one double bed, so there is my cousin and his wife, my little brother and myself, and my brother Lou; we all shared one bed.

“There was nowhere to sleep because my father had what they called in those days—it was a couch, but they called it a lounge, and that’s where he slept for a while, you know.

“I was there a week and I came down with the measles.

“Fortunate, because had I gotten that on board, they would have thrown me overboard! And then my little brother got it. So we had the measles there. That was fortunate.”

I love Vita’s positive spin on having the measles, a horrible disease that was still very dangerous in the 1920s.

“I was sick for quite a while. At that time couldn’t go out because you were quarantined, you couldn’t get out to mix—they didn’t have anything much for you… but I didn’t care, because I would get meals…my cousin and his wife, they put a sheet from the ceiling down so they could be separate, and then the three of us slept in the other bed, half of the bed. That, I remember. And I used to tease my cousin, I said, “You sleep with a girl!”

Again, when people remember being quarantined as children what stands out in their memories is almost always the positive. Vita writes,

“You see, those are the little things I recall, I guess because…there are certain freedoms that you can’t describe that…worries were taken off your shoulder.”

And was Vita okay?

“I didn’t feel sorry for myself, but my cousins, who hardly spoke English, but they were speaking English, they said, “You’ll have to learn English if you want to go to school” so I said, “Teach me a few words”. He says, “If people say to you ‘How are you, Vita’”, you should say, “Okay”. So the first word, everybody says I said is “Okay”.

Okay Vita, thanks for reminding us that one person’s quarantine sheet room divider is another person’s fort.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (02.10.20VS)


Carrie-Ann Smith

Carrie-Ann Smith is the Vice-President of Audience Engagement at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. She joined the Pier 21 Society in the summer of 1998 and has watched the organization evolve from an idea into an interpretive centre, and now a national museum. Though she has occupied several positions at the museum, collecting and sharing stories has always been her favourite thing to do—it still is.