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The Immigration Story of Marianne and Henning Frederiksen (Latvian and Danish Immigrants)

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Frederiksen Family Immigration to Canada
By Michael Frederiksen
From an interview by Amy Coleman, Pier 21 Oral Historian
The Family
Henning Frederiksen (d.o.b. March 20, 1922/Copenhagen, Denmark)
Marianne Frederiksen (d.o.b. May 20, 1925/Riga, Latvia)
Michael Frederiksen (d.o.b. June 21, 1947/Copenhagen, Denmark)
The Story
My father (Far) worked as an accountant at a paper manufacturing company. It was there he was first introduced to my beautiful mother (Mor). Both met during the war under the German occupation of Denmark. They were both very active and intelligent young people. Besides his love of music, Far had a passion for football (soccer). Mor was a brilliant linguist and a lover of classical music. She is fluent in seven languages. They were married on September 15, 1946.
Mor was all too aware of how quickly her life could change. Her parents had escaped from Russia during the 1918 Revolution. Settling in Latvia their lives were soon uprooted because of the threat of Latvian Nationalism. In 1935 Mor, three siblings and her parents were forced to move once again, this time to Denmark. This was possible because her father was a Danish citizen. They settled in Copenhagen.
When the WWII broke out, Denmark became occupied literally overnight. Far joined the Danish Civilian Protection Force. This was a part time opportunity to serve twice weekly in 12 hour shifts. Far did not carry weapons, he was a peacekeeper. Stories of heroism and underground movements fighting the Nazi regime were becoming legend. Young people eagerly waited their turn to join in the fight for freedom. Far and Mor remember times when they dodged the fire of German soldiers after curfew hours. These dark days helped form their view that they should leave Europe.
After peace was declared in 1945, there was still a real sense that the European conflict was not over. The cold war was beginning to surface. Russia was thought to be the next aggressor in a war weary continent. Together, Far and Mor made a conscious and courageous decision. They did not wish to raise their family in that kind of environment. They chose peace and opportunity over conflict and uncertainty. They decided to give up their careers and to leave their families in order to establish a better life and future for myself and five other as yet unborn children. They knew that conditions were good in Canada and that opportunities for immigration were opening up. The necessary interviews were completed and the immigration papers were filled out. They had a distinct advantage in that both spoke English. After they obtained the security of a Canadian sponsor, immigration officials were very helpful to provide them with an immigration visa.
They were an exceptional young couple who sacrificed much to come to an unknown country. They knew they could take very little with them. The three of us left Denmark with $150 Cdn and a few suitcases of personal belongings. This was a journey that would change our lives. There were no government subsidies and no promise of work. No food vouchers or other social safety nets. This was Canada, land of opportunity. Somehow we found ways to survive.
We had a sponsor who lived in Toronto, hence our journey by rail to Ontario. Alec Gipp had married Mor’s second cousin. He graciously decided to sign the papers that would allow us to emigrate. The amazing part of this story was that towards the end of his teaching career he taught at the same secondary school Toronto where I later became vice principal.
The experience at Pier 21 was surprisingly smooth. We had spent eight days on the SS Gripsholm sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. We were among 900 others who had taken the same journey. I remember being out on the open deck one afternoon. Far was talking to a fellow Dane when he noticed I was no longer with him. Spotting me looking out on the open waters, he also saw that I was in clear danger. The ship was rolling with the waves. I was at the edge of the Gripsholm peering through the open railing. All I remember was Far grabbing me from behind. That was the only memory of the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
We landed in Halifax on June 29, 1951. As we walked down the plank onto Pier 21’s main wharf we were invited into a large hall. There we were met by Immigration officials who greeted everyone politely. We sat on wooden benches until our names were called. Our visa cards were stamped and we were free to leave. Four hours after we had first stepped on to Canadian soil we became Landed Immigrants. The next morning we booked passage on the CNR train to Toronto. One week later Far was employed as a clerk with the Canadian National Railway.
The summer of ’51 was devastating. Canada had not experienced what it was like to live through a full-blown polio epidemic. There were no vaccines to combat this deadly virus. 80,000 Canadians became ill, one quarter died of respiratory failure. Three months after leaving Denmark I became a statistic. The next nine months were spent in quarantine at Toronto’s Sick Kid’s Hospital. The experience was so traumatic that I lost facility for both mother tongues, Danish and Russian. Much of my childhood memories became blurred or lost during that time. I quickly learned to speak English and gradually found the Danish coming back. As soon as I was well enough to travel, Mor and I joined Far who had already found a job in Vancouver.
Denmark is surrounded by water and is made up of over 500 islands. I believe that is why Mor and Far loved the west coast of Canada so much; it reminded them of their roots. It was in Vancouver that Peter, Joy and Karin were born. Far began his formal university education and worked hard during the next five years to become a Chartered Accountant. He knew he could not pursue a career as a jazz pianist and at the same time raise a family. Finally, in 1956, a degree from UBC and accreditation as a CA came to this young man in his early thirties. Since that time Far had a great career in the world of finance, both in the private and public sectors. This approach was characteristic of so many immigrants in those days – hard working people who wanted to make Canada their new home. They learned the language and got involved in the community. Hard work and discipline were the only way to go.
Mor was stricken with polio in 1956. Although the Salk vaccine had been produced, there was still much experimentation going on. The medical profession did not have all the answers. As a result of her disability, Mor could not work; yet, she had the strength and courage to raise six children. As the eldest, I was the only sibling not born in Canada. Mor has done a marvelous job of caring for her family under some extremely tough circumstances. She is a strong woman with an enduring passion for life.
It was very difficult for both sets of grandparents to accept the fact that we had left Denmark. Their only grandson was moving half way around the world. Mor’s mother and father Niels Peter and Anna Frederiksen quickly decided to follow us and immigrate to Canada. Settling in Toronto in 1952 and later in Oakville, Ontario, they would often comment on Canada being home to them. "When we came to Canada after we had moved and started over so many times, we knew we had finally found our home. Canada gave us a new life. Canada was God’s gift to us."
We never did return to Denmark as a family. My first return visit was the summer of 1986. I should have gone back sooner. My son Mark accompanied me on this occasion. This was the last time my Uncle Andrei and Farmor actually saw and spent time with Mark. At that time I remember visiting my Farmor. There I saw a little room just behind the kitchen. It was there I slept when I came for visits on the sixth floor of the building on Venemindevej in Copenhagen. She kept the room for years after, hoping that her family would return. We never did. Farfar and Farmor visited us in Canada three times. I don’t think they ever quite forgave us for leaving.
We maintained our Danish traditions and always spoke Danish at home, even those born in Canada. I remember the Christmas of ’53 where we lit “live” candles on the tree. This was typically Scandinavian. The building superintendent discovered the living lights. Despite our having a bucket of water beside the tree, he threatened to evict us unless we complied with the safety codes. Other traditions were easier to keep - like all the food and special drinks Mor made. That has always been a fun part of our family.
Far and Mor always had as their goal to become totally integrated into Canadian society. They were not interested in getting together with other “dissatisfied Danes”. Different nationalities have different approaches to immigration and to integration into a new culture. Many Danes would get together socially, particularly through Scandinavian clubs and through the Lutheran church. The Russian side of our family was heavily involved in the social life and friendships created through the religious community. Our family became involved in a church community in Vancouver, B.C. that has provided them with lifelong relationships. Even today, people who meet Mor and Far are amazed to find that they have no accent.
In July 1956 Mor, Far and I became Canadian citizens. I knew that at age 18 years I could make a final decision as to which citizenship I would choose, Dual citizenship was not an option. Reaching the age of majority there was no question. Canada was my home.
Part of the immigrant reality is that life in the early years is tough. We did not take trips or holidays as a family. It took some time before Far bought his first vehicle, a used 1952 Buick. I was well into my teens before Far and Mor bought their first home. There were certain items we did without. We did have a radio, but no television. Coming to Canada with $50 each, there was not much money to go round. Far and Mor have been back to Denmark on a number of occasions, mostly for weddings and funerals and to visit Danish relatives. Far’s parents always came to visit by boat. I still have photos of them on the boat waving goodbye. They liked Toronto in the 60’s where they could visit Far and his brother Borje. They loved Canada, the scenery and the activities; however, they always were glad to be going home. They returned to their life in Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark and home to over one million people.
Mor and Far had first become interested in Canada through publications put out by the Canadian Government. It described this immense land, the beauty of its geography as well as society in general. They began to do research also on opportunities in the United States of America. Far had a good friend who had been to America. He had returned with a report that the USA was materialistic and showed little compassion for those in need. Far was also interested in Nicaragua, Honduras or El Salvador. He was at the time fascinated with the Spanish culture and language. These countries were not looking for new immigrants. Many Danes traveled to Brazil and Argentina. Others went to the United States, settling in the Minnesota area.
I can only surmise what life would have been like if we had remained in Denmark. Canada brought us a sense of peace and prosperity. I believe that there was a reason we emigrated to Canada. In reality, we needed to move to understand more fully the ultimate meaning of life. Somehow there was a higher plan for us. This story did not just happen by chance. There was a Divine plan that brought us here. Our faith in God took on new meaning as we learned to trust in His power to sustain us.
I have a profound gratitude for being able to come to Canada as a young boy. Canada in those days was building a nation. There was vibrancy in Canadian society, a realization that we were part of something big. From the early days of the 20th century there were huge numbers of people coming to Canada. It peaked after WWII and into the 50’s and 60’s. The foundation of this great country of ours was laid during that time. It was all because of the hard work and the vision of a new land that immigrant people brought with them. New Canadians were given the opportunity of making something of themselves.
Canada is a great country. Canadians need to look back in time and history, to appreciate the contributions that early settlers and immigrants made to Canada. These are significant and we must never forget the ones who began their new life at Pier 21. Their lives and the hard decisions they each made to leave their homeland for Canada must be celebrated. They have made the difference; theirs is a legacy which demands a profound sense of gratitude.
The Frederiksen Family
Michael Frederiksen (1947) & Linda Ruth Dale (1947)
Married July 3, 1971
Son, Mark Frederiksen (1982)
Niels Peter Frederiksen (1953)
Joy Annette Frederiksen (1955)
Karin Frederiksen (1956)
Anita Eva Lynn Frederiksen (1966)
Son, Matthew Taylor Frederiksen (1996)
Daughter, Marissa Taylor Frederiksen (1998)
Mia Ellen Frederiksen (1968)