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The Immigration story of Vojislav and Emilie Navratil (German Immigrants)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

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My husband Vojislav and I immigrated to Canada in June 1950 on the ‘General Stuart Heinzleman’, a military transport. He was 30 and I was one month short of 29. We had considered going to Australia but after seeing photos of Canada, our heart was set on living there.

After spending about two weeks in a refugee camp, we left from Bremen, Germany on June 14th and arrived in Halifax on June 22nd at midnight. In the morning the tug boat guided or ship into port. The ship was enroute to New York but docked in Halifax to let off people that were to be employed in Canada.

During our time on the ship, the women were at the front and the men at the back. It was crowded and a rough crossing. I was so seasick that I was unable to eat very much. We met two Polish couples and one Russian couple on the ship and maintained friendships afterward.

After arriving in Halifax, I borrowed 15 cents from a man to buy a stamp to send a letter to my family saying that we had arrived safely. The Baptists there provided us with clothing. The Catholics gave us a rosary. Red Cross provided food. Neither of us knew a word of English. All our possessions were in two trunks that we brought with us.

We were told that some of the residents were asking why we were there as there was no work. They did not know that we were being transported to Ajax, Ontario. It was a three day journey by train through Montreal to Toronto. Then a bus to another station where we boarded a train for Ajax where we were housed at a DP transfer camp.

After resting at the camp for a few days, we were taken by bus to the employment office in Toronto. We had signed a one year contract as ‘domestics’ and were picked up by the secretary to the Vice President of O’Keefe’s brewery. She paid for lunch in the cafeteria and took us to the home of Thompson and Muriel Ferguson. Our two trunks were delivered later.
We lived in the upper level of the home. I worked downstairs doing the cooking and cleaning wearing a uniform during the day and another one for serving supper. Yardwork was Vojislav’s responsibility.

Once a week we went to school from 7-9 pm to learn English. We had one day off a week. After our contract, my husband was employed at the O’Keefe factory for about a year. Then we moved to Galt where we had our three children.