The Immigration Story of Winrich Weller (German immigrant)

Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Creative Commons: 
Accession Number: 
Story Text: 

From Chronicles of 34 German Immigrants to Canada in the 1950s and Three Stragglers compiled by Vera Weller. See LEAVING GERMANY AND EARLY BEGINNINGS IN CANADA, Vera's introduction to the collection in the entry under her name.

Winrich (Winnie) Weller

I was thinking of going abroad in 1951: South Africa, USA or Canada. But my Godfather in South Africa advised me to stay in Germany for the time being and to collect working experience and it sure bore fruit, as I met a family that became very influential in my life. They steered me into the field of the restoration of antiques and building artful furniture, something I still do today!

I lived in Stuttgart for 2 years and worked for a large antique dealer there. I had a contract offer for 3 years, but the desire to learn a second or third language was always very strong with me. So I went to different embassies and collected applications: South Africa - the officials there were so arrogant, so South Africa was out. The application for the US was much too long (400-500 questions)! Australia was too far away! So there was Canada and the questionnaire had only 16 questions as far as I remember. I left all the questionnaires in a desk drawer, as my contract still went for 1½ years. I forgot about them, until I found them months later when cleaning out my desk. So in order not to forget about them again, I filled out the Canadian form, sent it off and wondered if I would ever hear from them. Well, what a surprise– 3 weeks later I was contacted to present myself in Karlsruhe, in 6 weeks’ time with all kinds of papers! This I did, still thinking that it would take months, even years before I would leave for Canada. Well, 6 weeks later I had my papers for immigration into Canada. The Canadian Government even lent me money for my fare as everything went so much faster than expected and I did not have enough money together yet.

On the 12th of October 1956 I left Bremerhaven on the“Arose Star”. My friend Wolfgang in Hamburg told me: If you leave on October 12th, you will meet the Guenther family. I met them still in Hamburg on my goodbye tour. To this day I am good friends with Barbara Guenther. The‘voyage’ was a great experience. I did not get seasick and could enjoy every day. After 10 days we sighted land– Newfoundland. The next day we entered the gulf of the St. Lawrence and the river. The weather was absolutely wonderful, warm, about 25 degrees. I watched the countryside on both sides of the river, the colours of the trees were breathtakingly beautiful and the colours of the rooftops were green, yellow red and blue! The journey up the St. Lawrence river was absolutely delightful. First stop was Quebec city but we could not get off the boat. By the way, my passage was booked to Vancouver, as I had lots of family there. But when I heard of the continuing unemployment out west, I decided to go to Toronto instead, where the chances of finding work in my field looked more promising. Montreal was the ship’s destination and all passengers disembarked. I went through immigration which went quickly and said goodbye to the Guenthers. Mr. Guenther, who had immigrated 2 years earlier, waited for his family and took them to Toronto, inviting me to come and visit when I came to Toronto.

I was on my way to Ottawa, a cousin of mine had invited me there to get my first Canadian experience. I started to look for work right away, but my poor English did not help. I was not successful. After 10 days I went by bus to Toronto and ended up at the Guenthers’ who lived on St. Clair off Yonge Street. I guess they did not expect me so quickly, if at all. I stayed with them for a few days. Through networking I found a place with room and board on Ossington Avenue– with 4 or 5 other young guys. I don’t remember how I found my first job at the‘Skandia House’ on Bay and Bloor streets. We built Scandinavian style furniture in the basement of the store. No windows, and½ the basement was a garage, so car fumes were drifting through our workshop. I was extremely unhappy in that place, but I made money. The delivery man for the store was a young German. He told me about his landlady and that she was looking for an additional tenant, as she had an empty room. I went to have a look at the place on Yonge near Rosedale subway station, liked the place and rented the room for $6.00 per week. This way I could walk to work. My German landlady, Mrs. Lemke (later Renate) was a teacher for challenged children, which at that time was privately founded, so she knew many influential and well-off Canadians. When I lost my job at‘Skandia House’ after I almost burnt down the place, not knowing how combustible linseed oil was, Renate put me in touch with Pastor Goegginger, who helped immigrants to settle, find jobs etc. I went to visit him at a church, if I remember correctly it was at Sherbourne St.and Gerrard. Job-wise he could not help me much, but he told me about the youth group he had in his church on College Street at Lippincott, that there were few young men who might help me find work. I went the next Sunday in the early evening. No one at the youth-group could help me find work, but I liked what I saw. I integrated into the youth group very quickly. 1957 was a magical year for me. My future brother-in-law, André, was our‘Fahrtenleiter’ (organizer of trips) and I saw so many of Ontario’s lakes and places. In the summer we often camped, in the winter we found houses up North to stay in. It was just wonderful. Also I fell in love and it made my life so much more meaningful.

On my job search it was once again my landlady who helped me greatly. She introduced me to a Dutch couple that had an antique store in our building and they in turn introduced me to a large antique dealer up the road on Yonge Street. My workshop was in the basement of the shop– I had no contact with people there and the only thing that did not make much progress were my English language skills. I had a radio tuned to CBC all day long, the only problem was that I did not understand a word. A number of months later (I don’t remember how many), at the beginning of one week I did not understand a word of what was broadcast on the radio, but by the end of the week I understood everything! It was as if a large gate slowly had opened itself. It is still one of the most profound experiences in my life. I think I learned English fairly well and now I often wonder if it was the English language that brought me to this continent, or if it was the many stories my American grandmother told when I was a little boy, the stories about her life in Virginia. Only over the years here have I learned how deep my roots are on this continent.