Farmers’ fields north of Montreal is where the City of Laval was built


A June 22, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “‘They let them die’ at Quebec’s worst-hit long-term care homes, union rep tells coroner: Union rep for long-term care workers said he retired after 1st wave because of how difficult it was.”

An excerpt reads:

A kitchen employee at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval emailed his union representative March 19, 2020 to request that N95 masks be given to staff in contact with COVID-positive patients after he became infected.

Soon after, most of the kitchen staff fell ill because of a lack of measures protecting them, the union representative told an inquest into the death of Anna José Maquet, a 94-year-old resident who died at the home on April 3, 2020.

An Oct. 7, 2013 Globe and Mail article provides an update on topics discussed in this post. A Dec. 12, 2013 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Châteauguay mayor’s refusal to take bribe leads to the arrest of four people.”

The article notes: “The province’s anti-corruption czar said things are improving in the fight against corruption, but that it will take a lot of effort to change a deep-rooted culture.”

A June 7, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Quebec on alert after second jailbreak with helicopter.” A June 22, 2014 CBC update on the story can be accessed here.

A June 8, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Modern prisons designed to prevent helicopter jailbreaks, expert says.”

An Aug. 11, 2014 New Yorker article, which features sociologist Alice Goffman’s work, is entitled: “The Crooked Ladder: The criminal’s guide to upward mobility.”

A sept. 26, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Former Quebec construction union boss found guilty of fraud.”

A Nov. 2, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “3 more journalists say Quebec police spied on them: Radio-Canada reporters say their cellphones were tracked by provincial police.”

A Nov. 3, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Laws on protecting journalists’ sources not being followed, says retired justice John Gomery: Retired Quebec Superior Court justice says warrants to allow spying issued ‘carelessly’ “.

A Nov. 5, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “It’s dangerous being a journalist’s unnamed source in the Information Age: Neil Macdonald: Phones can be tapped, emails hacked, the only way to ensure privacy is to meet in person.”

A Nov. 5, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Weak-kneed judges let down Quebec journalists: Based on the information released this week, securing a court’s approval to spy on a journalist in Quebec amounts to little more than a formality.”

A Nov. 5, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Outrage, denunciations of police wiretaps on journalists have been swift: In a statement, the Montreal police force insisted that no one other than the officers under investigation had been subject to a wiretap.”

A Nov. 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Denis Coderre’s bold defence of a police chief under fire: The mayor might be feeling lonely standing by Montreal police.”

A Nov. 7, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Denis Coderre admits he spoke to ex-police chief about Patrick Lagacé: Conversation between Coderre, Marc Parent came after Lagacé asked about a ticket Coderre received.”

A Dec. 1, 2016 CBC article is entitled: ‘King of Laval’ Gilles Vaillancourt could face 6 years in prison, must repay $8M: Former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt arrested in 2013 as part of anti-corruption sweep.”

I am reminded of comments from Graeme Decarie concerning changes in Cartierville with the passage of the years:

Many changes have occurred in Cartierville where Malcolm Campbell High School was located from 1960s to late 1980s

A Feb. 22, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Montreal police accused of fabricating evidence to silence whistleblowers: Chief Philippe Pichet calls in Quebec provincial police to investigate allegations.”

An Oct. 30, 2020 Montreal Gazette article is entitled: “Tony Accurso fined more than $4 million for tax evasion: Four of Accurso’s companies admitted to participating in a system of false invoices produced by nine shell companies.”

An excerpt reads:

In 2018, Accurso was convicted by a jury on all five of the charges he faced in the Laval municipal corruption case: two conspiracy charges, fraud, municipal corruption and breach of trust. He was sentenced to a four-year prison term but is currently a free man because of an appeal he filed following his conviction.

Accurso is also scheduled to have a trial early next year at the Montreal courthouse in a case involving Project Coche, an RCMP investigation into alleged fraud at the Montreal offices of the Canada Revenue Agency.

[End of updates]

The original post (May 10, 2013) reads:

I was interested to come across an article in the May 10, 2013 Globe and Mail entitled “Laval mayor’s arrest marks a climate change in Quebec.”

An subhead for the article reads: “The arrest of Gilles Vaillancourt on charges of gangsterism is a result of a sea change in Quebec public attitudes toward corruption and cronyism.”

The article refers in turn to a May 9, 2013 front page Globe and Mail article entitled “Laval’s ex-mayor faces gangsterism charges.”

Gilles Vaillancourt, the former mayor of Laval, “the sprawling suburb that is now Canada’s 13th biggest city,” is described in the latter article as the man “who built Laval out of farmers’ fields north of Montreal during his 23-year term.”

The article is of interest, as is a series of articles in The Walrus including an article highlighting the Charbonneau commission in the May 2013 edition of the magazine.

The mention of the farmers’ fields brought back memories of Montreal for me. That’s what has prompted me to write this post.

Fields outside our home in Cartierville

From the time I was about seven years old in the mid-1950s until my early twenties in the late 1960s, I lived with my parents and brother in a small, two-storey house in a newly built suburb in the northern part of Montreal Island across the river from Laval.

The reference to the farmers’ fields brings to mind what we called The Bush all around us not far from the house on Lavigne Street in the Cartierville neighbourhood – now known as the borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville – in Montreal where I spent a key part of my formative years.

Lost creeks of Montreal

1907 map, which includes an image of Raimbault Creek as it existed at the time. The early map, Tim Hewlings (MCHS

Not far from where we lived there was a creek which meandered through The Bush. I recall hearing about how decades earlier – which would have been around the 1930s – people could still – as it was not yet thoroughly polluted – swim in the creek, which flowed into Riviere-des-Prairies between Montreal and Laval. In English, this was called The Back River.

My grandmother, Vera Poska-Grünthal, wrote in one of her books of memoirs about visiting us from Sweden around the late 1950s. She mentioned that one of the first things my brother and I did when she arrived was take her to visit the creek, which was accessible at the north end of the street where we lived, a short walk from our house.

The stream was called Raimbault Creek, which eventually become one of North America’s lost creeks. It was banished underground around the 1960s and became part of what I assume would be called the municipal stormwater system. Or perhaps we could speak of the sewage infrastructure.

Spending the summer playing on its banks and in the nearby dense, tangled woods, and occasionally floating a raft upon its leech-infested waters, and skating on it in the winter, was part of my experience of childhood. Some of the trees had vines that you could grab hold of to swing back and forth between the trees. Many of the trees, including right by the creek, were suitable for climbing.

Cartierville School

When I attended Cartierville School in the mid-1950s as an elementary school student, I would jump across the creek, at a point where it narrowed before exiting to The Back River, on my way – the walk was a kilometre or two – to and from school. I walked to Cartierville School on some occasions, but not throughout the school year. In the winter we travelled by bus.

My experience accounts for my enduring interest in the stories of lost streams and rivers including the lost rivers of Toronto where I’ve lived since 1975. The topic of lost rivers is a source of fascination for many organizations including Lost River Walks.

An April 9, 2013 BBC article describes archaeological evidence of a lost river, the Walbrook, in London, England. The archaeological site described in the article will house media corporation Bloomberg’s European headquarters.

Stories of the daylighting – the recall from exile – of lost streams are a source of inspiration for me. Stories about forests, wherever they may be found, such as in Honduras and Nicaragua as encountered in an article the May 6, 2013 print edition of the New Yorker, are also of interest.

As a May 24, 2013 New York Times article notes, the rivers that remain on the surface face characteristic challenges also.

Land development

In time The Bush in Cartierville and Ville St. Laurent and nearby communities mostly disappeared as development proceeded. Some much older houses – predating the suburban tracts – at the edge of The Bush also vanished as owners passed away.

Until then we were pretty well surrounded by The Bush. As a child, you could walk for miles in such surroundings. When the creek was frozen, you could go skating for what felt like miles along the creek with your friends.

Where I now live, in Long Branch (in Toronto not New Jersey), we have an outdoor ice trail – the Colonel Samuel Smith Ice Trail – which provides the experience of skating outdoors surrounded by trees. The experience brings to mind times spent skating on the creek near our home in Montreal in the 1950s.

A child had a certain sense of what The Bush represented. Passages in Canadian settler literature from the 1700s and 1800s come to mind. It was a tangled, wild, kind of messy place. There was a sense, a hint, of untouched nature about it. From my perspective, it was personified – it possessed a personality, a character, a strongly defined presence.

I had experienced a more large-scale contact with nature as a very young child – with the forests in the interior of Sweden where my father worked for part of each year on forestry survey projects. I was born in Sweden after the end of the Second World War and lived there until I was five, when we moved to Canada.

My subsequent contact with relatively untouched nature occurred in the Quebec Laurentians, and by my twenties in the Canadian Rockies and the interior and coast of British Columbia.

Historical maps

I’ve learned many things about Long Branch in Toronto by talking to people in the community. Our family dog, who likes to walk in the neighbourhood, was the original source of many of the contacts I’ve developed in Long Branch. These contacts have led me to learning about many historical maps, family photographs, and life stories.

It would be difficult for me to acquire such information about Cartierville, as it’s been a while since I lived there. However, some of the historic information I’ve learned about Long Branch has arrived through people who have contacted me as a result of visiting the Preserved Stories website.

I seek your help in locating historical maps, archaeological data, historical information, and family photographs related to the creek that I’ve described encountering as a child in Cartierville.

Please contact me through this website if you can help me to gather historical information about this area of Montreal. If you know something about the farmers’ fields  that used to exist in Laval, and about the history of the Quebec Laurentians including the Lost River community north of Lachute, that would be of interest also.

Estonian community

Back of photo, from my father’s archives, is dated September 8, 1944. My father and some other family members crossed the Baltic from Estonia to Sweden on this boat. Still other family members crossed on a larger boat.

My parents and brother were born in Estonia. They fled Estonia as refugees during the Second World War. I was born in Sweden after the war. We moved to Canada in 1951. There was a substantial Estonian community in Montreal in the fifties and sixties. Many Estonians moved from Montreal to Toronto and elsewhere starting in the late 1960s, among younger people in many cases in pursuit of economic opportunities elsewhere.

Of those Estonians who’d arrived in Montreal in the mid-1950s, by the 1980s many of them had moved to Toronto where opportunities to retire while living in an Estonian community were available.

Estonians in Toronto have gathered and organized extensive archives based on the history of the Estonian emigre community in Toronto and elsewhere. The community is currently involved with a fundraising project devoted to the construction of a Toronto-based museum devoted to the worldwide Estonian emigre experience.

A Toronto-based archival project has been video recording the life stories of Estonians in North America. In April 2013 I participated as an interviewee in two oral history interviews.

DVD cover for recent Toronto Estonian archives project involving Estonian history in which Jaan Pill served as interviewee. © Eeesti Kultuuripärandi Selts

One of them (see photo on left) was based upon my family’s history in Estonia starting with the negotiation of the peace treaty that led to the independence of Estonia after the First World War. The second was based on my own story as an Estonian.

What I’ve learned

Montreal was a place where I lived for a while. What have I learned, as I look back? I’ve learned that Montreal, like any other place, has a history, has many histories, and they all warrant study.

Updates to this post (these are early updates; later ones are at the beginning of this post)

By way of an update on the Laval story, a May 16, 2013 Canadian Press report at the CBC site is entitled: “Mulcair spoke to police about encounter with ex-Laval mayor.” The online subtitle to the report reads: “Federal NDP leader acknowledges he spoke to investigators 17 years after 1994 meeting with Gilles Vaillancourt.”

A May 16, 2013 Globe and Mail article by Les Perreaux is entitled: “Corruption was well implanted in Laval mayor’s government, inquiry hears.”

An May 23, 2013 opinion article on the CBC website speaks of the cynicism that scandal engenders.

A May 31, 2013 Globe and Mail article provides an update regarding Laval. A June 20, 2013 Toronto Star article continues the narrative as it relates to Montreal.

Earlier era of Ontario history comes to mind

A May 24, 2013 Toronto Star article about Mississauga speaks of earlier “farm fields and cow pastures” in that community, and recent development-related narratives. As well, a May 25, 2013 Globe and Mail article highlights some of the early history of central Etobicoke in western Toronto.

The power of scandal in the networked society

I’ve learned, as many have, of the immense communicative power of scandal, which as Manuel Castells and others have noted, functions as a driving force in the exercise of political power.

Manuel Castells (2009) speaks cogently, in this regard, of the politics of scandal. The discussion in turn relates to influence of social theory on historical understanding as examined by Peter Burke (2005) among others.

Burke speaks (see last link in previous sentence) in particular of the concept advanced by Manual Castells that we can now think of the city as a space that exists everywhere:

“In the world system of today,” notes Burke (2005), “‘The city is everywhere and in everything,’ forcing geographers, sociologists and historians to reimagine the urban” (p. 178).

Another perspective regarding the networked society that Castells speaks about can be found at a recent blog post.

With scandals, along with the symbolic interactionist perspective advanced by Erving Goffman, which I find of interest, a May 18, 2013 article in The Atlantic, entitled “Two takes on the modern history of the scandal,” also comes to mind. With regard to political scandals, I was pleased to learn as well of the work of the Maureen Mancuso, who along with other Canadian academics has made a study of this topic.

Donald J. Savoie

Donald J. Savoie argues in a May 19, 2013 Globe and Mail article that it’s helpful if we keep in mind that governmental institutions in a democratic society have a purpose and warrant our support. A May 20, 2013 Globe article is of relevance regarding the context of Savoie’s comments as is a May 20, 2013 CBC blog post.  A June 20, 2013 Globe and Mail article speaks of governance opportunities related to Canadian cities.

A May 28, 2013 Globe and Mail article provides an update on topics related to the Montreal construction industry. A May 30, 2013 CBC article updates the latter story. A June 6, 2013 Globe and Mail article provides an update regarding the City of Laval, as does a June 13, 2013 Globe and Mail article.

A June 17, 2013 CBC article provides an update concerning Montreal, as does a June 17, 2013 Globe and Mail article.

A June 18, 2013 CBC Radio interview on The Current features an interview with an independent Montreal city councillor from Ahunstic-Cartierville, who refers to the neoliberal downsizing of municipal services in Montreal over the past twenty years.

In this context, the councillor refers to the entry of the private sector into infrastructure projects in Montreal, and comments that downsizing and outsourcing has turned out to be more expensive that originally projected.

It has, she adds, meant that too many public officials have too much power, and that a solution involves the development of a civic arrangement in which civic officials primarily serve the public instead of primarily serving private interests.

The CBC interviews on the segment of The Current referred to above suggest that the form of municipal services that have developed over the years in Montreal and other Quebec municipalities encourages the collusion of public officials with criminal enterprises.

5 replies
  1. Bob Carswell
    Bob Carswell says:

    I just read Jaan Pill’s article about WWII and his family’s escape from Estonia. Reminds me a great deal of what is going on today for a large majority of people escaping from the war in Libya. It also reminds me of my own childhood and similar situation.

    Both my parents were officers in the RAF (my mother in the WAAF) during WWII. My father spent 4-1/2 years in England during the war and 6 years in the military. My mother was in the WAAF for almost three years until she resigned her commission due to her pregnancy having married my father the previous summer.

    War is a simple thing to understand. The political threats turn to action and the old folks then go to war using archaic ideas in a modern time. However, it is the young people who face the brunt of the action and many die in the process. It was always thus.

    Fortunately, my parents both survived although both experienced the fright of war by being in the middle of the action. Life was different then. My mother married at 22 and had her first child at 23. I came along before the war actually ended and like Jaan Pill, I too escaped the war as a baby, something I do not remember either.

    My father was posted back to Canada with the RCAF in mid-1944 and my mother, brother and I followed in March 1945. German submarines were still roaming the seas and had no way of knowing the war was being lost in Europe until they returned to port after their 45 day outings looking for convoys in the north seas. To avoid them our trip went down and around the Portuguese Azores islands and then northwest to Halifax.

    We then were put on a train to Montreal. My mother was 2 months pregnant with me when my father left England and I was four months old when we arrived in Montreal. My first home in Canada was in the village of Pendleton, Ontario, outside of Ottawa. By then my father was 26 and as Station Adjutant, eventually commanding the station, headed up the No. 10 Early Flying Training School, one of the many schools that trained pilots during WWII but by then was just standing ready to resume training if it became necessary.

    Overseas at 20 looking like a teenager as part of the hastily put together first contingent of Canadians to go to England, he quickly became a man by 1945 when he left the military to return to normal life. What a let down that must have been. responsible for a thousand people in his last military job, he returned to the accounting firm P.F.Ross who he had been articling with before the war only to find that the only job they could give him initially was working in the mailroom.

    Every firm of any size was told by the government that all jobs had to be ensured upon return of volunteers who served in the war and survived. Dad had been away for 6 years so he and every young man that went through the firm during those 6 years and survived the war, had returned. Until the whole situation settled out, the firm did the best they could.

    PTSD was a common factor with everyone back then who fought in the war and those who sat in the big seats were people who had been through the First World War and understood the situation. My father’s breakdown came in 1947. His employers said simply to my mother, “dress him and put him on the train, we will look after him when he gets here.”

    My mother had been through the same thing after a year of Luftwaffe bombings of her fighter station known as RAF Biggin Hill. Her breakdown came in late 1940 or 1941 when she realized that it wasn’t just the station she was on that was being bombed. Of course, she did not have any contact with the outside world until she went home to Croydon on leave and saw that even her own house had some damage due to the bombings.

    She was lucky to get it out of the way after the first year, having lived through multiple bombings during the Battle of Britain. upon recovery she returned to her station and was recommended as officer material by the woman (age 27) who would become the head of entire WAAF at age 32 by the end of WWII and the person in charge of creating the new smaller WRAF out of the remains of the WAAF after the war ended.

    By then my mother had ended up in the same job as this woman only in Scotland at RAF Wigtown, a rank higher and at age 22. Good thing, that is where she met this young Canadian pilot in the RAF sitting on the counter in the drinks room. But that is a whole different story. People choose sides during WWII based on their own situation.

    Finland chose to fight with the Germans because they were afraid that the Russians would take advantage of them during the war if their young men were away fighting. This way, the country had a large contingent of Germans opposing the Russian threat which held them at bay. Finns were also known to have been sent to Europe to fight as German soldiers.

    My ancestory is Swedish however I have to go back to the 1400s or so to place them in Sweden as the earliest Lutheran church records show them as being in Norr Degergard in Finland in the 1600s. This is the result of Finland being formed after the Swedes had settled the Aland Islands and along the west coast of what became Finland. Farming, fishing and sea transport ships were the ways of the multitudes in the early years.

    My early Swedish roots existed in Finland for some 500 years or more being part of the 8% of the Finnish population there to this day. My great grandfather acquired the name of Degerlund because his early ancestors came from Norr Degergard in a more northern part of Finland.

    Settling in Bromarf, the surname was created to identify the family from others in the community with the same first name. Simply, a place name, it identifies that the family originated from the land of Deger or Dagerlund and then became part of the records. At the age of 8 my great grandfather hated doing farm chores.

    The only solution was to send him off on one of the ships. We are talking wooden ships back in the 1860s and 70s and I suspect he was being looked after by an uncle who worked the ships. Starting as a cabin boy at the age of 8 he decided to settle in London, England 20 years later, a qualified ship’s carpenter.

    And without going into any more detail, that is how I got my blond hair and blue eyes that came down in the family to me. yDNA makes me a Carswell simply because all the males carry that same yDNA in a family and it seldom changes even after hundreds of generations.

    There is a situation in my family where there are two friends named Carswell in Australia whose yDNA is one number off from the usual yDNA for my ancestral. From what I am told it is a result of yDNA from a very early branch of the family but within the period while they were known as Carswell which would indicate that the surname has existed for many many generations in the Border regions of Scotland where our ancestory is recorded as landowners in the Parish of Mearns back in the First Statistical Account of Scotland (1791).

    The parish consisted of 80 farms throughout the 1800s when the recording of census data was begun. My brother and I are two of Canada’s 22,000 war babies, born to Canadians overseas during WWII. My mother came to Canada as one of the 49,000 war brides.

    We settled in Cartierville in a new 6-plex in 1946 with two entrances and 3 two or three bedroom apartments (depending on how you used the diningroom). Still to this day I have memories of looking to Val Royal train station from our second floor balcony and seeing the morning sun reflecting off of St. Joseph’s Oratory in the distance.

    My earliest memory is a visit to a Montreal Royal’s baseball game in 1946. It was a big outing for a 1-1/2 year old. I remember the glass wall at the entrance to the park, the terrific hot dog, my first and the seats on wooden slats on concrete formed bases. The reason I can pinpoint this memory is because I remember seeing the team coming out on to the field and for the first time in my short existance, I saw my a black man for the very first time. I did not know there were other races back then.

    That was the year that Jackie Robinson played for the New York Yankee’s farm team, the Montreal Royals. Until I looked up the facts today, I always thought that I was 2-1/2 years old but I was wrong on that one. At was also during the years in Cartierville that I learned a bit about hockey from two of the Montreal Canadians greats, Rocket Richard and his younger brother, referred to as the Pocket Rocket.

    When it was time to teach us how to skate, my parents took us down to one of the old quarries that dotted the landscape of Cartierville going back to the very early years. By the 1950s they were filled with water creating the natural skating rink each winter that someone always seemed to clean off for the kids. Having Rocket Richard, by then an NHL favourite and his teenaged brother visiting the quarry on Saturdays, did a lot for the education of Canada’s newest generation learing how to skate or play hockey.

    It seems the family lived only a few blocks over on Ranger Street at the time. Back then it did not matter if you were English or French, we all got along fine. Looking back, my research into family history, a hobby since 1974 was a difficult thing to research.

    My Canadian ancestors (the Kerrs) have been in Montreal since 1822. My family name also originates with a branch of the Kerrs or a placename based on the Kerrs in the days of many family branches and different spellings. Kerr, Ker, Car, Carr are all common spellings of the original Kerr Clan.

    My ancestors lived on Kerr land near the source of water, the well, as it was called which back in the early days was the place in a stream or brook where water was drawn. We happened to live near the CAR’s WELL and out of that our placename originated, or that is my own belief anyway contrary to other suggestions. The spellings of the name Kerr come to me from my research of the Border Reiver families of which my ancestors include 8 of those 77 family names so far.

    The various spellings of the Kerr Clan’s various branches were established during this period at different locations around Scotland since there was little contact between members of different branches and surnames were just beginning to be recorded. Future family history research will prove to be a lot more difficult for my descendants for one simple reason.

    I can say my ancestors have been in Canada since 1822 and I am able to document that. At the same time, of the Carswell name, I also have to say that my father and son were born in Canada and moved to England while my grandfather and I were born in England and moved to Canada. Life take an interesting twist when you look at it closely enough. As a young teen going to Montreal High School (before my years at MCHS) I would go to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

    At school I had heard about the fighting Irish who lived in Griffintown and often wished I was Irish back then as it looked to be a lot of fun. It weas only years later when I started to get involved in genealogy that I found out that I can claim Irish ancestory on both sides of the family nand I suspect both Catholic and Protestant. Life is interesting when you start to look at your own family in detail. Lots of great secrets and misunderstandings. It has been a fun hobby.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Wonderful to read your overview, Bob.

    Based on the experience of my family in 1944 – which as you have noted is a story of refugee survival that echoes what is happening right now, by way of example individuals and families fleeing war in Libya – I feel a deep kinship with every person who is now, or ever has been in the past, a refugee.

  3. Bob Carswell
    Bob Carswell says:

    Refugees are generally the working classes it seems. When a country like Canada takes them in, it generally happens because there is a need to fill the bottom of the pipe, so to speak. After WWII the largest number of refugees came from countries in Europe that could provide the services we were lacking.

    The Italians were traditional bricklayers and large dump truck drivers, both needed after WWII. They settled in Italian communities that grew out of the older homes in downtown Toronto.

    You can usually identify the changes in a community by the external changes to the fronts of traditional residences. The introduction of fancy railings on the fronts of traditionally anglo-saxon homes is an example. Unlike the traditional way of buying a home, it was a tradition among Italians to saving money each month and eventually pay cash for the home.

    Starting small, over time the size of those residences grew until a large enough spread between purchase and sale prices along with entrepreneurial efforts, turned the small bricklayer here and there into the community leader hiring others to do the work while they made the profits.

    Hence, Woodbridge, Ontario became the new home for the Italian communities and the houses kept getting bigger as time passes. Today, the descendants of those initial Italian bricklayers are among the people who still fix our roads, build our bridges and generally make money doing the many jobs that my own ancestors might have dealt with a hundred years ago had they been in that business. The key is education.

    In this country, we say that a university education is available to everyone. At the same time, every family wants their children to do what they never had an opportunity to do, get a university education. Hence, the universities are expanded and each year another batch of 2nd or 3rd generation new Canadians gets that education… and life goes on.

    The new Canadians, Syrians, and other refugees, that come into this country today, eventually settle somewhere but like my father’s return to P.F. Ross after WWII, he ended up in the mailroom until they could use him for an audit somewhere which eventually led him to the Birks large Jewellry chain by 1947 and gave him a life career that led him on to becoming one of the three top executives before he took early retirement after 25 years with the company.

    He joined Birks because he needed a firm income having just been presented with his third child. Unlike my ancestors (down some lines) who have been in Canada for almost 200 years, there was never a language barrier because English was largely the working language outside of Quebec and wasn’t totally excluded in Montreal back in those days.

    First generation Canadians enter an educational system that teaches the children English whereas the parents do not have that advantage from a young age. The youngsters learn their family language at home and become bilingual, often translating for the parents who do not learn the language. I travel by Wheel Trans in Toronto due to certain disabilities.

    The taxi drivers I talk to often do not know English well but are able to get around the city, especially with today’s GPS. The older drivers usually indicate during our discussions that their children are at university, the opportunity they never got but which they have worked very hard for so their children can get a university education as it is seen as the key to a more successful life than they have had themselves.

    For them, the key was having a steady income to support their family. Eventually, their children will hopefully support them in the last years of their own lives. In the meantime, they have to do their best in learning the English language, or French, depending on the case, securing work and raising their family.

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Wonderful to read your overview, Bob.

    I would say, based on the studies that are available, that refugees to Canada come from a wide range of backgrounds. I speak as the son of (at that time, quite young) refugee parents who fled Estonia in 1944 when the Soviet Army occupied the Baltic States, for a second time, during the Second World War.

    On the whole the Estonians, some thousands of them, who settled in Canada did well for a variety of reasons. Jobs in those days were quite readily available.

    Many Estonians newly arrived in Canada in the 1950s established themselves quickly, and their children and grandchildren on the whole have done very well both at a personal and family level and also by way of making genuine contributions to the wider society.

    My mother used to say, “If you can’t make a contribution to the life of your home country, make a contribution to the life of the country that you end up in.”

    From what little I know about such things, my sense is that how easy or how difficult it is for a refugee, in the 1950s or in the present moment, to progress in the educational system, or in terms of employment and career advancement, depends on many factors including personal qualities as well (and I think this is very, very important) as on the prevalent forms of prejudice and stereotyping in a given society.

    We are fortunate that in Canada, we are relatively welcoming toward newcomers, including Syrian and other refugees. That’s one of the many things about Canada that warms my heart and makes me pleased to be a citizen. That said, we have many stereotypes to contend with in Canada as in any society, and that is truly a challenge.

    I am pleased, in that context, that many Canadians like other people around the world are making an effort, at many levels, to ensure that every person has a place, is provided opportunities for advancement in life, and is respected as a valuable, fellow human being.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *