The Immigration Story of Wolfgang Paul Loofs (German immigrant)

Category: 
Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Date of Arrival: 
November 15 1951
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2012.658.1
Story Text: 

Immigrant - Arrived at Halifax on 15/16 November 1951 on board MS Anna Salèn from Bremerhaven, Germany. My name then: Wolfgang (Paul) Loofs, now W Paul Loofs (also see the Sobey Wall)

Background:

Though of mixed German-Dutch parentage, I grew up in Germany (Saxony); by the time I was 18, I had lived through the collapse of the Weimar Republic, the Hitler-regime including six years of World War Two, Nazi-Germany's defeat and disintegration, American and Soviet occupation, and flight to the West. Like all German families then, mine was devastated by the war: Father in captivity, eldest brother killed as pilot, middle brother survived only to end up in the French Foreign Legion, elder sister evacuated by Americans to their zone, younger sister put into a detention camp by Soviets. We were liberated twice: first by the US Army, then by the Soviets (who received Saxony under the terms of Yalta). I had seen my share of death and destruction, postwar chaos and human misery leaving a very disillusioned teen to cope with it.

Reasons for Emigrating:

In the Soviet Zone (later East Germany), children of academics were not admitted to university, thus soon after finishing high school in 1947 I left home like virtually all my classmates for the West. By working for the US Occupation Forces I not only became legitimized, but also exposed to the American way of life, and the idea of emigrating first occurred; however, the quota system in force then made it unrealistic. Finally, I wangled a study space at university and then managed to land a spot on the first student exchange with Britain in June 1950 - a decisive event! I came from an anglophile home, admiring British fairness and history; thus I like working in the UK, though only menial jobs were open to me. I wanted to stay, but had to leave next spring but not before having applied for emigration to Canada in London (apple pickers wanted, Annapolis Valley). That application followed me around to Scotland and Sweden and back to Germany, where I found myself in early fall with no money, and few prospects (and my girlfriend was uneasy about my career, too)

Immigration to Canada:

The in early October 1951 came a letter from the new Canadian Mission in Hanover to report there; after a medical exam, I was offered a government passage loan if I worked for one year in Agriculture or Forestry starting next spring or in Mining starting right away. I opted for the latter (though I had never seen a mine before), got my visa and Dept of labour contract on 15 October 1951, and two weeks later the IRO Notification to report in at the Refugee Camp Bremenlesum by 2 November 1951! Things were really moving now no time fir sentimental dawdling or second thoughts: I would be leaving all behind! What was I getting myself into, and would I regret it later?

Reconstruction of the Voyage (based on mini-diary and memory)

Sun 4 Nov 1951: Hopefully the last day at this crowded (8,000 people!) refugee camp where I don't know a soul, where you are not allowed visitors, and where all you can do is wait and write your good-bye letters:

Mon 5 Nov 1951: Excitement: My name had appeared overnight on the passenger list for the'Anna Salèn, and registration began early in the morning. Then the train to Bremerhaven, laborious processing. At mid-day we were allowed on board; it's a Swedish freighter of some 11,000 tons converted to people-moving, taking on about 1,000 mostly Central and East European people in drab clothes, many women and children. I end up at the stern and side of the lowest deck (D6B), yuk! We get underway about 3PM, in drizzly cool weather, leaving from a deserted pier, very triste and lonely, no good-byes, only in your heart - Still, the mood is upbeat: a new life beckons!

Tue 6 Nov 1951: Rough night, dozens seasick already, making stairways slippery, etc! Volunteers are offered 50c a day to help clean up the mess I'm one of the few taking the job. Across the North Sea all day, by evening the Dover Cliffs are visible; through the Channel Narrows at night.

Wed 7 Nov 1951: Entering LeHavre in the morning, taking on another 500 passengers! Sailing westward afternoon (now Oo, 50oN) last view of Normandy and thus the Europe, for how long? Initially quiet night.

Thu 8 Nov 1951: Seas getting rougher, many more seasick! AM SOS exercise with mixed results; PM we can see the mighty "Queen Elizabeth " and briefly our sister ship, the "Nelly ", at starboard. Noon position: 8o30W/49oN.

Fri 9 Nov 1951: Increasingly rough seas during AM, by PM really big waves also two waves of seasickness! Strong winds and rain, the little ship (only slightly larger then the Vancouver-Victoria ferry, I learn later!) heaves and groans, stuff slides off tables, much banging and creaking... Storm warning at night! Noon position: 18oW/49oN

Sat 10 Nov 1951: Worst night so far, sea state 10 to 11, quite a ride! Most seasick, hardly anybody ventures on deck (even to throw up, therefore big mess below; ugly job); difficult to walk anyway: ropes strung up took pictures from the bow. Storm abated by noon, another SOS exercise, went well. Clammy, unpleasant weather. Noon: 26oW/49oN.

Sun 11 Nov 1951: Nothing Sunday-like: no service, unpleasant rough seas all day; pretty well alone on deck and with my thoughts (girlfriend left behind; would she come later? no, as it turned out). Noon: 34oW/48o30N.

Mon 12 Nov 1951: Another poor night with hard bumps and much rolling; everybody tired and sick or queasy: one week at sea already! Noon: 41o30W/47o30N.

Tue 13 Nov 1951: Another poor night, only worse; shivering in sleet and hail: near Labrador now, and the cabins are not heated! Asked a crew member if I could hire on, was told no way Noon position: 48o30W/46oN.

Wed 14 Nov 1951: At least calmer weather now, but I have a cold! Passing south-end of Newfoundland now we'll arrive tomorrow, everybody getting excited after ten days at (rough) sea! Noon position: 56o30W/45oN.

Thu 15 Nov 1951: We made it to the New World! Arrived at Halifax before noon: in Canada now! Everybody had a look, enjoying firm ground; but now much to see, the usual harbour and I couldn't understand a word the stevedores were saying to each other! Nobody allowed ashore today; PM allocation of work sites so fare, none of us 300-odd miners had any idea where he would go! In a kind of a slave market atmosphere the officials called out: Six men need for Val d'or and so forth, but a dozen or so of us wanted to go West; I had visions of the Rockies, forests, lakes and Indians from boyhood stories and books. Yet the farthest west that came up was Winnipeg (actually FlinFlon), so we took that. Last night onboard the "Anna Salèn "!

Fri 16 Nov 1951: THE BIG DAY Today I entered Canada officially as "Landed Immigrant! " After one last breakfast on board (I'm one of the few who ate all meals on this voyage!), we disembarked with tickets and stamped passports in hand, to pass customs at Pier 21, a huge hall, with hundreds of bewildered newcomers standing in line, wondering what next. Yet all went well I only had hand-luggage anyway and by mid-afternoon our little group was processed and ready to go. We looked around a bit, noted the park and adjacent hotel, and tried to make sense of the signs, but couldn't buy anything for lack of money (well, I had my hard-earned $5 bill with King George VII on it, but wasn't going rashly). We soon boarded the designated CNR Train C, Colonist Class, i.e. wooden compartments with folding seats for sleeping. We all wore our numbered IRO-tags and marvelled at the notation "To be Fed ", to that end we received CNR meal coupons. We pulled out of Halifax at 6PM, bound for Montreal and points West.

Sat 17 Nov 1951: It didn't look all that far on my little DC &I map I had, but it took 24 hours, arriving in Montreal by evening. Quick change into another CNR train to Winnipeg; fewer immigrants now, as quite a few stayed in Quebec. Off again, into Ontario, by way of Ottawa, this country's capital; had time to see Parliament and War Memorial.

Sun 18 Nov 1951: Travelling all day and all night through endless northern Ontario winter landscape; beginning to get a feel for the vast distances in Canada! Rumours that we may go beyond Winnipeg; would suit me fine!

Mon 19 Nov 1951: Arrived in Winnipeg (halfway across the country!) by noon; just about got blown off the door when I opened it to look around: very cold and blustery! Word reached us twelve that we would indeed go farther West, six to Alberta, six (incl me) to BC, yippie! Changed into a CPR train, left in the evening.

Tue 20 Nov 1951: Another night on the train, riding through the Prairies and are they ever large and flat! - another time zone change, and into Medicine Hat (funny name, we thought), Alberta. Now Tourist Class, with leather seats; we're down to six: The other six went North to Edmonton. One more time zone change, as we're crossing into BC tonight.

Wed 21 Nov 1951: After five nights and four days in trains crossing this vast country we six men from Germany arrive in Nelson, BC at noon, our destination by train. Here we are met by two Cominco (our employer) pick-up trucks, and the drivers want each three of us to take to "our mine! " Thus a quick division and good-bye to the other three; Frank, Sven, and I get driven to Salmo, BC (in the Kootenays, just about where I had wanted to be!). There the foreman advanced us some money to buy the necessary work clothes and boots right then and there - I only had a small cardboard suitcase and the clothes on my back and then took us to the HB Mine nearby. Here we were shown to our tent yes, just a tent with planks around the base and a potbelly stove, as the permanent bunkhouses were still being built; yet it was cold and a lot of snow - in fact more snow and longer icicles than I'd ever seen

Epilogue:

Thus as of 22 November 1951 I was an employee of Cominco Ltd of Trail, BC. I repaid my passage loan within a few months working the obligatory year underground; then took the two-year Assayer Training Program and worked seven years as such, followed by another twelve as research technician. All told, I stayed with Cominco for 20 years from 1951 to 71.

I came to Canada with the intention of making it my home and become a citizen as soon as possible (with my home under Communist rule, returning never was much of an option). I made my Declaration of Intention after 2½ years in the country, and on the strength of that joined the Militia in Trail in 1954 (RCA), switching to RCE in 1955. My mining instructor from Kimberley sponsored me for the citizenship hearing in Rossland, BC in early 1957, where the court clerk asked me incredulously: "What do you want here? " as I appeared in Canadian Army Uniform! (Incidentally, I went on to serve 27 years in the Primary Reserve and another 13 in the supplementary, i.e. 40 years in total)

Meanwhile, I had received a job offer from the Federal Government's Translation Bureau; therefore my family and I moved to Ottawa where I worked as translator and revisor nearly 20 years, from 1971 to 90, when I retired to Victoria, BC. I also used the 80's and 90's to earn a total of six academic credentials (including finishing that Science degree I had started 40 years earlier in Germany!), so that now I can devote my time to charitable work and community service, notably medical missions overseas and Red Cross here.

The emotional high point came in early November 2001, when I visited Pier 21 with my two daughters to observe the 50th anniversary of my landing here and what a journey it has been!