I Have a Dream! After World War II, John Goldi, was a disenchanted civil servant in Switzerland. By 1950 he had two more children after Hans, left, Heidi, and Fred. He dreamed of a better life for them in a land far from the sectarian strife of war-torn Europe.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS BEFORE CANADA
His private passion was raising champion chickens as a hobby, in an enclosure behind the apartment building in which his family lived. His prize Mechelners won awards all over Switzerland for their laying prowess. Hardly a picture was taken in those post-war years which didn't feature chickens, chickens with kids, or kids with chickens. Below with Hans (John), who does not seem to be contemplating a career in the chicken business.
Slowly a dream to turn his hobby into a profession became an obsession to move to Canada which was advertising itself as the perfect place for men of means who had initiative, were independent, self-reliant, and who were willing to work in agriculture like John Goldi clearly was. Above and right Hans (John), the oldest, Heidi and Fred, posed for their studio portraits taken in their "going to Canada" outfits.
Paul Martin: But getting a permit for Switzerland's top athlete to emigrate to Canada was far tougher than anyone could have thought, and was going to take intervention at the highest levels to make it a reality. Letting John Goldi go to Canada was as popular a move in Swiss Government circles as letting Wayne Gretzky leave Alberta for Los Angeles was among Edmonton politicians. It had to be stopped!
John said there was interminable bureaucratic interference that threatened to throttle his attempts to take his family to Canada. He feared his dream would never happen. In desperation he wrote a letter appealing for help directly to Canada's Minister of Health, Paul Martin, who happened to be at Canada House in London. Writing in French he touched a fellow Francophone, who immediately signed his approval and the Goldis were Canada-bound.
For decades thereafter, at every family occasion, John toasted the health and memory of the man without whom he would never have gotten to Canada.
In 2003, on John and Ruth Goldi's 63rd wedding anniversary, the bond between the families was rekindled when the phone rang in their apartment. (TELL ME MORE)
In December, 1950, the family disembarked at Immigration Pier #21, in Halifax and left by train for Toronto. During the night there was a tremendous jolt as the train screeched to a sudden halt in the middle of nowhere. Was this a war saboteur at work? The police scoured the train...
They quickly discovered the culprit, in a washroom; it was John Goldi. Looking for the flushing release chain - in Paris they were all near the porcelain bowls on the ceiling - he pulled, by accident, what turned out to be the emergency stop cord for the train.
Albert Seiling: Because of John Goldi's reputation as a breeder of champion chickens, famous Elmira chicken mogul Albert Seiling, sponsored him to Canada, and John went to work for him for a few months in a hatchery. Albert bought hockey sticks for Fred and John, who learned the national sport of their new country on the streets of Elmira. Though Albert had tried his best, neither John or Fred made it to the NHL. (But Albert's grandson Rod, who was six years old, at the time, did. With typical modesty he always said he learned everything he knew from the Goldi boys.)
But wage employment was not what Dad wanted. So he bought a farm with his life savings.
Aberfeldy Dream Farm: Goldi brought his family to a farm at Aberfeldy, between London and Chatham, in February 1950 .
The Swiss civil servant on his cherished 1951 Model A John Deere, working the land he loved...
I Have Another Dream: John Goldi could have easily moved in with a Swiss community, or a German community, or a French community, but he did not. To him multiculturalism was not a ghetto of walled up hyphenates, but a mental openness to people of any kind from any culture. To him that had been the promise of Canada.
"I came to Canada to become a Canadian!" he always said.
He could have dressed his children in lederhosen, hung cow-bells around their necks - on one memorable occasion, in his mid-nineties, Dad astonished everyone by suddenly bursting out with a Swiss song as he accompanied himself on a giant cowbell - and taught them how to yodel. But that was his culture. He was determined that Canada would be that of his children.
The senior Goldi had already been a Swiss, and for decades a Frenchman... Now he wanted to be a Canadian.
Left, the proof is in the pudding, Fred, Heidi, and John completely Canadianized with the cowboy craze of 1953 (taken at the corner of the chicken house, in the centre of the top painting, and below, under the trees - now cut down - in the front yard).
Ever the independent, Dad chose to ignore the cultural support groups that might have made his transition into Canada easier, and moved his family right into the heart of strongly conservative Anglo-Saxon south-western Ontario.
These Scotch people had just lost husbands, uncles, brothers, and sons, in a war fighting in Europe. They were not especially pleased, now, to see immigrants from Europe who had caused all their losses, coming into their communities. To many of them, John Goldi was just "another damn DP." And at recess, at school, the kids were taunted the same way, with the entire school yard lined up against three grade one, two, and three Swiss immigrants.
No Plates for the DPs: Visiting an Anglo neighbour, Mom was shown a whole array of lovely plates and cups that she had received as free bonus gifts for shopping at the local Aberfeldy General Store.
Unlike almost all the Anglo neighbours, who did most of their shopping in town, Mom, to be a good Canadian and neighbour, did most of her shopping at the store, which was just a couple of hundred yards across the field from her house. As a result we were probably the store's best customers. But mom never once received a single plate or cup or saucer, which the Scotch couple who owned the store reserved only for Anglos.
Mom was deeply hurt and went home to cry in private. There would be a lot of crying at night over the coming years...
At the time, it was the fate of many European immigrants - who had suffered the most in World War II - to be denigrated as DPs - Displaced Persons. Originating as a government term it was not used politely on the streets. But none of it made John Goldi senior bitter.
Whenever someone used DP as a disparaging slur, and the kids came home to ask what it meant, John always said "Oh that means displeased person." Feigning ignorance, but looking on the bright side, always, this linguistic master, pretended wide-eyed innocence, by slyly winking and deflecting the racism with humour. Fifty years later we all still laugh at Dad's feigned inability to comprehend its real meaning in English.
So Hans, What'll It Be? In front of a group of breathless students the teacher sternly asked nine-year-old John - born Hans Werner - "Now Hans, you're going to have to make up your mind. Are you going to keep your foreign name Hans or become a Canadian and change your name to John?" Clearly she was testing his ability to become a good Canadian and had thrown down the gauntlet. Would he fail his first test in the new country - where the fishing was so good?
Foreigner was a dreaded word, even worse than DP, and stung a lot more.
Hans took the lead from his father - the elder John had come to Canada as Werner Hans, but so many English-speaking people had trouble pronouncing, understanding, or writing his name - they kept calling him Wiener - he just adopted the common English form of his father's name John. Hans Werner - the younger - as eager as his father, to become a real Canadian, quickly changed his name too, and never looked back. So both became Johns for better or worse...
To father and son, both, changing names was not a cultural loss but a new adventure to embark on, with a new identity, in a new land. Only mom continued to call her son Hansli. There were limits to what she would do for Canada. But the name change made little difference at school - schoolmates still called John the younger, Wiener. They liked the sound of it better and thought it more appropriate...
But John senior and the kids persevered. John Goldi grew great crops. Above left, John the son, in a photo published on the front page of the Alvinston Free Press, standing on the main street with a corn stalk 19 feet high. John senior had proudly retrieved it from a field, tacked it on a board, and tying it to the roof of his 38 Ford, had driven it into town to take to the paper. It started off a regional competition to see who grew the tallest corn.
Left On Sundays everyone piled into John's 38 Ford and went to the Catholic Church in Alvinston. John fitted right in; the congregation was all Slovaks; the priest was Belgian, and Dad talked to him in French. He came out to bless the farm. He knew we needed all the help we could get.
Everyone worked on the farm. For the first time in her married life mom went to work - in the fields hoeing beans, picking tomatoes, and topping sugar beets, until her hands blistered and festered with sores and cuts. (Above left) John and Fred spent a day digging out this tree stump in the middle of the field. On other days it was picking rocks and piling them on fence rows, just like the original Canadian pioneers once did...
They all came to understand that this kind of hands-on work with the soil gives those who grow up on farms a deep-rooted emotional tie to the land that can never be known, or even understood, by those who grow up in the cold and callous urban centres and cities.
Moving On: But times were bad for farmers. Contracts for crops that were promised with the purchase of the farm, failed to come through, and prices fell.
After five years John had to move on in new directions to make ends meet. Leaving his family on the farm he went to work as a blaster in the iron ore mines of Schefferville, in Labrador, coming home only at Christmas.
Then it was on the become a blasting engineer at Shelter Bay, Quebec, to blow a huge harbour out of solid rock, to accommodate ships taking iron ore to smelters.
Then he worked as an electrician at Elliott Lake as that town was ramping up for its boom of glory. At the time the streets were only mud and the sidewalks were merely planks floating on top.
(Left) The family stayed on the farm and sent him pictures to show we were all well. The photo features the only real Canadian in the family, Henry, born in 1952, in a shot taken by John junior, showing an early talent for taking good people pictures that he would pursue in later life.
Finally John sold his dream farm and moved into the small town of Glencoe so the family could be united again. John Goldi changed careers again, becoming a welder while Ruth worked in a sock factory.
Left, John was proud that both his older sons - John left, and Fred - went to Cadet camps in the summers because he believed it built character. Both excelled in fields he had once pursued with a passion. John became the Commanding Officer of his high school cadet corps, and was selected to attend the National Cadet Camp in Banff, AB. Fred became a great athlete, running in competitive meets with Bruce Kidd.
By the time the family was in Glencoe, the strong Catholicism that was rooted in John Goldi's past had weakened. Ever the innovator, he decided to let his children chose their own religious destiny, and all went their separate ways. Mom and Dad looked to each other.
In Glencoe there were three churches on three corners, and each got a Goldi. Heidi joined the CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training) and became a Presbyterian; Fred, with his father's fabulous singing voice, joined the choir in the Anglican church, and John joined the choir in the United Church, with mixed results. Reflecting their father's image, it was the perfect Canadian solution. (Left Heidi, Fred, and Henry ready for church. John of course, was taking the picture.)
After two years the family moved to Toronto in 1960. Dad's last job was working for Loblaw's as the timer in its Bathurst Street warehousing office (below left.)
For years Ruth worked as a highly cherished bookkeeper at Macmillans Publishing (standing left). Highly valued for her hard and conscientious work, and always noted for her extremely good nature, wherever she went, Ruth received Christmas and birthday cards - for decades - from her former bosses and co-workers.
All John's children followed in their father's multicultural footsteps, meshing entirely into the ethnic mosaic that is the pride of Canada, and has been the lifelong practice of John Goldi. Not a single one of them ever sought out Swiss or German partners for socializing, marriage, or business.
In their father's image they became total Canadians, and embraced multiculturalism in the best sense of that word - building on the best within you and meshing that with the best of others, whoever and wherever they may be, or be from...
John's children excelled in other ways. Heidi worked, for decades, as a highly-valued Executive Medical Secretary for doctors at Princess Margaret's Hospital in Toronto.
Fred founded his own executive recruitment company and, for decades, has run his head-hunting firm from its headquarters on University Avenue in downtown Toronto.
Henry, the Canadian-born, youngest, is today a yard foreman of a large auto auction company.
John, the oldest, in a 40 year partnership with his wife Joan, first worked with her as teachers with CUSO in Africa for two years, then in Toronto high schools, before moving to the Canadian arctic and sub-arctic where, for six years, they ran schools together in remote Inuit and Dene communities.
For the past 25 years they have made educational films and television documentaries through their company Goldi Productions Ltd. which they started after leaving teaching.
Their company motto "Keeping Canadians in Touch With Canada" seeks to spread knowledge about the terrific heritage of Canada to other Canadians and the world.
It is a heritage which beguiled John Goldi senior so long ago.
55 years later it still sends a tremour through the body to recall the thrill of the Canadian adventure which John Goldi conveyed to his children in those gloomy years after the war. "KANADA, KANADA!" he breathed in awe, and hope, and sought to inspire us!
In so many ways, and in so many places, he managed to taste it all, and contribute his small part, whenever he could. Wherever he went he meant well; he did well.
It is tempting to say his passion for Canada, and the success of his children here, have kept him 100 years young. It would be true enough.
But above all, it is really due to a powerfully strong relationship with a truly wonderful human being - his wife Ruth who has followed him loyally everywhere, and kept home and hearth together when tough times took him elsewhere to make a living.
Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer...
Both made complete commitments to Canada, which in 1950, was like going to the moon... Neither ever went back, and they never saw their parents, or brothers and sisters again.
Today, Mom at 88 - she has always been the finance manager for the family - still looks out for Dad's best interests. Thanks to her they are still completely self-sufficient in their own apartment in Oakville, ON.
It is no small feat when one remembers that Dad had three hip replacements, the second of which was botched by a doctor, and the third - a few days later - also, when a third doctor this time left a loose screw, which left John with enormous pain for years.
This great athlete now uses a walker to get around, but faces it all like he always has, with good humour.
Powerful pills helped with the pain which has subsided of late. Dad doesn't know that Mom - who feared the danger of overly powerful drugs - has been emptying the vials progressively and feeding him flour placebos. "Oh, the pills are great'" says an unsuspecting Dad, who religiously takes them.
They have raised a family whose children all still come home for visits. Only Heidi had kids, whose own children now have their own, who visit Great Grand Dad and Great Grand Mom.
Ruth and John are looked in on, often, by that rarity in the medical profession, a caring physician who still makes house calls: Dr. Joel Spector of Oakville who comes by regularly.
Said Dad enthusiastically after the last visit. "He says I'm perfect. Good for another 20 years!"
When Dr. Spector said proudly that he was his oldest patient, Dad replied "Thank you, Doctor. You are the one that is responsible for why I am still here."
Left, Mom and Dad's best genes passed on to their only Grandkids, the gorgeous Chris & handsome Terry, who each have children of their own...