Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dad story

Yup, that’s him. That’s my dad.

The picture was taken during a road trip he went on with his girlfriend last month. My father has always wanted to see Canada (Canada being, in his estimation, somewhere other than Ontario or Quebec), so they packed up her car and drove all the way out to Banff, Alberta and back again.

On the way there, my dad insisted on taking the northern route to the Trans-Canada highway, rather than driving south through the United States. As he later told me, he wanted to visit the place where he was sent to work when he first came to Canada, and which he hadn’t laid eyes on in almost fifty years.

Savanne is a very small town located 120 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, or, as it was known at the time, Fort William. It sits on the southern shore of Lac Des Milles Lacs, which is north of the northernmost Great Lake, and is, in my father’s words, “bush country.” The town was once a stop on the North American fur trade route; for the same reason, it is now a historical site.

In the years in between, it was the hub of the Savanne section of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which my father helped to build. I’ve heard fragments of the story many times: how big the blackflies were, what the railway ties sounded like when the workers struck them, how it felt like being at the edge of the world. I’m not sure how long my dad worked for the CPR, but I do know that he started in 1960, two years after he left Yugoslavia. He was all of twenty years old.

He was admitted to Canada from a refugee camp in Austria. Yugoslavs were still considered “non-preferred” immigrants by the Canadian government, a policy that would not change until 1962, but exceptions were made for farmers, domestics, and manual labourers. The railway industry, particularly, exploited this loophole in the Immigration Act, and this is, I suspect, how my father became a Canadian.

In any case, this is what he wrote when he sent me the picture:

Two houses that workers used are no more, there use to be double rail now only single, only original thing that still stand is railway bridge behind me on pic. There is new road bridge they build on hiway-17 that go paralel with railroad. Allways wanted to see it again and finally got chance. All in all it was tripp of life-time.

When I call him tomorrow, I will tell him how happy I am that he made the trip. And that he wanted to tell me the story when he came home.

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