Elke Harinck was born in Marktredwitz, Germany, on September 9, 1943. She immigrated to Canada, along with her family, when she was 13 years old. Elke has two brothers. Her mom was a professional cook and her dad worked as a steam engineer and then later in carpentry. Her one brother became a dentist, while her other became a successful business man in Lethbridge. Elke studied nursing in Canada and worked in health care.
Elke begins by describing her childhood in Germany. She recalls some of her family, as well as her experiences at school.
Back in Germany my dad was a steam engineer, first class steam engineer. And his father had a granite stone business, they made—and he worked for a while for his father after the war, but then there were no jobs, and so they started a guest house where my mom was cooking and they actually rented the guest house and they ran it and he did that for a few years for a bit. … She did the cooking. She cooked for over 40 people every day. She worked very hard—hard worker.
… I lived among my grandparents and aunts and uncles, and cousins and so I’ve had lots of friends—like it was it was great for me as a child, right? We didn’t have that much because it was after the war, and so certain things like—I think I was six before I tasted a chocolate bar the first time because we had the—what do you call it?—sanctions, right we couldn’t import anything. So it was only the food that we could have, right? But everybody else was in the same boat. And they were a lot of refugees that came in our village, from East Germany and stuff that came after the war. … and so my grandparents—you know, they had a granite stone business and my grandfather had a big house, so he had to take—everybody had to take some refugees in their home at that time. … some of them lived for quite a while at my grandfather’s home. You know it took a long time before they moved out. And then we used to get—of course Berlin isn’t that far from it, and so we used to get—because Berlin was divided into sections and so they couldn’t drive out of Berlin or take the train out, so they I guess the government—I remember having these little blue stamps, that to pay for to get food flown into Berlin, right and so sometimes they some of the people used to come to get out because they couldn’t get out anywhere. They used to fly them out and a lot of them would come to our village. As we called them Sommerfrischler—like they were summer holidays so they would come and stay and so a lot of homes, they used to make special rooms available for them to stay for a couple a weeks or so just to get out.
Elke describes her time at school just after the Second World War, and the nice life she enjoyed as a girl.
It was a one room school we had a lady teacher and a male teacher and they was you know you went there in the mornings—school started at eight, til noon. And we were all in one room. And I reme—because it was a small village and we had we had one big stove you know that’s they put wood in there and coal, and that kept you warm. … My grandparents lived in the same town so I used to go see them all the time. I used to go see my grandma and she’d always have something good for me to eat, [laughing] and then we had blueberries, ‘cause it was the forest so we spent a lot a time—in a summer we picked blue berries and I sold them. And then we had a little pond and we used to go swimming there all the time. So you know we were free—everybody knew everybody. You know? Our church was in the next village, which wasn’t that far. We used to walk to it all the time. It was built in the 1300s, and we still use it. … we had religious instructions at school. So the pastor would come to school and teach us and we would get our report card. My grandmother couldn’t hear so she didn’t go to church but she always got a piece of paper, where the sermon was written down and she could read that all the time and I’d see her read it all the time and, we’d say our prayers ….
When her family ran a guest house, Elke had lots of work to do to.
I used to after school—like our school started at eight til noon and then we went back at two o’clock, til four but two hour lunch break. I used to wash all those dishes. And then sometimes I’d wait on the table cause my Dad had a nap or go to the bank and then I waited on the tables. And we had—well you know the beer, [laughs] and he had a little stool there so I could reach and serve the beer.
Elke then begins to recall how the Second World War affected her family in Germany, and why her family decided to leave.
I remember you know the certain shadows that I remember, I remember my grandfather in Westphalia that passed away. And my mom and I and my younger brother, we went there to the funeral and I just remember we were taking the train, and it was a big trip in those days, and I saw—actually went, you know, through the landscape—you—like it wasn’t so, where I grew up in, because we didn’t have the bombs like they had, but when I took the train I saw, you know, homes being—ja, and I—it’s still sort of stuck in my head. I can still kinda see visions of it. You know, like probably impressed me because all a sudden it was just a bunch of rubble in towns and cities, as you were going through by train.
… Well, times were at that time were really tough and, my dad wanted to give us children the better future, and he couldn’t see it there, and it was just before my older brother was supposed to—they started in to soldiers again? And it was just before my older brother was supposed to go at 18, just before he turned 18. So my father wanted to leave before that, because he didn’t want any of his children to go in the armed forces. So that was part of the problem.
Elke doesn’t think her parents knew anything about Canada before they immigrated.
I have no idea. My dad used to talk about—he was going to—one time he was talking about going to Africa and somebody had an island somewhere, and my mom says, “Are you crazy?” You know? When you hear them talking about it, but and I had never heard of Canada, before that, ever. … I really have to admire the guts that they had to do this, you know.
Elke then beings to describe the process of coming to Canada.
I don’t know how they went, and when they filled out. I had no idea right? They didn’t tell us those things, but I do remember having to go to Munich. Because that’s where the Canadian Consulate or whatever was and I remember to me it was exciting to go to a city, to Munich, right? They even took us to the to the, to the zoo, right and so it was exciting. So we were in this building and there was a Canadian doctor that examined us, health wise. And my brother had to have x-rays and all those things. And then we were interviewed by the consul, and I remember him saying to us, “Oh, you’re such a nice family!” Because my mom—my dad wanted to farm and he wasn’t a farmer, but that was in his head right? [laughter] Because he probably heard there was good land here, right? And he—my mom wanted to go somewhere where it was warm, so anyway that’s the funny part, and the man says, “Oh, you’re such a nice family.” I remember him saying, “I think I’ll take you to my home province in Alberta.” … And that’s how we ended up, because we had no idea—that’s how we ended up in Alberta. Because it’s good farming, and of course the summer is warm.
While Elke and her mother would have preferred to stay in Germany, her father and brothers wanted to make a new life in Canada. Her father packed two huge boxes of books to take with the family to Canada. The family also wanted to bring skis with them, but her mother didn’t think there would be any snow in Alberta so they left them behind! Elke goes on to detail the family’s journey.
Ok, we took the train to Bremerhaven, and then we were on the Arosa Kulm. I think a lot of immigrants were on that ship, and we landed in Montreal, and then they took us to the train station, and then we took the train all the way down to Lethbridge, and that was about three nights and two days, and we were—there was a few of us in there and, we were just on wooden benches. It was very hard. And then in Lethbridge, somebody from immigration took us to a hotel room, and then because my dad said “Farmers,” so two days later a farmer came and picked us up and took us to a farm.
Reflecting on the rough voyage, during which she was seasick, Elke talks more about travelling in Canada.
[The immigration officers] came onto the ship, and they checked all the papers and stuff, and then we were—there were a warehouse and they went through all our clothing and things—stuff—and then we just got shipped off to the train station and we were dumped there. Right? There was nobody there, and then we just heard amongst other people, that food is very expensive on the trains so my dad decided he better go to a store. We were fortunate—we had money. Ok, so he went and he got lost on the way, and we were worried about him because he didn’t come back and didn’t come back. And then he finally showed up and he had this big long sausage. And then my older brother, he looked and he says, “Oh!” And it said, “This man needs to go to the train station.” So my—finally he found someone. He got lost. Someone were that could understand him, and so this man just wrote it, and so he just showed the sausage to get back to the train station, cause we had about three hour, two hour, three hour wait to get to get on the train.
Elke has vivid memories of the train trip across Canada.
… we thought, “Oh my God, where are we going?” ‘Cause you know you going through Ontario, it’s beautiful trees and stuff you know—no idea how big this country is, right? I was just looking out the window and then you get tired of seeing nothing but trees right? Manitoba wasn’t too bad, and we were getting anxious, oh my goodness, then we hit Saskatchewan, and then we thought “Oh my God!” [laughing]
And you know when you went by houses you tried to look through the windows to see what everything looks like, and you didn’t understand the language or anything, right? … then we arrived in Medicine Hat about 6:00 in the morning, and we had to wait ‘til about 9:00 o’clock or so, ‘til the train went to Lethbridge. So we did walk around [Medicine Hat] and the nice part was my older brother went to this coffee shop and there was a man that met my brother and knew he was—he just came off the boat or whatever, right? And he says, “Well, you need to have a Canadian breakfast,” and he bought him bacon and eggs and pancakes and poured syrup all over and stuff—you know what I mean? That was, that was nice and we looked, walked around Medicine Hat, the downtown for a while and looked through the windows, the show windows of the stores and things. We thought, “Oh, this is pretty good,” you know?
… Lethbridge, and that’s where immigration officer met us. There was actually a Catholic priest because there was another family that came with us. They had three or four kids. They were from Hamburg and they were sponsored by the Catholic Church. So there was a priest, and he actually told us a few things, told us that there was a Lutheran church in Lethbridge and all that so that was interesting. Immigration didn’t say anything to us. They just kinda dumped us at a hotel. “Over there is a coffee shop. You can buy your food.” And I remember, so we were there for a couple days and the only thing we could say is “Hamburger,” cause that’s the same as in German right? So we kinda said, “Ok Dad, we’re kind of tired of hamburger, and we want some chicken,” [laughter] and so my dad, my poor dad you know, and then—so the waiter was a Chinese waiter, and he didn’t know so my dad went “Buck, buck, buck”—put up his hand and made like a chicken, and we got our chicken. [laughter]
Elke recalls what life was like in Lethbridge for her and her family.
Well, the farmer came and picked us up. He didn’t say much because he couldn’t understand us and we couldn’t understand him. And he just took our stuff. … and then he took us out to Coaldale to the farm, that was six miles east of Coaldale. That was the farm and it was a big house. It was actually his farmhouse. It had a lot of room, but it had no power, and they had a water pump, and the furnace was run by coal, and there was an outhouse. [laughter] …So yeah, and he just dumped us there and that was it! And so then my dad had to work on the farm—like, the farmer lived out in Lethbridge so he would come to the farm every day. And so, he wasn’t the nicest man, but whatever. And there was a German family that lived there before, that had bought a house in Coaldale and they came out and they explained a few things to us.
… so by that time we got to know a few things, and mom and I had tried to Coaldale and we heard there was a Lutheran Church, a German Lutheran church, so we—mom and I went there and the pastor there. And he then told the congregation and they, there was a family that came out to visit us on the farm, and said we’re having a picnic next Sunday you—we’re going pick you up and—well we were friends with them forever right? And because there were a lot a German people living in Coaldale actually, and so through them we met other people, and they told us kinda what to do and helped us because the government didn’t help us with anything. They didn’t care.
Within a few months, Elke’s parents had purchased a house in Coaldale.
… we were fortunate my father had some money with him, so we were fortunate, and the farmer wasn’t the greatest. So we decided we were not gonna get anywhere being on the farm, right? So in at Christmastime my parents already bought a house in Coaldale. Actually it was amazing because the bank gave us a loan, and my dad put a certain amount of money down and then in the spring we moved there and there was—it was a Mennonite gentleman that was going to move to Mexico, and he was selling his home. And that’s how we bought the house, so we stayed on the farm until over the winter because work wasn’t that great. And then in the spring we moved to, into our home, and then friends, you know, gave us, furniture and things. We didn’t have much in furniture. And then my dad went to work as a labourer. Cause you make more money that way.
Elke describes her difficult adjustment to school in Coaldale.
That was horrible. … it, it, it, it was awful, because nobody showed me around school. I got off the bus and they just said, “Here.” I didn’t even know where the bathroom was. This is where the bathroom story comes, and then I used to wait till I got home at four to go to the bathroom. So one day you just can’t do it anymore right? So I put up my hand and I kept saying, “woman, woman!” because I thought that was the bathroom. I needed to know where the bathroom was, and then there was somebody that could speak German, and then—it’s so embarrassing. Because then everybody laughs, right? And then they showed me where the bathroom was. I didn’t know that before, right? And you know, the teachers ignored you. It didn’t matter what I did—at first I used to take my dad’s books and read them there in school, and I thought, “Well, I’m not going to learn anything that way. I’m not going to learn English.” So then I just tried not to do that and tried to, you know, follow along and pretend I can write it, and things like that pretty well on my own.
But again, it’s not all bad because there’s always some good people, right? There was one teacher once—we were in town—because you know, I was always the laughingstock of this class, you know, when something to read, then they would ask me to read because it was funny then, everybody would laugh right? Teacher included. But there was one teacher, he said, “You come with me, to aft—before school a little earlier. I will help you,” and she did. See, there’s always good. You know you have to look at that, right? And these other people didn’t know any better right?
… The first year was awful and then they got better, until I, you know, knew the language and there’s one girl—she didn’t know I couldn’t—didn’t understand her, I was in the bathroom combing my hair and she was telling me a funny story and she was laughing, and so I laughed too because I wanted to be part of it, right? And she to this day is still my girlfriend. She’s actually god-mother to my daughter, and she’s the one—we’d walk home from school—she’s the one that took me to her home. That’s the first time I’d been in the Canadian home. And learned some of the Canadian customs and things.
Over time, her parents and brothers got work, paid off their immigration debt, and learned English. Elke laughs about the role that television played in their family life.
And television. We got our first TV—we didn’t have a car, and I remember my Dad wanted to watch wrestling, and friends of ours, they had a TV, and he used to go there but they were a little getting annoyed that he always went to watch wrestling. [laughter] So then one Saturday afternoon he came home and had a TV and Mom was really upset a little because he wasn’t going to buy a TV because we’re supposed to learn and go to school right? But he wanted to watch wrestling so, so we had a TV before we had a car, but it helped us with the English.
Elke describes her family’s ongoing connection to their German roots, even after settling in Alberta.
It was—we cooked German, you know, mom and dad—we cooked like we did in Bavaria—you know we just had more meat to eat, and it was lovely, and you know lots of veggies, and then we had a big garden, cause our yard was quite big. It was two lots so we had a huge garden, so my mom always planted a big garden, and then canned all the fruits and vegetables. We used to go to British Columbia to Creston, to pick up the fruit, and then we’d can it. So my dad had a cool room that he built with cold air, and so we didn’t have to buy any veggies.
… So my Dad liked his beer, being a Bavarian, so of course every Saturday they went to the bar, and of course at that—in those days it was separated—women can’t go with—so my mom had to go with him whether she wanted to or not. Saturday, all the German friends they met and they went to the bar, and they would drink their beer, and talk and visit, and then go home again. Or they’d go to each other’s houses and play cards….
… And then there was a German-Canadian club, in Lethbridge. It was at Fort Whoop-Up. And they used to go to the dances, and then they used to have the old German movie theatre, they used to go to. But mostly it was just visiting each other and, you know, going fishing, and picnicking and things like that.
… Well, we kept our Christmas the way we used to. You know, we used to have Advent. … we used to have our Christmas, opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. That was important. We kept that tradition even after I got married. Always used to go home for Christmas Eve—that and our Easter. My dad always needed to have a coloured Easter egg, whether we were there or not. Mom always had to colour eggs for him—you know those things.
Elke explains how she came to see herself as a Canadian.
… this is my home. I, I, I, I know, and I had to think about that for a long time, right? Because you—my father always said, your religion and your heritage—you don’t—your religion and things you don’t change like a shirt. You know, this is who you are. And so, if there’s a war between Germany and Canada, I have to go with Canada. Ok? This is my home, this is where—my children, this is their roots, right? Cause, you know, I was 13, and probably you know. I still read German, I get German books, because I don’t want to lose that either, because that who I am.