Spirit Quest on happy memory


Spirit Quest

A joyful arrival to remember

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective 

On a hot July day the truck from Burkit’s Cartage pulled up to 123 Bristol Avenue in Toronto. The driver and his helper plus my mother and me trundled our meager possessions down the narrow staircase into the back of the truck. Soon after bidding farewell to our landlords we were on our way out of the city. In 1942 that was a lot easier than today. There were no endless suburbs and shopping malls, no traffic congested arteries to pursue.

Mother sat in the cab between the two chain smoking men while I perched on my precious bundle of Canadian Geographical Journals in the back of the truck. There was also the wooden crate that had been constructed in Scotland three years earlier prior to coming to Canada, several suitcases bought in Prague, a few pieces of furniture and some odd articles including a two burner hot plate acquired at the store of the Crippled Civilians in Toronto. Yes, that was the name.

Shortly out of town it started to rain and the truck was stopped to put a tarp over the back. We then rattled on along Highway #2 through Oshawa and Port Hope and numerous other villages. We stopped in Cobourg. Only when I emerged from under the tarp did I notice that we were in the downtown of a city. The men went across the street for a coffee while mother and I chatted. She had found the smoke in the cab rather suffocating and was breathing a welcome moment of relief.

After another hour or so we entered another town. I had found a way to make a little window in the tarp from which I was able to view the passing scenery. In Trenton the truck made a left turn off the main street and then headed north. I noticed that we were now following a pleasant river with occasional power dams and there were low hills on either side. It was a very lovely environment.

After a few miles the truck slowed and turned off onto a rough gravel road. From my little peep hole I spied an unusual sight, a large five-story factory stuck in the middle of a cow pasture. On the water tower I saw the name Bata in print familiar to my life in Czechoslovakia.  We had reached our destination. The truck rumbled along the dirt road through the little village made up of new prefab wartime houses. A board walk ran from the road to the front door of each house.

Our truck stopped at 33 Haig Street, named after the glorious Canadian World War 1 general who had sent thousands of Canadian soldiers to their deaths on the battlefields of Vimy and the Somme. The truck backed up to the porch. I jumped down and ran to my father waiting on the steps of the porch. But I had another urgent need and raced into the house to find the bathroom. When I saw it I froze. It was all brand new, made of white enamel. I had not seen such a civilized toilet in years, not since fleeing home in Czechoslovakia four years earlier.

The truck was soon empty and on its way, leaving father, mother and me sitting on the steps of our new home. We were glad to be together again. It was wonderful. Bonsteel’s Dairy truck  came by and a young lad trotted over with a bottle of milk, a kind of welcome gift to newcomers and an incentive to become their customers.

We arranged our few pieces of furniture. I was to have a room of my own, albeit with no furniture, yet. In the little kitchen there was a wooden stove and an ice box in which father had stowed some provisions. There was a grocery store in one of the larger houses just down the street where we were able to get some food including a bottle of ginger ale to celebrate our arrival/reunion. Few of the houses around us were occupied but over the next week moving trucks made regular appearances.

Life in Batawa was quite regimented. Early every morning the factory whistle blew marking the beginning of the work day, and again at closing time. Men and women threaded their way to and from the factory gate. Mother soon joined that crowd to work in the shoe factory while father was fortunate to work as inspector in the aircraft division of the war plant. On Saturday morning, all the villagers gathered at the bus stop to travel to nearby Trenton to do their shopping. Few people had cars and anyway gasoline was rationed.

I think of this occasion as one of the happiest of my many arrivals in new homes. Undoubtedly the worst and one still very much alive in our memories, was our arrival three years earlier at the wretched log cabin in northern Saskatchewan.

The new home in Batawa was anything but luxurious but for us after the uncertainties we had experienced, our separations from one another, that two bedroom house was a wonder. It was a secure home far away from war.

As we sat around our kitchen table that evening, I can’t recall what we had for supper, we didn’t say grace. Prayer was not common in our home, but there was an unspoken prayer in our hearts, of thanksgiving, for sure.

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