“When he said we were approved to go to Canada, I cannot even tell you how happy that made me. There was nowhere else I wanted to go.”
In a series dedicated to Janina’s history, Andrzej outlines how he came to Canada and his first impressions of his new home.
The Interview Process
As Andrzej and Janina aimed for Canada, they realized a few obstacles stood in their way. Namely, how to actually get into Canada.
To come to Canada required passing a screening process conducted by a Canadian immigration officer. This interviewer asks international refugees questions, hand-selecting candidates for Canadian resettlement. It helps to speak English or French, and it helps even more to speak fluently in either language.
Andrzej spoke a little French and even less English. “Hello. My name is Andrzej,” was one of the few sentences Andrzej himself spoke. He stated this in the interview, and the interviewer asked if that was it.
“No, no. Of course not.” Andrzej continued in English: “This is my wife. My wife name Janina. My wife..." he continued, switching to German, "krakenschwester (nurse)."
When he stopped, the interviewer asked again if that was all.
The interviewer didn’t look impressed. Andrzej continued talking, his words translated through an interpreter to the official. He started with his work experience. He could work as a mason. He was an adept violinist. He could use these skills in Canada, surely.
The interviewer’s expression remained unchanged, so he kept talking: Canada was the only place for him. It was the place where people cared. It was a place that valued hard workers. It was the place he’d find a safe home.
The interviewer hesitated. “Well, where do you want to go in Canada?”
“Anywhere,” Andrzej said.
“How about Grande Prairie?”
“Is this Canada?” When the interviewer nodded, Andrzej continued. “As long as it’s Canada, it’s perfect. That’s where we want to go.”
“Then you’ll go to Grande Prairie.”
They were going to Canada.
The book Andrzej received once they were permitted to come to Canada.
A New Life in Grande Prairie – in November
At the end of November, Andrzej and Janina headed to Canada. When they arrived in Grande Prairie, they stepped off their prop plane to negative 30 temperatures: the coldest weather they’d ever experienced.
They waited inside the airport for a ride and spent the next night in the Grande Prairie Inn, climatizing to their new weather and new home.
Nearly 40 years later, Andrzej still remembers the shock at the temperature and the climate. He also remembers looking at Janina and thinking, “Here we are. This is our new life. And we’re in it, together.”
The first challenges to tackle were the language barriers and the need for income. Speaking very little English meant dedicating themselves to night classes. In the meantime, Andrzej’s job choices were limited to those that required him to speak very little.
Luckily, Andrzej was used to working hard.
Having previously worked with a mason, Andrzej was chosen to lead a window reinstallation at the Centre for Creative Arts. You can still see his handiwork there today.
Dinner & An Idea
Andrzej kept working. Eventually, he ran into an older Polish watchmaker, Eugine Eisler, who invited him over for dinner. They discussed everything, landing on the biggest question in Andrzej’s life: what was he going to do for a career? What was his life purpose?
“You’re a watchmaker,” Andrzej said. “Maybe this is also for me.”
Mr. Eisler shook his head. It was the 80s, and handcrafted timepieces were falling out of style. More and more, people were favouring electronic digital watches because they were cheaper. When these watches broke, they rarely looked to fix them and instead just replaced them.
“No, not watchmaking. But, goldsmithing. That might be for you.”
Something clicked. Yes, goldsmithing. But where would he learn that?
This post is part of a ten-part series on the history of Janina’s. To learn more about our local roots – and to stay up-to-date on events and promotions – make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Instagram.