From the Shadows of the Soviets
(Note: I have decided to open up my blog site to the occasional guest blog. The blog below is by my current research assistant, David Clement, candidate for a Master’s degree in political science at Wilfrid Laurier University)
Imagine yourself on an extended vacation as a child, enjoying a new country, its food, its people and its pleasures, all the while knowing that at some point in the near future you’ll be heading back to your beloved hometown. Now imagine, at the age of 16, you are told that your extended vacation is now permanent because everything your family once had back home is gone, either stolen or destroyed. This is how my family came to Canada.
Like most Canadians, I am from an immigrant family. The mosaic that is my familial background includes the Isle of Man and India (on my father’s side) and the United States and Bulgaria (on my mother’s). What makes my Bulgarian heritage so intriguing is the circumstances that caused their migration to the country I have called home for my entire life. My grandmother came from a prosperous business family from Bansko, Bulgaria. My great grandparents, Pauline and Boris Todoroff, were eclectic entrepreneurs in that small ski village nestled at the foot of the Pirin Mountains. They successfully owned and operated a bakery, liquor store and inn at the center of Bansko. Because of their success as entrepreneurs, they were able to afford some luxuries that others could not, most importantly the ability to travel. My great-grandfather, otherwise known as Dadu, decided in the summer of 1938 that his family should take an extended vacation in Canada, for the experience, and to strategically avoid the turmoil that was erupting throughout Europe. What was not known is that their hometown would never be the same, and that they would never return.
In the fall of 1944 Soviet troops invaded Bulgaria beginning the era of Soviet influence in the country. As a result of the invasion, and political upheaval, my family lost everything. Their businesses were seized by the Russians, and their land was partially destroyed. Upon news of the terrible loss, the Todoroff family decided to make London Ontario their permanent home, and it would remain so until my grandmother was well into her 30’s. My family took its entrepreneurial spirit to Dundas Street in London where they owned and operated a shoe repair shop, selling shoes and hats. They represented, both literally and symbolically, the perseverance of a family after losing almost everything. What my Bulgarian family’s story demonstrates first is the importance of migration for Canada. The Todoroff family came to Canada unexpectedly, with few language skills and very little to their name, but contributed to the growth of London Ontario for decades. It highlights that the movement of migrants into Canada not only provide migrant families a place to rebuild, but a new community to which they contribute and of which they become a part of.
The second lesson learnt from my family’s turbulent arrival is the importance of property. The right to property is an essential human right. The arbitrary seizure of property by government authorities strips families of their ability to provide for themselves and their communities. It denies them access to the most basic means of wealth creation and sustenance. From this difficult experience, a new Canadian family emerged. This new Canadian family embraced their new home, were able to own property, and were able to make their own lives better, as well as the lives of those around them.