Immigrants: Unsung Heroes

By Aruna Papp

Canada is a country built by immigrants. Over the past centuries immigrants have arrived from all parts of the world. They brought with them their skills and abilities that have contributed to Canada’s labour pool and have helped us become the world leader we are today. These immigrants dreamed of leaving this country a better place to live for their children and their grandchildren, and worked hard to make it so.

Many immigrants became leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, industrial giants, scientists and world renounced economists, or recipients of prestigious awards and recognitions. But like millions other immigrants, Joseph did not receive any acclaim. He became member of the labour force. He was one of the working class – the people who worked on building the Canadian railroads and highways, who worked in forestry, in construction, or as transport drivers, farmers, hospital floor washers, school teachers, meal servers and a million other ordinary jobs. These are the real unsung heroes of Canada. They are the ones who give this country its character. They are the ones who have made Canada the best place to live.

Joseph left his family’s farm in Hungary at the age of 26, soon after his parents died in the Spanish flu epidemic. Leaving his brothers to tend the land, he went out into the world to seek his fortune. He arrived in Toronto unable to speak English and with $3.00 in his pocket. Used to hard work, Joseph soon found himself part of a construction crew, maintaining stretches of railroad in remote areas of Canada. While other young men lost their earnings playing cards or drinking, Joseph held on to his pennies and, in a few years, was able to buy a small farm in Southern Ontario.

Long hours and hard work caught up with Joseph and landed him in a hospital where he underwent an operation to repair his torn intestines. Joseph was forced to stay away from his farm and recuperate in the city. During this time he met Margaret, another immigrant who was from Scotland. Margaret, strong spirited, ambitious, hard working, and with a command of the English language, was just the life partner Joseph needed. They married and within a few years had three healthy sons and a flourishing farm.

When Joseph and Margaret started to establish a life for themselves and their children there was no welfare or health care system, local bus service, or any of the amenities we take for granted.

Their challenges were different from those of modern immigrants. And their salt-of-the-earth values served them well. These people worked hard, had realistic dreams, never looked for handouts, and always shared what they had with their neighbours and others in their community who were in need. They took great pride in hard work and saving their money, never expecting the government to take care of them in their old age. Their greatest pride was in the fact that they were not beholden to anyone. Whatever they had, they got it because of their hard work, and they taught this lesson to their three sons.

I had the privilege to be with Joseph and Margaret Papp after their retirement. By then I had become their daughter-inlaw, having married their youngest son David, and they lived with us. Every time I made them a cup of tea and they would say, "Thank you," I would want to hug them and say, "No. Thank you for working so hard and making this country what it is today and for giving me to opportunity to start a new life in Canada, a life I would never have had in India.” They, and people like them, the millions of immigrants who came before us, built this country and left it for us to look after. How are we going to leave this country for our grandchildren? Will they be able to breathe fresh air? Will there be any forests? Clean water, farms, and clean lakes?

The immigrants of the past gave so much to this country. Will we give as well, or do we just want to take? Why should I feel that my rights are more important than my neighbour’s? Immigrants like Joseph and Margaret are referred to as the salt of the earth. What will we be called, I wonder?