Sven Nielsen's Memoirs Part 4

We emigrate to Canada

Our daughter Eva

In 1948 we had a daughter Eva, and 3 years later we decided to emigrate somewhere, partly because of adventure and also the weather in Denmark is very windy and unpleasant most of the time, it is too far north. We had the possibility to go to Australia, but it was too far away in case we wouldn't like it, so we went to Canada, November 15th. Sold everything we owned to get the money for the fare and boarded an Italian ship. On the way across the ocean we went through a hurricane, the captain later said he didn't think we would make it. It was so bad that one man jumped overboard, and disappeared in the dark. Everybody was violently seasick but after two weeks journey we finally reached Halifax.

My immigration identification card

We stayed overnight. The next morning by Greyhound bus all day to Tree Rivers in Quebec where we were told that this was as far as we could go today, so we stayed overnight again. Next morning we drove all day and all night and finally arrived in Toronto in the morning. We contacted my friend Frode Suhr from Denmark. He had promised me to get us an apartment, but he had not done a thing. He said not to worry about it, we could stay there tonight. I didn't like that too much, so I went out to find a place to live, which was not all that easy, considering I didn't speak any English and didn't have a job. However I managed to get a room with a bathroom down the hall, and a sink with a hotplate, for $ 12 per week paid in advance, that would be equivalent to $ 1000 per month to day.

I get a job and learn English


Now I had to see if I could find a job, not an easy task since nobody could understand what I said. I looked in the wanted ads translating one word at the time with the help of a dictionary, but without a car it is very difficult to get around not knowing the routes of the streetcars and buses, but after one week I finally landed a job as a repairman for electric trains at "Mecano" on 375 King St. West. My brother Knud, who came to Canada at the same time, didn't get a job before 3 months later. My pay was 72 cent an hour, it wasn't much, but it was a start, a glass of beer was 10 cents in those days. Every week I asked for a raise and got several, until I had doubled my pay to a whooping $ 56 per week.

In April 1952, the place I worked for employed all young men mostly 18 to 22. I listened intentionally to their conversation and picked up a word here and there. Every other word was an "F" word, but to me it was English, and I was determined to learn it as quick as possible. In the evening I took on a job as a TV repairman for a store, I can still remember how the customers looked at me, when I used my "English". I thought I was doing well, one day a customer asked: "What is wrong with the set" and I would answer: "it is full of shit", he said show me, and I would say it is no "F" good. He shook his head and gave up. I would get $ 1.00 per set, either I brought it to the shop or I repaired it on the spot, which I usually did, half the time it was just a replacement of a tube.

My first driving lesson and car

Car and ice

It was 7 km to work. Unfortunately there was a strike part of the winter of 1952, which meant that I had to walk to work. In February that year the temperature dropped to -20 Celsius, and I didn't have any warm clothes, so I was cold before I reached the workplace. In April I felt that I spoke enough English to apply for a position at "Philips Electronics". The starting salary was $3000 yearly in the Engineering department. I was working on a team developing a new type of radio transmitter for Canadian tanks, it was quite interesting.

By that time I decided that we needed a car, so I bought an old "Morris Oxford". It was an English car and not very reliable, but it was cool to finally have "wheels". Before that I got offered an old V8 car. The fellow gave me the keys, so I could go and try it out. The battery was dead and Steve Matheson helped me to get it started. I didn't have a driver license at the time, he said just hold the accelerator as far down as you can and he would push me with his Oldsmobile, but in no circumstances was I to apply the brakes when he was pushing. It was in a lane way, and the car moved faster and faster, so I got scared and looked in the mirror as I was crossing Bloor St. with 70 km an hour, he was nowhere in sight, so I was finally able to slow down. I didn't realize that the car had started, and I was going full throttle, I was lucky nothing happened, and I got some practical driving experience. Very few people drive their first lesson with that speed.

My first car, a Morris Oxford

In the summer of 1952 we went to Balm Beach at Georgian Bay and enjoyed the sun and the water. In those days it was common to drive the cars out in the water and wash them, so I was going to clean mine too. I drove a little further out, then swam around and washed the car, but the tide was raising and the car was slowly sinking in deeper and deeper. When I tried to drive back, it just sank further in. I asked some to help and 12 persons grabbed the car, they could easily have pulled it in, but they didn't try very hard. One of them said: "it is no use it will sink all the way down you will need a tow truck". That didn't make me very happy, so I went for a walk and gathered some old wooden boards and jacked the car up one wheel at the time, resting on the boards, the battery was getting low, so I had to crank it by hand and finally got it started, and drove in to shore, very relieved.

Going to Balm Beach Balm Beach at Georgian Bay Matthiesen at Balm Beach

I make a TV set

Tonny and the TV

At the end of 1952 we would like to have a TV set, but there was no way we could afford it, so I started to collect scrap parts from garbage cans in the factory. They had a production of TV then, so I got all those defective parts and a picture tube, a scrap TV cabinet from the employee shop and put it all together. Now I had a TV set where every part was defective, it could probably have made the Guinness book of records, and it took me a long time to get it working, but eventually we had a beautiful black and white picture, and a pair of rabbit ears as antenna. We used it for years and finally sold it for $75.oo, that was equivalent to $750.00 to day.

Hurricane Hazel

On October 15th 1954 we got hit by hurricane Hazel. 81 people got killed that day, it was the worst hurricane to hit Canada in all times. I was moving that night, it was rainy and very windy, but it didn't seem that bad. The next day I toke some pictures of the damage, and it was really bad.

Debris in the wake of Hazel Houses wrecked by the hurricane Premises unfit for human habitation

Debris tossed by hurricane Hazel Cars wrecked by the hurricane Debris

A radioactive prank

In the winter of 1954 a lot of people were looking for uranium, Philips sold Geiger counters, and I had a small radioactive sample I used for checking them. So the day after the Russian first atomic bomb was detonated I thought I would have some fun with the engineering department, I toke a little box and filled it up with snow, then hid the little radioactive sample at the bottom and showed them the "radiation" from the snow, and went back to my work. A couple of hours later I went to them for my sample, and they looked stunned at me and said: "we called the weather department at the airport", they in turn called the atomic energy commission of Canada, who had dispatched a convoy on cars with special equipment to Toronto, and the press was informed, who printed headlines: "Radioactive Snowfall in Ontario from Russian Nuclear Bomb". The president of Philips had a hard time apologizing for my prank