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My name is Marija. This is my story of how I came to Canada. 

I and my family left Yugoslavia in 1967 with one suitcase. We didn't want to look suspicious crossing the border with too much luggage. When we got to Trieste, Italy, we went to the police station and asked for asylum. 

They took our Yugoslavian passports away. After some questions about why we left Yugoslavia, we were taken to a refugee camp in nearby Padriciano. In Padriciano they would separate us, quarantined. Men were led into a separate room, women and children into the other. I can still remember my son falling down from one of the bunk beds getting a cut on his head. After being vaccinated and whatever that they had to check in our past we only stayed in those rooms 2 days. If for whatever reason some people didn't meet the requirements they were sent back; taken by van to the border during the night. After 2 weeks in this camp we were transfered by train to another camp, Latina, near Rome. This camp was much bigger than the first one, thus more people. 

Our dream was to go to Canada, so we applied for it. We waited 4 months for our papers to be processed. We left in November by ship Cristoforo Colombo from Napoli (Naples). On this ship we were separated from the rest of the passengers by locked deck doors just like in the movie Titanic. Bottom decks of the ship were designated for the refugees. The long voyage was not pleasant for me; rough seas made me sick, so much of my trip was spent in the cabin. On November 22, 1967, after 7 days of nothing but sight of water, we docked in Halifax.

All the passengers had to be registered and accounted for. We were given immigrant status papers. After we traveled by train to Edmonton. Crossing the country by train all I could see was trees and snow, which I'd never seen so much in my whole life. We arrived in Edmonton on November 25, 1967. It was cold and windy. The wind made my eyes water. I was so cold that I started to cry. This was the end of the line. I was tired, cold, and all I wanted to do was go back home. 

There was an immigration officer assigned to my family. After some difficulties, we established who we were, and he took us to our new place to live; for a while anyway. It was a motel close to where the Kingsway Garden Mall is. We spent a week there. Then they found us a suite in the attic with this Italian family. It was in the Italian community, which made it easier for me since I could speak the language.

Over the years we had to overcome the hardships that most immigrants go through in a new country. One of them is the language, the other must be the weather. Even though the beginnings were very hard, we made a commitment to ourselves and to our children that this will work. Canada has been good to us. It's been my home for the past 33 years. I do visit the "old country", which is now Croatia, whenever I can afford it financially. I enjoy every moment of it, but it's always nice to come back home to Canada.

  • Multicultural Fort McMurray - Marija: Her Story -

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