Elke Porter is a German-Canadian who is very active within the German-Canadian Community in Canada. The writer and blogger (to name just a few of her many talents) has just published her book “75 German-Speaking Influential People in Western Canada”. It describes and shares stories of Germans and German speaking people who have contributed to their communities in Canada.
–Your Parents emigrated to Canada in 1956 and 1961 then met and married in Toronto where you were born. What were the reasons for them to emigrate to Canada?
My mother came to Canada as the youngest daughter in a family of 3 girls. Her mother wanted to get away from Germany after a divorce and decided on Toronto, ON.
My father was the typical young man looking for adventure. He was the youngest of 3 boys and his oldest brother was living in Toronto, ON, so it made sense for him to go there. His brother attended an active church with a large youth group that included my mother, so my parents literally met the first day my father set foot in Canada and it took them only 5 years of courtship to marry.
-Did they ever want to go back to Germany at some point?
Not many people know that after having my brother and myself, my parents did move back to Germany and lived in Bad Nauheim for a few months. My father worked as a private investigator in a firm called “Retail Credit” and they agreed to attempt to open a branch in Germany. But after five months my parents were forced to make a decision when my father’s car broke down. Should they buy a new one or go back to Canada? He would need to have a car as his job involved a lot of travel. But my mother missed her family back in Canada, missed the wilderness and the wide-open spaces, and wanted to raise us in a country that allowed us to walk on the grass and run in the woods. Instead of Toronto, my parents went to the West Coast and bought a little duplex in Burnaby.
–Tell us a bit about you and your background as an Author.
When I was 6 my parents bought some land in Surrey, where I attended the Surrey German Language School. As a 15-year old, the Pazifische Rundschau (German newspaper in BC) asked me to write the story what it was like to graduate from the “Sprachdiplom I” class. That was one of my first articles I ever published. I also wrote poetry and screenplays. Journalism is in my blood, although I never officially studied this. Instead, I started publishing a newsletter in 2007 called “German Voices Vancouver”, which became “Westcoast German News” in 2008. I have also written 4 short books that were self-published on Amazon. This recent book “75 German-Speaking Influential People in Western Canada” is a book that I am quite proud of and feel that it is something that answers many questions that people have. I was able to interview many of the people in this book personally and found out more than I had hoped to learn.
-How did you get the idea for the book?
At a business networking event organized by Dr. Klaus Schmidt, the Consul General for Germany in Vancouver, the Deputy Mayor of Vancouver asked my colleague Beatrice Schreiber – who is the President of the German Canadian Business Association – about the German Canadian Heritage Plaza and how many other German-connected places there are in Vancouver. I started writing an e-mail to answer this question and eventually it became this book.
-Why was it important for you to share those stories?
The German Community in BC had its heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Even in the 1980’s, the Vancouver Alpen Club had over a thousand members. But as people age and pass away, their memories, their experiences, their history often goes with them. It is my goal to record this for posterity and to let everyone know the contributions that so many Germans made to Canada.
-This project must have been a long time coming. How long have you been researching for it?
Ever since I started publishing my newsletter in 2007, I was always keeping an eye out for famous or influential German-speakers in Vancouver or beyond. I was on the Board of the Swiss Society publishing the Swiss Herald (newsletter) for 3 years. I was a member of the German Canadian Chamber of Commerce. I eventually joined the German Canadian Heritage Plaza Committee and the Eurofest BC Society. Now I am the Secretary of the German Canadian Business Association and an Associate Member of the Vancouver Alpen Club. All of these positions allowed me to get to know Austrians, Germans and Swiss people that contribute so much to their communities. I interviewed some of them for my newsletter. I interviewed some people on AhornTV, a German television station here in Vancouver. I started publishing the magazine “Das Schwarze Brett”, where I interviewed people and wrote about places and things. It still took me 9 months to publish the book, but it was a culmination of over ten years of research.
When I first wrote the book, it had only 40 people, but gradually I heard about more and more while I was researching for this book, and so the number grew to 75. Influential is a subjective word and so I have to emphasize that anyone in this book was seen as influential by me. When I first started writing this book, everyone got 1/3 of a page, but eventually I realized that it is better to give everyone at least one page. Some people have 2 or even 3 pages now. This book has given people a voice, especially those who were around before the age of the Internet.
-How do you explain the attraction of Canada on Germans?
My father and many others grew up reading Karl May books. He actually wanted to immigrate to the United State originally, but it was too hard to get in. Canada was a lot more welcoming and, in retrospect, my father now appreciates living here in Vancouver. Germans often love the freedom of the society, the wide-open spaces, the oceans, lakes, rivers close to mountains or meadows and the welcoming, friendly people. We once had visitors from Germany who wanted to see “nothing”. We were wondering what they meant. Then they rented a car and just kept driving North until they saw no signs of civilization. To them, this was “nothing”. There were mountains, trees, lakes and wild animals, but not much else. They just loved that.
-Germans seem to be more interested in the West Coast than in the East Coast, why do you think that is?
There are more Germans living in the East Coast, but the West Coast has more work & travel visa visitors or temporary workers or just plain visitors. That is because of the climate and the ability to swim in the ocean, ski on a mountain and hike in the hills all on the same day. The German Chamber of Commerce closed their Vancouver offices years ago, and the Goethe Institute closed their offices here years ago and ever since then I have been working hard to prove that there are Germans in Western Canada as well. Hence the “Westcoast German News Blog” and the book I wrote about influential Germans in Western Canada.
-Do you have other projects you are working on at the moment and can you talk about them?
Yes, I am working on Part II of this book, as I heard about many other people that I weren’t included in the first book for some reason. I also still want to write about the Swiss Consulate and the German Consulate, the history of the 4 German Schools, the German Language Meetup Group and many other stories. I wrote a feature length screenplay that I am now editing, which stars a young German character raised by a single mother whose life is changed when he starts searching for his biological father. I am also working on a fiction novel, although that might take a while as there are so many priorities taking up my time.
-What would you recommend to Germans or German speaking people who would like to resettle to Canada?
Canada is a wonderful country and I urge you to enjoy all it has to offer. But at the same time, keep the German clubs, associations and society’s in mind. Some of them could really do with an infusion of energy from young people who would bring new ideas and fresh insights to the table that might help them grow in such a way to attract others. The world has changed and we need to change with it. Younger people could help by finding a mentor and learning from them. Older people could work to pass the torch on to the younger generation. If someone has ideas an how to start a German Cultural Centre here in Vancouver, this would be a good place to start. The most important tip of all – is buy my book and learn about “Who’s Who Past & Present”!
Thank you very much Elke Porter!!
*Her book can be found here. And Mrs Porter’s blog can be found here.
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