Today, Toronto is a big city. The cost of living in it is on par with London and New York. It was a little different in 1968 when we arrived there fifty years ago.
Toronto had a different feel from what I was used to in Czechoslovakia. But we managed – somehow – to muster enough energy and resolve to become part of Canada. It seems we all succeeded in different ways, and to different degrees.
The flight was long, with a stopover at an airport in Scotland. A bus took us from the airport to the Ford Hotel in downtown Toronto.
The first thing I noticed was how big the cars were in Canada. The ones I remember from Slovakia looked downright puny by comparison. The weather was grey. It was 20thOctober 1968. We had just our suitcases and practically no money.
We got a polite reception. I looked outside of the hotel room window and saw various building from the twelfth floor. We were given 4.5 dollars per person per day to buy food. We stayed there for about a week.
My sister and I went shopping one day. We both took English in school, but she was a better student. We went inside Macs Milk store and she said to the attendant:
“Have you milk”? He looked at her surprised and said:
“In the back.” We bought the milk plus a few tidbits and went back.
Parkdale Collegiate Institute
It took a few days to find a place to live. It was at 111 Marion street, a typical house in Toronto’s Parkdale area, inhabited by Polish and Ukrainian immigrants. Our landlady was from Poland. She was friendly. We rented a two or three bedroom flat and that’s how life in Canada began.
After a few weeks we moved to an apartment at 165 Jameson Avenue, also in Parkdale. We enrolled at the Parkdale Collegiate Institute on the same street. I enrolled in grade ten. My youngest sister enrolled in a primary school nearby.
I remember going to a Dominion store nearby for the first time. I was amazed at the quantity and variety of the food there. Far more that what were accustomed to see under communism. I bought a Snack bar for ten cents.
Mother, who had a PhD, got her first job at the University of Toronto, washing test-tubes in a laboratory at the Banting Institute.
Next summer we moved to Ossington Avenue, into a house next to the subway station. The landlady was Hungarian. She soon renamed me “Leslie.” She said that was the English equivalent for Ladislav, my Slovak name.
Protective Plastics Ltd
During the summer, I got a job at Protective Plastics Ltd. Through a friend of mother’s. It paid 2.17 dollars an hour when the minimum wage was 1.50.
It was unpleasant, but I supported the family throughout the summer, while Mother attended summer school to get her qualification to teach in a Canadian high school.
The factory had mostly immigrant employees, people from Yugoslavia. It made products from fiberglass. I remember I always had an itchy feeling around my wrists, waist, and neck from the bits of fiberglass stuck therefrom the fiberglass dust floating in the air. Taking a shower would not eliminate this itchy feeling. Only after I left this job did the itchy feeling go away. It was not a healthy place to work.
By September, mother got a job at the High School in Trenton Ontario. There was a very kind principal there, Mr. Garrett. Mother bought a house on Edgeview Drive and we all moved there.
Teachers are well-paid in Canada. We had a decent life. I enrolled in the local high school, the Trenton High School, and started to make friends there. At first it was a bit rough going. But later, as my English improved, things got better. Everyone was in pretty good spirits.
On weekends, Mother would send me to the local KFC to buy a bucketful of chicken. We watched various TV shows like the Monkees, etc. The neighbors all chipped in and bought us a set of kitchenware and in this way welcomed us into the community. Canadians are generous people.
My brother joined us from Switzerland, where he worked in a chocolate factory. He left Czechoslovakia before us. When he was leaving, I had no idea if I would ever see him again. We did not know that we would also be leaving.
After a while, my brother left Trenton for Toronto, where he enrolled as an apprentice in a business that manufactured artificial limbs. He did well there, eventually starting a business in Sault Ste. Marie. The work he did was well paid.
I took a part-time job at the 1867 Restaurant on the 401 Highway. This was a night shift job. I was a dishwasher, using an automated machine. Some days an entire bus of tourists pulled in. We would all be very busy for about an hour. Then it slowed down again.
Once the supervisor asked me to work a second shift, immediately after the first one. The staff scheduled to come in did not show up. I agreed and worked sixteen hours non-stop except for a few short breaks. It was exhausting.
What was particularly annoying was that the supervisor forgot to put down the extra-hours, so I did not get paid for the extra hours on my next paycheck. I informed him about this and he said he would rectify the problem on the following week’s paycheck.
There was an automatic dishwasher there, but some plates had to be washed by hand. Especially eggs stuck to the plates and had to be scrubbed manually. I even got to cook a few burgers from time to time when extra help was required in the kitchen.
I had a friend in high school. His name was Jim. He seemed like a nice guy. His parents were of a German background. After a while, he began to experience problems. He decided to leave and go to Toronto. I promised I would visit him there.
For a long time, I did not visit. Then one day I visited him. I drove to Toronto and saw him in a flat he shared with friends. He was flat broke and eating macaroni with cheese. He was happy to see me. He told me later that the day I came he was planning to commit suicide.
He recovered, and later got hired by a bank. He married and had children. I think he was alright after that. Why is it that teenagers develop these kinds of problems with their parents and it goes so far that the teenagers want to leave – or run away from their homes – or in some cases are asked to leave by their parents?
Painting at the Airbase
During the summer I got a job working for a painting company. I think mother arranged it through a friend. It paid minimum wage. I think the supervisor did not like me.
On the first day of work he took me to a large room which had about fifty or sixty large pails of paint. He asked me to carry all the pails from one corners of the room to another corner. The pails were heavy. I had to use both hands to carry each container.
It took about two hours to finish the task. Then the supervisor returned and asked me this time to carry the same containers back to the same corner where I moved them from. I was astonished.
“What’s the point of carrying the containers back to the same corner?” I asked him.
“Never mind, just do it.” I refused to do it. I though he was taking me for a fool. So, he brought me to another room, at the Canadian Forces Base, where there were about twenty painters at work. I was given a brush and started to paint.
One winter I was driving home with my two sisters in the back, plus our dog and cat. We just dropped mother off at a friend’s house along Highway 2. The road was covered with snow.
I hit a depression in the road and the car swerved. The I did the wrong thing. I slammed on the brakes. The car began to swing from one side of the road to the other. Each time it swung farther and farther. Finally, it flew off the road and hit a telephone pole on the side. The pole broke in two, with the top half hanging in the air.
I flew from the driver’s seat to the passenger side and hit my writ hard against the door. My sisters in the back, thank God, were unhurt. The car slowly came to a stop in the ditch.
We opened the doors and a cat went as fast in one direction, while the dog ran as fast in the other direction. I was shocked.
A tow truck arrived and towed the auto to the repair shop. Mother was unfazed. She was cool that way. She did not get riled easily. After the accident, however, the insurance premium went up.
The damage to the car amounted to $ 1,500 dollars. The front right lamp was smashed, and there was body work to do on the right side of the car. For a long time after that, I was very cautious in driving. In fact, I drove much too slowly, according to my brother.
Grade thirteen did not go very well for me at Trenton. I was having disagreements with mother. I called my brother in Toronto and asked him if I could stay with him at least temporarily. He agreed. In Toronto I re-enrolled at the Parkdale Collegiate Institute and worked at some part time jobs.
I followed my brother to Toronto. I lived with my brother and friends in a flat in Parkdale. I resumed high school at Parkdale Institute, where I first enrolled.
I became friends with Jirka, one of the expats. He seemed like a really nice person. He was in the Army back in Czechoslovakia. He worked in a factory.
I went to see him there once. He was moving a large drum full of scrap metal when I arrived. He took a short break a we chatted for a few minutes than he had to go back to work. I returned home.
After a while, he began to with draw from the community a bit. He lived in a basement apartment. He had a twenty-two-caliber rifle at home. The last time I saw him he sounded pretty negative about our friends in the expat community. Somehow, he appeared to have a low opinion of them. I was surprised and dismayed.
“Why is he being so negative about them?” He projected a sense of moral superiority.
Anyway, I hear a few weeks later that he attempted to commit suicide with his twenty-two-caliber rifle. But the bullet did not kill him. He was taken to a hospital and the doctors managed to pull the bullet out of his brain through a hole they drilled in his forehead. Some friends went to see him in the hospital
He was recovering, but apparently, he was never the same after that. One day he showed up at the place of one of the expats and said that he was “looking for meat to feed his horses.”
He asked the people there if they had any. Well horses do not eat meat and we knew he had no horses. I guess he went crazy. I guess it was not easy for all expats to integrate int. the new community successfully.
High Park Restaurant
I worked at a few part-time jobs in Toronto to support myself through the rest of high school. The first was working as a waiter in the High Park Restaurant.
I would go around tables and clear dishes left there by customers. There was also some sweeping to do and taking out the garbage. It paid minimum wage, 1.50 cents per hour. I did not like this job and I did not stay there very long. I think it was only about a week.
After school finished, I got a job at the Dimpflmeier Bakery, on Advance Road, courtesy of one of the Czech expats who worked there as a driver. He would drive the biggest truck of the bakery to Detroit, USA, every day, to deliver fresh sour dough rye bread to various stores there.
This was hard work. Night shift at the minimum wage. Some days I was asked to work extra hours, for a total of eleven hours of work. I held this job until I started university at Guelph.
One day a new worker joined me at the oven, taking bread from the oven, shaking it out of the hot pans, and then placing the bread on one rack and the pans on another. This was unpleasant work. We wore special gloves. After I showed him how to do it, I asked him:
“Hey Jim, do you think you can handle the oven for a few minutes? I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Sure, I can,” he said.
However, when I came back a little while later, I saw no trace f Jim and the bread was falling to the ground as the oven rolled on.
“Hey Frank,” I yelled for the supervisor. Frank was an Italian immigrant, and he was the boss on the bakery floor. Frank came in a hurry.
“What is the matter for you,” he exclaimed. When he saw what was happening, he briefly stopped the oven and we picked up the bread that had fallen to the ground. Then he restarted the oven.
However, the bread was in the oven too long, so when it came out we saw it was too dark and could not be used. We had to make a new batch to replace the bread we lost. I guess Jim quit the job and walked right out.
I applied for early admission to university and was accepted. Initially, I was turned down. I went to see them and was informed that the mark in English was weak.
I asked if they would use the mark from Trenton, which was higher. The man went back to his boss and returned a few minutes later.
“Alright, we’ll count the English mark from your previous high school, which means that you are accepted.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
University of Guelph
Guelph is a small town about sixty kilometers West of Toronto. It is a university town. I was accepted into the University of Guelph. I was happy. University proved to be so different than high school. So much better.
I enrolled in politics (major) and economics (minor). It was a four-year honours program. I also took some courses in logic, philosophy and history. I lived in residence, mostly.
It was co-ed, except for Johnston Hall, which was all male. There was a good restaurant called Der Keller, where I had meals.
I was active in sports. We played soccer every Wednesday with grad students and faculty from the Veterinary and the Agriculture Departments, two departments that Guelph was most famous for. It was not famous for political science. However, I did get to meet John Kenneth Galbraith, who served in the Kennedy administration. Galbraith was an economist and author of many books.
My studies were not exactly gripping. However, I found two books in the bookstore that actually interested me. One was C.B. Macpherson’s Theories of Possessive Individualism.
The other was Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss. Both books appealed to me because of the clarity of writing. I agreed with both authors, even though there appeared to be a few differences.
I later met C.B. Macpherson at the University of Toronto’s Political Science Departments, where I audited a course with him. He was definitely a gentleman and a scholar.
I never met Strauss in person; however, I did get to take a graduate course with his best-known student, Allan Bloom, also at the University of Toronto.
Both had reform in mind. However, while Macpherson leaned to the left, Strauss leaned to the right. I was in the middle. Which way would I go?
I wished there was a way to combine the two points of view. Could we not both be concerned for the downtrodden and aim for excellence at the simultaneously?
My first job while at the university was at a printing business. I used to drive a small vehicle to the dumpsite with rubbish from the printing business. It was not a hard job, however, minimum wage again.
I called the owner “Boss.” He did not look entirely comfortable with that. Years later, people at gas stations in Malaysia would call me “boss.” Strange. I guess it was meant in a friendly way. I did not stay too long at this job and found another, this time at a gas station.
I was unaware that I was eligible for a Canada student loan. So, I took another job at a gas station on downtown Guelph. The pay was minimum wage.
I remember that during midterm examination week, I worked thirty-nine hours, only one hour short of a full week. I mentioned in passing one time at the university to a lady about the pressure I felt under and she asked me:
“Why don’t you get a student loan?”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Well just go down to the student affairs office, ask for an application and fill it in. We are all here on student loans,” she said, pointing to a group of friends sitting with her.
“OK, thanks, I think I’ll do that.
The next day I went to the student loan office and did what she suggested. My loan application was approved and a I got a grant and a loan.
The money was enough to finance an entire academic year of study. I felt so relieved. I could quit my job at the gas station and concentrate full time on my studies.
I remember I had to go to a bank and borrow a small amount of money, a few hundred dollars to tie me over until the student loan came in. The bank manager was very helpful and arranged for the loan, even though it was only a small about. I was grateful.
Jobs Between Semesters
There were also jobs between semesters. One was at Lauder Furniture, on Lauder Street in Toronto. Here we mostly delivered furniture to buyers.
I remember one time we were delivering a sofa and we got stuck with the sofa in the middle of a turn in the staircase. It was one of those sofas that could be converted to a bed. For a while we could go neither up nor down.
During one semester break I worked as a delivery driver for Canadian Linen Supply, a laundry company in Toronto. This was backbreaking labour. I think I was given the worst route with the most stops and biggest deliveries.
This required delivering large bags of linen to Dominions stores, which had many employees, as well as KFC outlets. The van I was given must have been the worst. I could only turn the steering wheel while the van was moving. Just finding parking for the van on a busy street was a challenge. I worked past five every day. The work was exhausting.
All the drivers all had different kinds of routes. The senior driver had the easiest route, delivering hand towels to offices in a skyscraper in downtown Toronto.
He simply went from floor to floor in two or three buildings and was done before lunchtime. The rest of the time he could concentrate on finding new customers and get additional pay in the form of commission.
Another job was at a gas station in Toronto. The boss was fair and quite cheerful. He had a boy – his son – who would occasionally help out at the station.
Sault Ste Marie
One day my brother Charlie called me from Sault Ste. Marie. There was a steel plant there, Algoma Steel Corporation. He knew I was looking for a summer job.
“You better get up here soon,” he said on the phone. “Algoma is hiring,” he added.
Algoma Steel had unionized labour, the pay was good. So, I drove up there. It was about eight hours of driving from Toronto. I went to see the Human Resources manager in the plant. He was pleasant, but he said”
“It is true we are hiring,” he said. “But to be honest with you, we keep these temporary jobs for the kids of our existing employees. I hope you can understand,” he added.
I understood. I went back to Charlie’s house and told him what happened. He just nodded.
So, I was sitting there for a few days, fretting. One day Charlie said:
“You have the painting tools in the car, why don’t you put an ad in the paper?”
“Ah, it won’t work,” I replied. I was quite negative.
“Oh, come on, you can do it,” Charlie said. “I’ll dial for you, you only need to do the talking,” he added.
He dialed the classified’s number of the local newspaper and passed the phone to me.
“What can I do for you?” said a lady at the othee end.
“I’d like to put an ad in your paper for painting,” I said.
“What is the wording of the ad?” she asked.
“Student will do experienced painting,” I said. Then I added my phone number.
The very next day I got a call from a retired gentleman, who asked me to give him an estimate in painting trim on his house.
I looked at the job and I thought I could finish it in one day. To paint a one-bedroom apartment also took one day, but I only earned forty-five dollars. So, I thought I would ask for a little extra. I said:
“I’ll do the job for seventy-five dollars.” The man started to laugh. I became worried, and said:
“Well if you think seventy-fie is too much, I guess I could …”
“Too much?” he interrupted me, laughing. “I thought that if you came here and said you would do it for one hundred and fifty, you’d be talking …” he said. I realised that my price was lower than what he was prepared to pay. So, I said:
“Well sir, if you are willing to lay one hundred and fifty, I am willing to do it for that amount.” He agreed, and I had my first contract.
I paid fifteen dollars for one can of paint and finished the job in one day. I earned one hundred and thirty-five dollars of a day’s work, or three times the minimum wage. Out of that amount, I still had to pay for the advertisement, fuel, and auto maintenance. But I guess I was in business.
The best work, comparatively speaking, was when I worked as a self-employed person in the painting and paperhanging business. Here I earned three times what hired persons made, I had flexibility in work hours and dealt directly with customers.
I had a two-line ad in the Toronto Star, with my phone number. I proved free estimates. I would get a call almost every other day. I would get a contract out of every two or three estimates.
The average contract lasted three or four days. I would earn about three or four hundred dollars for three or four days’ work, that is little over a hundred dollars a day. I met many interesting persons this way. Almost all were very honest.
I juggled my university work around this job and could continue my studies on a part-time basis while also working part-time, maybe twenty hours a week. I also learned something about business ethics on this job. I realised how important t was to do an excellent job, to respect your customers, and to gain and maintain their trust.
University of Toronto
Toronto is a big city. This cost of living is on par with London and New York. I found a place near the university
I lived with a group of Hungarians. One was an electrician and the other one was a painter. When I started to run out of money, the painter offered to take me as a co-worker on painting jobs. This was before I became self-employed.
It was back-breaking labor. We got paid a mere fifty dollars for painting a two-bedroom apartment, including kitchen and bathroom.
For a one-bedroom apartment, the pay was forty-five dollars. When I later did one of these apartments alone, it took me eleven hours of hard work to finish a two-bedroom apartment.
We did not paint ceilings if they were looked like they did not need it. He was fast. Even though he did most of the work, he shared the money with me on a fifty-fifty basis.
Both Hungarians drank. Mike used to go to the Brunswick house nearby. At times he got into fights there with other guests. But since he used to be a professional boxer back in Hungary, he usually got the better of the other guy.
Nevertheless, he would worry from time to time about people coming to look for him. If that were to happen, he asked me to help him to “thrown the fridge down the staircase at them.” I said, “Sure Mike, I’ll help you.”
I was happy when I was accepted into at the University of Toronto Graduate School, to study political science. I was immediately impressed by the professors there.
They seemed very fluent and articulate, almost to a man and woman. Listening to their lectures, which were delivered without referring to notes, was like listening to a book.
I went to see Allan Bloom. This man was brilliant. I was told that he was Leo Strauss’ favorite student. He was in his office reading Machiavelli’s Prince. I asked him for permission to take his course. He asked me:
“How many courses in political science have you taken?”
“About twenty, sir,” I replied.
“They were one semester courses, professor,” I explained. Another reason I had taken extra courses was that I stayed at Guelph and extra year, taking an additional six courses on a part-time basis. He allowed me to take the course.
Alan Bloom’s graduate seminar was on Aristophanes and Xenophon’s Memorabiliaabout Socrates. Bloom was very funny. During the first meeting he was cracking jokes from the beginning to end. I head tears flowing down my cheeks from laughing.
“And this is a seminar about political theory?” I thought to myself.
Of course, there was also a serious side to the lectures. There were about thirty-five people in the class from all over the world. There was even a student from Japan.
However, I developed misgivings about the enterprise and I wanted to study film. Therefore, during the following year I took a course with Josef Skvorecky, a Czech ex-patriate writer, the well-known author of the Cowards and other novels.
At Innis College, University of Toronto, he was teaching a course on film. We watched some classics and I wrote a paper on Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, which means to live.
Over the next academic year, I enrolled at Concordia University in Montreal in their Film Studies Program. I heard they had a well-recognized reputation. But the people at Concordia wanted me to do theory courses, and I wanted to get my hands on a camera.
Since it was a no-go, I returned to Toronto and resumed the political science program. Moreover, as I was short of money, I had to switch to part-time study.
In the third year of graduate school, I attended Clifford Orwin’s class. He was a Harvard Graduate. The seminar was about Thucydides. I managed an “A” on both papers. My doubts about whether I was doing the right thing, however, were not going away.
The fourth and last year I attended a seminar with Thomas Pangle. He just joined the University from Yale. The course was on Locke and Nietzsche.
I managed an “A minus” on the paper on Locke. My theme was “the royal prerogative” from the Second Treatise on Government. After I finished these courses, I began to teach in a Matriculation Program at Eastern College. My first subjects were Canadian geography and economics.
I met a few interesting people while I was at the University of Toronto. Most of them were quite intellectual, and I have fond memories of them. Some of them I keep in touch with. A few of them were from the US, others were from Canada.
Dale was a member of my discussion group. He was an artist, and he could draw beautifully. We used to meet every Wednesday and conduct philosophical discussions in the afternoon. Dale had a brother Mike, who later became a teacher.
I later had something of a falling out with Dale, after I refused to agree that Churchill was a great leader. Just because I did not think highly of Churchill, Dale concluded that I must have been a Stalin admirer.
Once Dale and his younger brother Mike had a fight. For some reason Dale struck his brother in the face with his fist. Mike became enraged, ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and chased his brother all the way down to the street, Spadina Road. There he chased his brother around a bus shelter, shouting:
“I’m going to kill you!” It took him a while to cool off.
Walter from Canada
I met Walter through Dale. Walter is a musician and he plays both rock and classical guitar. He had a Gibson guitar and could pay the leads from Eric Clapton songs by heart.
Once Dale reproached him for playing just rock music, whereupon Walter enrolled in a classical guitar course, where he stayed for six years and became a classical guitar player as well.
Walter was also a part of the discussion group. He went on to do a Master’s degree in theology. At one point he was writing a rock opera. I am not sure of he finished it. We keep in touch on Facebook.
Walter from the US
Walter, also known as Dennis, was from the US. He was also an artist, as he used to play the trumpet in a church, a part of a Handel symphony. He studied in the Department of Religious Studies.
He attended Wheaton College, which he described as a very conservative religious school in the US. In Toronto, he was doing first and MA and then a PhD. He later withdrew from the PhD and declared something along the lines that he had “enough of all that nonsense.”
He enrolled in a computer studies program in the US and later got a job with an IT company. He became so valuable to the company they used to send a helicopter to pick him up for meetings. On his desk he still keeps a copy of Josephus’ Histories, and he would read a bit during lunch time.
He had interesting tales to tell from Wheaton College. It was a very conservative school. He recommended to me Beneath the Wheel, by Herman Hesse, which was a story of a young man who likewise attended a very strict religious school.
We visited his home in the US once. We drove in my car all the way to Canaan, Connecticut, a small town of about three thousand, where he lived.
Canaan is located near the borders of New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. This area of the US is also known as New England. A lot of the early English immigrants settled here. The country was quite beautiful there.
It was in one of the discussions with Dennis that I once stated:
“What a pity that religions appear to be in such a conflict with one another.”
I did not realize then that the alleged “conflict” between religions is a conflict between misunderstandings of religions. If we understand religion properly, the alleged “conflict” disappears.
Tom from the US
Tom was a quiet fellow. I met Tm in the Robarts library. He was always sitting there, alone. I came up once and struck up a conversation. He turned out to be a really decent chap. Like me, he was in political science – ad political theory at that – although he was doing his PhD while I was working on my Master’s degree.
He was allied to the Marxist stream in the Department, his supervisor was someone by the name of Fenn. Tom was working on a thesis about David Hume, I think. C.B. Macpherson was among his advisors.
After finishing a PhD in political science at the University of Toronto, he did a law degree at the Detroit law school and became a lawyer. His parents lived in Bloomfield Hills, on the outskirts of Detroit.
Tom had a house on Royal Oak in Detroit, Michigan. I visited him there, and we went sailing on lake Michigan in his parents seventy-two-foot Cal speed boat. The boat was docked in a harbor in Traverse City, Michigan, where his parents had a cottage. However, I got seasick.
We stopped in Traverse City for a while. We had some burgers and fries, and then Tom had to pop into the Post Office. While I was waiting for him just outside, I realised there was something strange about this tow. Initially, I did not know what it was. Suddenly I realised what gave me the feeling.
As I looked around me, I realised that everyone in view appeared to have been somewhat overweight, even the children. There did not seem to be a single slim person anywhere. And there were at least a dozen persons within sight.
“So, is the result of the culture of consumerism?” I thought to myself.
We stayed in his parents’ house in Bloomfield Hills. The house had extensive security. My room had a bathroom attached to it. Tom told me not to step out into the hallway during the night, as that would set of the security alarm, not only at the house but also at the nearest police station, and the police would come.
Apparently, there were alarm sensors even under the grass in the lawn around the house. If anyone stepped on it, the same thing would happen.
Bloomfield Hills had the highest number of police officers in the entire US per square mile. Some very wealthy people lived there. Both of his parents were doctors and of a German background.
He took me to a dinner at a club. There was an enormous amount of food being consumed there. I now understood while the people in Traverse City seemed to be so well provided for.
I worked in various colleges as a teacher. There I taught mostly matriculation or pre-university courses. These were term appointments that lasted from as little as one semester to a full year.
After finishing school work, I was looking around for a job. I looked in the newspaper and I saw a job of a coordinator being advertised in the paper.
I finished my work at the University of Toronto, and I was thinking of getting a proper job rather than painting and paperhanging. I saw an advertisement in the paper for the job of a sports coordinator at a place called Eastern College, on Euclid Avenue in Toronto.
I was interviewed by a fellow with a German background. His name was Wayne. He seemed very capable. He taught mathematics of investment. I had a good chat with him. However, I was not hired.
A few days afterwards I saw another ad in the paper from Eastern College. This time they were looking for an economics and Canadian geography teacher. My minor was in economics. I applied again. This time, I was hired.
Eastern College was a visa school. The students are from abroad, intending to pursue their studies in Canadian universities. Most students were from Hong Kong, with a smattering from Malaysia, Mauritius and a few additional countries.
This was a private college, and the fees were high. Not the salaries, though. All students were from relatively well-to do families. The students were polite and well-behaved. I had no disciplinary problems. Their English, as one would expect, was somewhat weak. But they were eager to learn.
I walked into the first economics class without any prior teaching experience or teacher training. How typical of me. Jumping into a thing with minimal preparation or experience. I guess I was confident.
For my economics lesson, I prepared about a dozen and a half questions the night before. I thought answering them would take me through the class that was about one hour and ten minutes long.
I was wrong. I finished “covering” or answering the questions in about twenty-five minutes. Then I said, “Are there any questions?” There were none.
“So now what do I do?” I thought to myself. There were still about forty minutes remaining in the class. Then I had a brilliant idea. I’ll talk about the independent research paper.
I could talk about this topic for hours. I didn’t have to. Time went by swiftly and the class was over. I was extra diligent in preparing for the next class, to prepare additional material. It wasn’t difficult.
Albion College and Park Avenue Academy
I also worked in a couple of other schools. One was Albion College, in the East part of Toronto, where I briefly taught English Literature and Canadian History. The inspector from the Ministry of Education who visited my history class came up to me afterwards and just said:
Good class,” and he shook my hand.
However, Albion was closed by the Ministry of Education soon afterwards. Apparently, the school failed to comply with some requirement.
So, we were all transferred “wholesale” so to speak, to another school this one located in Etobicoke. This school was called Park Avenue Academy. I taught here for a semester or two. The principal seemed quite a reasonable fellow and we got along quite well.
Metropolitan Preparatory Academy
Later I got a job at the Metropolitan Preparatory Academy. I taught grade ten math, science for grades seven and eight, and a history course. The students were from well-to-do families. Most students appeared to have problems. They did not appear entirely stable.
Some were just “breaking up” with their girlfriends. Another couple of students were living in a motel; their parents would send them money from overseas to pay for their expenses. It seemed as if the families were economically well-to do but were not doing so well as a family.
A staff member, Nancy, used to come into the staff room every now and then crying. “What is wrong, Nancy?”
“Malcolm was rude to me again,” she said.
Malcolm was a student who was causing problems in a few classrooms. He was in one of my classes too, but he seemed to like me, so he did not cause any problems.
Once we had a staff meeting and I asked the management/owners at point blank about the disciplinary issues in the school. “Is there anything a student can do in this school for which he or she will get expelled?” I asked. The only answer I received was a long silence.
I decided not to continue at that school the following semester. I had to go to a small claims court to claim may salary. The judge proposed arbitration and I agreed. The arbitrator proposed eight hundred dollars for me which was exactly a half of my salary. The head of the school agreed to it, even though his sister did not look happy.
Annex Village Campus
This was another private school, right next door to where I lived at 120 Madison Avenue in the Annex. I did not have far to go to work. However, I only lasted a day and a half on this job.
The school was another private school. The moment I realised that this was the same kind of set up like Metro Prep Academy, I knew I would not be staying long.
During lunch time, my students went to smoke outside. I could see them from the window of the classroom. They came in afterwards and acted in an arrogant way. A few put their feet on the desks, in my face so to speak.
The talk turned to what I was trying to teach them. They were trying to “give me a piece of their mind,” as one of them put it.
“But you are not teaching us anything!” Said one of them. That was the last straw. I turned to the student and I said:
“Well, let me now give you a piece of my mind. Do you know what I think? I think you are full of it.” Then I turned to the rest of them and added in a calm voice:
“I think you are all full of it,” as I calmly packed up my papers and slowly walked out of the classroom and the school, never to go back.
I got a frantic call from the secretary shortly afterwards, asking me to go back. I told her I was quitting the job.
“Come on Les, you better come back, you might lose your job,” she said.
“I do not want the job,” I repeated. “I’m quitting,” I reiterated. I heard a click as she put the phone down at the other end.
Later I found out that at that school there was a case where one student was charged with the murder over a drug deal gone sour. I realised that I made the right decision not to keep that job.
After these and similar experiences I realised that there was something seriously wrong with the education system. The students were out of control. Something had to be done. It was necessary to back to the basics.
These experiences also made it easier for me to accept a job teaching in Asia. I did not expect to have the sort of problems with as I had in the schools in Toronto.
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
In the meantime, I still entertained the hope of doing a PhD somewhere. After working at Eastern College, and a couple of other visa schools, Park Avenue Academy and Albion College, I enrolled in a Master’s degree program at the Ontario Institute of Studies for Education.
With two years of full-time teaching experience at the matriculation level, I had no trouble being accepted. I enrolled in the Department of History and Philosophy.
Some courses were quite interesting. The courses on Alternative Schools, with Malcolm Levin (US), and another course of Moral Education with Clive Beck (Australia) stood out. Some courses I took about religious education were less interesting.
In one course I had to read essays by writers from a single school of thought, logical positivism. Of course, these people did not take a very kind view of religion.
I met an interesting person while at OISE. His name was Peter McLaren. He wrote a book Cries form the Corridor, in which he exposed problems in the institution where he taught in Toronto. He is now the author of fifty books, a few of which were translated into twenty-five languages.
He told me subsequently that after the book was published, he could not get a job anywhere at the schoolboard. He finished a PhD at OISE and went on to teach at the University of California in Los Angeles.
I began to get restless after a while. Then I decided to take the remaining four of the ten one semester courses required for the degree outside of OISE. I took all four of the courses in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.
The most interesting course was on Hegel’s Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, taught by Professor Emeritus, Kenneth Schmitz. I wrote a paper on Hegel’s Early Theological Writings and managed an “A.” Someone told me that getting an “A” was equivalent to getting acceptance into the PhD program. It was not to be.
The Chairman of the Philosophy Department informed me that I had to take additional undergraduate courses, mostly in analytical philosophy. This was his field, and the specialty of many of the Professors in the Department.
Schmitz was part of the “old school,” people with an interest in “continental philosophy,” Hegel, Heidegger and others. I sensed there was a bit of a rift in the Department.
As I had no interest in analytical philosophy, which struck me as remarkably like logical positivism, I said “No thank you.”
Visits to the Old Country
It was around this time I developed a kind of homesickness and wanted to visit Czechoslovakia. I made two trips. The first was in 1983 when I went alone, while the second was the following year, when I went with my brother Charlie.
I bought a ticket to Germany, Dusseldorf. From there I traveled first to Amsterdam where I spent two days. Then it was on to France, with two or three days in Paris. Lastly, I dropped into London for another couple of days.
Then it was back to Dusseldorf, from where I took a train to Vienna. From there I took another train to Bratislava. I enjoyed the trip. Of course, it brought back many memories.
I went to see father. I also went to see my auntie near Bielovce. It was a happy re-union. However, after two weeks in Czechoslovakia, I began to feel restless again, and practically began to look forward to going back to Canada. Czechoslovakia was still under communist rule then. The change of government would not take place until five years later, in 1989.
This time we bought return tickets to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there we traveled by train to Czechoslovakia. In Bratislava, we stayed at the Devin Hotel next to Danube. Later we stayed in an apartment provided by our cousin.
Charlie met up with many of his friends. He was quite happy. He even met his future wife there, who is now living with him in Canada. Unfortunately, father already passed away a few months earlier, so we did not get to see him.
One day in March, 1987, I was sitting on the porch at 120 Madison Avenue in Toronto, enjoying my morning coffee with a newspaper. I was listening to the CBC Sunday Folk music program. The chap there played excellent folk music from all over the world.
I saw an advertisement in the paper for a person to teach economics. Sounded good. Except that the job was in Malaysia. What to do?
My hand was dangling over the telephone as I was weighing the pros and cons of going to Malaysia.
“A full-time job in Malaysia was better than a part-time job in Canada,” I said to myself. That was the deciding factor. I made the call and arranged for an appointment.
I was interviewed by Mr. Diamond. Later I got to speak with Clark Sissons, who was already a teacher at Taylor’s College. He told me a bit about the College. Subsequently I found out that I was replacing a teacher the College had to let go because of a drinking problem.
I had to get a passport, a check from the police that I had no criminal record, a health check, and I was all set. Within about a week I was on a Korean Airlines plane to Malaysia.
The entire flight took twenty-two hours, including a four-hour transit stop in Seoul. The last leg of the flight took about four hours. My life would become quite different, henceforth.