This B.C. woman’s recipe is one of the most popular of all time — and the story behind it is bananas


It’s been nearly 20 years, but Shelley Albeluhn remembers the day in 2000 when she decided to mash an additional three very ripe bananas into the batter of her very first banana bread.

At the time, she hoped the on-the-fly tweak would yield a tender loaf with a sweet and deeply intense banana flavour.

Little did she know her creation — which baked up beautifully and received rave reviews from friends and family — would soon become a worldwide banana bread sensation.

Albeluhn, who lives in Port Hardy on the east coast of Vancouver Island, is the creator of Banana Banana Bread on, the much-loved website that collects recipes submitted by home cooks.

Since she posted the recipe in 2000, Banana Banana Bread has been viewed more than 35 million times and is Allrecipes’ second-most popular recipe of all time. In 2018 alone, it clocked more than 4 million views.

“This literally could be the most-viewed banana bread recipe in the world,” says Esmee Williams, vice-president of consumer insights at Seattle-based Allrecipes. She believes Albeluhn is the only Canadian to have a recipe crack the website’s all-time top 10 list.

“For a long time, it was the only recipe that came up when you Googled banana bread and for many years it was the number one recipe on our site. Shelley was definitely ahead of her time.”

Albeluhn, 53, never set out to change the global online trajectory of banana bread.

“I can’t believe this,” she says, after a Star journalist tells her of the enduring popularity of her Banana Banana Bread. “That many millions of people have seen my recipe? That’s amazing. It’s just a recipe.

“But I guess sometimes there is nothing better or more simple in life than making a really good banana bread.”

Read more:

Canada’s most popular online recipes, from Newfoundland to Nunavut

Albeluhn doesn’t remember the origin of the recipe she adapted into the now legendary Banana Banana Bread, which calls for 2 1/3 cups of mashed, overripe bananas. That’s the equivalent of five or six bananas; many banana bread recipes use just two or three.

“I winged it, really,” she says. “I remember thinking: ‘Let’s see how banana-y we can get this, so let’s put in another banana, and then another and another.’ ”

Albeluhn also recalls that she swapped brown sugar for white sugar, and replaced oil with butter.

It turned out so well she decided to post her adapted recipe online to Allrecipes.

At the time, Albeluhn was living in Port Alice, a village on Vancouver Island that, in 2000, had a population of about 1,200, many of whom were supported by the local pulp mill, which has since closed.

That Albeluhn had internet access in such a small town nearly 20 years ago is just one of the curious things about the ongoing viral popularity of her recipe, says Anatoliy Gruzd, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management with expertise in social media.

“It’s also interesting that something posted so long ago is still alive on the web — and still popular,” he adds, noting that Allrecipes has found a way to stay relevant even though it launched in 1997, whereas some other websites of its generation have gone extinct. “Think of something like (the social network) MySpace.”

“It also shows you that, in some cases, things that are posted many years ago can still be viral now. Modern forms of social media favour real-time trending stories. If something trended yesterday, it’s considered too old and we move on.”

Gruzd says that while Albeluhn’s recipe probably tastes good (he hasn’t tried it), its popularity is more likely due to Albeluhn’s impeccable timing: she posted the recipe on Allrecipes at just the right moment to ride the wave of the website’s overall success.

Williams, who has worked at Allrecipes since shortly after its launch, says the website’s appeal has always been that it caters to home cooks, many of whom gravitate toward recipes that are simple and timeless, just like Albeluhn’s banana bread.

In Canada, Good Old Fashioned Pancakes, submitted by Dakota Kelly, has remained the most popular recipe for years, netting more than 1.65 million page views here last year. It’s not clear whether Kelly herself is Canadian — Allrecipes doesn’t generally track users’ locations.

Williams says this kind of cooking is something that has not gone out of style, even amid the increasing online presence of celebrity chefs, sophisticated food bloggers and the meteoric rise of impeccably styled foods suitable for Pinterest and Instagram.

“There aren’t that many places where home cooks have a voice online,” she says, adding that the millions of recipe reviews submitted by Allrecipes users help build trust in the website. “Before you ever turn on the oven or the stove, you know exactly how a recipe will turn out. You’ll know whether it’s a kid-pleaser, or whether your husband might like it, whether it will be a hit at a potluck, and how you can alter the recipe to suit your tastes.”

More than 10,000 people have reviewed Banana Banana Bread on Allrecipes and it has a 4.5 (out of 5) star rating.

Albeluhn, who peeks at the reviews from time to time, is thrilled her beloved recipe has touched so many lives.

Not just because she believes her version, with its deep banana-y flavour, is one of the best banana bread recipes around, but also because she hasn’t tasted it since 2001.

Dietary restrictions for health reasons mean she has had to forgo the treat. But she remembers exactly how it tastes and the best way to eat it.

“It’s wonderful toasted,” she says. “Take a slice and put it in the toaster oven so that it gets a bit golden brown on the outside. It will still be soft on the inside, and when it’s warmed up, you get that nice, buttery flavour. It’s just so good.”

Albeluhn hopes that Banana Banana Bread continues to find its way into kitchens around the world. It’s OK, she says, for people to try it with nuts or chocolate chips, make it into muffins or serve it in restaurants, or tweak the recipe to suit individual tastes, just as she did nearly 20 years ago.

But there is one element that she insists must remain to ensure the treat is truly Banana Banana Bread: “You must make it with very ripe bananas that are dark brown, very soft and with very little or no yellow. That is key; I wish I had written very overripe bananas in my original recipe. It’s the only way you get that super strong banana flavour.”


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‘Discouraging. Dumbfounded. A sad reality.’ Star story on LCBO thefts prompts readers to share their eyewitness accounts


Shared outrage. Shared anger. Shared frustration. And maybe, just maybe, a few good ideas on how to stop, or at least slow, the spiralling problem of theft at the LCBO.

That’s the thrust of reaction to the Star’s revelation Saturday that LCBO outlets in Toronto have sustained a surge of theft, hit more 9,000 times since 2014 — often in high-volume heists in which teams of thieves fill backpacks, duffel bags and suitcases with premium liquors and then simply walk away.

The Star’s call for eyewitness accounts, a number of which we are publishing below, included input from a surprising range of people on both sides of the till: customers who’ve seen it happen, all over the city and well beyond; and long-suffering LCBO workers, past and present, who confirm the morale-crushing reality of feeling helpless and insecure as they try to do their jobs.

One female LCBO worker reached out from rural Ontario, asking that we not publish her name nor that of her town, citing fear of retribution. “I work in a very little store and I can tell you the theft is worse here. I am a young single mom and often work alone, which is very scary. I have unfortunately served drunk males because they are too aggressive and I’m afraid of what may happen if I deny them.

“We’ve asked for more and better security cameras because the ones we have don’t cover the store. We were denied. I’d love to see the LCBO ‘suits’ make more of an effort to show that employee safety is taken seriously.”

The Star’s crunching of Toronto Police Service theft data produced sobering numbers: more than 9,000 thefts at LCBO outlets in the past four-and-a-half years (Jan. 1, 2014 to June 26, 2018). That makes the Liquor Control Board of Ontario far and away the most targeted retail entity in the city. And though retailers as a whole have reported a major spike in shoplifting incidents in the city — 11,010 thefts in 2014 versus 16,667 in the first 10 months of 2018 — the spike in liquor theft appears to be the single biggest driver.

Read more:

LCBO thefts surge in Toronto, often as staff stand and watch. ‘They’re literally just walking away’

The LCBO declined a request for an interview on the Star’s findings. Instead, the provincially owned liquor retailer responded in writing to a summary of the troubling data, acknowledging, “We can confirm that the LCBO is seeing an increase in shop theft, with the majority taking place in urban areas.”

As the Star reported Saturday, no single explanation unpacks the whole of the LCBO problem, which, in Toronto, some observers say, is made worse by new police policy to not respond to the scene of liquor theft unless the suspects are still in the building. And nowhere in the wide range of responses is there any hint that front line LCBO staff are at fault. The broad consensus is they deserve protection, not blame.

One signal we are able to read from the responses — the public has a voice in this and when it is sounded loudly enough, action follows. Though there is not yet any citywide police effort to staunch liquor theft, a new pilot program underway involving 14 Division’s Community Response Unit only exists because the public — LCBO customers who witnessed theft — asked for it.

Likewise, east Toronto resident Jane Archibald, a self-described “angry citizen and taxpayer” after witnessing thieves fill “large pieces of luggage” with liquor and flee the LCBO near Carlaw Ave. and Gerrard St. in November, shared with the Star on Saturday her correspondence with Councillor Paula Fletcher, the LCBO, Mayor John Tory, Premier Doug Ford and the Toronto Police Priority Response Command.

“The LCBO responded the following day (adding) security guards. I was told they were working to staff up on security. Thefts have decreased in the Gerrard location as a result,” said Archibald, who intends to continue agitating. “This is a policing issue which leaves retail employees ridiculously vulnerable.”

Here follows a cross-section of responses to the Star’s request for eyewitness accounts of theft at the LCBO. Some anecdotes involve customers taking it upon themselves to engage in levels of risk that ignore police advice. We can only add our voice to those calling for maximum restraint when shopping for liquor:

“About two years ago I was at the LCBO on Davenport near Dupont and I saw a guy loading up his backpack with vodka from a display near the entrance. We all stood and watched as he strapped the bag to his back and walked out the door. I asked the (cashier) if he’d ever seen anything like it. “It happens,” I recall him saying.

— Mary Kirley

“I was at the LCBO at Warden and Eglinton in the summer. This guy cruises through the checkout with a 60-ounce vodka in each hand, pretending to be talking on the phone. One cashier said, ‘Sir, did you pay for those?’ He ignored her. Myself and a gentleman in front of me offered to go get them off the guy but they told us not to. Then they proceeded to write the incident down in a book and continued on like nothing had happened. The customers were dumbfounded as to the level of apathy and the lack of any attempt to stop the person. When I left the guy was strolling down Eglinton without a care in the world. Pretty sad when the civilized, law-abiding customers are seemingly the only ones who care about theft, and stopping it.”

— Graham Kritzer

“At the LCBO in the Junction, I saw two men with backpacks fill them up with liquor and walk out the door as the staff stood by and did nothing. I asked and they said they were not allowed to pursue anyone caught stealing! This makes sense for personal safety reasons but it’s clearly a huge problem.”

— Sue St. Denis

“I saw it at the LCBO at Oakwood and St. Clair. A guy in a hoodie, filling his jacket with liquor bottles. I advised the unaware employees and the staff told the guy to give back the bottles and leave, which he did. I’m sure this result is rare. If we’re going to continue this ‘unique’ monopoly system in this province, I think going back to the pre-’80s order-desk format would be the best way to stop this. Rather than paper, digital screens or your phone would presumably be the selection tool. Encouraging more online purchases and in-store pickup and discouraging/minimizing their fancy merchandising is another thought. After all, the purpose of the latter surely isn’t to stay ahead of the competition when there isn’t any.”

— Jason Dear

“I guess that because the cost of the liquor is so low relative to the retail price, which includes a large amount of tax, that the actual losses are minimal. If the perpetrators were arrested and convicted these costs would far outweigh the losses, so it looks like the present solution is working and costing the public less to allow them to continue to shoplift. Also, the police cannot be involved in such small amounts with no violence.”

— David Franklin

“Considering the costs of thefts, why not hire off-duty undercover police with tasers, at least at the most often-hit stores? Or maybe have a security guard make customers check their bags at the front desk? We need to muscle up to this problem, soon and quickly. The response so far seems to be pure apathy at taxpayers’ expense. Where’s bold leadership on this problem?”

— C.L. Cateshaw

“Here in Mexico where I spend my winters, many businesses post guards with assault rifles, machine pistols or combat shotguns at the door. They don’t get many visits from smash-and-grab punks.”

— Tom Philip

“Four young people walked into the (Beaches LCBO) store with bandanas over their faces, loaded up backpacks and reusable shopping bags with anywhere from 6-15 bottles of wine and liquor and just walked out. They were inside for maybe 30 seconds. Nobody did anything. When I blocked the exit with my arm to try and block one of them, an employee told me not to so I dropped my arm and let the person go. This was a couple of years ago around this time of year, but it was very organized and completely bizarre.”

— James Di Fiore

“I live in Saskatoon, where the government-run liquor stores (have) high-security guards to prevent theft. And they catch shoplifters. I’ve seen people tackled to the ground.”

— Ellen Armstrong

“Interesting article about LCBO thefts in Toronto, but having worked for The Beer Store for over 10 years I feel compelled to mention that this happens every day at The Beer Store as well. The amount of stock that goes out the front door is staggering. And usually in brazen fashion as most times the perpetrators know there is nothing we can or will do about it. The unfortunate thing is we too are threatened on a daily basis.”

— Name withheld

“I worked for the LCBO for over 38 years. I’ve seen shoplifting. The staff were told do not interact with shoplifters — just watch them and report. Management would tell employees to try to kill the shoplifters with kindness. A lot of time, employees would just turn and walk away, knowing that nothing is going to come of the incident. It is discouraging for staff. I hope more employees tell their story so that the LCBO will act.”

— Kenny McGillvary

“A couple of summers ago at the LCBO at Bayview and Millwood, I watched some guy fill a duffel bag with booze and elbow past me as I opened the door. …Exactly a week later I get out of my car near the same spot and the same guy lumbers past with another full bag. He’s got to be going somewhere — so I get back in the car and trail him from a distance to a side street where a car is waiting. I pull behind and make like I’m checking out house numbers or something. Meanwhile, I’m taking the plate number and later give that to staff. I’ve always wondered if anything concrete came of that. I have to think the police did, in the end, do something. The point is the thieves are always heading somewhere with 50 pounds of bottles over their shoulder. So where? I asked the question and carried it through. Although police may have a different opinion on whether that was the wisest choice.”

— Christopher Childs

“Summer of 2017, I witnessed a robbery just like this at Coxwell and Queen: perp had a basket loaded with large bottles of premium liquor. Walked past the cash and right out the front door. We all saw it, customers and staff. I pulled out my phone and filmed it. Ran out and followed him across Queen toward the rear parking lot of Harvey’s. He calmly unloaded the bottles into his SUV and sped off. I called the police and reported it. From reading this article, I know he got away and nothing was done about it. I’m shocked to hear the LCBO is the biggest retail target for theft and so little is done to stop it, since taxpayers eat the cost … I’m also astounded that police won’t respond unless the thief is still on the property; since these are basically smash-and-grabs, law enforcement has a negligible impact in deterring these crimes. What now? LCBO stores are just sitting ducks? As a Toronto resident and taxpayer, I’d like to hear what (Toronto police Chief) Mark Saunders and (Premier) Doug Ford have to say.

— Pamela Capraru

“I work at LCBO. I’ve witnessed three thefts in the last month. It’s sad but a reality that we can’t do anything about it. I say this because the thieves return because there is no threat to combat their actions. Yes, we see them on CCTV but we can’t stop them from leaving or even touch them. They could sue us back since they have rights preventing these actions. What can we really do, any suggestions? Bottle locks can be removed by screwdriver. The truth is theft will continue and the taxpayer will pay for it. We become witnesses to the perfect crime. How ironic.

— Gloria Hunter

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites


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Cannabis legalization named top Canadian business news story of 2018 – National


TORONTO — Canada’s trailblazing move to legalize cannabis for recreational use, which sparked an entirely new industry and had wide-ranging implications for nearly every facet of society, has been voted The Canadian Press Business News Story of the Year.

The term “disruption” in business has become so overused that it has become an empty cliche, but it is warranted in the case of pot legalization, said Andrew Meeson, deputy business editor at the Toronto Star.

How one simple change let a province sell residents live pot plants

“It’s hard to think of an area in Canada that hasn’t been shaken up: not just commerce (from criminal act to booming startup to takeover target in the blink of an eye), but also policing, health care, justice, politics. Even culture (just ask Tommy Chong),” he said.

“If that doesn’t make it the business story of the year, I don’t know what would.”

In an annual poll of the country’s newsrooms conducted by The Canadian Press, business editors and reporters across the country chose cannabis legalization in a landslide, with 60 per cent of the votes cast.

READ MORE: Smelly, fussy, humid: Why you may not want to grow your own legal pot

The terse negotiations between Canada, U.S. and Mexico towards a new North American Free Trade Agreement was a distant second with 30 per cent of votes.

Canada’s pipeline conundrum, with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion now in limbo after a court overturned its regulatory approval in August and a U.S. court throwing out the Keystone XL pipeline’s presidential permit in November, came in third out of eight possible candidates with 10 per cent of the vote.

WATCH: UBC Okanagan researchers looking at mass production of cannabis beverages

“Pipelines would have won, hands down if it weren’t for the creation of an entirely new industry in Canada,”said David Blair, a business columnist with CBC Radio. “Rarely, if ever, do journalists get to cover the opening of a new market, especially one that is as controversial as cannabis.”

Trudeau says cannabis shortage likely to be resolved within a year

The world was watching when the country made history with the first legal sale of non-medicinal pot just after midnight on Oct. 17 in Newfoundland and Labrador, due to its time zone being 30 minutes ahead of the rest of Canada.

It marked the beginning of what the New York Times dubbed Canada’s “national experiment,” and the culmination of months, if not years, of preparation by legislators and law enforcement officials at all levels and in each province, territory, and municipality.

WATCH: Life as a cannabis advisor for former Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter

While Oct. 17 represented an extension from the initial target set for July, and licensed producers ramped up production in the lead-up, long lines of customers were met with widespread product shortages online and in the relatively few bricks-and-mortar stores that were ready on day one.

Still, many Canadians were simply elated to be able to buy government-sanctioned pot after nearly 100 years of prohibition.

New cannabis companies hope to grow by fighting ‘stoner culture’ labels

“My new dealer is the prime minister!” said Canadian fiddler and pop star Ashley MacIsaac, who in 2001 had been arrested for possession in Saskatchewan.

But cannabis mania had been bubbling for months before legalization, with retail investors rushing to invest in the latest pot company to list its stock. Cannabis company valuations in the lead up to Oct. 17 soared and some of the banks’ online direct investment platforms were bombarded with unprecedented trading volumes.

At one point producer Tilray Inc.’s stock on the Nasdaq exchange in September hit a peak of US$300, giving the Nanaimo, B.C.-company a market value higher than established Canadian conglomerates such as Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Rogers Communications Inc.

Here’s how much cannabis costs across Canada

Pot will be cited for years to come as many Canadians’ first experiences with investing, said Pete Evans, senior business writer for CBC News.

“Cannabis mania deserves some credit — and maybe blame — for ushering an entire new generation of primarily young people into making their first stock market investments ever,” he said.

A flurry of merger and acquisition activity in the sector, even before legalization, fuelled investor interest as well.

Aurora Cannabis invests $10M in marijuana retailer High Tide

Aurora Cannabis Inc. was on an acquisition spree this year, buying rival CanniMed Therapeutics for $1.1 billion after a terse takeover battle and later MedReleaf for $3.2 billion.

Alcohol giant Constellation Brands in August announced it was upping its investment in pot producer Canopy Growth Corp. — in the largest strategic investment in the pot space to date _ to increase its ownership stake to 38 per cent. The Corona beer-producer also received warrants that, if exercised, would up its stake to more than 50 per cent.

And earlier this month, Big Tobacco came calling, as the number of countries that legalized cannabis for medical use continues to grow.

Maker of Marlboro cigarettes invests $2.4B in Canadian cannabis producer Cronos

Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. said it planned to invest $2.4 billion in pot producer Cronos Group Inc. for 45-per-cent ownership, with an option to increase that stake in the future.

WATCH: Aurora Cannabis buys MedReleaf for $3.2 billion

The Altria-Cronos deal gave the overall sector a slight lift, but pot stocks have largely come off their highs after legalization as reality set in and concerns mounted about lofty valuations.

Canadian marijuana companies have found themselves in the crosshairs of short-sellers, as well.

READ MORE: Could pot stocks make you rich?

Aphria Inc. earlier this month saw its stock value more than cut in half over three days after two short-sellers targeted the Leamington, Ont.-based cannabis producer with a raft of allegations, including that its recent international acquisitions were “largely worthless.” Aphria has called the allegations “inaccurate and misleading” and is confident in the deal in question, but has appointed an independent committee to review their claims.

Meanwhile, recreational pot supply shortages continue to linger. Several cannabis producers in part blamed supply chain issues for contributing to the shortage and have said they are aiming to increase their production, but it will likely take more time fresh product to hit the market.

Quebec’s cannabis corporation stores continue to be closed from Monday to Wednesday as a result. And in Ontario, where the only legal way for residents to buy adult-use pot is through the government-run online portal, the provincial government said it will hand out a limited number of retail licenses due to the shortages.

WATCH: Becoming a cannabis sommelier

The Ontario government initially said it would not cap the number of licenses, but now says it will only be able to issue 25 licenses by April via a lottery system. This deals a blow to a slew of companies who have been putting down deposits to secure prime real estate locations in the country’s most populous province in anticipation of obtaining a license.

“Seemingly overnight, activity that always existed on the margins of society has come into the centre,” said Evans.

“It’s been fascinating to watch the growing pains that have ensued… It will be interesting to see in the coming months and years how and if the reality lives up to expectations for the industry.”


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How a red dot kept Chinese-Canadian readers from getting the full story on Huawei


VANCOUVER—Users of China’s hugely popular social-media app WeChat know it well: the big red dot.

The dot lets them know the news article they want to read is no longer available. It says the link is suspected of phishing or malware and has been blocked, but in reality the dot often appears when the Chinese government doesn’t want a story seen.

Launched in 2011 by Chinese company Tencent Holdings, WeChat now has a billion monthly active users worldwide and is an essential platform for a plethora of media outlets, communities and businesses.

Last week the dot came and went during the bail hearing of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies. Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of American authorities over fraud allegations. She was released on $10-million bail to await an extradition ordeal.

But immigrants from China who still use WeChat in Canada to get their news noticed the red dot appeared when things weren’t looking good for Meng. Arrested, in legal limbo and the subject of worldwide attention, it looked as though she could be spending the next few months in custody.

That was no accident, said Samuel Wade, deputy editor of the China Digital Times.

The website published two directives it obtained from the Chinese government earlier this week ordering websites in the country to only report official Chinese state media versions of the Meng story.

“The general approach is keeping a lid on the intensity of coverage while also controlling its direction,” Wade told StarMetro.

“They do this by promoting approved accounts from core state media and official bodies and by marginalizing independent reporting and public reactions, like comments or social-media posts at home, and media coverage or official statements from abroad.”

Wade said the directives have been “consistent” with others regarding recent U.S.-China tensions.

In Canada, media companies can write what they want, of course — but their stories can also be deleted from WeChat, which is subject to Chinese censorship rules, said Zhang Xiao Jun, editor of the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily, which is owned by Torstar.

“They frequently block articles on our public account that are about Chinese government corruption or powerful people there,” said Zhang.

He said about 60 per cent of the newspaper’s readers are Canadians with Hong Kong roots and the rest are mostly from mainland China or Taiwan.

Zhang said many newcomers to Canada still prefer to read the news in their own language, and WeChat is a popular aggregator. The influence of the app is immense and can sway the opinions of Chinese-speaking Canadians by what it allows to be posted.

In order to reach this market, Zhang said, Sing Tao staff will post articles in up to 100 different WeChat groups; doing it this way helps controversial stories fly under the radar of the censors. Each chat group can contain up to 500 members.

“We saw that more people went to our website’s coverage of Meng’s bail hearing after we spread the word about it on WeChat,” he said.

Gao Bingchen is an independent journalist in Vancouver who also relies heavily on WeChat to reach his audience in Canada. He said he has had his channels deleted six times for covering sensitive stories.

This has included Gao’s stories about the Chinese government, powerful Chinese figures and even well-connected Canadian community leaders in Vancouver with connections to the Communist Party of China.

This is dangerous for Canada because it means the Chinese government has influence over the news Canadians can read.

“WeChat is a social-media platform controlled by China,” Gao explained. “The internet has no national boundaries, so overseas Chinese who use WeChat are subject to China’s control.”

Correction — Dec. 14, 2018: This story has been edited from a previous version that used an incomplete form of Zhang Xiao Jun’s name.

Jeremy Nuttall is the lead investigative reporter for StarMetro Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports

Joanna Chiu is assistant managing editor of StarMetro Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu


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Holocaust survivor shares story with Toronto students, reacts to deadly synagogue massacre – Toronto


More than 700 students pack the auditorium at Upper Canada College to listen to Holocaust survivor 92-year old Dr. Vera Schiff tell her story in a calm, quiet voice.

“Hate and intolerance only brings disaster,” said Schiff, her family’s lone survivor.

“The only way to survive is to get along and respect one another.”

In 1942, Schiff’s family was deported to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and concentration camp, where she was assigned to work in the hospital. Her parents, sister and grandmother died there.

During history’s darkest chapter, she tells the packed auditorium, she found love. Schiff met her future husband Arthur. The days were long, but Schiff kept going for her mother.

“If everybody and everything let her down, I will live up to what she expected, what she hoped I would become,” she said.

Decades have passed since the Holocaust, but still the memories for Schiff and for the other survivors who take part in Holocaust Education Week are difficult and traumatic.

READ MORE: Jewish people, community allies answer call to #ShowUpForShabbat

But as Schiff explains, “If [the students] create a better world, then our efforts were invested.”

Jordan Weiss is among the students.

“We have to keep pushing even though we’ve had setbacks, such as the Pittsburgh shooting, we have to keep pushing keep fighting keep learning,” he said.

Another student, Phillip Kong, attended a trip UCC offers to students who want to further their Holocaust education.

READ MORE: Pittsburgh mom, children thank first responders following synagogue shooting

“We went to many death camps such as Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau… when you’re actually there, it’s a whole other experience,” he said.

The teacher who leads the trip, and interviewed Vera Schiff on Monday, is Rachel Metalin. She has completed extensive Holocaust education training in Poland.

“For students to learn about a tragedy that, is of course a Jewish tragedy, but it’s also a human tragedy, and when we can connect to the humanity of that it’s really the catalyst for change,” said Metalin.

She recalled a trip overseas and a moment with one particular student.

“He looked up at me with just a look of shock and sadness and innocence and said, ‘It all really happened didn’t it? They really did that to those people?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah it did,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Metalin noted if she can open just one student’s eyes to the dangers of anti-Semitism, then it is all worth it.

Just over a week ago, 11 Jews were killed while worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Law enforcement officials reported the gunman said he wanted to “kill all the Jews.” The suspect, Robert Bowers, has been indicted on 44 charges, including 11 counts of obstruction of the free exercise of religious belief and use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence.

Montreal Holocaust survivors tell their story on Holocaust Remembrance Day

“It is very disappointing, it is frustrating and it is also a certain degree of fear that no matter what you do you don’t seem to be able to get the message across that violence breeds violence,” said Schiff.

Yet, she insisted, it is because of the Holocaust and because of the Pittsburgh massacre that she must keep sharing her story with future generations.

“To take the kids step by step and teach them that hate (and) intolerance is a non-viable option,” she said.

There are events across the GTA this week as part of the Neuberger’s annual signature program, Holocaust Education Week, which has recognized as a “best practice” in the field by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. A big part of the program is first hand testimony by the remaining Holocaust survivors.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Paul Bernardo’s pathetic, self-absorbed sob story convinces nobody


Back where you belong, to continue serving a life sentence. Can’t reapply for parole until 2020. He’ll be 56 then.

It took less than half an hour of deliberation before the two commissioners returned with their verdict.

“Mr. Bernardo, the board denies you full and day parole,” intoned Suzanne Poirier, who’d led the questioning over a period of two hours.

It was never in doubt, really. But strange happenings for convicted murderers in recent weeks held out just that filament of possibility.

The maximum-security inmate — Bernardo spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement — saw his slim hopes for liberty, however restrictive, blunted against the anvil of harrowing victim impact statements: Donna French, mother of slain 15-year-old Kristen, dumped naked in a ditch; Debbie Mahaffy, mother of slain 14-year-old Leslie, dismembered, her body parts encased in cement and thrown into a lake; “Jennifer,” jumped from behind, dragged into the bushes and raped, one from among more than a dozen young women, some no more than girls, who were sexually assaulted by Bernardo before he became a killer. She spoke for herself.

But Bernardo wants his life back. Except he can’t get there from here, designated as a dangerous offender — indeterminate sentence, beyond life — and required to show, at minimum, that he’s a changed man who poses no risk to the public.

“I’m devastated by what I did in the past. I feel dreadful. I cry all the time.”

Not so devastated, though, that until just three years ago he had no interest in partaking of sexual offender therapy. Not so devastated, in 2014, when he engaged in an intense five-week courtship with a female admirer, which re-kindled all the deviancy of the younger Paul; his obsession with controlling and demeaning, his fixation on anal sex as an antidote for sexual performance inadequacy and anxiety. So he became a masturbating machine, which alarmed his treating psychiatrist.

It wasn’t at all clear, actually, if the sex acts Bernardo described yesterday were mere fantasy or real. A Corrections official later told reporters that Bernardo’s “privacy rights” precluded him from revealing whether the felon has enjoyed conjugal rights at Millhaven Penitentiary. “There are definitely prisoners serving life sentences who have private family visits,” said Wayne Buller. “Risk factors are taken into consideration.”

More likely, though, that Bernardo was living inside his head, describing his erotic inclinations to the panel.

“I’ve been in solitary confinement for 25 years. I hardly have any misery with people.”

Bernardo — wearing a blue T-shirt, middle-age paunch spilling over his belly, but hair still thick and facial features preternaturally youthful — spared scarcely a moment for the teenagers he murdered, making their deaths all about him, as though the girls had been little more than props in a play of the macabre unfolding.

“They weren’t supposed to die,” he said of Kristen and Leslie, one abducted off the street in St. Catharines with Homolka the beard, the other lured to her death when Bernardo happened upon her late at night, in a backyard, Leslie locked out of her home to teach her a lesson about house rules.

“The expectation was they were supposed to go home. The plan was they were supposed to go home from the outset.”

The engaged couple, Bernardo and Homolka, kept Kristen’s body in the basement for three days.

Recounting his descent — from masturbating voyeur who trailed pretty girls to pitiless kidnapper, torturer and killer — Bernardo repeatedly landed on what he described as “cognitive distortion,” because he’s learned to speak the shrink lingo.

So, he had sexual compulsions even before Homolka appeared on the scene. The more he acted on them — the rapes — the more enraged he became because the victims wouldn’t comply, wouldn’t do exactly as he demanded. But mostly, this man who tried to avoid straight up and consensual intercourse, who claims he couldn’t stand to be touched, was driven by a lethal desire to debase and dehumanize.

“It was callous disregard. I lacked empathy for the victims. I didn’t enjoy inflicting pain but I didn’t feel for them emotionally.

“There was anger during my offending, no doubt. When my expectations weren’t met, there was rage. I thought they should do what I wanted them to. If they didn’t want to, then I punished them.’’

As Kristen, defiantly, mocked him, court heard a quarter century ago, just before she was killed.

Bernardo: “Because I’m in distress, I should be able to do what I want, with disregard for them.”

A low self-esteem was the genesis, he contends, tracing it back to a physical defect whereby his tongue was fused to the floor of his mouth, a condition which prevented him from speaking until surgery at age seven. A nice boy, he insists, quiet and shy, a Boy Scout, who got bullied at school as he grew up.

“I felt inadequate in all areas of my life and always have. I had to dominate in sexual acts. It was the only way I could perform.”

Perform is not a synonym for rape and defilement.

Really, it sounded in the telling more like insatiable sexual obsession and dysfunction — as those of us who watched in court, 25 years ago, his frustrated sex sessions with Homolka can attest.

“For me it was about power and control. My ability to go pout and get what I wanted from a female, to boost my insecurity.

“When I offended I had justification. At the time of the offences, I was concerned about my own distress, I was focused on solving my own problems.’’

As, indeed, he wrote in a lengthy narrative, a “self-published” book, undertaken a decade ago at a psychiatrist’s suggestion: “I do not care about them.”

The dead girls, The raped girls.

“I offended to raise my self-esteem. It was their fault, blaming the victims. Part of justification is denial. Denying even to myself the extent of the harm. … When I was incarcerated, I was degraded, humiliated, I became defensive. I had my guard up. I’ve been able to drop the defences and to feel remorse.’’

The remorse was certainly professed at the hearing. “I wake up most days and it’s hard for me to believe that I did that. But it’s good for me to admit this to you and to the world — I did this. I’m happy to feel the pain.”

His declaration lacked any ring of truth, though, bouts of weeping notwithstanding.

Except for one thing.

The death of Tammy Homolka, his fiancee’s little sister, drugged and sexually violated by the couple as she lay unconscious. Tammy, who choked to death on her own vomit. Bernardo pleaded guilty to manslaughter and a slew of rapes in 1995, consenting to dangerous offender status.

Was so distressed after the girl’s death — which he and Karla caused — that he twice tried to commit suicide afterwards, Bernardo told the panel.

“Tammy’s death, I was just devastated. I put her in totally jeopardy. I relied on the medical expertise of Homolka. And, I thought … Tammy would never know.

“The kidnappings occurred after Tammy died. That was the escalation, the tipping point.”

But of course, Paul Bernardo says a lot of things, now. What’s left of his wretched life depends on it.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno


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This Canadian clan owes its extraordinary origin story to a shy Toronto teen, a crusading journalist and a Connecticut dad


Through the sunny afternoon of July 12, 1968, Lina Preyra and the eldest of her eight children, ranging in age from 2 to 15, were busy packing trunks. So they’d be out of the way, the younger ones had been sent off with a few rupees to buy cane-sugar drinks from the vendors near the Bombay house the family had rented for the months leading up to this day.

Lina, then 40, had arranged for a friend, the principal of a local Catholic girls’ school, to drive them all to the airport. By nightfall, the travellers were hurtling over the Indian Ocean en route to Paris.

Cecil Preyra with wife Lina and eight of their children in 1968. He was turned down for 75 jobs after he immigrated to Canada, even though he had a university degree. Prospective employers said he was overqualified.
Cecil Preyra with wife Lina and eight of their children in 1968. He was turned down for 75 jobs after he immigrated to Canada, even though he had a university degree. Prospective employers said he was overqualified.  (Graham Bezant / Toronto Star file photo)

Now adults living in Canada, Lina’s children recall the emotions that marked the journey: fear and awe inspired by that first plane trip; regret at leaving behind friends; and relief at having escaped their precarious situations — both domestic and political.

Following a night with London relatives, and the novelty of a hot bath, the Preyras embarked on the final leg of their exodus — a flight to Toronto’s Malton airport. Upon arrival, they were reunited with Cecil Preyra, Lina’s husband, a lawyer with an Indian railway company who had come ahead some weeks earlier to find work and line up a place for his large family to live.

“It was dark when we arrived” in Toronto, recounts Cecilia Preyra, a St. Thomas, Ont., goat farmer and retired psychology professor. At 12, she was the fourth of the couple’s children. She spent the journey trying to help Lina, who was very pregnant, and praying the plane wouldn’t crash. As the family drove to a downtown hotel, Cecilia’s first impressions of Toronto remain etched in her memory: the smooth roads, the absence of crowds, the fresh air.

“I remember,” she says, “how clean it was.”

It was July 14, and Toronto seemed like a world away from the tumultuous life they had left behind just 48 hours earlier.

Anyone who has met returning friends or relatives at Pearson airport’s international arrivals gate will have observed the emotionally charged scenes at the end of such journeys. Weary travellers emerge into the over-lit concourse, pushing carts laden with luggage, their faces marked by fatigue, excitement and apprehension. Some are greeted by joyful relatives while others orient themselves, scanning for ground transport or emissaries carrying signs.

Many are in the midst of an unforgettable day — the turning point on a life’s calendar that sharply divides what came before and what came after.

In a region where every other resident was born abroad and thousands more grew up with immigrant parents, such poignant experiences connect many communities, providing a point of commonality in a city defined by difference.

“This is the stuff of literally millions of immigration journeys to this country,” observes Ryerson University political scientist Myer Siemiatycki. Immigration narratives are driven both by “push” and “pull” factors: forces at home that drove out individuals or families, as well as enticements in receiving countries. Research shows that immigrants, more than anything else, are motivated by a desire to provide better lives for their children, he adds.

Siemiatcyki also notes a paradox: while so many immigration tales have similar elements, each family’s experiences are distinct. “One never knows, when one gets on a boat or a plane, whether one has made the right decision.”

On the 50th anniversary of their arrival, the Preyra clan, including two more children born here, is no exception. While Cecil and Lina died in the 1980s, their 10 offspring Carmel, Claire, Leonard, Cecilia, Cathy, Jeffrey, Ron, Alan, Colin and Ian have succeeded in a range of professions: education, law, health care, media, politics.

From left Ian, Carmel, Claire, Ron, Alan ( front row) Jeff, and Colin (right blazer), adult children of Lina and Cecil Preyra, 50 years after the family immigrated from India to Canada.
From left Ian, Carmel, Claire, Ron, Alan ( front row) Jeff, and Colin (right blazer), adult children of Lina and Cecil Preyra, 50 years after the family immigrated from India to Canada.  (Rene Johnston)

Overcoming initial stares and stigma, the Preyras built families, businesses, homes and an ever-expanding circle of close friends. (Full disclosure: I count myself among the latter group, having first met Jeff, a television producer, at Carleton University’s journalism faculty in 1987.)

These days, such stories have added relevance. With mass flows of global migration, populist or nativist politicians from Donald Trump to former Tory MP Maxime Bernier have sought to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment to justify closing borders to migrants accused of being “illegal.”

Such headwinds serve as reminder of just how fraught these departures can be. Indeed, the Preyras’ journey from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Rexdale could only have occurred because of a curious alignment of post-independence politics in India and post-centennial politics in Canada. Their saga also pivots on an improbable confluence of actions taken by three individuals — a crusading Toronto Star journalist; a shy North York teenager; and a Connecticut father of eight who had become fixated on the needs of large American families.

Lina Mesquita and Cecil Preyra met at a Catholic church in Mumbai, and married on Oct. 28, 1951. Years later, Lina would tell her daughters that the best way to meet a suitable life partner was to look in the pews of a church.

Cecil was charismatic, dutiful and hard-working, the music-loving eldest son in a large family. Lina, for her part, was reserved, cerebral and athletic — a high school teacher and an avid reader.

“My dad was a terribly handsome fellow,” says Carmel, a retired high school principal and the oldest of the 10 siblings. Cecil, she adds, was smitten by Lina’s intellect, as well as the fact she could beat him at table tennis. “He was fascinated by this woman.”

“Fundamentally,” adds Cecilia, “they shared the same qualities.”

Lina’s family came from Goa, an Indian state colonized by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. Portuguese and later British missionaries sought to convert Hindu and Muslim Indians both through coercion and inducements, such as access to government jobs. The proselytizing provoked resentment and violent backlashes as early as the mid-19th century.

Both the Mesquitas, who were Goan, and the Preyras came from this background. As English speakers with western customs, the families enjoyed a mainly middle-class lifestyle with economic and professional privileges. After Indian independence, in 1947, state officials clamped down on Christian conversion campaigns, according to Chad Bauman, a religious studies scholar who has written about Hindu-Christian conflict. Indian Catholics increasingly found themselves targeted by Hindu nationalists, facing discrimination and blocked careers.

Cecil and Lina’s first son, Leonard — a former political scientist and Nova Scotia cabinet minister who was 13 when they left — says his parents’ social circles included Hindus and Muslims. Still, he recalls how the nationalist demonstrations near their home generated a growing sense of unease.

Away from these broader currents, Lina’s family had never been happy that she married into the Preyra clan, who had, as Leonard puts it, a “rough and tumble” reputation in Dadar, the district in Mumbai where they owned a small compound.

The land had been in the Preyra family for years, but they had sold most of the street frontage to a Jain congregation that built a large temple there. By the 1960s, all that remained was a 1,200 sq.-ft, one-floor house with no running water and an outhouse. Accessible via a narrow alleyway, the five-room dwelling was known as “Caroline Villa,” after one of Cecil’s grandmothers.

Around 1960, Cecil took Lina and their growing brood to live at Caroline Villa. His own father widowed, Cecil felt an obligation to move back into the family home and look after his younger brothers, three of whom suffered from drug and alcohol addictions. “He thought he might be able to get them straightened out,” Carmel says.

Yet in that overcrowded house, tempers often flared when Cecil’s brothers would return late at night, inebriated and violent. “I never felt safe in that house when they were around,” says Jeff, who was 7 when they left for Canada. Those uncles, he adds, “frequently threatened to kill” Cecil. Other siblings recall incidents when police were summoned.

On many occasions, Lina and her children huddled in the one 12-by-12 room they all shared, barring both sets of doors while Cecil’s brothers raged and fought in the home’s main room, sometimes wielding knives. One became fixated on Jeff. “He believed I could see into his soul,” Jeff says. “Whenever he was around, I had to run and hide.”

Some of the Preyras speculate that Cecil’s brothers had turned to drugs and alcohol because of anti-Catholic discrimination. “My uncles couldn’t move up anywhere because all the jobs were being given to Hindus,” says Carmel.

Whatever the cause, the domestic chaos they created was becoming untenable. “I remember the last year as being extremely scary,” says Leonard. “My dad was pretty frustrated by the situation. But he had a strong sense of duty, not just to his family but also to us.”

In the early 1960s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was preoccupied with family planning. India’s population was surging toward 500 million, and people were starving. In the 1950s, government demographers and other experts had sought ways to persuade Indians to have fewer children. Gandhi, through a series of “five-year plans,” upped the ante, setting ambitious economic growth targets accompanied by strategies to slow population growth.

The government established family-planning campaigns featuring education, contraceptives and access to thousands of new clinics offering free sterilization. While 1.5 million people underwent sterilization by the end of 1966, these measures barely dented the birth rate. By 1966, Gandhi’s government began looking at coercive measures, including forced sterilization for all men with three or more children. As Dr. Sripati Chandrasekhar, the health minister, told the New York Times in late July 1967, “a drastic situation requires a drastic response.”

The threat of sterilization didn’t sit well with Cecil and Lina, who both felt having a large family was a matter of religious freedom, Cecilia says. Cecil’s bosses pushed him to promote contraceptives and sterilization to his division’s employees, who faced the threat of sanction if they didn’t comply. When he refused to co-operate, Carmel says, he was harassed and had his work duties curtailed.

On the other side of the world, during this same period, large families had become a preoccupation of a very different sort.

In a modest clapboard house in Norwalk, Conn., Stanley and Eleanor Borner were raising eight children. One night in the early 1960s, on a Boy Scout camping trip with his sons, Stanley began chatting with a few other fathers about the demands — financial, emotional, logistical — of bringing up so many kids.

As he would earnestly confide to a reporter in November 1963, “I wasn’t sure if I was being a good father. If I let myself be warm and affectionate towards one child, would another feel neglected? If I disciplined one child, would he feel rejected? Did I have enough affection to go around?”

Borner had set up a support group, Parents of Large Families. Early meetings attracted curious and mainly middle-class parents. Newspaper coverage followed. A 1963 feature titled “Kids, Kids, Kids” noted there were 2.1 million families in the U.S. with five or more children. The story, which first ran in a newspaper in Bridgeport, Conn., was widely syndicated, appearing in newspapers in Texas, California and Arizona.

The coverage attracted thousands of members; many, though not all, were Catholic. Borner, who had asked federal officials about supports, even received a note from Robert F. Kennedy, the U.S. attorney general who with his wife Ethel had 11 children.

“Your idea of developing mutual answers to mutual problems in such an organization sounds like both good sense and good fellowship,” he wrote.

Former Star journalist Sidney Katz with Carmel Preyra. Katz's column played a key role in the family's journey.
Former Star journalist Sidney Katz with Carmel Preyra. Katz’s column played a key role in the family’s journey.  (Beaty, Keith)

In mid-June of 1965, word of POLF’s activities reached Sidney Katz, a Toronto Star reporter. An activist journalist in the mould of June Callwood, Katz brought an interest in hot-button social issues, such as gay rights and racism.

On June 12, 1965, Katz penned a piece in the Star about POLF and Borner’s efforts to create bulk-buying groups for large families. But he also wrote an accompanying column, inveighing against couples opting to have more than two children. “Serious social irresponsibility,” he opined, citing the global population explosion.

In the next few years, POLF generated more media attention and found audiences beyond North America. I came across one Associated Press story about the group in the Sydney Morning Herald, in Australia.

Back in Mumbai, at some point, Lina Preyra became one of the thousands of people around the world who learned about Borner’s work, likely in Reader’s Digest, to which she subscribed.

In July 1967, with talk of forced sterilization cresting and the domestic chaos at Caroline Villa boiling over, Lina wrote to Borner, asking his group to help her family leave India.

Borner replied with a letter full of concern. “Our hearts go out to you,” he began. While his group didn’t have the money or clout to assist the Preyras directly, Borner wrote that he’d sent Lina’s letter to the Toronto Star, which had covered POLF’s work two years earlier. Her missive ended up on Katz’s desk.

By then, Katz had a regular help column entitled, “What Should I Do?” Readers sent in dilemmas, and Katz ferreted out answers on topics ranging from marriage conventions to big-city living. In one article, he fielded a question from a recent Indian immigrant who wanted to know if she could wear a sari to work.

The headline on Katz’s Aug. 10, 1967, column read: “How can an Indian family of ten come to Canada?” He quoted a letter he’d received from Lina, talking about India’s coercive sterilization policy and the hostility facing families like the Preyras. Noting her children’s dim prospects, Lina said she and her husband were prepared to do whatever it took to leave.

“You will perhaps consider me presumptuous but a drowning person will clutch at any straw,” she wrote. “Can you help us to emigrate, as a family, to Canada?” Katz didn’t disappoint, and used the rest of the column to give Lina precise instructions on whom to contact to get the process moving.

One of the Star readers who saw Katz’s column was 15-year-old Donald Drutz, who lived with his divorced mother and brother in a walk-up on Bathurst St., near Eglinton. It was the summer of 1967, and the young man was paying close attention to social issues, including the civil rights work of the Freedom Riders in the U.S. South.

While he couldn’t go to Alabama to protest segregation, he thought he could assist the Preyras. Without consulting his mother, Donald (who later changed his name to Mark) contacted Katz and asked for Lina’s address. “Reading their human interest story just sort of clicked for me,” he says. “I thought, ‘here’s my way to help somebody.’ ”

A few weeks after posting his letter, Carmel, then also 15, replied.

Mark Drutz and Cecil Preyra made for unlikely roommates in 1968.
Mark Drutz and Cecil Preyra made for unlikely roommates in 1968.  (James, Norman)

Mark Drutz, retired from a position as a Vancouver college administrator, doesn’t recall the exact sequence of events, but at some point he revealed his correspondence with Carmel to his mother, Evelyn. She agreed to sponsor the Preyras.

To this day, he can’t account for her decision: after all, she was single, with two teenage sons and no money. What’s more, Mark says, she was “wary of strangers.” Still, he adds, Evelyn’s parents were Jewish immigrants who came to Toronto in the 1910s. He recalls her as socially progressive.

Over the coming year, Mark and Carmel exchanged about 20 to 30 letters. “I must have been a weather nut,” he chuckles. “Carmel reminded me there was a lot in the letters about weather.” In the background, Evelyn had taken the necessary bureaucratic steps to set herself up as a sponsor for Cecil.

That they could even contemplate such a move reflected very recent changes in Canada’s immigration policies. A set of reforms that began in 1962 under Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker and concluded in 1967 under Liberal Pierre Trudeau repealed explicitly racist immigration restrictions dating back to 1908, and the “Continuous Journey Regulation,” a measure designed to keep out Asian migrants. William Lyon Mackenzie King, the architect of Canada’s policy, felt immigrants should not alter “the character of our population.”

Under Trudeau’s centennial year policy, prospective immigrants were to be judged according to a point system, not their race or country of origin. Those colour-blind rules opened the doors to developing-world families, including the Preyras.

In Mumbai, Lina and Cecil absorbed the news from Canada and made the decision to leave. As their children all say, it must have been a wrenching choice for Cecil, because he felt a strong obligation to look after his troubled siblings.

Yet Lina insisted, warning that a similarly bleak future awaited their own children if they didn’t extricate themselves. As Cecilia says, “My mother understood that in order to make a life for ourselves, we had to get away from that house.”

What helped, adds Claire Preyra, a Mississauga psychotherapist and the second-eldest of the siblings, is that some of their parents’ acquaintances had already left for places like Australia and North America, among them two of Lina’s friends, who had settled in Quebec. “They wanted us to come to Montreal to be with them.”

In the spring of 1968, Cecil cashed in his company pension and other savings to buy plane tickets and finance the transition. He would fly to Canada on his own to get established. To avoid the vengeance of Cecil’s brothers, Lina and the children moved from Caroline Villa to a friend’s house while they waited to join him.

When Cecil arrived in Toronto, he moved in with the Drutzes, sharing a bedroom with Mark, who describes himself then as an awkward teen who could scarcely muster a reply to the formal Indian man who had become his roommate.

Mark recalls that his mother was nervous about how long he would be living with them. She also asked Cecil point blank how he planned to support so many children. “The conversation she often had with Cecil was, `How are you going to provide for this big family?’ And he would say, `Mrs. Drutz, God will provide.’ She was always so scornful of that.”

Carmel Preyra with Mark Drutz, who was instrumental in helping the family come to Canada.
Carmel Preyra with Mark Drutz, who was instrumental in helping the family come to Canada.

Within a month or so, Cecil found a job in the juvenile courts, using his legal skills. He had met a few other Indian families in a Catholic church where he began attending services. In preparation for his family’s arrival, he arranged for them to stay at the Anndore Hotel, on Charles St. near Yonge.

A few days after they landed, Mark came to the Anndore for his first nervous meeting with Carmel and her siblings. Lina, Mark and the older Preyra children walked up Yonge St. to the hippie scene unfolding in Yorkville during the summer of 1968. Carmel remembers the “mind-blowing” counter-cultural vibe vividly. “For the older kids,” adds Leonard, “it was exciting. But for my parents, it was pretty scary (and) antithetical to what they believed.”

That clash — between socially conservative immigrant parents and offspring eager to absorb the ways of a new country — is a drama that continues to play out in countless newcomer households.

In most ways, the balance of the Preyras’ tale is filled with familiar and oft-repeated elements: a series of moves to what became the family home in Rexdale; the parents’ struggle to find suitable work and their enormous sacrifices; their children’s embrace of the liberal enticements of Canadian society; the acclimatization to everything from winter to foreign customs to road hockey; and the family’s determination to succeed educationally, socially and professionally.

Sidney Katz continued to write about the Preyras’ progress and maintained a lifelong friendship with the family.

Fifty years later, the Preyras all say that the improbable story that began with Lina’s letter to Stanley Borner turned out exceedingly well. Leonard, however, stresses that their experiences don’t differ markedly from the countless immigrant families that risked all to make a new start in a foreign land.

A picture taken during the presentation of a quilt that a friend made specifically for the 50th anniversary of the Preyras' arrival in Canada this past summer.
A picture taken during the presentation of a quilt that a friend made specifically for the 50th anniversary of the Preyras’ arrival in Canada this past summer.

Canada’s 1978 immigration bill

In the mid-1960s, only a trickle of South Asians settled in Canada each year, and the bulk of those were Sikhs or Punjabis. After 1967, the numbers began to rise, with annual East Indian immigration reaching the 23,000 range by 1974, according to a 1978 study in Canadian Public Policy.

In Toronto and Vancouver, those increases prompted a xenophobic backlash, with a spike in attacks dubbed “Paki-bashing.” As that 1978 study notes, East Indians “bore the brunt of the racist animosity” aimed at Third World newcomers.

In 1967, 80 per cent of immigrants to Canada came from Europe. By 1974, that figure had fallen to 40 per cent. The Trudeau government knew it had to address the unrest. Immigration officials closed a loophole permitting newcomers to apply for landed immigrant status while visiting Canada. Ottawa, notes Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University, also released a “green paper” and set up a joint Senate-House of Commons task force to travel the country, collecting feedback.

Dozens of East Indian organizations and individuals made deputations to the task force, marking one of the first instances of a newcomer community mobilizing politically. (Chinese-Canadian groups had also pushed for the repeal of the Exclusion Act, a 1920s law that blocked family reunification.)

The 1978 study says these lobbying efforts fell on deaf ears. Nonetheless, the task force members realized they had to defuse an evidently volatile situation.

Siemiatycki points out that the result — a law passed four decades ago this year — established three formal categories of newcomers (economic, family, and refugees) and the use of annual target immigration levels, all of which remain pillars of Canadian policy. The initial target was about 100,000 people. Canada today accepts about 300,000 newcomers a year, equivalent to 1 per cent of the population.


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