Original Published on Aug 24, 2022 at 09:10
By Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It is said that Canada is a country of immigrants, as such, Canada is often one of the first countries to open its doors to citizens of other countries who are in need. One of the individuals who benefitted from this is Miklos Toth, a Hungarian immigrant born shortly before the revolution who fled to Canada to seek safety, and arrived in Taber.
“It all started with the 1956 revolution which started October 3, 1956,” said Toth. “The Russians, they were smart — they took all the capital cities of what later became the Warsaw Pact, the eastern countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungry, Romania. All the other soldiers went home and the Russians decided to stay. They took over, imposed communism, and people had about enough of that by ’56, and students started a small rebellion in an area of the city where I was born. The secret police, they kinda went overboard and started shooting the students. The steelworkers heard that they were shooting the students and they came — that’s how they got involved in the resistance. It carried on for about eight days — it looked like the Russians were backing off, like they’re not invading, and then, of course, they invaded with force.”
Toth explained how his family got involved in the revolution.
“My father was involved because he could drive a truck — in those days, driving a vehicle of any sort was a big deal. They came knocking on the door one night and said, ‘We need someone to drive a truck. We know where we can get some weapons and we just need somebody to drive.’ My father said ‘sure, absolutely.’ They go, they knocked over the arms depot, and they were handing out guns to the people who were battling the Russians with Molotov cocktails basically. Wasn’t too long after that, a few days another knock on the door and they say, ‘hey, listen they know who you are. You’re part of this group, they’re looking for you — time to go.’ By this point, there were already some people leaving, they were going to the Austrian border down to Yugoslavia. We got on a train one night, and away we went towards the border.”
After this, Toth spoke of the stroke of luck that his family received when travelling to the border.
“Fortunate thing was there was a military officer on the train who put me on his lap — my mother said that I was playing with his buttons on his jacket,” said Toth. “Soldiers came on the train, they didn’t talk to my parents. I think they thought that we were with this officer. That’s how we continued on — everybody else got booted off. We got to the border, and went into a pub, they were looking for people who were taking escapees over. A fellow said, ‘I’ll take you over, what do you got?’ My parents said they got their clothes on the back and a kilo of paprika. They went into the forest towards Austria — it was about 14 kilometres — and my father said it was cold. It’s December, pitch black you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and a lot of people went in groups — my parents went on their own. Next thing they know, the guy that was supposed to be taking them over, he disappeared into the dark, so they’re on their own.”
Toth then explained that many of the people who were going across the borders in groups were caught by the Russians, and gunned down before making it to the other side of the border. Afterwards, he talked about how he and his parents ended up in Canada due to religious disagreements between his mother and the individual who was handling immigration into the United States.
“We spent six weeks in Austria in a high school gym, and my parents wanted to go to the States, but because my mother was Catholic and the fellow representing the States was a Presbyterian minister. He gave back my father the paperwork and said, ‘You go line up for Canada.’ That’s how we ended up in Canada. We went up to Hamburg, Germany, and then crossed on a ship in the North Atlantic stormy winter. My father said the ship went up on top of the wave and you could see everything. Then it went down and you saw four walls of water. It was about seven or eight days coming across. We got to Nova Scotia and they threw everybody on a train. Some people got a phone number, some people have an address, or name, my parents had nothing.”
Toth also explained how his parents arrived in Alberta.
“As they’re chugging along, people are getting off because they have somebody to go to. Well, by the time my parents reached Calgary and the other three couples got together, and said, ‘the next big city we stop at, we’re getting off. We don’t know where we’re going to be but we’re getting off.’ It was Calgary and then the Red Cross shipped them down here to Lethbridge. In Lethbridge, someone suggested that there were a lot of Hungarian farmers in Taber. They shipped us over here — they called some farmers and said, ‘do you need some workers?’ It was like kids picking baseball teams, some farmer showed up, ‘I’ll take that family, we’ll grab that family, you’ll grab that family,’ and my dad was here only for a few days and working on a farm.”
Toth also explained how his father was very happy working on the farm because he was now working for himself and not working for the state.
“They were very happy. My mother was a little homesick because she wanted to go back — my father said, ‘we can’t go back.’ They had tried — these guys, if you go back, you go to jail for 10 years for treason, and we never did go back until 1967, which was 10 years after,” said Toth. “They had a woman follow us, and she followed us for six weeks. They would meet us in the morning where we were staying with my aunts, we would open the gate and there she was having a smoke. We would go on the bus, she would be there. She was with us for six weeks looking for my father to screw up, you know exchange money or that kind of thing. My parents loved it here, and you couldn’t drag them out of the country once they adjusted. They loved Taber, it was a small town. They weren’t used to a small town when you’re not raised in Budapest, but they liked it here.”
Toth took some time to talk about his experiences growing up in Taber.
“I liked it here — I went to Central. I remember my first teacher, Mrs. Fisher. I couldn’t speak a word of English — my first day of school they threw me on a yellow bus out in the country somewhere. Fortunately, there were some other Hungarian kids that could speak some English. It was a great town, I don’t remember any harassment, bullying, any exclusion — you know it was great, it was welcoming. I used to play hockey down at the old arena, the one that burned down. I remember as a kid getting into Canadiana wanting to get some skates and all that. Got used to going to see the Taber Chefs play on a Friday or Saturday night down at the arena and, just got into the Canadian way of life and I was very happy.”
Finally, Toth took a moment to reiterate how welcoming Taber is.
“Just my growing up here in town, I think is kind of important. A very friendly town like I said, there was never any exclusion, harassment, being picked on because you can’t speak English or this or that. There was a Hungarian community here of course so that helped my parents and Taber is a nice little town to grow up in.”
This story reprinted with permission from The Times, Taber, Alberta