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And So It Began

And So It Began

The post “Forethought” marks the beginning of the story “Death by Water”, within the story “Life by Drowning”, to which I alluded when I called this a “multi-dimensional novel”. Although Gisa Catarina Gärtner and the Gärtner family is fictional, the setting is real and the historical details are accurate to the best of my knowledge.

Between 1865-1939, about 30,000 Austrians from the province of Tirol emigrated to Brazil. After World War I, rising unemployment and other political factors further stimulated emigration to various parts of the world, including Canada and Brazil. In 1919, Austria’s former Minister of Agriculture, Andreas Thaler, traveled to the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, in search of land on which to establish a closed Catholic-Austrian settlement. The region’s temperate climate with four seasons and possible snow in winter, and its geography in the west of the Brazilian highlands, resembled Austria’s. He purchased 52km2 of land and returned to Austria to form a colonization plan.

In 1933, an Austrian Foreign Settlement Society was established to raise funds to build closed Austrian settlements overseas. On September 28, 1933, Andreas Thaler and 82 immigrants departed Tirol, Austria, for Santa Catarina, Brazil. On October 13, 1933, they arrived and officially founded the settlement of Dreizehnlinden (in English: Thirteen Lindens; in Portuguese: Treze Tílias). I have inserted the fictitious Gärtner family into this group of immigrants, raising the number of immigrants by 9 (Gisa, her parents, and 6 of her 7 siblings), from 82 to 91.
Today, the municipality of Treze Tílias, known for its alpine architecture, dairies and its artisans, still maintains strong cultural ties to Austria.

In the following excellent documentary, immigrants relate the hardships they encountered upon arriving in Treze Tílias. Unfortunately, I could not find an English translation.


It’s Not ‘Historical Reality’, It’s ‘Historical Fiction’

My esteemed colleagues at the marketing firm I contract with have taught me many important lessons about life, work, and the intricacies of good design and sound programming. I’d like to think I have enriched their lives and work in return. For instance, I elevated their lunch-break distractions by rescuing them from the horror of bad science fiction soap opera and into Battlestar Galactica. Despite the superior quality of the series, my colleague had some hang-ups—particularly with regard to gravity where there shouldn’t have been any. Eventually, he resigned himself to the realization that it’s not ‘Science Reality’, it’s ‘Science Fiction’.

I’ve recently experienced some of my own hang-ups, with regard to “how it really happened”. I’ve entered into the “real” story within my story, which begins in Brazil circa 1933. The Perfectionist in me demands telling it as it really happened—with accurate historical details. I’ve diligently Googled, Wikipedia-ed and YouTubed, in English, Brazilian Portuguese (which I can mostly read), and German (which I cannot read, but can translate thanks to Google Chrome’s excellent translation feature). These resources have rewarded me with general information I need to start the story. However, they lack the specific details I want to proceed. I’ve emailed officials in Treze Tílias (the town in which my story takes place, formerly called Dreizehnlinden) asking for assistance but have not yet received a response.

So, what now? Allow my current inability to check historical facts to bring my story to a screeching halt just as it was starting to pick up momentum? Or plough ahead, imaginatively filling in the gaps as best I can, with the intention of adding additional detail and editing for accuracy later? Well, the Pragmatist in me has won: I choose the latter. After all, it’s not ‘Historical Reality’, it’s ‘Historical Fiction’.

The Devil & The Details

The Devil & The Details

(Or “The Distractions & The Research”)

Someone once said, “the devil is in the detail”. Ever wondered who? I did. Apparently, it derives from “God is in the detail”, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly. For me, it refers to the time I’m having gathering all the historical details I desire to proceed confidently with the next sections of my book.

A. The Devil: Distractions Not Avoided

I recently read (and reread) an alternative translation for this line, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” from the Lord’s Prayer. It states that the original Aramaic, in which Jesus would have spoken it, would translate more accurately to something like “Lead us not onto the path of distraction but deliver us from useless diversions.”

For me, distractions filled the last month, including March Break fun and stomach flu suffering. I have proclaimed April the Month of Focus!

B. The Details: Research Required

Have I made any progress on my book in the last month, you ask? Yes, despite the distractions, I have! Life By Fire will soon branch out into a couple of directions that require accurate historical details. To that end, I have been diligently Googling, emailing, calling and haunting various libraries and universities. Here are some highlights:


Life in Dreizehnlinden (aka Papuan or Treze Tílias): 1942 – 1954

I discovered a book called Dreizehnlinden: Osterreicher im Urwald on the Internet, which documents the history of the first location of my novel. I have managed to borrow a copy of the book from the University of Toronto library and have use of it until May 12th. Unfortunately, I do not speak or read German…the book is in German. So, how to most efficiently translate it?

Plan A: I have discovered one of the authors of the book on Facebook (Yup, Facebook comes through again, much to my amazement!). I am in the process of contacting him to inquire after an English translation or an electronic copy of the book, which I can paste into Google Translate to achieve a rough translation.

Plan B: Scan the entire 203 pages into a text scanner to convert the text into electronic form myself. The Kitchener Library comes through again with a text scanner in their Accessibility Centre. The question is, can I get a useable rough translation if the text scanning software cannot recognize German characters?


Life in Kitchener: 1942 – 1945

Gisa’s eldest sister did not immigrate to Brazil with the rest of her family; instead, she immigrated to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada with her husband, joining his relatives there. What was life like for a German-speaking woman living in Kitchener during World War II? I’ve spent some enjoyable hours in the Kitchener Public Library’s Grace Schmidt Room of Local History. The Local History Librarian, Ms. Karen Ball-Pyatt, has been very helpful, guiding me to the information I desire. In addition to the books I’ve shown here, my reading has included a 1973 Thesis written by a History student at the University of Waterloo, photo documentation, and various newspaper clippings.

Voyage between Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: February 1954

Ship-Uruguay-first-Aliens-List 9-with Canadian_NYT715_8420-1087
In February 1954, one of my characters will travel between Papuan, Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. How will/did she travel? What route will/did she take? My investigation led me to email Pier 21 in Halifax. This Canadian port has historically received the majority of immigrants to and from this country. However, Mr. Colin, the very kind and helpful Curator of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, informed me that someone traveling from South America by sea in 1954 would likely have ported at New York and then traveled by train to Kitchener via Toronto.

At his direction, I ventured onto the New York Times online shipping pages, then ended up searching on and opening an account. Through it, I gained access to passenger lists for various ships with passengers who embarked in Brazil and disembarked in the port of New York in February 1954. I now know that my character will travel/ed from Brazil to New York on a steamship named The Uruguay, a boat with a colourful history, which I will outline in a separate post.

Ship name: The Uruguay
Embarked: February 1, 1954, Santos, Brazil
Disembarked: February 15, 1954, New York, N.Y.


Life in Kitchener: 1954 – 1964

What was life in Kitchener, 1954, like? Where would a German-speaking person go to dinner or to dance? Where would she buy groceries or post a letter? The desire to accurately relate these details has led me into further inquires, including correspondence with the German Department at the University of Waterloo about their Oral History Project and browsing the history of the Concordia Club.

My search to understand the lay of the land in downtown Kitchener during this time period has led me to correspond with the City of Kitchener Archives and the University of Waterloo’s Geospatial Centre.

So much to learn! See how it all plays out in my upcoming chapters…they’re coming soon, I promise!

What’s in a Name

What’s in a Name

Names have symbolic power—personally and politically. Here are some interesting details about names as they play out in history and in the novel:

The Political

Politically, names symbolize alliance. Both Dreizehnlinden (Treze Tílias, Santa Catarina, Brazil) and Berlin (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) suffered the ramifications of changing alliances.

Dreizehnlinden – Papuan – Treze Tílias

  • 1933: Austrian settlement named Dreizehnlinden.

Dreizehn: 13
Linden: a kind of tree, popular in Europe, which blooms with white flowers in spring.

Upon the Poem-Book-Cover-Originalausgabe-Dreizehnlinden-1878Austrian immigrants’ arrival in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, their leader, Andreas Thaler, officially named their settlement Dreizehnlinden. He chose the name based on an epic poem he found in a library in Porto Alegre on an earlier reconnaissance visit to Brazil. The poem’s author, Friedrich Wilhelm Weber (December 25, 1813 – April 5, 1894), was a German doctor, politician of the Prussian House of Deputies, and a poet.

The epic poem ends with the lines:

Help us God to find the way to our homeland,
Out of the land we came from;
Pray for the poor writer,
And thus closes the song to the thirteen linden trees.

  • 1942: Dreizehnlinden renamed to Papuan.

In 1942, midway through WWII, Brazil aligned with the Allies and entered the war against Germany. In a show of patriotism, the Brazilian president expropriated all of the lands that had been purchased by the Austrian and German immigrants in Santa Catarina and renamed their settlements to Brazilian names. “Papuan” was a native name from a tribe in that region.

  • 1963: Papuan renamed to Treze Tílias (meaning Dreizehnlinden in Portuguese).

Between 1959 – 1961, the German-speaking residents of Santa Catarina were finally refunded their expropriated land. In 1963, Papuan was changed back to its original name, Dreizehnlinden, but in Portuguese, making it Treze Tílias, representing a fundamental shift in identity for the people of the region from Austrian to Brazilian. The government declared the area an independent municipality.

Berlin – Kitchener

  • 1820’s – 1833: Settlement named Berlin

From Rych Mills’ Kitchener (Berlin) 1880 – 1960: “After a reluctant beginning in the early 1800s, at a crossroads between the pioneer farmsteads of Joseph Schneider and Benjamin Eby, a tiny hamlet gradually attracted more and more newcomer through the 1820s. Harness shop, smithy, tavern, sawmill, and church—these ingredients slid into place. At some point in time, not then considered noteworthy, a name was given to the hamlet. In the mid-1820s, perhaps as late as 1833, this place was named Berlin. Local historians have long claimed, without evidence, that this was to honour the Prussian city of Berlin. However very few 1820s immigrants of Germanic origin came from northern German states, such as Prussia. At this time, Berlin, Prussia, was not a city of great importance. Recent studies offer a second possibility. Many original settlers came here from Pennsylvania, moving north for various reasons. Pennsylvania had communities named Berlin, and it is reasonable to consider that newcomers may have brought that name with them, as they had numerous others. This nebulous beginning of Berlin’s name is ironic in light of what was to happen in 1916.”

  • 1854 – 1912: Town of Berlin
  • 1912 – 1916: City of Berlin
  • 1916: Berlin renamed to Kitchener

earl-kitchenerFrom Wikipedia, Kitchener, Ontario: “On June 9, 1912, Berlin was officially designated a city. Anti-German sentiment during the First World War led to the abandonment of much of this [its German] heritage. For example, churches switched to English-language services. In 1916, following much debate and controversy, the name of the city was changed to Kitchener; named after the late British Field Marshal The 1st Earl Kitchener. After the war, local historians and civic groups promoted a new heritage that emphasized the county’s Pennsylvania Dutch roots.”

The Personal

Gisa Catarina Gärtner

My character, Gisa Catarina Gärtner, became real to me long before I chose a name for her. When the time came that I could no longer put off naming her, I struggled much as we had struggled to choose names for our children.

Gisa: I required a name that balanced strength, even harshness, with beauty. Gisa is actually the name of one of my Austrian cousins-in-law; I hope she won’t mind me using it.

Catarina: As the name of the state of Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine), Catarina seemed appropriate as a middle name for a Catholic girl-child.

Gärtner: I needed to find a suitably Austrian sir name that sounded like it could possibly have been on the list of settlers arriving in Santa Catarina, Brazil, but definitely was not on that list. I wanted to ensure that my fictional family would not be mistaken for a real family of settlers in the group that arrived in 1933. Gärtner means “gardener” in German—as a family with a farming background, this name seemed appropriate.

Life By Fire

I believe I revealed the the meaning of the title of the novel Life By Fire as it relates to the narrator at the beginning of the book. The meaning of the title to Gisa will reveal itself later in the novel. The entire story has played out already in my imagination—I just need to get it out! Stay tuned!


Romantic Evenings Circa 1954

Romantic Evenings Circa 1954

My writing focus has flitted from scene to scene, era to era, based on my mood and interest at any given moment, as well as the accessibility of information required for historical accuracy. I’m currently focusing on a section that takes place in Kitchener in the spring of 1954. Here, I’ve outlined some of the legwork that has gone into defining it.

Suggested listening while reading this post: “I Need You Now” by Eddie Fisher:


For reasons that will be revealed in due course, my beloved character, Gisa, leaves her home in Santa Catarina, Brazil, in early 1954. On February 1, 1954, she embarks on a steamship called The Uruguay; on February 15, 1954, she disembarks in New York. From there, she makes her way to her eldest sister’s home on Ahrens Street, in Kitchener, Ontario.

A few months after her arrival, Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law treat her to a night out with dinner and dancing. Where did this special evening take place and what would Gisa have worn? Good questions!


Gisa’s Dress

For the special evening out, Gisa borrows a dress from her sister’s friend. To create a clear vision of the dress, I ventured to Auburn Vintage Clothiers in Conestogo, Ontario, and consulted vintage clothing expert Rachel Belhing. I found the perfect dress in this Lavender 1950’s Party Dress with Ruching. I did hesitate on the colour and Rachel suggested a “sea-foam green with deep turquoise underlining” for Gisa. Oooouuuuu, perfect!

Dance Hall Options

The Concordia Club at the Golden Lion Inn

Considering their German-Austrian roots, Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law may well have taken Gisa to the Concordia Club that fated Saturday evening, particularly since Gisa did not speak any English upon arrival in Canada.

From it’s beginnings in 1873, The Concordia Club congregated in a number of locations, leading up purchasing its permanent residence on 8-acres of land at 429 Ottawa Street South in Kitchener, where you can currently enjoy Germanic events, food, and camaraderie year-round.

At the outbreak of WWII, the Concordia Club terminated all activities. When the war ended, they quickly rebuilt their organization.

From the Souvenir book: Concordia Club 100 Years Centennial Issue No. 57, August, 1973, pages 91-92:

“From 1949 on, Concodia held its Saturday night dances at different locations. Not until 1951 was the club in the position to find a permanent location. “The Golden Lion”, opposite the K-W Hospital, the site of the present day CKCO Television station….

…In the early 1950’s, Concordia Club experienced unprecedented growing pains resulting fro the arrival of many new German-Canadians in Kitchener. Successive presidents…and their executive boards were overworked in their attempts to accommodate the wishes of the newly formed sub-groups such as the Tennis Club, Chess Club, Soccer Club, Choir and other groups. Concordia Club had become the focal point for the new German-Canadians who flocked there for sports, cultural and social activities….

Former President E. Bretschneider fondly reminisces about the 1952-53 period. “Besides the weekly dances we had other diversions. The club premises consisting of a large hall, a small office, and a small kitchen, were open daily to its members. Nick Schroeder had formed a chess group, which outnumbered the choir. A table tennis team under my direction consisted of 18 players and H. Kraushaar had become the manager of a successful soccer team. The usually boring Sundays were thus turned into a festive occasion for young and old alike. The membership fee of 50 cents could be afforded by all… The biggest drawback in the whole question of immigrating to Canada presented itself undoubtedly in the scarcity of eligible young ladies, who enjoyed a ratio of 8 to 1 and thus could be quite selective of the company of young men of their age. Young and old bachelors alike formed into a stag line waiting for a few turns on the dance floor. In sheer desperation, we frequently drowned our sorrows in soothing barley water.”

The Walper Terrace Hotel

Established in 1893, complete with an interior courtyard, on the corner of King and Queen Streets in in the centre of downtown Kitchener’s historic district, this Victorian hotel has hosted many famous guests, including former politician and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Lennox Lewis and Al Capone. Unfortunately, I don’t think Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law could have afforded to spend the evening there.

The Victoria Park Pavilion

The Victoria Park Pavilion would have offered another venue for dinner and dancing in 1954.

From Wikipedia:

“Victoria Park is the oldest park in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.… First opened in 1896, the park was built mostly on swampy farm land. A man-made lake fed by Schneider Creek surrounds three small islands, and is crossed by multiple bridges, one dating to the creation of the park. The park also contains the Victoria Park pavilion, the Victoria Park Gallery and Archives, a bandstand, and a historic boathouse, now a pub and music venue.”

From The Record Living Story Articles:

“[The Original Victoria Park Pavilion] was an attraction in Berlin, Ont., from 1902 until 1916….

…Special excursion trains on the electric railway connecting Waterloo, Berlin, Preston, Galt, Brantford and Port Dover often brought 1,000 or more people to a platform stop at the edge of Victoria Park.

In order to foil nature, the park board engaged Berlin architect Charles Knechtel to design a structure that would function as a picnic shelter and serve as a meeting hall, restaurant and dance hall….

…Like many things in Berlin, the pavilion came to an end during the troubled First World War era. On March 24, 1916, flames engulfed part of the building but Berlin’s fire department was able to save a substantial portion of the all-wood structure….

…The site stood empty for eight years until the second pavilion (now more than 90 years old) was erected to a design that honoured the original Knechtel drawings. A historical plaque is mounted on the west end of that “new” 1924 pavilion.”

As noted in a Victoria Park Historical Walking Tour brochure, “The gray quarry stone, enameled and terrazzo floors, and pressed metal ceilings [of the rebuilt pavilion] were meant to last.”


The original Victoria Park Pavilion.

lets-dance-book-cover-peter-youngMy quest to learn more about the Victoria Park Pavilion led me to request this book from my local library, which I eagerly await: Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions by Peter Young.

Restaurant Options

Before the dance, the group eats out at a restaurant. Which restaurant?

Two Goblets

Since I have lived in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, the Two Goblets restaurant has been located at the corner of Weber & College Streets in Kitchener. Since Gisa resides at the corner of Ahrens and College Streets at the time, the Two Goblets would provide a great choice for this scene. Alas, my research revealed that the Two Goblets restaurant has “only” been serving their delicious Middle European food for 28 years.

Golden Lion Inn

The Concordia Club hall was located in the basement of the Golden Lion Inn so they may have eaten upstairs beforehand.

Victoria Park Pavilion Restaurant

More research will reveal if there was a restaurant at the pavilion in 1954!