The House That Was Not a Home: From Poland to Canada
Written by Malgosia Wenderski
Victoria, a 54 year old Polish woman, had blonde hair with white highlights and black roots. She lived in the suburban neighbourhood Bramalea, a subdivision within Brampton. The area was convenient and peaceful. Amongst the brown houses of Rose Court on spacious green lots were many trees and vehicles for the family. A five minute walk North led to a mall. A walk east led to a catholic elementary school where all her children attended. Beside it was a church that she prayed in every Sunday.
Parallel to her house, a vibrant stream of water snaked through the park, hidden at parts by trees. Walks through were accompanied by sounds of trickling water, wisping trees, and chirps of birds and squirrels. The paved path stretched through, parallel to the narrow creek, surrounded by tall thick trees that contrastingly blended with the sky, shielding walkers from rays of light and rain. To Victoria, however, the area was simply convenient.
“How did you decide where to settle?”
Victoria shrugged and shook her head simultaneously, “It was an investment we wanted to make, because we were renting in Toronto and we wanted a house for our family.” The neighbourhood had to be convenient both for the parents and for the kids. “The house we bought… It was never about what I wanted. I didn’t think about my own comfort and what I wanted. I thought about the kids.” Being close to a school and shopping centre, her children would be able to walk their independently when their older. Grocery shopping would also be close to home.
With her husband, they moved to their first house in Brampton near Chinguacousy park. “It was a really nice neighbourhood. The neighbours were very friendly. They liked to talk, and they were open. And it was very cozy, and warm inside the house. Plants were all over the home. Because the house was made of metal, we spent a lot of money on heating. So we had to move again to save money, and this was the home we picked.” Victoria pointed to the wooden table in front of her with a lowered head for a few seconds. Her frown returned, and the skin around her eyes slightly drooped. Despite being economical and finding the perfect house for her family, it was not perfect for her.
Semi-detached with two stories, the grey cobble stone driveway held a car shared by their family of five. The interior was freshly painted in the summer. The kitchen was off-white. The hall to the basement and wall by their side door was gold. The living room and upstairs hall was sunset yellow with mahogany accents of frames, candle holders, and cabinets housing crystals, china and glasses. Victoria stared off in the distance at a vocal point to my left, “I don’t like it”. She lifted up her hands that exposed her palms, “it’s not my dream home.”
“In all the places you lived in. Which did you love the most?” I asked.
With a large smile, and raised eyebrows, Victoria’s long hands swished around as she spoke, “my house in Poland is the place I liked the most.” Growing up in Podczerwone, Zakopane Poland, Victoria lived there till the age of 16. Although I could not find a picture of Victoria’s house, the log houses below are very similar to her home.
Constructed with no nails, there were six bedrooms among the two stories. The top floor had four bedrooms only used in the summer. The winter blew through the wooden walls, coating them in frost and making it too cold for them to bear, especially without a furnace. On the ground floor was a living room, kitchen, a single bathroom, and two more bedrooms that her family used during the winter. Each year, women would use rags, soap and water to hand wash the outside of the house. “All my childhood memories were there. We were not rich, but we had everything we needed, and it wasn’t much. We were grateful for what we had. I had [my own] room. I loved the wooden walls, and my drapes were yellow with lots of flowers. The best part was the view of the mountains through the window. It was breathtaking.”
Podczerwone was a small village, so everyone knew each other. The market place was in Zakopane, and villagers had to drive to get there. As a part of education, we had to volunteer for businesses, so I went there often for volunteering. I worked at a bakery and a few retail stores.”
Victoria’s smile slowly dissipated. Her brown eyes lowered to the sight of my glass, and let out a long exhale.
“Is the tea okay?” She asked.
“Yes Pani (Mrs) Victoria. So, then your parents decided to move to Canada. How did they decide that?”
“My parents did not agree. My mother loved Canada. Her relatives paid for everything, gave her everything, so she didn’t have to worry about money. She had a amazing experience. My father wanted to stay in Poland. He has visited Canada alone, and my mother after him. His experience was not as good as hers. But me, I really didn’t want to go,” her arms spread wide with her hands flat, “but I had no choice.”
Her parents sacrificed their home in Podczerwone to the promises of Canada, Roncesvalles.
“What did you think of your new home in Toronto?”
Victoria looked off to the distance behind me and inhaled. Returning to look into my eyes, she expressed “I did not like it at first. On the plane when I looked down, Canada looked like a beehive. When I saw the neighborhoods in Roncesvalles, all homes looked the same. Three attached to one. If I didn’t know what my house number was, I wouldn’t know which was my house. Nothing was unique. And my house was spooky.” Her reddish brown bricked home growing up in Roncesvalles had painted over windows, creaky floors, and a dreary aura. “We learned months after moving in that the owner hanged himself in the basement.”
“When you look back, from the moment you moved to Toronto, what changes have you noticed?”
Victoria disliked the alienation of suburbia. Despite having privacy, people did not want to interact, “I only know a handful of neighbours. We only greet each other, and that’s it. No one wants to get to know each other, and be friends with one another.” She also noticed this in youth as well, and reminisced about her adolescence, “when I was younger, I would go out with friends to cafes that were just for young people. We’d go and socialize, de-stress by dancing, or talking over coffee. No old folks were there. There are no cafes like this. Kids stay inside their homes, on their phones or iPads. This is no good.”
Victoria’s adventure since Roncesvalles was marriage, her first rented home on Bloor and Christie with their first child, then to two different Brampton homes. She worked multiple jobs, in before she started a business of her own, to afford housing and it’s expenses. With the business, came income that allowed her to renovate her home over the years on Rose court. This included new cabinetry and granite for her kitchen, a new railing for the stairs, a deck for the backyard, new wooden fences, a small cabin for her husband’s tools, appliances, windows, doors, insulation, stucco, etc. However, it still was not a space she could identify as a home.
Through Victoria’s story, we see that housing is not just a shelter. It’s not just four walls and a roof where we eat, sleep, and dwell in. It’s more complex than that. It represents a flood of different experiences. It is a place of memories and emotions that can bring a smile to our faces, and/or a drop in our hearts. It can be a dwelling that has everything they wanted in life, as she experienced in the past. A home can be a sacrifice of one’s preferences and dreams, where people settled for the happiness of others, becoming a house that is not a home.
Malgosia Wenderski studies psychology and sociology at the University at Toronto. She is the founder and host of the Collegiate Talkshow, and passionate about social psychology, inequality, and mental health.