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Southern Africa Diaspora Part III: Emigration

This is the final post in a three-part series distilling key themes from the JMABC’s Southern African Diaspora Oral History Collection. Here we hear about the often fraught decision to leave South Africa.

Choosing to leave your home country, where you have family and roots, is never an easy decision; the process itself can be lengthy and involve jumping through quite a few hoops. Various policy changes over the decades made immigration to Canada a complicated process for some, as it was for Jack and Lolita Aaron. They wanted to leave South Africa, but like many, weren’t quite sure where to go. They decided that Jack would “have a look around,” a “HALA”, visiting Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, New York, and Boston, finally choosing Vancouver.

Getting their immigration approved relied on employment status, and having to prove they were the right fit for a position that could not otherwise be filled by a Canadian.

Considering factors such as language, climate, and safety is what brought many South Africans to Canada, and Vancouver in particular. As a number of Jewish families made the move, other members of the community followed suit. Alf Price had a good friend in Vancouver, and decided upon visiting that it would be a good place to provide a better future for his children. 

Also having come on a visit to see family, Irma Schneider and her husband returned to Vancouver for a second visit to be sure of their decision to apply for immigration. After completing their interview, a police background check, and full medical exam, their paperwork made the journey from South Africa to London to Ottawa. 

Finally the notification came back that they would be accepted on the condition of their ability to read and write one of Canada’s official languages. Seeing the riots becoming more extreme in Cape Town, it wasn’t long before they began making arrangements for the move.

Other than the political state of South Africa, there were different motivating factors for moving, but they were most often related to work and family. For Renee Kursan, seeing her children leave the country made her question why they were staying.

Moving proved to be a challenge for Renee and her husband despite knowing the language and some folks who had arrived earlier. Arriving in a new place in their late 50s, it took time to find their niche again, within social circles and in finding work.

Louis Eisman also wanted to make the move out of South Africa, and sought out different ways of bringing money out of the country, including buying traveler’s checks from other people. Arriving first in Toronto, where his brother lived, Louis spent a difficult 2-3 months looking for work. Not too long after this work in the shmata business brought Louis and his wife to Vancouver, and they never looked back.

Members of the Southern African Diaspora have had a remarkable influence on the Jewish community in Canada and specifically in British Columbia. They have brought fashion, music, cuisine, and countless other contributions that have helped shape the cultural landscape in BC as we know it today. We are grateful to those who were so generous as to share their stories with the JMABC and shed light on the history that has brought this community together.