Early immigrants: A teacher’s journey

Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Opportunity

Lolita Tumanguil Oandasan 

First of two Parts

I had a friend who owned a pharmacy on the street where I lived in Quezon City named Mrs. Gaerlan. One day when I went to pick up a prescription, she told me that she and her husband were leaving in a few days to immigrate to Canada. That was the very first time I had heard about the Canadian city called Vancouver and the first opportunity to really think about leaving the Philippines.

When my friend and her husband arrived in Vancouver, she wrote me a letter telling me how happy they were living there. She said that they had already bought a house and encouraged me to apply too.

When my husband Cesar came home from his work assignment in the province of Cagayan, I told him about the opportunity and convinced him that we should go to the Canadian Embassy and try our luck. We were able to get an application form, excitedly filled it out, submitting it with all the necessary requirements. It took only a few days when we received a response from the embassy informing us that we were approved. They told  us we would soon be called  for medical examinations. We were happy and excited to hear the news.

Three months later, our bags were packed and we were ready to leave for Vancouver,Canada. We had to quickly get rid of all the big items in our apartment, sold some of them and gave the rest to our relatives. I applied for a leave of absence from the school division in Quezon City where I was teaching to ensure that I had a job to fall back upon just in case, we wanted to come back.

We flew out on September 20,1965 on Thai International Airways to Hongkong and then Pan Am Airlines to Tokyo and  finally landing  in Seattle.  had never been on an airplane before and I was both excited and scared. We said goodbye to our family at the airport and was unsure when we would see them again.

We came to Seattle as Cesar’s aunt and uncle were living there and it was close to Vancouver where we ultimately were headed. They came to meet us and took us to their home in Tacoma and we stayed with them for a week. They wanted us to settle in Seattle near them rather than to go on to Vancouver which was our port of entry to Canada. They introduced us to Filipino families in Tacoma who loved being in the United States and were very nice to us. Uncle James went so far as to write a very nice character reference for me so that I could apply for teacher certification in Olympia, Washington.  I in fact obtained the certification but we needed to go to Vancouver because we were approved for an immigrant visa in Canada. It was nice to know however we had a back option in the United States.

First months in Canada

After spending the week with our Aunt and Uncle they then drove us to Vancouver, our final destination. We went to the house of my friend Mrs. Gaerlan, the lady who encouraged me to immigrate to Canada. We stayed in their aKc which had a small bed and a bathroom, a very small space that was just enough for two of us. We were glad to have a roof over our heads in a place with someone we were familiar with, in a city where we knew no one. We had not been in a house with an air conditioning and heating.

Motivated to work and start our lives in Canada, Cesar and I went out every day to look for a job. I was called for an interview at a school in Langley, B.C. for a Grade Three teaching position. We didn’t know where Langley was but quickly found out what bus to take and made our way there. We were met by the principal of the school at the bus depot. After interviewing me, he hired me right then and there and wanted me to start teaching the following Monday. I felt relieved that I had a job.

While we were waiting for the bus to go back to Vancouver, I started to feel sick and began throwing up so badly that I could hardly breath. When we got back to our apartment, the smell of the heater made me feel even sicker. The following morning Cesar took me to the Immigration office in Vancouver and a doctor saw me and he said I was pregnant. During my interview with the principal, he indicated that the school does not hire pregnant women. I was not aware I was pregnant when I accepted the position that day. So the news of my pregnancy was bitter sweet as I was forced to cancel the contract that l signed. I called in my resignation as I was too sick to go back to Langley to let the principal know in person.

A school Christmas concert. (Provided)

We moved to a bachelor suite because I could not stand the smell of the heater any longer. The morning sickness was so bad that I began to get dehydrated and could hardly move, just staying in bed. Now about three weeks away from the Philippines, with awareness of the monies we brought to Canada dwindling and myself sick having had to give up the teaching position, Cesar was more desperate to look for a job. He accepted to work as a gardener, but he had to give it up because he did not have warm clothes to wear outdoors.

One day while he was out job hunting,  I found a phone number of my town mate who was a nurse, who came to Canada from Chicago. Her mom gave me her telephone number just before coming to Canada indicating that we could connect with her if needed. With all of our challenges, I decided to call her sharing our situation in Vancouver with neither Cesar and myself able to find a job. My townmate convinced me to move to Winnipeg where she and her husband were living and promised to help me with the baby after I told her I was pregnant. Her husband was an anesthesiologist and they had two young children in Winnipeg. That night after sharing the conversation with Cesar, we decided to take a chance and move to Winnipeg, a place that was completely unknown to us.

I had previously sent out several applications to different schools and it so happened that the evening before we left Vancouver, a principal and a superintendent from Dawson Creek came to our apartment trying to convince us to change our minds from moving to Winnipeg and to stay in Vancouver. The superintendent even tried to discourage us by saying that he himself was from Winnipeg but left because of the harsh winters. I responded by saying that if our friends could survive there, then we should be able to do so.  Convinced about our decision to move to Winnipeg we let our Filipino friends who we had recently met in Vancouver know. They were concerned and felt sad that we were leaving. One of our friends who also, could not find a job decided to come with us and the three of us boarded the Greyhound Bus ready for the two -night and three -day journey to Winnipeg.

It was November, and while on the bus, we saw snow for the first time. When the Greyhound Bus stopped at a coffee shop near the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Naty, the girl who came with us, and I went off the bus to use the washroom. We were curious to see and touch the white stuff that covered the ground. We bent down and picked up a handful of snow and we found out it was very cold. Litte did we know that this stuff would be in abundance in the place where we were going.

The bus driver continued to drive and when it was almost daylight, I looked out the window and thought that we were in the middle of the ocean. Everywhere I looked was white. When we reached Winnipeg there was nothing but snow on the ground. Cesar and I did not have a coat that was warm enough to wear in this kind of cold weather. Our boots were those that you wore when it was raining, made for weather in Vancouver. As soon as we got settled into the house of my townmate who invited us to move to Winnipeg, we went to a second-hand store on Logan Ave to buy some warm clothing. I chose a heavier winter coat and a pair of winter boots which cost me $5.00.

Finding a teaching job

After obtaining my teacher’s certification from the Director of Teachers Training in Winnipeg, I sent out several applications to different school divisions hoping for a permanent teaching position that would start the next school year. In our first six months in Winnipeg, I was fortunate to get a job as a filing clerk in St. James. Cesar found a civil service position working with the province of Manitoba. We began to settle into our life in the city meeting Filipinos through acquaintances. There were only a handful of Filipinos in Winnipeg at that knew me. We were surprised walking through the Bay one day, to see a Filipino woman, who we instantly connected with and until now, over 50 years have remained friends.

With my husband Ceasar on a trip to Riyadh, 2020. (Facebook)

Our oldest daughter Ivy, was born on June 1966 at St. Boniface Hospital. We were excited to have a baby but not sure what to expect as we had not experienced healthcare in Canada before. Soon after Ivy was born, I began receiving teaching opportunities that would start in September. One afternoon , I was called for an interview from the Superintendent of River East School Division. I asked Alice, Cesar’s niece who was a nurse, to come and look after Ivy who was just two months old so that I could go for the interview. I took the bus from Marion St. where we lived in a one room apartment to  East Kildonan. The interview went very well. I got a job to teach Grade one at Prince Edward School starting just weeks later. When I came out of the interview, I saw a church at the end of the street. I felt the urge to go inside to pray. It was a Ukrainian Catholic Church. I remember it looked different from Roman Catholic churches in the Philippines. I knelt down and said my prayers of thanksgiving for getting a job. Little did I know that I would be working at the school next door to the church.

Three years after my teaching position at Prince Edward school,  I taught Grade 1 at Polson school for 28 years and retired after 31 years of teaching in the River East School Division.

Extra income opportunities

I gave birth to my second daughter Cheryl, who was born on September 1969. I took a one-year leave of absence. While at home with Cheryl and Ivy and not drawing any teaching income I became an Avon Lady and distributor of Amway and Shaklee products. As one of the earliest Filipinos who came to Winnipeg, we came to know many of the new Filipinos in the city. I went from one Filipino apartment to another to show the different products. Not only did they buy products from me but I was able to sponsor them to be distributors, selling products to others. The more they sold, and the more sponsors they were able to obtain, the higher I would move up the business ladder and the higher percentage of their sales I would receive. I was able to sponsor many couples who became distributors under me. On weekends, Cesar and the girls would go out to visit Filipino friends who invited their co-workers and friends to come and listen to my presentation . l never got bored staying at home with my two daughters for we were always out even in the evenings trying to drum up more business.

I went back to teaching at Polson School and we bought a house on Donalda Avenue, walking distance from the school and just across a church that has been our parish for over 50 years. It was like God sent me a very kind lady who lived on our street who offered to babysit just when I was about to return to work. Her house was five houses away from ours. Mrs. Lewchuck came to our house to look after Ivy and Cheryl but when winter came and it got slippery we took the girls to her house every morning. She was our caregiver untill the girls went to school. As an elementary teacher myself, I taught Cheryl for part of Grade One at Polson School after she was accelerated from kindergarten. Cheryl also skipped Grade 3 at the school. Ivy was going into Grade 6 and we decided to move both of them to St. Alphonsus Catholic School. It was a strategic move, as we were hoping that both would eventually be accepted into St. Mary’s Academy, the Catholic all girls private high school in Winnipeg.

While I was busy teaching, I decided to advance my own education and began going to the University of Winnipeg taking evening courses and summer courses util I I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree. The pursuit of education was a passion for me , so when I saw the an opportunity to obtain my Bachelor of Education and Master of Education degrees at the University of Manitoba, I went for it. Although I looked into getting my PhD, I stopped short, as I felt my daughters were in need of my support as both had aspirations of going into medicine. They are now successful practicing Medical Doctors. 

2 thoughts on “Early immigrants: A teacher’s journey”

  1. Cora Guiang Fernandez

    What a wonderful and interesting adventure you had Mng. Lita, God has always been with you , with our saying that goes: Nasa Diyos ang awa, pero nasa tao ang gawa. You are/were an inspiration to all especially in our community,thank you for sharing Manang, God Bless to you and your family

  2. C ONNIE MCCORMICK

    THANKS FOR TELLING YOUR INTERESTING STORY AND JOURNEY …MY HUSBAND AND I ENJOYED MEETING YOU AND CESAR…ON THAT LOVELY MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE..MANY YEARS AGO..STAY WELL…CONNIE AND DOOG

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