The status of one’s permanent residency quickly becomes the crux of conversation among the Yukon’s new Canadians.
And it’s the crux of this column. No two people have the same story to tell. Not only are there various ways to immigrate, each person’s reason to immigrate is different. Some are poignant, others humorous, like this one.
It’s my own story, or rather, my husband’s. Mike came to visit from Germany in 1987 – and didn’t go home again.
You could do that in those days. A quick trip to Skagway renewed a tourist visa for another six months. Mike went three time, until the immigration officer, who lived here at the time, recognized him on Main Street and declared “Mike Simon! No more trips to Alaska!”
Too bad, but not something we couldn’t fix with a quick marriage of convenience. Back then, that was a popular migration route as family applications went to the top of the stack. And, as our immigration officer told us, there’s no requirement to stay married.
From Hannover, Mike applied to come to Canada, and I applied to sponsor his application. He swore he wasn’t a Communist (any more) and I swore I’d keep him off the dole. Six weeks later we got word – we had a meeting.
We hastily bought an engagement ring and headed for the capital – at that time, Bonn. Not wanting to be late, we arrived in plenty of time to find the immigration office at 119 Godesbergerallee. We followed signage to our embassy on Godesbergerstrasse. Just a typo, we thought. This looked like the right place – big colonial-style building, giant maple leaf flag planted on the lawn. Wrong!
“You’re lost,” said the commissionaire. “This is the ambassador’s residence,” he corrected us. “And we’re closed for lunch.”
“But our appointment…”
“Is on Godesbergerallee – five blocks back.”
Okay we said, unaware we’d embarked on Residency Test #1 – orienteering.
We found Godesbergerallee and slowed to check building numbers: 113, 115, 121, 123…hey wait. Where’s 119?
We held up traffic looking for it, until Mike spotted the sign, Government of Canada, obscured by a leafy maple. Of course. A few more maples led us down an alley and through two parking lots to the door of a dark, unmarked office building.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“It’s your embassy,” Mike replied.
“Yeah, in your country.”
Inside a cheery receptionist greeted us, oblivious to the challenges we’d just met. I flashed the rock on my finger. We answered the agent’s questions honestly: playing up all the magic and mystery the territory held back then. Satisfied we were worthy candidates, he shook our hands and wished us well. “Welcome to Canada, Mr. Simon.”
We congratulated ourselves, not knowing that Test #2 – confined spaces – had begun.
Our immigration officer led us down a hallway and through a set of double doors. Just as the first one clicked shut behind us, the crafty official darted out the one ahead. We were trapped like bugs under glass. Secretaries studied us from outside the terrarium, puzzled the lock releases didn’t work.
We must have looked suitably helpless. After several minutes, we were led to freedom through a side door, up a flight of steps, along the upstairs hall, back down and into the embassy.
“Sorry,” said our agent, typically Canadian. “Thanks for your patience.”
“No problem. We’ll be going.” Right after we pass Test #3 – financial planning.
In the parking lot, we realized we needed three one-Mark coins to leave. We probably had a thousand bucks between us, but not one one-Mark coin. Now what?
We absolutely didn’t want to return to the embassy after our panic room escape. “Stay put. I’ll see what I can do,” said Mike, valiantly abandoning me.
Several minutes later he’d caged enough change to earn our release. “Good job, Mike,” I said. “I swore you wouldn’t go on the dole. Welcome to Canada.”
Not every story in this column is comical, but at the heart of all of them is a desire to make the Yukon home.