Friday, August 30, 2013

An Interview with Maria von Fersen (nee Stackelberg) about her life story

In 1973 my grandmother, Maria von Fersen nee von Stackelberg, was interviewed about her life story as an immigrant woman to Canada for the Vancouver Project. I found this interview by accident on day in the BC Archives in 1988 as she was in the hospital in Vancouver.


Granny, as we called her, was born into the Baltic German nobility in 1905 and had a priviledged life till the Russian revolution.   She lived in the interwar Estonian republic.   From her first marriage to Patrick von Dellingshausen she had two daughters, my mother Lita and my aunt Nata.   She and Patrick divorced in 1941 and both married again almost immediately.

She was married to Olaf von Fersen for seven years and had two sons from that marriage, Nils and Lorenz.

In 1952 my mother came to Canada as a happy go lucky 23 year old wanting to see the world.  Within a few short years Maria saw a better for her young sons in Canada than bombed out West Germany and decided she would emigrate to join her youngest daughter in Vancouver.

Maria arrived in Canada in 1954 at age 49 as a single mother with few job skills.   She ended up working as a cleaning lady at first in Vancouver.  She eventually worked at St Paul's hospital as a aid till she turned 65 in early 1970.   Since she spoke fluent French, part of a good pre World War I noble education, she would be the translator for Quebecois that came into the hospital.

After retiring from the hospital she continued to work as a live-in caretaker till about 1977.

All four of her children ended up in Vancouver which meant she had the core of her family around her.  Growing up my family was defined first and foremost as the children and grandchildren of Maria von Fersen.

I feel lucky that I got to know her as an adult without my parents around.

Starting when I was 16 I would go to the Vancouver Symphony with her a couple of times per year.  This started because she thought I should understand what classical music was all about. I suspect she was European enough to feel that I was becoming too much of an uncultured Canadian.

Once I was at University when I was coming over to Vancouver from Victoria for a day or two I would try to make it for a Tuesday.  This was the day each week my grandmother and Lorenz had lunch at her place and I would join them.   I had a chance through those lunches and the time I would spend with her in the afternoon afterwards to get to know her as an adult.

I remember the moment in 1988 in the BC Archives when I stumbled on her name in the card catalog.  Maria von Fersen is a unique name so I was certain this was my grandmother but because there was a restriction on the file it did not tell me this was.  It took me a second daytime visit to get access to the file which I then found out was this interview.

I found this interview as she was in her last days.  I got a copy of the interview from the BC Archives 25 years ago, but it took my till now to finally get it into a format to easily share it online.

The name Granny lives on in the family in my sister how has chosen that has her name for her grandchildren.

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