Erika Wieder was born in East Germany on October 22, 1927. When World War II started, Erika (nee Thoese) was 12 years old. Her father, Karl Albert Thoese, served in the German army; he was killed in battle with the Russian forces. Erika’s mother, Lina, was left alone with her four daughters: Irmgard, (the eldest), Erika, Gerda and Adelheid. Lina and her daughters relocated to Erika’s father’s hometown to live on the family farm.
When Poland was invaded, a number of the evacuees took shelter with Erika’s family before moving on. Erika was 17 when the war finally ended. Thousands of East Germans fled to West Germany travelling by horse and buggy, moving from place to place. They relied on other families to provide food and shelter; many people generously opened their homes and provided what little assistance they could. Erika recalls that when the children heard shooting near the border, the adults told them not to be frightened—it was only practice shooting. But the children knew better. The refugees travelled for four months, from January through April; the Those family felt lucky to be able stay together through this difficult time.
When The Berlin Wall was erected, they knew they could not return home and the family resettled near Hamburg, West Germany. Through the difficult years of the war, and in spite of the tragic events that Erika experienced, she recalls those times with a sense of adventure.
One day in 1952, waiting in a dentist’s office, Erika picked up a travel magazine. She read an advertisement inviting European men and women to apply for government-sponsored programs to accept one-year contracts in Canada as domestics and nurses, or, for the men, lumber camp labourers. Within the one-year contract, their $150 fare for passage by ship had to be repaid. Erika recognized a new opportunity for adventure and immediately applied!
Erika was delighted when she was accepted into the program. After a brief stay in a settlement camp upon first arriving in Canada, she was placed as a domestic worker for the Moodie family, in Hamilton, Ontario. There were four children in the household. Erika had another new challenge: learning the English language. The Moodies were good to Erika and she stayed beyond her one-year contract, leaving in December, 1953 to get married. Later, Erika worked for The Fuller Brush Company, as a packager in the chemical department for 34 years, after which she retired.
When her first marriage ended, Erika met Werner Wieder, an employee of Stelco, Inc. They were married in 1964 and continued to reside in Hamilton. Erika had been spending summer vacations in Restoule (southwest of Lake Nipissing, Ontario), since the mid-50s, where she stayed at a camp run by Rudy and Linde Dreher, Tamara’s parents, whom she met in Hamilton. Ever since that time, Tamara has been like a daughter to Erika.
After Erika and Werner were married, they continued to rent cottages for summer holidays in Restoule. In 1969, the couple purchased their own lot, and eventually built a cottage on Commanda Lake, not far from the Drehers. After retiring, they moved permanently to Restoule, spending winters in their home in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Werner died in October 2003.
While in Florida one winter, Erika became very ill. Tamara flew to Florida and stayed six weeks until Erika was sufficiently recovered to make the return trip to Canada. With limited mobility on her right side, Erika required nursing care; after another extended hospital stay, she moved into Castleholme Nursing Home in North Bay. Tamara continued to look after her affairs.
In 2001, Tamara’s daughter Tanja-Marie (Erika’s god-daughter), accepted a job in Collingwood as a professional chef. In 2005, Tamara and her husband, Roger Young, relocated to Collingwood, with Erika. Tamara and Roger bought a home in Cranberry Links and in September 2005, Erika moved into the Collingwood Nursing Home. Tanja-Marie named her second son, Erik, in honour of Erika. Erika’s namesake was born in December, 2004. His brother, Kyle, was born in 2000.
Erika enjoyed travelling, having once completed a two-month driving tour of Alaska, with her husband Werner and their cat, Josephine. They closed their tour with a drive through Vancouver and the U.S. Rockies. On another trip, Erika visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona. One trip she would still like to take some time is to Hawaii.
When she lived in Hamilton, Erika was a big Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan, attending as many games as she could. The Tiger-Cats were Grey Cup winners several times. She remembers one game in Toronto when the fog was so thick at Exhibition Stadium that the game was stopped and continued the next day.
Erika’s favourite pastime is doing word games and crossword puzzles. She finds them stimulating and enjoys the challenge; they keep her mind sharp. She also enjoys playing euchre, cribbage, knitting and crochet.
Erika’s greatest quality is her enthusiasm and readiness to always try something new. Through all her life experiences she has maintained a sense of adventure, finding opportunity in change, rather than loss.