Normal 0 0 1 547 3119 25 6 3830 11.1539 0 0 0 “Nothing.” “I want nothing,” said Walter Zieba to his adult children, Zinnia and Ed. They were trying to plan his 100th birthday party, for Sunday, November 13.
Imagine! November 13, 1911… three years before World War One, and baby Walter joined his family in Poland.
Walter grew to become a carpenter in his country but after World War Two, as a young man in his 30’s, he felt Canada would offer safety and a future. He’d met the love of his life during the Second World War; Julie headed over to Canada, and sponsored Walter to immigrate.
He landed at Pier 21 in Halifax, as so many new Canadians did. Carrying very little but a pair of capable hands and the focus to work hard, Walter and Julie settled where they were assigned to settle–in Barrie. In fact, they rented rooms from Helen Shanahan in Allandale. Helen, Director of Nursing at Royal Victoria Hospital. took in newcomers to her rented rooms as they made their start.
It wasn’t long before Walter found work. A carpenter’s skill was in great demand after World War Two. Walter worked in most of the new schools popping up across town. St Mary’s (now Canada Revenue Offices), Codrington, Maple Grove… schools to accommodate that baby boom. Walter worked for a number of builders–Alex Isbrandt, Gord Pratt, Jack Stollar… builders who saw value in Walter Zieba’s carpentry.
If there was one thing Walter and Julie Zieba were, it was frugal. It wasn’t long before they could afford to buy an empty lot on Napier St. Surrounded by empty fields, Walter framed and built their first house at #137 Napier. The couple’s children, Ed and Zinnia, were born there. And then it was on to another empty lot at 123 Dundonald St and Walter erected a red brick house in this location. He and Julie kept this house to rent while he built in 1968 around the corner on a bigger lot, with more room for a vegetable garden, at 81 Penetang St. The new house, also red brick, hedged against inflation with an apartment on its lower level, opening to a back yard that was a vegetable mecca. There wasn’t a vegetable that the Ziebas didn’t grow, but tomatoes were the specialty. They filled a huge hole in the back yard with their garden’s crop each fall, covering the hole over with straw to keep food from freezing. This makeshift root celler served them well until they could afford a freezer. Their garden was everything to them.
Even this summer Walter, with Zinnia’s help, put in 50 tomato plants. And yes, they all thrived.
While the family attended St Mary’s Church and the kids St Mary’s School, Walter and Julie saw many tenants get their start and go off to homes of their own. And many of those tenants were there on Sunday to wish Walter well and have a piece of birthday cake.
Life for Walter and Julie, really, was gathering with other Polish families on the weekends, laying the kids to sleep in available beds while the grownups ate, drank and played music and sang, celebrating their culture in this new land of freedom.
When Julie died in 2003, Walter carried on in their home. A couple of heart attacks, a broken leg when he fell off a shed roof trimming apple branches, a pacemaker, nothing seems to stop him. His neighbours continue to check in on him, Sasos, Maloneys, Zacks, Grahams, and Pratts.
They were there Sunday to celebrate his 100th birthday as well. Sharp mentally, Walter’s only complaint is deafness in one ear and a ‘game’ leg that lets him down now and then. But his work ethic continues unabated. He loves his house and his twin grandsons who are now 21 years old. Being a grandpa has been as important as being a dad. When you’re a long way from your country and you’re making a new home, family is everything.
Happy Birthday, Walter! Happy 100 years!