When my husband left Serbia, he was a nineteen-year-old soldier who had no business nor desire to be in the Bosnian war. He fled with no money, family or prospects to help him; what he did have was the kind of desperate motivation necessary to make something of himself in a new land.
As he worked waiting tables throughout Europe, the Serb often read copies of the Wall Street Journal that had been discarded by businessmen. He didn’t even know what a credit card was before leaving Serbia yet the stock market fascinated him. He would struggle to make sense of the financial jargon while dreaming of one day inhabiting that world.
He arrived in Calgary, Alberta as a landed immigrant on the coldest day in forty-seven years. Having grown up in a mild climate, he feared that the human body (specifically, his body) couldn’t possibly tolerate such extreme temperatures. From that day onward, he vowed to wear two pairs of long johns from October through March, which he did for five years—even under a suit.
We met through a mutual friend a year after the Serb came to Canada, when he was working at a warehouse to put himself through university. Despite coming from completely different backgrounds and cultures (my only foreign travel at that point involved a well-funded, year-long backpacking trip through Australia) there was a spark between us (plus, I’ve always been a sucker for an accent).
At the time, I had a corporate job, nice car and fantastic apartment. When we moved in together two years later, he showed up with all of his belongings in a single grocery bag. The Serb’s first “career” job was answering phones in a banking call centre making minimum wage—he was hired two days before we were married—but for him it was a dream job.
Following his citizenship ceremony my husband received his Canadian passport, three days before we left to elope in the Cook Islands. I remember him turning it over in his hands as he explained to me that a Canadian passport was one of the most coveted and respected in the world.
A year after we married, the Serb suggested moving across the country to Toronto. He felt it would offer more professional opportunities for him. Although I left a well-paying job, my friends and all of my family, I didn’t hesitate: I knew that after all he’d been through, the Serb would find a way to succeed. And I was right.
Since moving twelve years ago, he has worked as a stockbroker, trader and business owner. Most of these positions didn’t even exist until he met with decision-makers and persuaded them to give him a shot. Through it all, the Serb has instilled in our children an appreciation for their heritage as well as an understanding of how lucky they are to live where they do.
Despite his meager beginnings, my husband always had big dreams and he never let circumstances get in the way. He is confident that no other country in the world could have offered him the success and opportunities that he’s found here. By living in Canada, my husband learned that—with enough hard work—anything is possible.
And I learned from him what it truly means to be Canadian.
Happy belated Canada Day and happy Independence Day. This isn’t new, but it never gets old: