Antonija Valerija Kalve
Wife, Mother, Gardener
Survivor of World War II
Toni began her life on June 23, 1923, in a little Lativan village called, Sakstigala, in which there was an even smaller place called, Pauros. Her father had inherited a small piece of farmland from his mother and did his best to eke out a living for his family. Following the First World War, Latvia had become a free, independent country, the first time since the Middle Ages. As his family grew, Latvia thrived.
Toni was the eldest in a family of six children. As the eldest, as soon as she was able to walk, she had duties to perform around the house to help her mother, Konstance. Her father, Aloijzs, was often sick. During the The Latvian Liberation War (1918-1921), he had been required to swim across a frigid river in wintertime to deliver a general's battle orders, which had a serious effect upon his health. For his bravery and exploits, he was awarded medals and a pension for life from the grateful nation.
When her mother died at the age of 35, Toni was taken in by her father's sister. Her mother had wanted to finish digging potatoes on a cold Autumn day, had gotten soaking wet and her life ended tragically short. Her father soon after also died at the age 41.
As a young teen, Toni had worked as housekeeper and children's sitter in the homes of wealthier families. She continued in that occupation until she found a job in a village co-op store, living in an upstairs room. Then World War II came to Latvia.
Toni used her schoolgirl German to help villagers communicate with the German soldiers and medical doctor whose unit was quartered in the village. When the Soviet Army replaced the German Army, the KGB sought information about Toni for her "crime" of translating. It was until years later that she learned about it and was grateful they did not find her!
After the first Soviet occupation, most people had been in a panic. When the Red Army approached the Latvian borders a second time, refugees followed the retreating German army to escape the Soviets, leaving everything behind. Toni also packed her suitcase, leaving her preserves of jam on the windowsill and her coat at the tailor's. Standing at the roadside she was trying to decide whether to go or stay when a soldier grabbed her little suitcase and threw it up onto a horse-drawn wagon. That simple act put Toni on the road to Canada.
There was turmoil in Riga, the capital, at the time. Evacuation ships had begun taking some refugees to safety. Toni registered on a ship's list with some friends for transport out of the country, however, the papers got mixed up and she did not get onboard. The ship went down with all its passengers in a torpedo attack. Traveling over land, she managed to reach Germany. Eventually, she reached the southern part of Germany where she met a well-to-do German lady who wanted to adopt her. When the War finally came to an end, this district came under Soviet occupation. So, once again, Toni fled..this time, westward.
In January, 1948, Toni arrived at Pier 21 in Canada. As an immigrant, she was assigned contract work, finding herself a nurse at Hamilton Ontario Hospital. In 1949, she was married at Brantford's Lutheran Church. She would now start a new life with two suitcases!
They purchased an 100-year-old semi-detached house in Brantford, which showed age and neglect inside and out. But, Toni was happy, because it was hers. She always had a love for flowers, gardens and nature. Even as a child, she found room in the sand pile for a little garden, especially for flowers. Now, she could plant real flowers and roses in her very own real garden. As Toni, axe in hand, began chopping the brush in the overgrown backyard, the neighbour's curtains could be seen to move as they peered at this enthusiastic addition to their community!
They met some good people with whom they formed solid friendships, but they had to follow the employment and lived in several homes until a 1963 move to Ancaster. Here, Toni had her own forest and room for many gardens of flowers and vegetables, for animals and for many jars of preserves. Life was filled with the beauty of the seasons. Life was good.
Then, her life's direction changed again. Slowly, over time, illness forced her to slow down, shrink the size of her gardens and spend more time knitting countless blankets for friends. Toni was determined to fight the disease that had taken over her body, but the drugs that eased her pain did damage elsewhere in her body. Toni's brave heart kept hoping for a better day. Sadly, that day did not come and her days were cut short. Toni left our lives on 12 October 2004.
Her family and friends count the blessings of a life well lived. As Toni would say, "No regrets."