December 11th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 50
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Tales from the Cookie Box – A New Beginning
Looking Back
courtesy of Gunter Koci
The staff at Patons Bakery, Bellevue 1952
We left off last week’s column with Gunter and Franz Koci arriving in Blairmore in late 1951 after an 11 day boat trip and then train ride across Canada. They soon settled in Blairmore with Franz working at the Sartoris Mill and Gunter at the Lynx Creek sawmill. Gunter told me that in October he, along with three other young men, also immigrants, rented a small drafty shack out at the mill camp for $16 a month. It had but one mattress and on first glance is a rather tough-sounding start to a new life here.

In fact the very first thing Gunter shared with me was an article in the Lethbridge Herald that year that had to do with 18 disgruntled German and Italian immigrants complaining to the local department of citizenship and immigration about lack of support on arriving here. Their specific complaint was about “false promises” given by immigration officials overseas. These days we provide temporary funding to help new arrivals to get established. Unfortunately back in 1951 you were on your own as not speaking the language and having little, if any, money would have made a new start pretty tough. There was no financial assistance whatsoever and how do you qualify for unemployment insurance if you haven’t worked here.
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So one day Gunter asked the mill manage,r Mr. Funky, “Are there any bakeries around here?” to which he replied (in Gunter’s words), “Ja (yes), I think there is one in Bellevue.” So Gunter said, “Can you take me there, but you have to speak for me because I don’t speak English.” Funky agreed and took him to Bellevue where he met with Bob Paton who was running the bakery at the time. Paton was no stranger to the bakery business having managed the McGavin’s Bakery in Lethbridge for 15 years. He took over in Bellevue from Harry Meade in 1946. Harry Meade, who had been running Bellevue since 1923, had systematically built the business up until it was running four delivery trucks that reached from Michel to Burmis and even Waterton Park. Meade’s Bread was a household word back then.

As was the case for most of Gunter’s life, serendipity stepped in. One of their bakers had just left the day before and Paton told him he could start the very next day. Gunter was a properly trained and innovative baker and quickly introduced some German pastry items into the Paton selection that were big hits. He worked there for four years and then, being the ambitious type, quit to go back to the mill for more money.

It wasn’t long before Gunter contemplated creating his own business and controlling his own affairs. He suggested to Franz that they build their own bakery and he went before Mayor Tiberg in a council meeting (called town meetings back then) to request a lot. The lot price was $850, which was all the money they had. The empty lot, the only one available, was located next to Blairmore Motors (now the IDA Pharmacy) and someone loaned them $5000 to get started on the building. The boys built the concrete block main floor themselves and one year later added an apartment upstairs in which they lived.
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The pictures of Gunter back then are of a really nice, clean- cut looking man but, according to him, the women in town showed no interest. He suggested to me that, given his accent and his birthplace, there was a racial bias at play back then. So Gunter placed an ad in a German newspaper in 1961 apparently looking for someone to join him and be his bride. While he received a fair number of letters back he chose one that had included a picture in her response.

It turns out she, Dorothy Lichtenstein, was already working in a bakery in Germany and looking to start a new life. As the story goes, Gunter sent her the money to come to Canada and she eventually flew into Edmonton and then Calgary where Gunter picked her up. Try as I might, I cannot seem to picture myself in this situation, bringing a total stranger home here to potentially be my bride. Gunter said they stopped at Lundbreck Falls to show here the sights. He claims he turned to her there, and in classic Gunter fashion said, “You should give me a kiss!” which she did. No doubt this broke the ice.

So let’s preface their coming together story by backing it up a bit and telling you that Gunter and Franz saved every cent they had and brought their mother and father here in 1952. Franz Josef went to work in the sawmill and the family threw all their resources together and bought a house in Blairmore. Both boys took English lessons in night class from William Jallep in 1952 to help them make their way in our English world.
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At the time of Dorothy’s (Doris) arrival they now had an established business, were all Canadian citizens as of 1956, and had begun to build a new future for all here in Canada. This is how immigrants helped build our country and contributed to its remarkable and diverse ethnic diversity. They capitalized on opportunity or created it themselves and integrated into our cosmopolitan society.

Getting back to the Gunter/Doris story, there is a wonderful unfolding of their coming together event that I just have to share. I have consistently cleared this with him and his response is always as I said before, “It is what it is.” According to him, Immigration policy dictated that they had but four days to decide whether she would stay. If she did she had to commit to marrying him within that time otherwise she would have to return to Germany. I have not been able to verify this qualification but it was apparent there was some kind of edict that came into play as far as Doris being able to stay or not.

Prior to the four day edict expiring, Gunter chose to go and see Serafino Trono at his jewellery store, a place that had operated since 1915. Mr. Trono was certified to marry people but Gunter did not realize this. He thought he was merely going to purchase or obtain the marriage certificate he needed for a church wedding. Gunter and Doris were escorted to his office in the back and at some point Gunter realized Trono was going to marry them right there and then. Since Doris did not speak English he whispered to her in German, “When I nudge you, just say yes”, which she did. Just love this!
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After this unexpected back room union there was in fact a formal church wedding at the United Church and thus began a remarkable fifty-two year marriage. Gunter affirmed there were never any issues between them and they both worked hard to make the bakery thrive. He described it as the perfect marriage and that Doris trusted his judgment implicitly. Her mother came from Germany for no less than three visits and was astounded to learn her daughter was a beautician.

After a couple of years Franz decided he wanted to pursue a career as an artist and sculptor and left the business. Being the practical businessman he was, Gunter decided that the basement of the bakery could be put to good use. So Gunter and Doris agreed that she would take a hairdressing course in Lethbridge and open up a shop down there. He even bought her a car to come and go on weekends as she trained. Eventually the Style Rite Beauty Salon was opened and operated for many years. The former Pass Promoter newspaper offices were also downstairs for a time.

Early pictures of the bakery reveal a cream-coloured two-story building with an awning and a separate entrance on the left to the apartment above. In later years the façade was nicely Bavarianized with decorations and shutters and a full-length wooden shake canopy front. The store advertised bread, buns, pastries and pies. Eventually the store was renovated to allow for a small deli for hot or cold lunches.

Gunter said that he began making the true German dark rye bread early on and that people came from as far away as Fernie to buy this traditional bread that he said was the typical everyday bread consumed back in Germany.

Again it appears that I have run out of room to properly wrap up Gunter’s story. The on-line version of part 3 will contain lots of extra images of the bakery, Doris and later images of Gunter. In the last installment I will share yet another serendipitious story of how he acquired his present house and take you through the sale of the bakery, his retirement years and a remarkable legacy of world travel.
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December 11th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 50
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