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IT ALL BEGAN WITH PRINCE RUPERT - The story of Czechs and Slovaks in Canada

The story of Czechs and Slovaks in Canada

Josef Čermák

Josef Čermák was born in Skury, Czechoslovakia, attended public school in Hobšovice and Latin school in Slaný. He spent the last two years of the Second World War in a forced labour camp.
After the war, he studied law at Charles University, Prague. In February, 1948, he participated in student demonstration against the Communist coup d´état and, in September in that year, he was arrested and jailed. After release, he escaped to West Germany and in 1949 came to Canada.
He is a recipient of Panhellenic prize for Highest Standing in English and Epstein Award for Creative Writing from the University College, University of Toronto.
He graduated from the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto in 1958, was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1960 and practiced law with Borden, Elliot, Kelley & Palmer, and later, with Smith, Lyons, Torrance, Stevenson & Mayer, Among his published works are three books in Czech.
He served two terms as President of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada.

The self-sacrifice of three young men seared my consciousness. In 1968 Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc immolated themselves in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In 1980 Terry Fox, an average, unassuming young man whose right leg had been amputated six inches above the knee three years earlier, started his incredible run across Canada. In 143 days he covere 5,373 kilometres. He was forced to stop near Thunder Bay – cancer had appeared in his lungs. He died in 1981 at the age of 22.
He put himself through this torture because while in hospital he witnessed the pain of other cancer victims, particularly children.
In 1979 he wrote to the Canadian Cancer Society: „I am not a dreamer, and I am not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer to cure cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.“
The sacrifices of Palach and Zajíc while noble beyond comprehension, were passive and in essence negative, an admission of defeat, of hopelessness.
Terry Fox´s act was an affirmation of the unconquerable human spirit, an expression of hope, a gift of pragmatic purposeful selflessness.
It is the same spirit that motivated the men and women who came to Canada a century or more ago and conquered its wilderness. They spent their first winters in holes they dug in the ground, they prevailed against fires and draught and never gave in. Their motives may have been less pure than Terry´s, the intensity of their purpose less overpowering, their vision narrower, their dedication short of sacrificial.
But they are linked with Terry in an almost wilful desire to realize a dream –

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