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OLGA FERSHALOF 

HARBIN, MANCHURIA, CHINA

Photography by Debra Friedman

In the latter part of the 19th century, a migration of Russian émigrés entered China. Many settled in the city of Harbin and the surrounding area. Those émigrés were ambitious and resourceful; they built factories, industrial complexes and commerce. The city grew into a vibrant metropolis with numerous synagogues, churches, hotels, hospitals and theatres.

Olga’s father’s family came to China in 1906. Her grandfather was in the fur trade industry and worked in Mongolia and China. They were industrious and prospered.

Olga’s mother’s family came to Harbin after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Her father worked on the Russo-Chinese Railway and married a woman from Georgia (Russia).

Olga’s parents received their education in Harbin at universities and colleges established by Russian émigrés, both Christian and Jewish. They met and married in Harbin and their life was rich in culture. Olga attended a Russian school for 3 1/2 years.

With the rise of Mao Tse-Tung in 1949, life changed. He wanted the Caucasians out of the country, and to this end, he nationalized their businesses and property. Many Jews left for Australia, Canada and South America, and others, like Olga’s family, chose Israel.

Olga remained in Israel for 11 years, completing her high school and university education. In 1967, she travelled to Toronto and stayed with Canadian relatives. Then, through the Canadian Jewish News, she found an apartment to share with two young Jewish girls.

Her relatives helped her secure her first job in Canada at the Park Plaza Hotel, working at the front desk and utilizing her knowledge of foreign languages. After taking various courses, Olga went into the travel business. She met her future husband’s mother when she booked a trip to Israel with her, and through her, Olga met her husband-to-be.

Her own parents came to Canada to celebrate their daughter’s wedding in 1976 and then in 1987 moved from Israel to Toronto.

Olga is glad that she chose Canada as her home. She believes that it is a beautiful country, and with hard work, you have a chance to achieve your dreams. The country has provided her with opportunities for a rich, full life. In order to show her appreciation, she has spent a considerable amount of time volunteering with various charitable and cultural organizations. She is currently the President of the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee and previously served as an active volunteer with JVS Toronto.