Jana Gonda: a perfect beginning to my new life

Jana Gonda

Jana Gonda was a teenager at the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Like tens of thousands of Czechs she emigrated with her parents in the months that followed. Today she is back in Prague, as director of the Supraphon record label, after a successful career in Canada. For many émigrés the first impression of life abroad is a disappointment or a moment filled with apprehension, but for Jana Gonda life in exile began very differently. Her first weekend in Canada was like a dream come true. As she now recalls, she was thrown straight into a strange and beautiful world of wealth and privilege that could have come straight out of a Scott Fitzgerald short story.

"My memory of my first day in Canada: My parents emigrated. I was seventeen years old. They closed the apartment door in Prague. We spent a few months in Germany, and then we went on to Toronto. We landed on June 19th 1969. It was a cold day, surprisingly for June in Canada, and I spent the first night with my brother on the floor of a family of friends' dining room. It was Friday. And they said: 'Tomorrow we will have the daughter of our friends meet you and you will go up to their island to spend the weekend.' Bear in mind that I spoke about 20 words of English and had the use of such useful sentences as 'my tap is dripping' or 'this torch is cheap' - the basic things that one learns in beginner's English. We left for the island the next day. It was up in the Muskokas, which is about two-and-half hours north of Toronto. I found out that they actually had this mansion in the middle of an island. We had to take their boat across to the island. And they had sailboats in the boathouse and motor boats. I was absolutely in shock because I came from this country where nobody had any proper country houses, take for a few people, and all of a sudden I was in this luxury, and people were flying in on their little private jets. And the girl that I met there - Helen Sinclair - we're friends together still today - she took me out on a sailboat. And I just remember being alone with her in the middle of Lake Muskoka on a Saturday afternoon, and it was freezing cold, and we were having such a good time, it was peaceful and quiet and it was a perfect beginning to my new life."