UBC NOW — 2018
September 23, 2018
The Sopron Story: Looking back 60 years later
How 200 Hungarian forestry students found their way to UBC
By Mormei Zanke, Assistant Writer, UBC Brand and Marketing
Chances are, you know someone who has immigrated to Canada from another part of the world. Whether this person is your grandmother, your father or your friend — you’ve likely heard an immigrant’s tale of persistence and incredible risk, one in which they left everything behind in the hopes of finding a haven from conflict or a place for their descendants to thrive.
Tony Kozak’s son, Robert Kozak, is a UBC professor in sustainable business management and is the current associate dean, academic of the Faculty of Forestry. Robert is familiar with his father’s immigration story and has heard unique anecdotes about the Sopron immigrants’ transition from Hungary to Canada.
“It was very difficult. They were refugees,” Robert says. “They didn’t speak a word of English. It was a brand new culture. The ecosystems that they were studying were incredibly different. They came with virtually nothing.”
The Sopron students were young. At just eighteen or nineteen years of age, they moved across the world, leaving their families behind, not knowing when they might see them again. While their immigration was difficult and born from unfortunate circumstances, the students were resilient and successful in adapting to life in British Columbia. They initially lived at the Powell River Paper Company, where they acclimated to life in Canada and learned English from the loggers who worked there. To earn money, they found odd jobs. Some worked in construction, some on the railroads. They found whatever work they could to provide for themselves in those early years.
“We were awed by the giant ancient forests and surprised at the rate and means of forest harvesting, but we were quick to adapt,” says Sopron Immigrant, Laszlo Retfalvi in the film “Sopron” created by Clancy Dennehy. “Through out work in forestry we managed to influence practices towards sustainable use.”