One of the floats Heidi constructed.

Heidi Born – from pen pals to Kitimat stalwart

Unlike many of Kitimat’s long-time residents who came to the town answering calls to work at Alcan, Heidi came to Kitimat to meet a man she had been corresponding with for a year, her pen pal and later husband, Heinz Born.

“Heinz and I had been communicating for a year after he came to Kitimat to work at Alcan,” said Heidi, who was at the time living with her family in Munich, Germany.

“I decided I would move to Kitimat and I approached the juvenile court in Munich, who gave me a passport. I left Germany and eventually arrived in Vancouver in October 1960, only 19 years old.”

She caught a connecting flight on a smaller plane that vibrated violently, eventually stepping onto the runway at Terrace airport, which was little more than a hanger and a “cubbyhole for reception”.

Her and Heinz were later married in Kitimat on October 29, but not before she appeared in court in Vancouver to get permission to get married, not having a legal guardian in Canada.

Not being able to speak much English, Heidi stayed confined to the apartment for the first three days until she heard a knock on the door.

When she opened it, her neighbour was standing at the door.

“She said to me ‘tomorrow, 3 p.m., come for coffee’ before going back to her apartment,” said Heidi.

Her neighbour, Gerry Farina, would help Heidi learn English and would later become a lifelong friend. The first lesson consisted of Gerry pointing at items in a catalogue and reading out the names in English.

Heidi settled into life in Kitimat and took Gerry’s lessons to heart, especially the part where she learned her ABCs. Her three children, Alexander, Bernard and Christian, were born soon after, in 1961, 1963 and 1967.

“I went ABC with the names of my children,” said Heidi.

While raising her and Heinz’s children she started producing signage in her garage, a skill she learned growing up in Germany in the family business which included printing blinds and awnings.

When the garage became too small, she decided to open her own business and moved into the front of the building at 408 Enterprise Avenue in 1971, calling the business Commercial Lettering and Signs.

She would carry on with the business for 43 years until her retirement nearly six years ago. She still produces artwork for clients, but prefers to call it a hobby rather than work.

In 1973 she left Heinz, taking the children with her, and started a life on her own, focusing on the business and her children. Some of her artwork can still be seen around town, including the sign at the corner of the Chamber of Commerce on Forest Avenue, which was moved from the airport to Kitimat.

She also became involved in soccer, being a European and very fond of the sport, teaching three teams of young Kitimat residents, including current Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth.

“Phil was a good left winger, one of my best players,” said Heidi.

After five years she gave up on the soccer and got more involved in social activities, her favourite time of the year being Canada Day when she got to work on producing floats and taking part in the activities on the day.

The first float she worked on was in 1964, her favourite float called Petticoat Pirates, and her favourite activity was tricycle racing, down the hill, along Haisla Boulevard.

“We created our own fun back then. Everyone was game, even mayor George Thom who tried to enter the downhill tricycle race with an electricians bicycle from Alcan. He was denied entry, of course,” said Heidi, who posted the best times by sticking to the middle of the road.

“Then came the insurance issues and it stopped being fun. That’s what’s missing from the parades now,” added Heidi.

The other aspect of earlier life in Kitimat she misses a lot is the different clubs that existed in the town’s heyday and the activities that went along with being a member.

While a member of the German club she climbed to the top of Mount Claque, twice, where she and the other members camped overnight.

“Nowadays the young people have more money and different interests, so they do their own thing,” said Heidi. “None of them want to participate and support the clubs.”

Heidi has a quieter life now, two of her sons having moved out of Kitimat, looking after her son Bernard at home and her two dogs, Andy and Skittles.

“They are my constant companions, and we walk every day it’s not raining,” said Heidi.

She reflected on the Canada 150 celebrations, saying she was grateful to be living in Canada considering what is happening in the rest of the world.

“We’re lucky to be living in this country, and I’m glad I get to live in Kitimat. I’m close to the mountains and I get to walk my dogs for an hour. You can’t beat that.”

 

The last float Heidi worked on, five years ago.

One of the soccer teams Heidi trained. See if you can spot DoK mayor Phil Germuth!

Heidi was tricycle race champion many times.

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