Hers is a family story that spans the world, from Germany to Vietnam.
But Canada is at the heart of Ella Benndorf’s pioneer tales.
It’s the country where her German-Catholic parents moved to in 1927 and, 24 years later, her husband, Walter, a navigator in the Second World War.
It’s also the country that allowed her folks to find success and Walter to rise as one of Canada’s best-known businessmen.
Benndorf, a longtime Coquitlam resident, spent decades scribbling down their stories “during kitchen chats,” she said, to preserve for future generations.
And, this month, Benndorf was able to get her three books into the Coquitlam Public Library for others to read about their respective climbs.
Walter Benndorf: The Moulding of a German-Canadian came out in 2017 via WhatWorks Media while the biography about her mom, titled Aloisia, the Making of a Frontier Woman, and a collection of short stories, Aloisia’s New Beginnings & Other Stories, were published last year.
All three works are also available through amazon.ca.
“I wanted to write them to show how difficult it is to be an immigrant,” Benndorf told The Tri-City News. “Before they were pioneers, they struggled at home. They loved Canada for helping them to escape.”
Her mother, Aloisia, grew up tough on a family farm in her native Germany.
The youngest of 12 children, her father encouraged her to follow in his footsteps as a beekeeper.
But it was at agricultural school she met a German naval officer, a signaller who in 1919 would be part of the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow in Scotland.
The couple married and, soon, Aloisia was bound for Canada with suitcases filled with rugs, a sewing machine and other household items; however, her groom’s choice for their first martial home turned out to be a shack on 33 acres outside of Nelson, on land that wasn’t farmable.
With what little money they had, Benndorf’s father bought a horse that he used to log the cedar trees on their property.
And with their substantial profit of $2,000, the couple relocated to a dairy farm outside of Chilliwack, where they also kept bees and sold honey.
Benndorf was young when her parents split and Aloisia moved their two girls to New Westminster, where she ran a boarding house. Benndorf was only 16 when Walter came walking in with another German immigrant, in 1951.
By then, the engineer — who had come to Canada with two cardboard suitcases looking for work at the Boeing plant that, by then, had already moved to Seattle, Wash. — had been a prisoner of war three times.
Aloisia was immediately taken with him as he hailed from the same country, talked the same language and was handy around her home.
But Benndorf had other suitors, too, and she wasn’t interested in pairing with a man 13 years her senior. “You will always regret it if you don’t marry me,” he told her.
The two hitched, had two children and enjoyed 54 years of wedded bliss.
Benndorf said her husband made the most of his life. “I don’t know any other man who has done as much as him,” she remembered.
Because he had worked in Germany for Adler — a factory that produced bicycles, typewriters, motorcycles and cars — he was smart with repairing and servicing.
Walter opened his first business in 1955, Westminster Office Machine Service, at 517 Sixth Ave., in New Westminster; Benndorf’s mother helped with the storefront display.
He built his reputation by selling service contracts with every typewriter and office machine he sold, she said.
Soon, Walter was selling office furniture and was expanding his company — even obtaining the exclusive dealership for Olympia typewriters. He also bought an established typewriter business in Toronto.
However, by 1966, Walter wanted to redesign typewriters using plastic materials and made prototypes.
That idea didn’t pan out and Benndorf rebranded his company, purchasing injection moulding machines and manufactured plastic bucket seats for schools and traffic cones, among other things.
Business boomed and, by 1969, he had Benndorf Industries Ltd. and a factory in Guelph, Ont. He travelled the country to make sales to governments and department stores; his company also had a catchy radio jingle: “You got the B-E-double N.”
Still, Benndorf said her husband’s greatest joy was spending time with their granddaughter, Ella, whom their daughter adopted from Vietnam. “On the morning of May 25, 2014,” she writes, “Walter phoned little Ella to wish her a happy birthday, and that evening, at the age of 89, Walter died at home of a sudden heart attack. He never know what happened and that is how he always said he wanted to leave this world.”
Benndorf added, “His life was a life of overcoming difficulties. The same for my mom and I thought it was important to recognize that.”