Landscapes 12

Franciska (Lebar) Starchev

February 25, 1935 ~ December 30, 2020 (age 85)





Born February 25, 1935 in Dolnja Bistrica, Slovenia in Yugoslavia to Teodor Lebar and Marija (Vucko) Lebar. Franciska was the third born, of twelve children (which eventually led to 26 grandchildren for Teodor and Marija). Franciska finished Teacher’s College very early due to being such a superior student. 

After WW2, at the age of 17, she fled Slovenia, by foot, wearing 2 sets of clothes, walking several nights through bushes and fields and sneaking under barb-wire fences until she reached a refugee camp in Asten, Austria. While she was there, she was housed with several older ladies in a bunkhouse, who more or less mothered her and looked after her. At a camp dance one evening , there was a man, the same age Franciska’s own father, persuing her, she did her best to avoid him, ignoring his advances, to no avail! The older man was soon separated from Franciska because a third man saw the events unfolding, grabbed a vacant chair and deftly slid it into place, directly between Franciska and the older man. He soon asked her for a dance, she said she’d never danced before. He offered to teach her then and there and they never came home from that date. 

After several months, Franciska’s rescuer wrote a letter to her parents, asking for approval to marry their daughter. Teodor and Marija wrote back, giving permission. The marriage took place in Enns, a short bus trip away, after Franciska turned 18, and was kept secret, until the time was appropriate. 

Eventually the time came to disperse the refugees to different camps, according to final destinations, in different countries worldwide. In the meantime, the older, original persuer had some “pull“ and sneakily arranged for himself and Franciska to be sent to the same transfer-camp, and eventually be on the same ship, to the same ultimate destination. When Franciska’s name was called to board the truck, her now husband kept reminding her to ignore the call for her to board the same conveyance as the older man, who was already boarded and visibly anxious. Her husband also ignored the call for him to board a vehicle going elsewhere. When the husband and wife were the last two not yet boarded, they were questioned because no more names were on the list. At that point, the husband stepped forward, produced the marriage certificate, and requested that they be transferred together, as they were in fact husband and wife. Franciska (Lebar) Starchev, and Vojislav Starchev were granted the right, and were transferred to a new camp which would soon send them on to Canada. They arrived at the port of Montreal in 1953 with a tiny suitcase and twenty dollars between them. They boarded a train to Toronto, and never looked back. 

By 1954, they had a son Stephen and in 1955, a daughter Ljiljana. They held many jobs in their first years, for little pay, cleaning, picking tobacco, cooking foe a wealthy family, factory work, farming, looking after horses, driving a taxi, bank teller, assembling lightbulbs at General Electric, an orderly at Riverdale Hospital, etc. They had only each other, no other family had arrived as yet from Yugoslavia, in war-torn Europe. I remember Mama frequently but always laughingly saying “We didn’t even have anybody to swear at us, let alone help us“. 

By 1964, they had saved enough money to open a small store in Kensington Market, in downtown Toronto. There they imported goods such as records, books, magazines, weekly newspapers, 8-track tapes, handicrafts, etc., from all republics of Yugoslavia. Franciska, at the same time hosted a radio 

program 6 days a week, catering to the people who had also emigrated to the Greater Toronto Area. She was able to speak to her huge fan base in Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian, and Macedonian, played Music from all the republics, shared news, interviewed celebrities, etc for over 35 years. She also hosted a television program, along the same lines as the radio program. Eventually she started to to arrange concert tours, all across Canada, and to many cities across the U.S.A. Eventually they had to expand as the business grew, and they soon rented a large store on Brown’s Line, in Etobicoke, and added a Travel Agency. Later they moved again, directly across the street still on Brown’s Line. They ran a thriving business until war broke out in Yugoslavia, the war that basically tore the country apart and into separate republic. Importing goods was no longer a viable option, nor was travel during war realistic. There was no choice but to start letting things go, one by one, and eventually selling the business, which they had operated for so many decades. 

Franciska decided to take up beading, creating the most beautiful hand-beaded christmas tree balls, gifting them to brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, friends and to anybody that she cared enough for, including special doctors, a bank manager, lawyer, etc. Those special ornaments are still cherished by those fortunate enough to have received one. 

Franciska put on an amazing Boxing Day party for all her siblings and their families, 75 or so people, for 25 years, from 1990 until 2015, only missing one year, when her son became terminally ill around Christmas time. Her heart just wasn’t in it. She bounced right back the following Christmas, and as always, she cooked a huge assortment of foods – ham turkey, sides, veggie trays, she baked apple strudels, and enough of the most beautiful cookies, in amounts big enough to feed an entire army! She believed that feeding people was a true sign of love, and never once complained, nor sighed at the huge workload she so lovingly took on after her own Mother was no longer able to host a party of this proportion. Granddaughter Kendal was the only one of our family to attend one of these fetes, because she attended post-secondary school in Toronto, and lived with her Grandparents for over one year. 

In 2006, her only son passed away in Toronto, then in 2015, the man that rescued her some 62 years prior, in that refugee camp in Austria, too passed. That left her in Toronto, with her only living child residing in Alberta with her own family. 

Mum trusted us to choose and buy a house on her behalf in the beautiful Crowsnest Pass. Her beloved son-in-law Ken Brands, and her daughter Ljiljana (Lili) drove out to Toronto and moved her here in July 2016. After a separation of 37 years, they would be together again. Lili, Ken, and their family looked after her every need, always inviting Franciska to go on car rides to Lethbridge, Waterton National Park, Fernie, etc to see her surrounds, and took her to every single appointment, locally or often to Calgary or Lethbridge. Mum loved the years of travelling, to watch her first-born Great Granddaughter play hockey in different towns, and she was always the loudest one in the stands as she cheered little Cora on. Ken was the only person she ever agreed to accompany on 4 x 4 Jeep rides, high up in the mountains, to places where even sheep and goats didn’t go! She quickly became a mountain girl, but we still couldn’t talk her into wearing blue jeans, even while gardening! She quite enjoyed the peaceful small town of Blairmore, after over 60 years of the hustle and bustle of Toronto. She had never encountered so many strangers that politely greeted her as they passed on the sidewalk. 

Mum was in constant amazement of the beauty surrounding her, particularly Frank Slide, Crowsnest Mountain, Seven Sisters, and the Burmis Tree. She hoarded many dozens of beautiful photos of those favoured spots. She even hand beaded ornaments portraying those places most beloved to her. She 

very frequently rose just as the sunning was peeking over the moubtains, and took photos of the sunrises and the shadows they cast over her beloved mountains. She was so thrilled that she only had to open her back door to view such beauty. 

Most importantly, she was finally able to spend time with the three granddaughters she so loved so dearly, but wasn’t able to spoil or share enough hugs with, being too many miles apart. Franciska frequently, with tears in her eyes said she missed not being able to take her grandchildren for rides in a red wagon. We had planned to go to each of the kids doors in order of age and with a red wagon, so she could pull them, but she got too sick too quickly to make that wish come true for her. 

Daughter Ljiljana Brands, Son-in-law Ken, Granddaughters Kendal Franciska O’Neill (Paul), Courtney Sarah Matheson (Kyle), and Meaghan Ljiljana Brands all loved Franciska very, very much, and miss her terribly and will forever. Her beloved Great Grandchildren, Cora Wynter (12), Hunter Kenneth, (6) and Remmi Grace (3 ½ months) have many memories and photos with Great Grandma (Prabaka) to help them remember her, and were with her to say goodbye and help guide her to the pathway leading to her new eternal home. Little Hunter gave her a last sip of water shortly before she left us, to make sure she wouldn’t be she travelled, Franciska also had many beloved four-legged grand-animals that she left behind to mourn her loss. 



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