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Jun 19 2016

A Tour of Leica Camera AG

<Warning… long post!>

This story likely started some time in 1950 when Ernst Leitz II and his sons decided to expand the Leitz Factory footprint beyond Wetzlar, Germany. I’ve read this had a lot to do with the destruction caused by the 2nd World War along with the threat posed by the Soviets. I wasn’t around at the time though so I can only go by what I’ve read and been told.

On Becoming Canadian

The stories go on to say that Canada got selected as a viable country for a variety of reasons and three locations were considered. If you’re from Ontario you would reasonably imagine that the Kitchener/Waterloo area would be one as it has a significant German community and annually hosts Oktoberfest celebrations. You’d be wrong though.

Granby (Quebec), Smiths Falls and Midland (Ontario) were the short list. Midland won in the end. And having spent time at “Leitz Beach” – as Nottawasaga Beach came to be know because Günther Leitz built a beautiful cottage there – I think the waters of Georgian Bay are what won the day.

Günther was an interesting man and I’m honoured to say he was my Godfather along with Henz Schmitz. My parents named me Peter Henry Guenther Kraiker after these two (although my mom has never been able to explain where Peter came from other than to say I was ‘her little Pitche’). I do know that Günther and my dad Karl were good friends growing up despite coming from very different backgrounds. They had fun and adventures together before the war interrupted that for everyone. They picked up again after as best they could and I think they did a pretty good job of it.

So… by 1952 the details were all sorted out and the first group of Germans were set to come over to Midland, Ontario, Canada to set up this new factory. Walter Kluck, Georg Matthias and my dad were sent over ahead of the first group. This would have been at the end of April and beginning of May 1952. Keep that timing in mind. My mother wrote a funny piece on that adventure and how it almost fell apart. Saved by none other than Günther himself. Their families & the rest of the first wave (12 in total) followed on May 15th on board the S.S Columbia.

1952. From the Leica Archives

1952. Courtesy Leica Camera AG, from the Leica Archives

My brother Rolf is in the photo. He wasn’t yet 2 years old when this happened. I didn’t arrive for another 2 years after, becoming the first Canadian born Kraiker.

A Return

Fast forward to 2015… my mother has done a lot of traveling since my dad died (1970). She’s outlived a second husband too! She’s been back to visit family in and around Wetzlar many times. She’s been there with both of her kids and even all 4 of her grand kids. And around 10 years ago she decided she was done with long distance travel so no more trips back to Germany. Until someone put the idea of going back one more time in her head. And for Christmas Rolf and I agreed we’d figure out how to make that happen. Did I mention she was born in 1918? You can do the math…

Anyhow… this happened.

Flying to Germany

Leaving on a jet plane…

There was lots of advance planning, only some of it done on this side of the Atlantic. Tanja – a cousin who’s very close to us, grand daughter of mom’s twin brother – had a few things up her sleeve too. One of them brings the tale of Leitz Canada full circle.

The Leica Tour

Leica Camera AG became a new entity, opening their new headquarters in Leitz Park in 2014. In time to celebrate 100 years since the first Leica was made and the evolution of photography changed forever. A little over 60 years since the little Leitz Canada factory came into being. A lot has changed in those 60 years. SLRs took over the majority of the 35mm film photography market. Only to be replaced by digital. Japanese companies like Canon and Nikon set the European companies on their heels. And quality, one of the foundations of the Leica reputation, was no longer valued as it once had been. That has changed too.

Something that didn’t change is the effect of time moving forward. Of the original members who came over in 1952 there are only two still alive. Yes, Marie is one of them. Back to Tanja’s planning…

She reached out to Leica to arrange a tour. They do that sort of thing all the time. Then she reached out to a friend who works there to say who would be coming for the tour. They realized this was actually a historic moment for them just as much as it was for mom. And from there things fell into place.

We arrived on May 2nd, 2016 en mass. Probably close to twenty family members in total. May 2nd… between the time Karl would have sailed for Canada and when Marie & Rolf would have followed on the 15th. Not bad timing 😉

There was a staff photographer, with a Leica in hand to capture the moment of course. Herr Markus Limberger (Leica COO) came to personally welcome her.

Welcome Photo

The official welcome photo with Herr Markus Limberger, courtesy Leica Camera AG

They also had their historian and archivist come to share a few stories and photos they have from that moment in time. She mentioned a send-off party the night before the first group sailed, something I’d not heard before.

Leica Archivist

The Leica Archivist showing Marie some of the documents from 1952

They also took a group photo after Herr Limberger presented mom with a signed book.

Frau Nussbaum

The group photo, courtesy Leica Camera AG

Some of these photos made their way into their internal blog/newsletter, here’s a page that they shared with us.

LIF Blog

LIF Blog page, courtesy Leica Camera AG

There was one more little twist they arranged that was a nice touch… our tour guide was an ex-pat from the Midland plant. He had worked there for a few years and brought a very personal touch to the conversation. Well done Leica!

Leica Tour

The beginning of the tour

It was a fabulous time. An excellent tour. And I’m impressed that some of the things I learned about the quality of Leica cameras and lenses from the 60s are still in play. I learned what to expect from the action of a lens growing up with Leitz. And it only takes a moment to recognize that magic.

1954

1954… a good year

Lineage

The time/story line of Leica

What A Trip

There are so many moments from the trip that were amazing. This event though… well it tops the list. I think it’s even bigger than The Amigos! And that was big for mom!

This entire trip was… once in a lifetime in so many ways. So…

MERRY CHRISTMAS. And now… let’s plan for 100?

 

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