Fashion icon Jeanne Beker unpacks her family history

Jeanne Beker's parents were Holocaust survivors who came to Halifax in 1948. She's donated the trunk they brought with them to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Beker's parents were Holocaust survivors who came to Halifax in 1948 with just a single wooden trunk

Jeanne Beker has donated the trunk her parents brought to Canada in 1948 to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. (Amy Smith/CBC)

It's an old trunk, made of rough wood with simple hinges and a heavy lock.

Not much to look at really.

But for Canadian fashion icon Jeanne Beker, that box holds a treasure trove of family memories — stories she is now sharing with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax.

The trunk belonged to her parents Joseph and Bronia Beker, Holocaust survivors originally from Poland who moved to a new country for a new life. They arrived in Halifax in 1948 aboard the USS General W.C. Langfitt, a retired U.S. Navy vessel, with all of their worldly possessions packed inside the trunk.

Beker said it's emblematic of what her parents wanted for their family's future.

"Although its just this rustic, old box with these weathered rope handles and nothing very glamorous about it at all, but because it really did symbolize the fact that they were so willing to rise from the ashes and really rebuild their lives and come to Canada with all of those hopes and those dreams," she said in an interview at the museum Friday.

Bronia and Joseph Beker.

Beker is best known as the host for 27 years of the TV show FashionTelevision, which ceased production in 2012.

"My sister and I went on to realize some pretty amazing dreams in this glorious country of ours," she said. "And for us to be donating [the trunk] to the museum this year, the 150th anniversary of Canada, that means something."

Beker said the trunk, one of the few family heirlooms since so much had been lost in the war, had been stored in her parents' basement in Canada and then her own garage. It was only when she learned about the museum at Pier 21 that she decided to give it a new home.

"We are hoping that this really resonates with people that come to the museum and that they will understand just how it is possible to build an incredible life in this country, even though you may come into it with very humble beginnings," she said.

On Sunday at 7 p.m., Beker will host a free event at the museum, reading from her parents' memoir Joy Runs Deeper and talking about how their story of survival shaped the person she is today.

About the Author

Amy Smith

Host

After spending more than a decade as a reporter covering the Nova Scotia legislature, Amy Smith joined CBC News in 2009 as host for CBC Nova Scotia News as well as Atlantic Tonight at 11. She can be reached at amy.smith@cbc.ca or on Twitter @amysmithcbc