Emeric Sala was born on 12 November 1906 in the small Hungarian village of Havas Dombrovica, which roughly translates as “snowed-in village.” He was the first of four children born to a Jewish lumber inspector and his wife. His parents later moved to Herrmannstadt in Sibenbuergen, now Sibiu in Romania, where he spent his school years.
After the First World War and still in his teens, Emeric Sala felt intensely alienated by the prevailing climate of militarism and lack of personal freedom, as well as the social and religious prejudices in the strife-torn Balkan countries. He was drawn to the United States, but Romanians were not listed in the immigration quotas. So, he made his way to the German seaport of Hamburg, where he landed a job as a ship’s helper and set sail for the west coast of Africa. The ship returned to Hamburg and then sailed for Montréal, where he arrived in 1927.
In addition to his native Hungarian, Sala spoke Romanian, some German, French and Italian, but he did not speak a word of English. Learning the language became his obsession. Rather than simply reading books, he wanted to hear people talk, so he attended every free lecture he could find. He was especially intrigued by one public meeting at which May Maxwell talked about the Bahá’í Faith; this led to his enrolment as a Bahá’í in 1929. He was a founding member of the first Canadian Bahá’í Youth Group in Montréal. They held classes, and attendance soon reached about 60. It was the first organized Bahá’í class for youth in the Western Hemisphere. He soon met his future wife, a charming young woman named Rosemary Gillies, whom he married in 1934.
The English language, once his handicap, now became his strength. He established a small import business and travelled coast to coast, giving talks on the Bahá’í Faith wherever and whenever he could. In 1937, at the encouragement of May Maxwell, he extended a European business trip to include Haifa, where he had the privilege of spending an evening alone with Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. Upon his return, Emeric Sala and Siegfried Schopflocher together purchased the first Canadian Bahá’í property at Beaulac, in the Laurentians, north of Montréal, where the country’s first Bahá’í summer and winter schools were held.
In 1945, as the world emerged from the global convulsion of war and many people were searching for a new order in the affairs of humanity, Sala published This Earth One Country. Both Emeric and Rosemary Sala were elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly of Canada in 1948, and they continued to serve until 1953. That year, they responded to Shoghi Effendi’s call for Bahá’ís to arise to serve humanity around the world. Sala transferred his business to his brother, and the couple sold their charming home on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in St. Lambert, Quebec, planning to settle in the Comoro Islands, off the east coast of Africa.
Despite their plans, the French authorities refused to grant them permission to reside in the Comoro Islands, so Shoghi Effendi asked them to settle in Zululand instead. There, they befriended many Africans, who came to refer to Rosemary Sala as “our mother”. Rosemary founded school libraries and organized shipments of books from North America. After returning to Canada briefly in the late 1960s, the couple left for Guadalajara, Mexico, and then travelled extensively throughout Central America.
Rosemary Sala died in Mexico on 24 January 1980. Emeric Sala continued to serve in Mexico and later remarried. His second wife, Donya Knox, became a Bahá’í, and together they travelled throughout America, China, India and Europe. Sala passed away on 5 September 1990, a few weeks after his wife’s passing.
* Adapted from Bahá’í World, Vol. 20, 1986-1992, “In Memoriam,” pp. 993-5.
Early Canadian Bahá’ís
The Bahá’í community has a rich history of members who have contributed greatly to their society as well as to the early development of the Bahá’í community in Canada and the world.