Emeric Sala was elected in 1948 as one of the first nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada (the national governing council). He was one of the first young people to join the Baha’i community in Montréal in the 1920s, contributing his considerable skills as a writer and teacher, and spending the last several decades of his life serving the Baha’i communities in Africa and Mexico.
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. The family later moved to the city of Herrmannstadt, now known as Sibiu, Romania.
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. He made his way to the German seaport of Hamburg where, after a long wait, he landed a job as a ship’s helper. Eventually he found his way to Canada and decided to remain in Montréal.
In addition to his native Hungarian, Mr. Sala spoke Romanian, German, some 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 Baha’i Faith; this led to his enrolment as a Baha’i in 1929. He was a founding member of the first Canadian Baha’i Youth Group in Montréal. They held classes, and attendance soon reached about 60. It was one of the first organized Baha’i groups for youth in the Western Hemisphere. He soon met his future wife, a charming young woman named Rosemary Gillies, whom he married in 1934. They moved to St. Lambert, a suburb of Montréal, where by 1937, a Local Spiritual Assembly was formed.
The English language, once his handicap, now became his strength. He established a small import company and travelled coast to coast on business, giving talks on the Baha’i 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 time with Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith.
In 1940, the Salas spent a year as Baha’i pioneers in Venezuela. 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, Mr. Sala wrote This Earth One Country. During the post-war years, the couple made extensive teaching trips through Central and South America.
Around this time, Emeric Sala and Siegfried Schopflocher together purchased the first Canadian Baha’i property at Beaulac, in the Laurentians, north of Montréal, where the country’s first Baha’i summer and winter schools were held.
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 Baha’is to arise to serve humanity around the world. Mr. 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. One of the other choices given by Shoghi Effendi was Zululand. Here, they stayed from 1954 to 1955 before moving to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where they remained until 1968. In South Africa, 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 retired to Guadalajara, Mexico.
Rosemary Sala died in Mexico on 20 February 1980. Emeric Sala continued to serve in Mexico and later remarried. His second wife, Donya Knox, became a Baha’i, and together they travelled throughout America, China, India and Europe. Mr. Sala passed away on 5 September 1990, a few weeks after his second wife’s passing.
This article is part of a series on a few historical figures in the Canadian Baha’i Community who were instrumental in the establishment and growth of the community in Canada. Over the course of this year, the Canadian Baha’i News Service will be posting one biography every month.