Home at Last
It took time, hard work and perseverance, but the promise of a better life in Canada was fulfilled
I wonder how the families of my father-in-law Ernie and motherin-law Grace reacted back in 1949 when they heard the words, “We are coming to Canada.”
One of Ernie’s sisters, Gertie, lived in Duncan, B.C., with her husband, Birt, and their young family. Gertie was homesick and desperate for family to come over. Ernie said, “If you can find me a job and a place to live, we’ll come.”
Ernie and Grace soon received word that a job and place to live were indeed waiting for them upon their arrival in Duncan, so they immediately started the process of applying to emigrate.
Ernie was from a long line of shipbuilders in Sunderland, England, the Thomp- sons, who had lived around that area for hundreds of years. He and Grace were the busy parents of four young boys when they received word that their name had come up for immigration to Canada.
Ernie was a few short months away from receiving his chartered accountant papers, but if they said no to this opportunity to immigrate to Canada, their turn might not come again for a long time. England was still suffering from the effects of the war; many items were still rationed and several others were in short supply. It was a difficult time.
Everyone knew Canada was a land of great opportunity— the streets were paved with gold and a fortune was yours for the making. So on
August 3, 1949, Ernie and Grace, who was six months pregnant, along with seven-yearold Geoff, five-year-old Eric, and two-year-old twins David and Donnie, set sail from Southampton to Canada on the R.M.S. Aquitania. The long journey took six days, and keeping four young boys occupied and safe couldn’t have been an easy task.
The family landed in Halifax on August 9, 1949. The next leg of their trip was to take a Canadian National train from Montreal for a long, long ride west to Vancouver, where they were met by Gertie and Birt. Next, the whole family boarded a ferry boat for the final portion of their journey to Duncan.
Imagine their disappointment, after leaving the only home they had known and taking this long, arduous journey, when they found out that the promised “house” was actually a garage, complete with a dirt floor, and there was no job to be had? How ever were they going to provide for their growing family?
Ernie soon divided the garage into four small rooms, making the accommodations feel more like a home. There was, however, no bathroom, and Ernie was simply not going use an outhouse. So, when nature called, he made the mile walk into town each time. They spent a winter in the garage; their fifth son, Ken, was born in November, but by then the family decided to head back to England, as work was hard to find. They started to make their way back east, as funds would allow. This took them first to Chilliwack, B.C., where they spent a few years, and then to Calgary in 1956. They discovered the air here was favourable for Ernie’s asthma and, by this time, they decided to stay and call Calgary home. It was in Calgary where their only daughter, Susan, was born. The boys soon became involved in sports (including cricket!), Scouts and other activities. Ernie worked in accounting, but never attained his chartered accountant papers, difficult to do while raising six children.
While Grace and Ernie have since passed on, the family today numbers close to 40, and we are spread out across this great land from Kelowna to London, Ont., and many spots in between. Ernie and Grace’s dream of a better life for their children and grandchildren has become a reality. Canada certainly didn’t have roads paved in gold, but in the end Ernie and Grace were glad they came to Canada and thankful for the opportunities afforded to them and their family. England is a wonderful place to visit, and we still have family there, but Canada is definitely home. ■
From left: Grace’s immigration card; Grace and Ernie while courting; Grace, Gertie and kids on the ferry to Duncan, B.C.