Com­ing to Canada

Even a for­got­ten birth­day couldn't dampen an ex­cit­ing new start

Our Canada - - Features | Departments - by Mar­garet Spark, Vic­to­ria

It was mid-Oc­to­ber of 1954. I re­mem­ber stand­ing at the rail of the Cu­nard Line ship the Franconia as she slipped her moor­ings and headed to the new world. My mother, Muriel Thorpe, was cry­ing as she gazed at the re­ced­ing sky­line of Liver­pool, prob­a­bly won­der­ing when, or if, she would see Eng­land again. We were sail­ing to join my dad, Adin, who had left our York­shire farm six months ear­lier to get a job and to buy a home for us in Canada.

We ran into tur­bu­lent weather on the North At­lantic. Our ship was tossed about on the an­gry sea more than usual be­cause there was a dock strike in Liver­pool and the Franconia wasn’t car­ry­ing enough bal­last to en­sure a smooth sail.

Each day, the ship’s din­ing room was al­most empty; only my younger brother Fred and I, and a few hardy souls, graced the ta­bles. I was fas­ci­nated when watch­ing the stew­ards quickly latch the three­inch ta­ble lips into po­si­tion when the rolling got par­tic­u­larly bad. We en­joyed watch­ing all the cups and plates slide grace­fully from one side to the other, but amaz- in­gly very lit­tle was bro­ken. I also dis­tinctly re­mem­ber how wa­ter­melon tasted—i had never even seen it be­fore in my life. My, it was good! Also, we were al­lowed to eat a whole ba­nana for the first time. This be­ing very soon af­ter wartime ra­tioning in Eng­land, one ba­nana had al­ways been shared between our fam­ily of four.

We spent our days out on the decks, and as the wind swirled around us, a kindly ste­ward went around with his wagon of­fer­ing beef tea to pas­sen­gers (a broth, prob­a­bly made in the ship’s kitchens from beef roasts). What a treat! Was this how it was in the 1920s and 1930s when the aris­toc­racy crossed the oceans?

As a girl of 12, I fol­lowed our progress on the ship’s charts that were posted daily on the Prom­e­nade Deck, and loved the scenery as we sailed down Belle Isle Strait into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By the time we reached Canada, Mother was pos­i­tively green. She was not a good sailor at the best of times. In­deed, in later years, she was sea­sick on the BC Ferry from Van­cou­ver to Vic­to­ria!

In Mon­treal, a burly porter was man­han­dling our lug­gage at dock­side.

“Where ya goin’? Tronna?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” Mother replied, in her po­lite, English la­dy­like voice. “We’re go­ing to Toronto,” (with the T’s be­ing def­i­nitely

pro­nounced). The man just shook his head. He prob­a­bly re­galed his fam­ily at din­ner­time with tales of these strange English im­mi­grants.

We caught the train to Toronto, where Mother took us for lunch in Ea­ton’s cafe­te­ria. I won­der how she knew to go there, to find her way from Union Sta­tion; in 1954, there were no GPS in­struc­tions. We or­dered beef with two veg­eta­bles, and when we tasted the boiled cab­bage on our plate, it needed sea­son­ing. We didn’t see any salt or pep­per shak­ers on our ta­ble, but what we did see was a tallish, round glass jar with a chrome top con­tain­ing what looked like coarse salt. We sprin­kled it on our boiled cab­bage. Well! We were so em­bar­rassed at our mis­take that we ate the cab­bage any­way. Since this “sug­ared” cab­bage, I’ve rarely eaten the lovely veg­etable; and thank good­ness those mas­sive sugar dis­pensers largely went out of style. Later, we bought food in the Lon­don, Ont., train sta­tion for the last leg of our jour­ney to Sar­nia. The bread used in the ham sand­wiches tasted sweet. I think it must have been our first taste of Won­der Bread, which we sub­se­quently re­ferred to (pri­vately) as “that blown-up stuff.”

Still in Ea­ton’s, we were in­trigued by the large amount of mer­chan­dise on dis­play, and were puz­zled at the sight of so many masks with fancy dress or ghoul­ish out­fits. Our se­cond night in our new home, lit­tle ghosts and gob­lins came knock- ing at our door, and it was only later that we un­der­stood what it was all about. Our first Hal­loween!

It was so ex­cit­ing to en­ter our new home— a cot­tage that Dad had bought for our ar­rival in Corunna, just south of Sar­nia, Ont. It was right on the River St. Clair. Mother took one look out of our front win­dows and dashed for the bath­room. She was sea­sick again, say­ing later that wa­ter, wa­ter ev­ery­where was just a bit un­nerv­ing af­ter the stormy ocean voy­age.

Up early the next morn­ing, I cried at the break­fast ta­ble.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you like Canada?” asked my con­cerned par­ents.

“It’s my birth­day and no­body re­mem­bered,” I sobbed. I guess my par­ents were dis­tracted with see­ing each other again af­ter six months and es­tab­lish­ing a new home in a new coun­try. In the sub­se­quent years, Mother and Dad more than made up for the 1954 birth­day over­sight.

I have al­ways been deeply grate­ful to my par­ents for hav­ing the courage to leave “home”—our farm in Bradfield, near Sh­effield in York­shire, Eng­land, where our fore­bears had tilled the soil for gen­er­a­tions—to start life in a new coun­try. My mother was trained as a nurse in Eng­land, but upon her mar­riage she be­came a farmer’s wife and stayed at home. When she ar­rived in Canada, she got a job as a “helper” in a re­tire­ment home in or­der to as­sist with house­hold fi­nances. Although my dad was a farmer in Eng­land, he was al­ways me­chan­i­cally minded. He got a job with Sar­nia Cranes as a crane op­er­a­tor, but first served as a “labourer.” He could hardly wait to get to work in the morn­ings, he was so en­thu­si­as­tic. His pay was $65 a week and he thought he was in heaven!

Be­fore they passed on, I had the chance to say to them, “Thank you for giv­ing us the op­por­tu­nity to lead such a good life in Canada, along with the many happy mem­o­ries that we made along the way.” n

In 1942, Mar­garet was born in an up­stairs bed­room on this farm in Sh­effield, Eng­land. Above: Mar­garet and her fam­ily ar­rived in Canada aboard the Franconia in 1954.

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