Several months after our visit to the immigration department we received The Letter. We had been accepted to enter Canada as Landed Immigrants (sounds fishy to me). We had a certain number of months to get organized and land on Canadian soil, or the invitation would be revoked. We were learning the Canadian expression Hurry up and wait.
Enclosed with the letter was the promised sealed envelope to be handed over to the immigration officer who would meet us on our entrance to Canada. “Do not open this envelope. If the envelope is opened or in way tampered with you will be denied entrance”. I wonder what could be in it? We never found out. I had always been one to follow the rules, and we certainly didn’t want to take any chances on being denied entrance.
There was a wedding to organize and hold, there were travel plans to make, and notices to give at our places of employment. Apparently my friend and tutor Mr. Dimmpler, apparently said to one of my friends “So, so, so, Giggins, when. when when, will you emigrate then, ha ha, haha, ha ha?”. I wasn’t sure how to take this.
We decided to make the journey to Winnipeg by boat and train. This seemed more of an adventure than an eight-hour flight. Looking back I’m not sure which is best. The boat and train are certainly very interesting and give a real sense of the distance travelled and the vastness of Canada. Whereas a flight is less interesting but possibly leaving the traveller feeling less separated from family and ‘home’.
Everything was ready. We spent a few days with my parents in Sidmouth (they were on holiday and summer holidays were sacrosanct for Dad). We then said good-bye to some close friends on the London to Liverpool platform. A few family members accompanied us to Liverpool and saw us off from the dock.
I don’t recall any great feelings of sadness or apprehension – this was the start of an adventure. Hoots and toots from the boats horns, last waves as the music played and we were on our way to the New World. Cue “It’s not the leaving of Liverpool”
I don’t know why but at the time I was not at all anxious that we had no idea where we were going (other than in name); that we had just $1,000 in savings, and no jobs to go to. No where to live (just one night’s prepaid accommodation at the station hotel). Actually I do know why, I was young and very naive. I just believed it would all work out ok. And, it did, for the most part.
One of the things I had done in getting ready was to prepare a portfolio of my work. My nice leather-bound portfolio contained examples of projects I had completed, designs I had made, artwork and display boards from uni-classes, and other assorted items intended to indicate my skills and experience. We had a large trunk that would go on the boat but be delivered some weeks after we arrived. I think we had three suitcases with clothing and things we would need on the journey or shortly after arrival, and my portfolio. It was large enough to hold full-sized drawings and display boards.
I kept the portfolio with me as I would need it to secure employment.
The crossing of the Atlantic was a lot of fun. I have always enjoyed boats and ships, This was the biggest vessel I had ever travelled in. Our cabin was somewhere in the depths of the ship, many steps to descend and long narrow corridors to walk along.
The ship had left Liverpool in the evening and the next morning we were travelling up a beautiful inlet in Scotland. The view was magnificent, one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, the sun rising and the blues of the sky and water and the lovely hills. This was to be our last view of Britain and in fact land, until we reached the other side of the Atlantic.
The voyage was eventful. The ship, small by today’s cruise-ships, was amazing to us. It had several restaurants, a movie theatre and indoor swimming pool.
I loved walking the decks (at least as far as the gate that said ‘first class passengers only beyond this point”. I never got to see the other side of the gate, maybe it said ‘riffraff only beyond this point’.
The meals were wonderful and included in the tariff. I remember very little of any table companions but I suspect we had some. We were assigned a table by our steward. On the second day out we encountered fog. It is fascinating to sail through fog. The ships horn hooted out its mournful warning, and the horizon became a close grey wall that surrounded us in a perfect circle. Apart from the horn and the throb of the engines, everywhere was silence.
The next day we hit, or rather were hit by a gale. This was real fun. The seas reacted in style to the howling winds, forming huge peaks and deep valleys. The ship was fitted with stabilizers. These I believe are underwater arms that scan be extended either side of the boat to keep it from rocking. However, you can’t stabilize the front to back dipping and rising. I really enjoyed watching the bow dipping into the sea and then the ship pointing up to the sky, ready to plunge down the next valley. It was exhilarating.
One of the effects of the storm was the reduced number of diners. Apparently many people suffered from sea-sickness. The corridors, restaurants, bars and decks were far less utilized. It’s unfortunate that more people didn’t go up on deck because the fresh air and observation of the horizon really help with this motion sickness.
However, neither of us was bothered by the wildly plunging and climbing ship. In fact it made me feel quite hungry. There was free wine with dinner too. Now I have rarely been intoxicated, not never, but certainly not often. I wasn’t intoxicated on the boat, however, I was sufficiently affected by the intake of a couple of glasses of Cuvee Cunnard to discover that ascending the staircase from the dining room to the next deck was rather more difficult than I had remembered. When the bow of the boat rises the stern sinks. Isn’t that a remarkable piece of information? So, I would begin my ascent of the steps only to find them falling away from me and my uphill climb becoming more downward facing, then just as I had adjusted to that, the boat tilted in the other direction and I was on the uphill cycle and finding myself falling backwards – not actually falling, but staggering backwards down the steps.
I think I made the summit on the third attempt. This was actually so much fun I wanted to try it again. It was more fun than climbing up the stairs of the Crooked House in Peter Pan’s Playground at South End-on-Sea.
Before long we were approaching the coastal waters of Canada. We were to round the northern tip of Newfoundland (pronounced newfund land not New Found Land). We entered the estuary of the great St. Lawrence. I must say, after the rich beauty and softness of the Scottish highlands, this land of Labrador and Newfoundland, was rather bleak looking. I should have said before we were travelling at the end of July 1967. So it was mid-summer. But the shore looked very inhospitable and rugged. Our first glimpse of our new country; the first small ripples of concern.
As we sailed down the St. Lawrence we were asked to prepare for temporary disembarkation at Quebec City, where we would be processed by immigration. It sounded nasty – being processed like Veleeta – if you can find some (though why you would want to I can’t imagine).
We were sent up on deck and across the gangway into huts to meet the immigration inspectors. We handed over our passports and sealed documents. We were given the once-over, confirmed that we were headed for Winnipeg and our passports stamped, Landed Immigrant, Quebec City and the date.
The officer kept the secret documents. I felt like a courier for the secret services. I wonder what was in that envelope? Perhaps it was a note to his mum? I shall never know!
Next, back on the ship and we sailed on to Montreal where we disembarked for good. We had to find our baggage which had been handled by the ships purser. There were hundreds of bags, cases trunks and assorted packages. We rounded up all the cases and received the chalk mark that indicated they had been seen by the customs official and told we could go.
We collected the bags and took a taxi to the station where our train would be leaving later that day. We put the bags in a left-luggage place and took a quick tour of the City – getting just a glimpse of Expo ’67. There was insufficient time to actually go in to look at the displays. We arrived back at the station with lots of time to spare.
“Where is my portfolio?” I asked, as we collected our bags from the left-luggage office. Just these three pieces, we were told. OH NO! I had left my portfolio at the dock in the customs shed! Oh no! “I’ve got to have the portfolio” I cried. Oh no! We checked the time, it looked like we had just over an hour to departure. “You stay here with the bags and I’ll get a taxi to the dock and see if I can get the portfolio”. Have you ever had that sense of panic where you can’t quite breath? No? neither have I, but I could have at this point!
The taxi took me to the dock. I found the customs shed. It was empty except for a Montreal police constable who was patrolling the place.
I approached the police officer – “Bonjour!” I had now exhausted my french (even though I had passed the oral GCE exam, well I could have said Quel Heure et il, or comment allez-vous – but these seemed unnecessary). “What can I do for you?” he asked in English, not having been fooled by my flawless parisian accent. I explained about the portfolio and how important it was if I was to get an interview for a job. Together we entered the customs shed and after a while found the poor, lonely, portfolio sitting exactly where I had left it.
I showed the officer and let him look inside. He then said. “OK, you should get the custom agent’s approval to take it. I’m not sure where he is. I tell you what, you go in that direction and look for him, and I’ll go the other way and look. If you find him first you can just go. If I find him I’ll send him over” 😉
As soon as the officer left in, ahem, search of the customs officer, I caught the taxi back to the station, urging the driver on with pleas that I needed to catch my train. I arrived with a few minutes to spare – or so I thought.
At that time, or better, in those days, (perhaps it’s the same now) the railway used Central Daylight Savings time for all departures. We were in the eastern daylight savings time area. We were an hour ahead of central time. The train wouldn’t be leaving for an another hour. Phew! No one had told us about the time zones and that the trains didn’t use the local time, unless you happened to be in the central zone – like Winnipeg.
“All aboard, tous à bord”, slamming of doors, train whistle, screech and clunking as the carriages started to move. We were on our way to Winnipeg. Just a couple more days.
Next Time: The Portfolio: The Arrival of Beardy Wierdy