Community editorial board - An immigrant's story: 1965-2017
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘Immigrant’ as a noun: A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.
The definition simplifies the reality as moving from one country to another, even if the language is the same, is still a major culture shock.
Our family came to Canada from England in 1965 when my parents were relatively old! I remember our neighbours in Stevenage, Hertfordshire where we lived being surprised that my father, Fred Young, 48, and mother Hilda Young, 46, would leave England! They, like many other people form the British Isles at that time, wanted a better life for their children. Britain had not recovered from the war. They decided to move to Canada as it seemed to have the best opportunity of any of the commonwealth countries. My father had a job offer in hand when we went to the Canadian High Commission to apply for assisted passage.
The first difference between Canada and Britain we learnt quickly when on our spur of the moment visit to the Canadian High Commission on July 1st was that all of Canada takes a holiday that day!
Our ship, the Holland America Line S.S. Ryndam, left Southampton on September 24th arriving in Montreal on October 1st. While we sailed up the Gulf of St Lawrence we learnt our first Canadian expression: Fall colours! In England we would have said autumn.
We arrived at our final destination - Kitchener, Ontario - with one suitcase each and three handmade steamer trunks. We were provided hotel accommodation in an old “railway hotel” for a few days until the company who hired my father helped us find a place to stay: a two bedroom apartment, and some cheap furniture.
The next year my parents focused on earning money to pay back the assisted passage and furniture. My father also learnt to drive and bought a second-hand car. As a family we found it a challenge to deal with being so far from family support. Without the support from other Canadians, it would have been very difficult to integrate successfully into the Canadian community.
School for me had always been difficult and I was playing catch up as we started seven weeks into the school term. I had been used to wearing a school uniform and having school supplies provided by the school so it was an extra expense to pay for school. I was put in Grade 7. The students asked me if I had seen the Queen and if I had gone to a Beatles concert. I answered yes to having seen the Queen as she had come to Stevenage to open up a shopping centre. I had not seen the Beatles.
The first year was a learning experience as we found out about Halloween and Thanksgiving. We were used to Guy Fawkes day on November 5! We were fortunate at Christmas time to spend it with the rector of the church we attended. He invited anther English couple and us. I was amused that Queen Victoria was considered so important in the Kitchener area. Her birthday was celebrated with gusto with community picnics and fireworks! Many streets were named after her and her family members. We found this part of English Canadian culture more English than the English! We had never celebrated Victoria Day but did celebrate Commonwealth Day, which was not celebrated in Canada.
We learned that the dustbin was a garbage can and that plimsolls were running shoes. I still tend to use English spelling for words.
Other obvious changes such as the simpler money and driving on the other side of the road were easy to get used to. Winter in all its glory was a major adjustment! We were used to no snow or if there was a small amount, the town would shut down!
My father eventually found a job at the University of Waterloo in the machine shop. My mother also worked at the university in the residence kitchens. We moved a couple of times eventually settling in Waterloo. In 1967 I met Sadhana Prasad who had just immigrated from India with her father, a University of Waterloo professor. We became life-long friends, as we were both “outsiders.” She still tells people I taught her English!
As a member of the Commonwealth we were allowed to vote in Canada as British subjects. In early 1979 that rule changed so we took out Canadian citizenship. It was a simplified process for us, we had to swear in front of a judge. There was no test.
We kept in touch with family in England and Norway but felt detached from both countries and Canada. It took a long time before we felt we belonged somewhere.
We left England because of the class system. We found out that we could succeed here but had to work hard. Education in the 1960s was the key to getting a good job.
I worked for four years part time at the University of Waterloo Student Village 2 in the cafeteria. It was my first experience working with a group of immigrants as the full-time people working in the dishwasher room were from Portugal. Many of them did not speak English!
During my time at university I met people from many countries and enjoyed the multicultural atmosphere. In 1978 I married a lad from Smiths Falls whose mother was first generation Canadian as her parents were from England, and whose father’s ancestors came over from Ireland pre the potato famine. I felt more Canadian as I was accepted in his extended family.
When my husband and I moved to Pinawa, Manitoba in 1980 we felt like we were “immigrants” in our own country! Pinawa was built as a company town to house Atomic Energy of Canada so everyone came from somewhere else. It was an international community with employees from India, China, Turkey, Britain, New Zealand plus all across Canada. The community supported each other. We camped with East Indians, had international dinners, and invited several different nationalities for Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. We have attended three amazing Indian weddings as a result of these early connections. And we still have birthday lunches with our friends from Pinawa. We have come to realize that this international community from Pinawa has become our extended family.
When we moved to Petawawa in 2001 many of these traditions continued. We still attend the Chinese New Year and Christmas parties in Deep River. Being an immigrant and moving around Canada has made me a more accepting person. I enjoy learning about other cultures.
I have come to realise that Canada is a country of immigrants and we have learnt so much form each other. As Brig.- Gen. Jennie Carignan, Canadian Army Chief of Staff, said at the 2nd Annual Cultural and Diversity Festival at Dundonald Hall on Wednesday March 8, “It is clear to me that diversity in all domains of society has contributed wealth to our homeland.”
As a civilian member of a military community I agree that Canada is richer for it’s diversity.