The year was 1957 when I arrived in Ontario with two small boys in tow. I was joining my husband, John, who had taken a job recently on a farm just on the outskirts of Owen Sound. He had worked on farm in Tara prior to that and had sent back glowing reports of Sauble Beach which was about a mile away and was where he spent his weekends.
“The area is a resort for the Yanks and Canadians; lovely long white sandy beaches” he had written. For me, working at my hometown newspaper office in Leicestershire, England, it sounded like paradise.
He had come to Canada in March,1957, at the age of 25, to start farming and with the idea of buying a farm of his own someday. Having lived all his life on a 360 acre mixed farm just outside Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire he was as comfortable milking cows as harvesting wheat or laying a hedge. He felt very confident that it wouldn’t be long before he would be able to afford a farm of his own.
He had boarded the Cunard liner, RMS Scythia at Southampton on March 16, bound for Halifax and New York and one of his cabin mates was a Canadian farmer. “Better get a job as a truck driver hauling wood (pulp) or oil” he’d told him “no money in farming.”
Nine days later he was standing in the unemployment office in Toronto looking for a job.
It was quite a blow when he was told that in order to get a farming job he had to have his family with him. As he stood there the telephone rang. It was a farmer asking “would you have a good fellow to run a 160 acre farm for a month or so?”.That is how he landed up in Tara.
It turned out that the farmer had been tossed by a bull about five years prior and he couldn’t move around very well. He was sixty-five years old and needed someone to milk fifteen cows for a couple of weeks at which time they were to be sold. The farm also would be put up for sale.
The farm turned out to be 260 acres not 160, but much of it was bush. In addition to
the fifteen cows, there were six sows, 22 piglets, 20 calves and 200 or so hens.
Disenchantment soon set in “talk about bush country,” he moaned in his letter to me. “I don’t suppose I’ll see anyone for two months. I have the whole place to myself.” He reported that the frogs were as big as saucers and the groundhogs as big as small dogs!
Within six weeks the farmer, Mr. McDonald, had passed away and the farm was up for sale. A neighbor, Mr. Strong, bought it, but it wasn’t long before he had it back on the market again. Not having money to buy it John would have to find another job.
He decided to try for a television cabinetry job in Owen Sound, a city of 14,000 . He had made friends with a farmer by the name of Howard who was going to introduce him to his brother, Norman, who was also a farmer. Norman farmed a few miles out of the city and milked 35 Ayreshires, had a self-propelled combine and all kinds of other fancy farm machinery. His farm was 260 acres with another 120 acres of grass. When Norman offered John the job he took it, even though the cabinetry job was available if he wanted it.
It was exciting, for me, to hear that there was a bungalow on the property and that we would be able to have free electricity, milk and eggs. He started work at the farm on May 20 at $75 per month until his family arrived and then it would increase to $125 for the summer then $100 for the winter months.
Neither one of us had any idea of what a Canadian winter would be like.
I was supposed to leave England on June 12 on the SS Carinthia with my two boys aged two and three. I was just 23. I was all packed, had said my goodbyes to family and friends and was ready to go. At the beginning of that week the two year old had a rash and then the three year old broke out in spots…MEASLES. It was confirmed by the doctor who visited the house.
THREE WEEKS. That was how long it would take before they could be cleared for travel.
It was a long hot three weeks. Travel plans had to be revised and telegrams sent back and forth. Communication in 1957 was nothing like as easy as it is today.
We finally sailed on the SS Saxonia on July 10.
Arriving at the farm in Owen Sound was a great adventure for us. The weather was hot and it felt as though we were on an extended holiday. We didn’t have much furniture and the bungalow was small so it didn’t take long to do housework. The boys and I would wander around the farm, to visit their dad to see what he was doing or we’d play on the swing-set which belonged to Norm’s son aged ten and his five-year-old sister.
Norm’s wife would ask what groceries I needed and I would give her the list for when she went into town. Everything was so fresh and different. No 47-hour week or money for overtime. Things were done differently in Canada; more casual, more laid back. We didn’t have a car, didn’t really need one. I was used to walking or cycling everywhere I wanted to go, but, after awhile I thought it would be nice to wander into Owen Sound.
The boys and I started out not having any idea how far it was. I wore my high heels and the boys wore their new red sandals. It was a gravel road and we hadn’t gone too far before a huge light blue car pulled up alongside. It was the neighbor from the farm across the road from Norm’s. He said it was too far to walk so we jumped in the back. The car was huge and reminded me of a limousine; lots of room for the three of us in the back seat.
No doubt the fact that Norm had a new man from England was news in the area, and we were invited to visit and meet everyone. The neighbor’s name was Lyman and his wife’s name was Sarah. They had two boys also, aged eight and twelve and we were always made to feel welcome and at home. They took us out for picnics on the week-end and introduced us to barbecuing. We were very grateful to have this family as our friends and to have somewhere to go and visit at any time.
It was early September when John decided he’d had enough of working on the farm. Things between Norm, his wife and John had been deteriorating for some time. The initial friendliness had now turned to animosity. It was hard to put a finger on what had caused this but John made the mistake of mentioning to Norman that he would be looking for another job. He was told he had to get out right away and the water to the bungalow was cut off. We were shocked. We had hardly any money saved, no car, and nowhere to go.
Lyman and Sarah had said that “if Norm gets funny you can come over here.” At the time it was an innocuous remark, hardly acknowledged, but they must have had previous knowledge of the situation regarding hired men on the farm over the road.
They took us in without hesitation. It didn’t matter that they had only known us for a short while. They couldn’t know, nor could we, how long we would have to be there.
They subscribed to the “Prairie Farmer” magazine and that is how John found his next job in the ‘Wild West’…Saskatchewan.
It was a sunny afternoon on September 9, 1957 when we all trooped in to Owen Sound to look at cars. We had $150 but the car we were eying cost $295, plus insurance and $50 deductible in case we had a collision. We made a deal with Grey Motors to pay them $16.86 a month commencing in October for a 1947 maroon Chrysler that had a radio which displayed a myriad of colors when it was playing.
We still needed money for gas and food. I don’t think we had any idea of the distance between Ontario and Saskatchewan, or how long it would take us to get there. Nor did we give any thought as to whether or not the car we had just bought would get us there!
Lyman and Sarah gave us money for our journey which we promised to pay back as soon as we could. Had it not been for their kindness, to a young immigrant family, I don’t know what would have happened to us. It made all the difference in the world to have someone who cared and who trusted us enough to lend us money. We did pay back part of the loan until they told us not to send the payments anymore.
For awhile there were letters back and forth and a Christmas card every year which I still have. We never went back to Ontario and we never saw them again.
They have passed on now but I think of them and marvel at their generosity towards a family that really needed help all those years ago.
Revised and Excerpted from the book: From Melton Mowbray to Canada: A Pictorial Journey 1940’s -1950’s by Carole Naylor. Published by REPRINT, Loughborough, Leicestershire, England. www.reprintuk.com