1967. I had just emigrated to Canada with my family. My poor mom. Four kids, a dog, a Singer sewing machine in a heavy wooden case—that for some reason, Mom had decided would be ‘carry-on’ luggage—crate loads of furniture and suitcases for everyone. She was a brave soul sailing on the Empress of England ocean liner from the UK all the way to lovely Canada for nine days with her full quiver. Dad had left for Canada three months earlier to find a job and a house for us, so Mom was running the sea-faring show.
We were nervous but excited about stepping foot onto Canadian soil and seeing our new home. I am sure my mother was having second thoughts though, as she dealt with my younger sister and brother experiencing sea sickness off and on (mostly on) for nine days asea, and me gobbling down course after course of finely prepared meals!
“Stop eating so much,” she would say, fearful she would be adding another child to her ‘sea-sick’ list. I had such a great relationship with that incredibly talented chef who looked after ‘our section.’ He was so happy I loved to eat his creations, that he made me a special birthday cake. I was ten when we left the shores of Britain. I turned 11 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. (My husband likes to say it took a year to get here in the sailboat – but I digress).
How thrilled I was with the many adventures on board. And then when we fought our way through the breaking ice (which we thought were icebergs and Mom, at one point, thought we were going down so she made us put on our life jackets) finally rounding the shores of Montreal, and seeing the amazing space-age-type buildings in Canada. I was impressed. Would we be living in a glass house? Later I found out that Expo 67 was happening and those glass, space-age buildings along the shores of the St. Lawrence Seaway were part of Canada’s 100th birthday and Centennial celebration and NOT the types of houses unique to Canada!
We rode the train all the way from Montreal to London to meet Dad. Cabins replaced glass houses and now we were worried we would be bunched together in little wooden shacks. But we got to London and were happily reunited with Dad. He took us to our new lovely bungalow home on Beaverbrook Avenue in London. We were happy to drop our suitcases, and Mom was happy there wouldn’t be as many windows to clean as we had originally surmised back in Montreal!
We had never seen colour television before but Dad had bought one. We were mesmerized by The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Bugs Bunny in living colour, yet!
It didn’t take long. We settled into school and then the fun began.
Yes, I thought I was a jolly good speller. My report cards said I was. My British teachers and headmasters also said in my ‘farewell’ letter that I was an above average student in all my subjects and was particularly good in poetry and composition.
Then the Canadian teachers got to my work and all of a sudden instead of the nice curly-cue check mark, I saw the dreaded red marks – all across my pages. My once brilliantly spelled words were no more. I didn’t get 100% on spelling tests any longer.
Aeroplane was now airplane. Capitalise was now capitalize. Aluminium changed to aluminum. Tyre was tire. Analyse became analyze and many, many more as indicated by the wretched red pen! Big words for a young girl. But I used to have no problem.
Spelling bees were my joy! Not any more. I had to relearn a lot of words. But I did it. I wasn’t above average anymore, in all my subjects. They even did the math differently. In Britain we used the borrowing and immediate payback system, but not in Canada! Now I had to cross off and reduce. What? Ugh. My brain became jingled. But I managed and figured out the many peculiarities of the Canadian way. I still loved spelling (once I caught on), poetry and composition. Math? Not so much.
Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since we embarked upon that journey. Okay, maybe I was humbled in school a little. Probably a good thing. I soon discovered that living in Canada wasn’t about all that I was when I arrived, but more about what I could become after I settled in.
I remember that day, almost twenty years later when I received my Canadian citizenship. A reporter came up to me at the ceremony asking me all sorts of questions about why I came to Canada (my parents forced me). What did I think when I arrived on Canadian soil (Canadians don’t know how to spell) and why did I decide to become a Canadian citizen (because I finally decided that Canada is the best country in the world to live.) The reporter never aired that clip on TV that night. To her – likely too dull. But to me – plain, honest to-goodness truth! The true north strong and free; bad spelling and all!