Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fifty Years On

The Empress of England
(A collection of postcards showing the ship can be seen here.) 
It is hard to believe that fifty years have gone by.  Fifty years ago this week the Pratt family were embarking on our most exciting journey.  I was 10 years old, the middle child of five.  A Canadian Pacific liner, the Empress of England, conveyed us from Liverpool to Québec City, where a rubber stamp in the hand of a clerk made all of us “landed immigrants.”

In Québec City we spent an afternoon sightseeing.  I remember that we went to the Eaton's department store and my older brother Stan bought a Toshiba transistor radio.  The next day we re-embarked for the final stage of our voyage.   In Montréal it had been snowing, a thing we did not expect to encounter in late April.  We took a train to Toronto, where my uncle Norman and his family met us at Union Station and took us to their home for our first night.  I remember being struck by the enormous size of the Royal York Hotel as we left the station.

The next day was the hottest we had ever known, 86º Fahrenheit (30º Celsius).   From snow to oppressive heat in a single day:  this Canada was a strange and extreme place for sure.  

Like the people of other poor countries, we Scots for centuries have escaped our dour little country, largely denuded of timber but rich in sheep, oats and rain, seeking a better life in a better place.  In Canada we found an apparently limitless country, with extremes of hot and cold, wet and dry, mountainous and flat, treed and barren. 

It has always seemed to me that we immigrants, even those of us who came to Canada in childhood, can and must see Canada differently from those who were born here and thus can take it for granted.  I myself feel indebted to this country that somehow managed to find a place for a fifty-year old man with bad lungs and no education, along with his wife and five dependent children. 

I have tended always to recoil from public expressions of patriotism, just like a real Canadian.  I dislike singing the national anthem in public or displaying the flag, but in my heart I love the country deeply. 

I still like to think of myself as a Scot, deep down, but the truth of it is that I have now been in Canada five times longer than I lived in Scotland.  I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if we had stayed.  But I can't.  But I do know that Canada gave all of us opportunities that we would not have had in Scotland and I am very happy to call this country my home.

Half a century now, and counting.

Thank you Canada.

1 comment:

Stan Pratt said...

I agree totally, and I also remember the brown Toshiba radio