New Canadians – First Place
On October 20, 1954, my mother and I boarded the ocean liner, Vulcania, from the port of Genoa, Italy. As I was very young, (almost 4 years old), the enormity of this trip did not fully register. However, I do have some recollections of the journey. I remember waving to my Nonno from the deck of the ship and my Mom crying, not knowing what this phase of our live would bring. I cried too, as the little white handkerchief that I was waving slipped out of my hands, and drifted slowly down into the water. The journey took 13 days, and the seas were rough. Mom did not have a good experience as she suffered from seasickness. I, however, was fine. One of the other passengers would take me to dining room for meals, and ensured that I was entertained.
On November 4, the liner arrived at the port of Halifax, N.S. I distinctly remember wet snow, a new experience for me, was falling as we entered a large, cold building nothing like the terminals at airports and ports today.
We were among the many passengers that disembarked and we stood in line to await our turn to be greeted by immigration officers. We had received clearance in Italy by immigration officers, and Canadian doctors ensuring we would be welcomed to Canada. I looked around and there I saw our big, brown wooden truck with the few possessions that we had brought with us.
The next phase of our journey was to take the train across Canada to a little town called Grand Forks, BC, where my Dad was living. He had arrived in Canada in 1953. Now a new adventure was beginning. The trip went smoothly until we arrived in Winnipeg. One of the other passengers had a young child who became ill. He and his mother were taken off the train so a doctor could examine him. As my mother tells me, the young lad had been eating too many chocolates. The said doctor insisted that we, too, were to be taken off the train. My mother adamantly protested, to no avail, that I was not ill. The porter took our suitcase off the rack and threw it out the window! Thus we had no alternative to alight from the train. Despite the fact the doctor determined that I was not ill and that we could continue on our journey, we were stranded in the Winnipeg station. By the time the doctor completed his examination the train had departed.
Mom was very upset and concerned about getting food for us. Fortunately, a kind employee showed Mom the way to a small store, not too far from the station, where she could buy some food.
The next morning we resumed our journey. It was onward through the Rockies toward our final destination, Grand Forks, B.C. There we waited until the next train arrived and we were once again on our way. As we continued o travel, I recall a couple on the train gave me a treat of salted peanuts. Mom tells me my reaction way “Non me piace”. I don’t like them!
It was dusk when we arrived at the Grand Forks station. I recall seeing my Dad wearing his grey hat and grey coat. As Mom and I stepped from the train, my Dad greeted us with a warm embrace. At last we were reunited!
Our small house was in a very welcoming neighbourhood. Mrs. Rossi, an earlier Italian immigrant, helped Mom when lack of English posed a problem. Hear and dear to me was Mrs. Lulu McCabe, a retired teach who kindly entertained me and helped me learn English. Mrs. McCabe and I would sit in her screened porch talking. She was so kind and generous. She was the first in the neighbourhood have a television. She invited us to watch “Don Amice” who hosted a circus show. After the show, we would be treated to tea and cookies.
Mr. James Donaldson whom we called “Mr. Jim” was also a welcoming neighbour. Shortly after our arrival he appeared at the door with a radio and his instructions to Mom to listen to the radio faithfully as this would help her learn English. In those days, there were no ESL classes for new immigrants, and so CBC became our teacher. To this day, both Mom and I are aficionados of CBC Radio. “Mr. Jim” became surrogate grandpa. Every Christmas, he would arrive at our home with gifts.
Over the years, our family grew with the birth of my three brothers. Mom and Dad continued to work hard to provide for our family. Dad became a millwright at the Grand Forks Sawmill and spent all his working days there. Mom, a talented seamstress, sewed countless garments for us, and for the ladies in the community.
My parents decided to move to Canada because WWII had devastated Italy and work was scarce. The yearning for a better life and more opportunities led them to make this daring move. Through hard work and great courage, my parents were able to provide us with all we needed. Education was their foremost desire for us. With their hard work ethic, guidance, and great love, they paved the way for us to achieve our goals and become productive members of society.
In 1986, my husband and I, and our two daughters travelled across Canada. This was an emotional journey for me as we stopped at the various cities that Mom mentioned in our family lore of our initial cross-Canada-journey, particularly Medicine Hat, Winnipeg, and pier 21, Halifax.
To this day, I thank my parents from the bottom of my heart for their courage and foresight in making this bold move. What a risk it was. Who knew what the outcome could be. This move proved to be the best thing they could have done for my brothers and me.
I am an incredibly proud Canadian and I thank Canada for calling for immigrants in the 1950’s. It is my hope that just as I was given this tremendous opportunity, our country will continue to be open and welcoming to others looking for a safe haven and a new beginning.