How I Became a Canadian
It was all very simple really. I came from an upper middle class Scottish family with no shortage of funds. I came with a fellow Occupational Therapist to Canada en route to exploring more of the world. We first arrived in Toronto in February or March of 1966, having sailed across the ocean on a freighter that took a few passengers, among whom were my parents. My mother could not abide the idea of not knowing exactly where I was going to be.
I came with a letter of recommendation but no job. In Toronto I scored 3 interviews. The third one clinched it. At the end of my interview (nothing like today’s barbequeings), the Scottish Physiotherapist, my future boss, said to me “Tell your Dad that Jack Barr’s daughter says Hello” I was amazed. It turned out her father and uncle had got their start up money for their successful pub, from my father who was the managing director of the family brewery. The British ‘village’ had stretched across the pond.
So, I found life in Canada incredibly easy. Late opening stores on a Thursday evening. Yorkdale, the first shopping mall I had ever seen. A relaxed attitude to the different uniform I now wore. My friend connected with a second hand Beetle through her job for Workman’s Compensation in Downsview. She drove to work & I caught the bus & train to Bloor street. We had dodged the worst of Canada’s winter. Spring came and went in a blink. Our apartment was warm and draft free, rent was reasonable, the wringer washer - wow, a wringer washer - across the hall in our basement suite. When the car needed repairs, a complimentary car was supplied and the two german mechanics invited themselves to our apartment for a beer. These were earth shattering events. This was nothing like the stuffy U.K. I recall being stunned when my fellow staff, boss included, fought over the last doughnut in the box. Across the pond, that doughnut would have been left till hell froze. I worked with an assistant who disliked me and didn’t hesitate to show it. I was amazed. I realized the class system via identifiable speech, simply could not exist. It was most refreshing and liberating. She was Lithuanian. She may have had a PhD I.Q. Resentment would have been quite reasonable.
We connected with the Y. and took dingy sailing lessons in the harbour. We also got to go canoeing all summer to Algonquin park. With the Beetle, we explored the Finger Lakes NYS. In Fall, we drove further north to see the colours. There was almost a burned down cabin in Chicoutimi. Who knew wood could get so dry!
In my previous job the assistant always brought me Nescafe and hot buttered toast, and could not be talked out of it. The class system is maintained from both directions. She lived very near where I lived, but we never became friends. Five of us squeezed into a semi detached house with a lean-to kitchen, bathroom above, a larder outside the back door, no fridge. Water initially was heated by lighting the coal fire in what had once been the kitchen and was now our living/dining room. Shopping for supper was a nightly stampede to get to the shops before they closed at 6:00pm. Supermarkets had not yet arrived.
It took me very little time to realize that I could not return to Scotland to live. No more putting up with generally appalling service. Practically every function of service moved at glacial speed, and at New Year came to a full stop. The efficiency, speed and conscientious service that permeated everything in Canada was wonderful. The super convenience of a courtesy car. Fuses that were merely flipping a switch, in lieu of loading a fuse with wire ever thicker and risking a fire Having a shower instead of a bath and more of them. It was just so much easier than being in constant survival mode with a low paycheque to match.
I had to learn a new vocabulary. I had a hard time calling a flex for a kettle a cord- something I tied my dressing gown with (even today my granddaughter tells me it should be a robe!) And what was that strange thing my fellow therapist referred to - a meer ? It took me days to deduce it was a mirror which I pronounced with all my r’s rolling! Sidewalks, faucets, closets, chesterfields, the list was long- but one picked it up, along with an accent. On visits home the accent would fall away, but I’d be asked to say something Canadian.
So fast forward to 1974. I was now living in Calgary, married to a Canadian, and with a baby daughter riding in her umbroller. I decided to investigate becoming a citizen. I went into the Office of Citizenship and despite the fact that I had never personally met the Queen, I came out of there a citizen. I still knew almost no Canadian history and thought it unfair on all those immigrants who swotted up to become citizens, that I should become so suddenly and instantly a Canadian. Unlike many others, I gave up my British passport. I felt allegiance should be to one place at a time.
We had created a surrogate family, one couple like us was Anglo/ Canadian, and the other couple was pure British. We became honorary Aunts and Uncles and Christmases were spent at each other’s houses. They moved to the Okanagan after retirement, but we do still keep up.
I have enjoyed my life here. I learned to give far more of myself to my job than I ever imagined when I trained. No one in Scotland was hugging at that time. We were all Miss This and Mrs That including our patients. I loved that I could see mountains. I loved when I arrived to find grass and tree seedlings growing in the cracks in the sidewalks. When you stood on that bridge that took you, all covered, from the Bay Parkade to the Bay, there was a green hill both east and west. It isn’t any more, but it was like that when I arrived. I met my future husband almost right away, and after my friend lost her life in an avalanche, our relationship was sealed.
Many things have happened since, divorce being one of them, but I have never regretted becoming a Canadian and raising two Canadian children. I like the honesty with which feelings and behaviours can be discussed. I don’t miss the class system. Yes, there is a hierarchy but it is different. I still feel I have a life of luxury. I am certainly, to quote Tom Wolfe, a “mid Atlantic” woman but I am luckier than the Queen!