Today I am so pleased to have Eileen guest posting (Hi Mom!). This post needs no other words from me to introduce it – it is lovely!
On February 2, 1966, I landed in Canada with my son Paul, then 10 months old. Paul’s Dad, Colin, had arrived two weeks earlier and had rented an apartment in Bayshore, which was then just starting to be built, only two apartment buildings and some townhouses were there. The shopping centre was years in the future.
Our plane was the first to land in Ottawa after a 17-inch snowfall (yes, inches, not cms!). Back then people disembarked on the tarmac and had to walk to the terminal. I’ll never forget the cold that hit us as we left the plane to come down the steps. We didn’t have proper Canadian winter clothing, and poor little Paul seemed to shrivel up in my arms. On the drive to Bayshore I looked at the mountains of snow everywhere, with people digging their cars out of snow banks, and thought: “My God, what have we come to?”
Naturally, after that, things could only get better, and they did. Even though it remained cold, the sun shone almost every day, which we weren’t used to in winter. Dublin and London (where I lived for six years), do not see too much sun in winter, and both cities were always damp. The brightness of the winter days, with the sun making the snow glitter, was lovely.
Canadians are the easiest people in the world to get to know, even for an introvert like me. I found them friendly and helpful and within a few days had new friends to have coffee with, and to socialize with on the weekends with our families.
We ran into a few problems with our common language. For instance: drawings pins are thumb tacks (it‘s a long story!).
I was telling a friend about a wok I got for Christmas.
She looking puzzled: what was wrong with the one you had?
Me: I never had one.
She: I’ve been to your house and you had one. And anyway, isn’t winter a funny time to get a new WALK.
Or the friend who told me about the delicious turts she made for dessert.
Me: what are turts?
She (disbelievingly): you know those pastry shells that you fill with fruit and stuff.
Me: Oh, TARTS.
And NEVER ask for a rubber when you mean an eraser!
Moving to Kanata was a dream come true for me. Nice houses on large lots, a park behind my house and backing on to that park, the school that my children would go to. There was also an enclosed shopping centre, with a bank and post office, community swimming pool and a skating rink. It was a brand new street, the houses filled with young families and friendships were quickly developed. For me, an ideal place. I still live in that house we bought in 1967 (Centennial year). To me it is a safe harbour, where I can welcome family and friends.
We came to Canada at a great time, the year before Centennial year. The whole country was planning a party and we were all invited. From all the events that were held during that year, we learned so much about our new country. July 1, 1967 was our first time for celebrating Canada Day on Parliament Hill. It has always been special. Another special one is when my sister Ursula (Hi Ursula!) was here with her two sons, Niall and Peter. We drove to Carlingwood, took the bus downtown, and stayed right until the firework display ended.
Of course, the crowning glory of Centennial year was Expo. We spent three days there and it was wonderful.
After five years we were eligible for citizenship. Because we were British (even I because I was born before Ireland became a republic and left the Commonwealth), we didn’t have to go to Citizenship Court; we went to an office in a government building, where a lady got up from her desk, produced a bible, and gave us the oath to read. We read it, and we were Canadians. It’s kind of funny, because our family was a veritable United Nations: Colin born in Malta, me in Dublin and Paul in London. Finola was born in Ottawa three months after we became citizens. At that time, dual citizenship was not allowed and it gave me a bit of a pang to give up my Irish citizenship. That law changed in 1977, and I now have Canadian and Irish passports.
I knew I was a Canadian during the first Canada/USSR hockey series. When Paul Henderson scored THAT goal in the final minutes of the final game and won the series for Canada, I scooped Finola up from where she was playing on the floor and danced her around the room. She laughed heartily, not at all put out by the madwoman her quiet mother had become.
Have I any regrets about coming here 45 years ago? Not one. Of course, I have a love for Ireland that will always be with me (and is shared by my children), and I still say going home when I go there (I also say ‘going home‘ when I leave Ireland for Canada), but I think the Canadian in me is uppermost now.
This is a great country.