Canadian capers – part II

If you missed part one, it’s here

PHOTO - TORONTO - ST CLAIR W edit

Exploring further afield, we were struck by the almost comical comparison, size-wise, between the UK and Canada. Our roads were narrow and winding, theirs wide and impressive; our houses modest, many of theirs roomier, especially new-builds. And when it came to cars, ours seemed mostly ‘toy-town’. Food portions too made our eyes widen. Order a sandwich in the UK, and you received two slices of white bread with a filling, and that was it. No pickle or side salad; Canadian-style, you also received French fries and a salad. Our rationing system had been harsh! This extended to clothes. I was used to wearing a dress twice before changing. How embarrassing!

W96XOCe editIt wasn’t long before we all found jobs: husband eventually became a Driving Instructor, passing all the strict tests, while I became secretary to a Count de Salis, who had another home in Switzerland and was a friend of Charlie Chaplin‘s (I was very impressionable in those days). The company was Canadian Reinsurance and suited me just fine. Everyone was friendly, except one French Canadian girl, but she eventually forgave me for being English!!

P1010018 editLooking back, we made the most of every hour. Television was still a novelty, there were some excellent films to see and wonderful music to listen to. We attended a fabulous Jazz Concert featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet Dan Vickery, played cards, went bowling, drove on wonderful WIDE highways to picnic near the many, clear lakes. The sheer size of the country was mind-boggling: the trees endless…conifer and deciduous aplenty. We journeyed past forests bursting with pines and spruces, green and splendid in their majesty. We explored nearby towns and environs, read voraciously (well, I did) and wrote dozens of cards and letters back home extolling the virtues and wonders of Canada.

20190730_141448 editWe were wowed by Niagara Falls (twice), camped near a river when I heard my first rattler (but didn’t see it), I never moved so fast! Six of us hired a large tent and pitched it near Lake Penetanguishene (?) but never slept a wink as the men joked: ‘Hush… did you hear that? Could be a bear/snake or Indian…’ creeping up in the darkness, when all I saw were nervous Chipmunks.x

20190730_141500 editAnd then it snowed… Not snow as we knew it in England – where just an extra soupçon brings life to a sudden halt, but heavy snow and BLIZZARDS. At first, we were enchanted – the countryside was a beautiful landscape of glistening, silvery white, until getting to work was a chilly experience: ‘over-drawers’ and thick boots a must. But the street cars coped well for the most part and the snowploughs did an excellent job, except in outlying areas.

For leisure-time, our men made toboggans and we had great fun skimming down nearby hillocks. We were like pigs in mud! Then, quite suddenly, our tenure was changed by an innocent occurrence.20190730_141507 edit

A guy we befriended on board ship: Tommy, was an “expectant father” when his wife was whisked into hospital, where she gave birth to a son, who – sadly – was not expected to live. He eventually returned home, naturally deeply upset, when the phone rang and an apologetic nurse explained there had been a temporary mix-up, and not only was the newly born child a girl, she was also in the best of health, once, ecstatic, he had high-tailed it to the hospital to be reunited with mother and new daughter, he called on us to share the good news and out came the shnaaps. By then, what had been a light fall of snow had become a raging blizzard, so we suggested he stay the night in our spare TV room. Apparently, not a good idea.

The next morning, our zany Latvian landlady– who we often found sitting on the stairs watching and listening to us as if we were suspect drug addicts or something, came up in a great state of anger and over-excitement shouting “You go, you go, no-one else stay here. Against rules!” And so, in another blizzard, we trudged the streets after work, in the dark, looking for yet another retreat.

toronto-storm-vintage-image editWe found one, and yet again, our landlady said. “I don’t allow locks on the doors!” What was it with Canadian landladies?! We later discovered why this particular woman didn’t like locks. She was riffling though our belongings. We double-checked and were proved right. What was she looking for?! We decided not to stay any longer, but before we left, the police arrived and arrested her for threatening a child with a baseball bat for hitting her only son. We certainly knew how to pick ‘em…

Roost No.4 was something else altogether and we had fun there. Friend Tommy was ‘overseer’ of a rambling rooming house in down-town Toronto. The basement was “going cheap” and apart from needing a clean and paint-up – which we soon accomplished, we moved in. We painted “Hernando’s Hideaway” over the doorway (from “The Pyjama Game” on at the time) purchased a few bits and pieces and soon made it comfortable.

A “very friendly” young lady occupied the large, ground-floor front room and I commented on how many men friends she was lucky enough to have and how clean she was… Naïve’s not the word! She vacated the premises after a short stay and two men moved in. On the third night of their tenure, we were woken up by, what sounded like a battalion of men from The Royal Mounted Police, (fortunately sans horses) and the new tenants were arrested for drug-smuggling. Oh, we did see life!

20190730_141514 editThere followed a hiatus of calm and we went about our business and enjoyed life. There were countless cafes and restaurants to dine and wine in, and my company gave two fabulous parties; one in the summer on the Yacht Island on Lake Ontario, the other in the elegant house of our senior director at Christmas time, full of festive cheer. We drove to Ottawa and visited Montreal – where a cousin of my husband had moved after marrying a Canadian, calling on an Indian Reservation and meeting an educated “Chief Poking Fire,” and family. Educational and interesting.

Reading the above, you may be surprised to learn that, despite the good times and our great experiences, our feelings of homesickness grew rather than diminished. So, saying a sad farewell to the good friends we had made in Toronto, we returned to the UK. Home is where your heart is, after all. That’s not to say, once we had settled down again, that we didn’t miss Canada. We did and considered returning. But I then became pregnant with our first son and didn’t have the heart to deprive our mothers of grand-children!

Footnote: Many years later, we were lucky enough to visit Vancouver, and The Island, both of which we fell in love with. Two of our good, Irish fiends moved and settled there and were wonderful hosts. Canada is certainly a beautiful country and well worth a visit.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

 

Picture credits: John Chuckman collection, Scotch Moss on Imgur, The Vintage Inn, personal collection

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Canadian capers – part I

The year was 1957, and while World War II was well behind us, surely another war wouldn’t break out over the Suez Crisis, would it?! Meanwhile – with the complicated political shenanigans proceeding and hotting up – queues at the petrol pumps were creating huge problems and racked tempers for drivers in the UK, more specifically, my dear husband! As he was a “door-to-door salesman,” he really needed his van to make a living! The situation grew so serious, Canada House became a target for would-be immigrants and the queues vied with those at petrol stations.

no warThe potted history of the situation was as follows: The catalyst for the joint British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt was the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser in the July of 1956 but because of bad vibes between Russia and the USA and talk of a ‘nuclear’ situation, Eisenhower intervened and the troops were withdrawn. Canada was still large on my husband’s horizon, less so on mine. Here’s what happened!

‘Im indoors, having a very positive and persuasive manner, somehow or other convinced me it was a sensible and advantageous move to live in Canada, and so we joined the queue, even though I shed a few buckets-full of tears at the thought of leaving my beloved family behind. (Hardly the “Mayflower” type at the time! I changed.)

And so, with large trunk and suitcases packed, he and I, with several friends and family members in tow, and tears galore, bade goodbye at Waterloo station. ‘I’ll never see you again…’ wailed my dear, maternal grandma, my mother was beyond words… and then the tannoy system informed us that ‘Due to a dock strike in France, the “Il de France” sailing to Canada has been cancelled. Passengers due to sail on her will be transferred to “The Italia” which will be leaving in the morning and docking in New York.’ Surely an omen, I thought! Talk about an anti-climax… everyone went home, except us, and we spent the night in a flat due to be my eldest brother’s home in London when he married a few months later.

italia-editThe next morning, my dad, bless him, came all the way to Southampton to see us off. Mum couldn’t face it. We were the last on board ship, as there was a delay locating our trunk! Another omen?

I saw sense and pulled myself together. (‘If we don’t like it, we can always return,’ my other half soft-talked.) Our fellow shipmates seemed a pleasant, varied bunch; we were allocated a first class, huge cabin, and thoughts of walking down Time Square and exploring The Big Apple suddenly appealed.

Our very first, longer sea voyage (the previous short one being to the island of Jersey) proved to be most enjoyable, except for the presence of a badly scarred and obviously hostile German steward who we avoided when we could… All was fine and dandy – until we hit deeper waters and an unusual swell emptied the breakfast crowd like Houdini – my husband being among their number. Luckily I seem to have a good “sea stomach.” Soon all was tranquil again and we floated/swam in the pool; did lots of fine dining and sunned ourselves on a steady deck.

teddyIn the passenger mix, were famous British singers Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr, who serenaded us at the last-night party with their recorded and popular “Sing Little Birdie,” which was fun, and sailing past the famous Statue of Liberty looming out of an early morning heat-haze the next day was an exciting first. “Time Square” wasn’t and disappointed, but oh the delights of shops which never closed; supermarkets (?), air conditioning (?) and so much that was different in so many ways. It was June though and NY in June can be mighty hot for a Brit! We sizzled.

Generous, distant relatives: lovely, hospitable Bill and Mary Boyle, kindly accommodated us for three, action-packed, days when we ate our first pizza and hot dog (mixed reactions), visited Coney Island (a let-down but still a breeze – and we had the bruises to prove it! ) I bought a polka-dot dress in Macy’s, and we strolled in Central Park: an oasis of calm in a noisy, teeming city. The next day, we left – adrenaline flowing – for the land of the Maple Leaf and The Rockies.

postcard-torontoAfter a comfortable journey, we arrived in Toronto in a near Hurricane – some Palm trees nearly bent double – disappointed our expected friends were not there to meet us (we’d telegrammed) and we felt like a couple of refugees. Oh dear. We telephoned another contact and a most generous couple met us, fed us and put up for the night! How lucky was that. The next day was a total turn-around.

Awaking to bird-song: we were near, huge, Lake Ontario, a bountiful sun beamed down and we were brim-full of optimism. We were spoilt by the choice of apartments to let, a temporary plan, and soon found a large, immaculately clean rooming house nearby which proved to fool us! The owners were German Canadians, seeming pleasant: the wife a “House-Frau” with knobs on… There were no locks on any doors, which should have been a clue. There being two, single men on the premises, made for an uncomfortable feeling. We didn’t plan staying long, which proved prophetic.

Our “missing friends” found us, so we invited them around for a meal and a game of cards the following week. We played the wireless quietly, aware there were two children asleep downstairs. Apart from dear H divesting himself of a tie, there was no strip polka or any other raucous goings-on, and our friends left at midnight. Oh, had we blotted our copy-book. The next morning, an irate Frau said:

‘You must leave next week. We don’t allow guests in our rooms.’ So that was that.

psycho houseRoost No. 2 was something else… Imagine, if you will, the house in the film “Psycho” – innocent enough in daylight – but once dusk hovered, imagination came out to play. Nevertheless, it was solid, spacious, clean and had enough rooms to share with our friends, which worked well financially. It was near Castle Loma, Toronto’s only “Castle.” Again, there were no locks on any doors (?) The owners lived on the ground floor, we shared the first and a couple rented the floor above us. (Note: ‘He’ – we never met ‘them’ – played the organ every night from 11 pm to 12 pm. A noisy fact.)

Except for having to use the huge, creepy, claustrophobic cellar where the washing machine was housed (plus mysterious objects hidden and clothed), and where the sinister, gold-toothed lodger periodically appeared – quiet as a cat, making my heart pump – the arrangement with our friends worked well. We shared the housework, cooking and costs. Life was good.

End of Canadian capers – part one. Read Part two here

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019