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Jack Boyd memoirs

by Jack Boyd

edited by Gary Fuhrman and Jonah Winters.
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Chapter 9

Arriving in Canada (1957-59)

Adventures as new arrivals in Canada (mostly Toronto)

How in the heck did we end up in Canada, and why in 1957? As a matter of fact the law was closing in on me. By government legislation, after I finished my apprenticeship I had three options. One was to spend two years in military service, another was to spend five years in the merchant navy and the third was to emigrate to either Canada or Australia.

Well, I had tried the second option and decided that life at sea was not for me. I had looked forward to life in the military, with time to train and see what I could achieve as an athlete, but now that I was married, that did not seem an attractive way to spend two years. Just at this time, there were nasty things happening over possession of the Suez Canal, and I had a serious doubts about my government's policies over there. Some of my friends had gone to Suez and were telling me stories of slaughter that was going unreported in the media.

The last option sounded better as the weeks in 1957 passed, so we decided (or I decided, as Eileen remembers it) to move to Canada. Why not Australia? Canada was not so far away and we fully intended to save up some money ($5,000) and return home in a few years to buy a house (or start a small business as I remember it). Both of us turned 23 this year, and here we were, newly married and off on a big venture.

An ex girl friend of mine, Terry, who worked at Canada House in Glasgow smoothed the way for us to go. I had obtained what was known as a ten pounds ($30) assisted passage, which I was due to repay after one year in Canada. The whole fare was 55 pounds ($165). From the time of Christopher Columbus until September 1957, it had always been less expensive to sail than to fly to North America. This was to change over the next few weeks as the airlines greatly increased their volume of traffic, giving them lower prices and a competitive edge.

On a sunny day on September 9, 1957 in Greenock, Scotland, a piper played "Scotland the Brave", or some such sentimental favourite, and I kissed Eileen "goodby" and boarded the SS Carinthia, a Cunard Liner. This ship was much more luxurious than the Esso Manchester on my last sea voyage, and the Atlantic is in a much more genial mood in September than in February and March when I sailed before. The ship had proper stabilisers, there was much less pitching and rolling although some people still felt the necessity for heaving. The meals were excellent, there were movies and organized games, a small swimming pool and lots of things to do.

One of the movies shown was popular at the time -- it was called "Geordie", starring Bill Travers, and was about the fictitious life of a small Scottish boy who grew up to be an Olympic Champion hammer thrower. Borrowing a sledgehammer from the engine room and using a plaid curtain from my window as a kilt I took second place as Geordie, swinging my hammer at the fancy dress party.

I remember little about the people I met on board. There was a group of Chinese-American university students returning home wearing kilts and a young woman who was half squiffed a lot of the time who was from British Columbia. She said that she worked for large lumber companies and when it looked like a strike was about to take place she mingled with "the boys", drinking with them and saying "Come on now, working here is not so bad. You don't want to go on strike." She was filled with self-loathing, and when she told me I should settle in British Columbia it did not seem very attractive -- anyway I did not have the fare. My ticket took me to Quebec City or Montreal or Toronto, period.

After a six day voyage our ship stopped briefly in Quebec City and we disembarked in Montreal. I had a cousin living there, Mona. She was a few years older than I and worked as a nanny for a wealthy family. Mona was well trained and travelled a number of countries in this kind of service. Anyway for Mona, I was usually bad news. The last time I saw her was when I took her along to the Cowal Highland Games in Dunoon, Scotland. It poured rain all day, we got totally soaked, and Mona ended up with pneumonia. In Montreal I visited her but with the time change and the trip, I was very tired and fell asleep while talking with her, waking up when it was time to leave. That was to be the last time I saw Mona. A few times over the years while visiting Scotland we almost got together again, but it never happened.

I travelled from Montreal to Toronto, arriving with the vast sum of $50 in my pocket. It seemed like quite a lot of money to me and I was too dumb to know I could be in trouble. Eileen had a cousin, Eric Morter, who was about ten year older than us, and he had moved from Chelsea to Toronto a few weeks earlier. Eric was an engineer and had found work and had a rented room in a nice home owned by a fiery French Canadian woman. He took me under his wing and asked me to stay with him until I could find a place to share.

Eric was very calm and unexcitable and it was a big relief to me to have his support. The landlady was not home when I arrived and Eric said that I would probably like to take a bath after my travels. I ran a nice hot tub, stripped off, and was soaking, enjoying some peace of mind. Things were shaping up well, when all of a sudden the landlady and her live in boy friend (very unusual in those days) arrived home. I heard all this ranting and raving on the stairs outside my door and the only word I understood was "Anglais" repeated many times. Very nervously I hurriedly dressed, still half wet and emerged to find out we were being chucked out the very next morning.

Together Eric and I found a place for room and board on Mount Pleasant Avenue, and I started seriously job hunting. In Scotland, the wages were very poor but employment was easy to find for anyone with my training. In Canada I had hit an economic downturn and suddenly jobs were scarce. I became very nervous as few companies seemed to be looking for my skills, and was quite relieved when I got an interview with Ontario Hydro who were hiring a number of draftsmen. They interviewed me for three days and I did very well in the process until at the end they decided they were not hiring anyone. Their head management had imposed a hiring freeze. They were very apologetic, but meanwhile my funds had been sinking, as had my self confidence. It seemed that nobody wanted me in this country. Eric's moral support was most appreciated during this time.

Then through a newspaper ad I was interviewed, then hired, as a design draftsman by an English consulting engineering company, Ewebank and Partners, for the grand salary of $60 per week. This was fairly good pay for the time and about double what I had earned in Scotland. I quickly settled in and sent for Eileen.

The place we were staying had another two young men lodging there, a carpenter and a draftsman who worked for an aircraft company, and we all gat along very well. The landlady, Doris, was OK but had some strange habits. She would leave us to our own devices for meals on Saturdays while she went off to visit a lady friend, but when she went, took along her television set in case her friend wanted to watch a different program from the one Doris wanted to see.

I was very excited when Eileen wrote that she would be flying out, arriving in mid October, and I went out and arranged to rent a furnished flat. It was a small place in a large house in what was then the north end of Toronto, just north of Eglinton Street. The house was located among other expensive homes on a street called Tedington Park, just overlooking a golf course. We had the third floor with one bedroom, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. The owners were obviously wealthy and moved freely in Toronto high society. They had a teenage daughter who was finishing up at an exclusive high school, and was going to a debutante that year. The lady seemed very nice and told me that her husband had some kind of heart condition, so would I mind stoking the coal furnace in the basement once each morning when the weather got colder. I was glad to help out -- big mistake.

Finally the big day arrived and Eileen flew in to Toronto Airport. Her nice fur coat flew on to Vancouver, but otherwise her trip was uneventful. She liked our small apartment until some strange things started to happen. When we were out during the day, our furniture would be rearranged. Then the lady of the house started asking for more from us in the way of services. Would Eileen mind keeping the stairs washed and waxed, would I mind raking the leaves, and so on. It became apparent that we were being viewed more as butler and maid than as tenants. This became even more obvious when we gave two weeks notice that we were leaving. "You cannot do that!" was what we were told. Anyway, we did, and went on to new adventures in Toronto apartments.

I had to introduce Eileen to restaurant eating in Canada and we ordered a favourite of mine, club house sandwiches. I forgot to tell Eileen about the little toothpicks they use to hold the three decker sandwich together, but she found out anyway. Coming from post war Britain, the abundance of goods lining the shelves in grocery stores was overwhelming to Eileen, as was the business of serving yourself. In Scotland we were still used to waiting in lines (called "queues") for everything from produce to movie houses.

As we settled in, Eileen quickly found secretarial work at $50 per week and we planned to live on her income and save mine. It turned out to be closer to the other way around, but save we did -- for a while. When Eileen went to a bank with her cheque she found out that she needed an account in order to cash it and that married women could not have an bank account in their own name. It had to be in the name of the husband.

Our next apartment was a bed sitting room, bathroom and kitchen in the home of a Japanese-Canadian family who had lost everything when they had been placed in a camp during World War Two. They were very quiet and one time had a request, not that we do not shut our bedroom door loudly, but that we turn the door handle carefully so that it did not make a click as it closed. There was a kindly older lady in the family who often made us Japanese delicacies that looked wonderful but tasted awful to our sensitivities. She would give us a little plate of these artistic wonders saying "beanya, beanya". After quietly trying them we had to find careful ways to dispose of them without her knowledge.

The young people in the family, a little older than us, were quite another matter and made no attempt to hide their contempt for us. Another tenant in the building was Italian and they would hold loud discussions within our hearing about how rotten the British were. We started looking around for another place, but they were too quick for us and one day the wall of our kitchen around had been taken out for renovations, and we were left looking at the great outdoors, hoping that it did not rain. We took the gentle hint and left, going on to more apartment adventures.

We lived in Toronto for two years, and during this time I started working out with the Ryerson Athletic Club, mostly throwing the discus and javelin. Eileen took classes at the famous Walter Thornton Modelling School and went on an incredible diet of 1,200 calories a day to get her weight down to 122 pounds. Lunch every day consisted of chicken bouillon and an apple. She bought some chocolates to celebrate reaching her goal weight, but became nauseous after the first bite of one.

Work was tough in Canada and people could get fired, something that almost never happened in Britain. I made a blunder and came close in the first week of employment, but managed to scrabble my way out of it. Then I got to be pretty good at what I was doing and made responsible for a little section of mechanical design draftsmen. Our chief electrical draftsman left for a two week vacation and when he returned he found another man working at his desk. He had been fired, but not told about it. He was a Swiss national and there was some story of him claiming to have influence with the huge Brown Boveri Company in Switzerland, which turned out to be untrue. Another time two RCMP came in to our office and took away a draftsman, a Scottish guy, in handcuffs. He was later deported. We were told that it was due to some immigration violation and he had lied when he said that he was not a communist. Being a communist was not a big deal in Scotland, although very few were.

Our main customer was the Manitoba Hydro Electric Company for whom we were designing a power station comprising two 66-megawatt electric generating units. The top brass from Manitoba came to see us at our office in Bloor Street to go over some plans and our top brass took them out for lunch. I was only 23 years old and in rank by far the junior member of the party that went to Swiss Chalet on Yonge Street. The waitress came to take our lunch order and I was first to be asked, so I ordered a favourite of mine, their chicken-in-a-basket. The CEO from Manitoba was next to place his order and he said "I'm not very hungry. I'll just have a ham sandwich." The rest of the group followed him and said they were also not hungry and would have a sandwich too. The waitress brought out this huge basket of chicken and french fries and tied a bib around my neck. They gave you no cutlery for what I had ordered, and I felt like an idiot with my huge meal and bib, eating with my fingers.

I started studying and completed my British engineering qualifications, becoming a member of the Association of Mechanical Engineers and because of this Eileen was left on her own a lot. Adjusting to married life was not always easy as I had presumed that it was just like living at home (where I was dreadfully spoiled) only coming home to a wife rather than a mother. I had a lot to learn about marriage, and it did not come quickly or easily. Still do.

We still argue about this one. I was a meat and potatoes guy and Eileen would sometimes try to get me to venture into new territory. She offered to make a pumpkin pie for me one Hallowe'en and I, never having had one, said "No thanks". She went ahead anyway and made one from scratch with a real pumpkin. We sat down to a nice supper, then Eileen produced her pumpkin pie. "I won't have any, thanks" I said, very politely. "Yes you will," said the dragon across the table from me. "I worked hard to make this and you will eat it". "No thanks. I said I did not want it and I don't," I pointed out, quite reasonably. This discussion went back and forth for a while, then the female half of the discussion violently picked up a wine glass of water to throw on me. I put up my hand to deflect it and the wine glass broke and fell in pieces into exhibit one, the pumpkin pie, so no one got any. At the time, it seemed like a good resolution to me, but I was wrong. You can see that I was reasonable every step of the way, yet every year around Hallowe'en the argument starts over. Women have amazingly long memories. I kind of like pumpkin pie now, but she never makes it any more.

Then Eileen decided that her biological clock was ticking and that we should have a baby. I expected this to be candlelight and soft music, but to my amazement it became a scientific project with thermometers, calendars, and schedules. Eventually gin came into it too. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Eventually the process was successful and Eileen became pregnant with Jackie. I think the gin did it.

Eventually Eileen increased in size and there went the Walter Thornton Modelling School figure. Eileen was working in the customer service department of a large construction company, fielding complaints from irate customers about cracks in the basement of their new houses. (Crack in a housing subdivision has taken on a new meaning since then.) In those days when a woman became obviously pregnant, she was fired, and that's what happened to Eileen. "We can't have you representing our company and looking like that!" was the accepted attitude of the day. Being pregnant through summer was no fun either and there was no such thing as air conditioning. We cooled off in community pools or the lake, and since Eileen had such a sensitive husband, she heard a lot of comments about resembling Moby Dick.

My pattern has always been that I sleep extremely soundly for the first few hours of going to bed. If I wake up before 5 a.m. I am a zombie. One time I heard a racket outside our apartment on Ryerson Crescent as I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I looked out of the window and saw that there were three fire pumper trucks at the house next door and it was ablaze. I went back to bed and only remembered to tell Eileen about it in the morning. We looked out the window and the house next door was gone -- just the basement and a few smoldering timbers left where that house had been.

When it came close to the time when Jackie would be born we had found a lovely wood panelled apartment near High Park. I remember Eileen taking a fancy to strange things late at night and I would go to a little store nearby for pickles and ice cream. There was an elderly lady worked there who had a tattooed number on her forearm. She was a Jewish survivor of the concentration camps.

Eileen's parents came out to be with Eileen while the new baby was born, and one night Eileen woke me up at 1 a.m., not my best time. She said "The baby is coming. We have to go to the hospital." I told her "You just go with your mother. I'll see you there in the morning." Joseph Conrad wrote a story about this type of thing called Lord Jim, about how you can do or say something in a split second that you carry through life. I never had a close relationship with Eileen's mother, and while she never said so, this may have been the root cause. There are some things you can never live down, and this one was even worse than the pumpkin pie.

Jackie was born, our first child had arrived, and our world would never be the same until our last baby left home. There was no such thing as disposable diapers and our apartment never quite smelled the same.

Now Eileen was out of work and our contract with Manitoba Hydro was drawing to a close. We were designing the lawn sprinkler systems for the power station and had no other big contracts. My friends and coworkers were being laid off. I started casting about for a new job but could find none in Toronto. I applied to Atomic Energy of Canada at Chalk River, but did not hear anything back. Then I got lucky and managed to land a job with Foster Wheeler in St Catharines, Ontario as an estimator in their design office. When Jackie was only a few weeks old we moved to St Catharines, but that is another story.

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