The call rang out on the fifth day. It took a very long time for land to appear on the horizon. But eventually it did. Most of the stuff I had purloined from the American Red Cross remained on board. My mother and I did manage to acquire a souvenir of the Queen Mary, a tacky ceramic wall thermometer with a rendering of the ship. Yes, they had begun to sell stuff again. We kept that thermometer for decades. It is still probably hiding in one of my mother's old trunks long after her passing. The picture on the thermometer was the only thing that showed us the ship because we were ushered out of the same large hole in the side into a dockside shed. Through the dockside shed we went. Our papers were checked. Then we were ushered out the other side and onto a train. We had to climb up on to the train, something we did not do in England because our platforms are elevated. The car was lettered Canadian Pacific. The train was like no other I had been on before. Our car we found was a sleeper. It would be our home for more than 5 days as we made our way West. We had landed at Halifax's famous Pier 21 and boarded the train there. but I never saw the pier or Halifax until 2006. Our emigration was most definitely not a vacation or a sight seeing trip. The train never rested. It was serviced in ugly railyards, mostly at night.
Unreasoned fear kept me awake and alert for the entire journey. My mother and many of the others were heavy smokers. Non-smokers looked after the youngsters while the others retired to a smoking area. Mummy left me. She was out of sight and I panicked. I could envision being separated from her. Oh, to be nine years old and alone in Canada on a Canadian Pacific train. I was afraid in Tolworth. Now I was petrified. Granny Fiddler was gone and everyone I knew was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Being nine was a huge liability. I was a "big boy" and as such I was expected to reach certain standards of bravery. I failed miserably. I sincerely wished to be a very small child so that I could be free to wail and cry without being humiliated. Grandfather Frank had known I wasn't a man from the start. Jim shared his view in spades. Now strange women looked down on me. My lack of a stiff upper lip exposed me. I was labelled a coward and made to feel ashamed. People even said they were sorry for Sybil for having a son like me.
Still, Sybil was there most of the time and we settled into life on the train. We had our own porter. He was black, old and kind with a great sense of humour. Still, the women were becoming increasingly nervous as destinations were reached. Young war brides with children began to realize that Canada was not England. Estevan Saskatchewan was not Liverpool or London. Canada was not a Hollywood movie with cowboys and Indians. Now, I was not the only one who was afraid. Women wondered if husbands would actually be there. Would they be welcomed by the community. Would their destination be a wonderful place or horrible. Our porter became the fountain of Canadian knowledge. He constantly comforted worried souls. Told with humour, his stories became legendary.
Atlantic Canada disappeared the first night. We crossed the St Lawrence and slept through Montreal and Toronto. Then, we stopped for service overnight at the Soo ( Sault Ste Marie). By now the British ladies, my mother included, had begun to shower the porter in turn with "British knowledge". It became a contest. Poor porter! Everything he came up with was trumped by something British that was more impressive. He endured this well. He had great strength of character. His redemption was to come soon.
When, we left the "Soo" He let everyone know that we were travelling across the north shore of Lake Superior. As he said, "The largest lake in the world." Immediately my mother informed him that Britain's Lake Windermere was huge. All the ladies agreed. As the day progressed the lake stretched beyond the horizon. It appeared to be an ocean. "Same lake, ladies!" he said. As the sun set and we settled down for the night, "Same lake, ladies!" came again. Morning came and the blinds were raised. Breakfast was accompanied with a chuckle and "Same lake, ladies!" No one ever mentioned Lake Windermere again. Canada was truly huge and everything in it was too.
After we left Winnipeg, the Prairies opened before us. I kept looking for Cowboys and Indians. I saw none. I never saw any. The place was apparently empty and it too was huge and flat. May is way before the wheat begins to wave. So, we saw a lot of dirt. Huge fields and dirt roads and at the intersection of some of the roads a unique building or two. We were told these were grain elevators. They had names painted on them indicating the place we were at. The porter told me all the grain was kept in the local elevators right next to the railway so the grain could be loaded on the grain cars to be shipped East to Winnipeg and then to the Superior lakehead. We had come through Fort William and Port Arthur on our way to Winnipeg. They were very busy places in 1946. In 1970, times had changed and everything was amalgamated into Thunder Bay. Wheat was king the old porter said and we were traveling through the "Bread Basket Of the World".
In the East, Young wives and families had left us at every stop, getting off in a variety of cities and towns. But the stops became different in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Eastern Alberta. Often we stopped where passenger trains never stopped out on the open prairie where two dirt roads intersected next to a grain elevator. At one desolate place, a horse drawn wagon awaited a young Londoner and her baby. Her husband had come. She was home. I asked my mother why she looked so strange, with sort of brave but scared look on her face. Mummy told me to mind my own business.
Coming to Alberta was important to us. My stepfather, James Edward Allan apparently was born near High River Alberta in 1900. He was born in the Northwest Territories. He was 5 when Alberta became a province. His birth and its registration were shrouded in mystery. His life before the army was at best mythological. He said he was orphaned by 13. He was a cowboy, a logger, a truck driver and apparently a member of the RCMP. He looked to have native blood. At the seeming end of the Great Depression he enlisted in the Canadian Army at the age of 39. Here, his life becomes documented. J. E. Allan M5165 was a Staff Sergeant in the Canadian First Division by the time he met Sybil.
Still, his life story before that was a series of loosely strung together anecdotes never to be investigated. In essence, I knew less about him than I did about my mother's early life. He was certainly abusive to Sybil and I. So, I sometimes wondered if instead of leaving the RCMP he had been released from prison to join the army. My parents early lives were and remain to me a dysfunctional mystery. One has to wonder if they ever really knew one another.
Well, here I was in a huge strange country with a mother and father who kept secrets and I was one of them. As we crossed Alberta we saw mountains ahead. The prairie was ending. We pulled into Banff Alberta and Mummy bought a Grizzly Bear from a man on the station platform. It was a plaster figurine covered in what the man assured Mummy was genuine Grizzly Bear fur. It was simply brown felt flocking and Jim laughed until he cried when Sybil showed him the Grizzly figure with the real fur.