A Match Made on the North Atlantic

Black and white side by side photos of a young man in a suit and a young curly-haired woman wearing a dress and necklace.
A young Martin Christensen (left), a young Catherine Christensen (right).

We hear innumerable stories about seasickness from our Museum visitors who crossed the Atlantic and first arrived at Pier 21. They all laugh about it now, but frequently add that they haven’t been on a ship since and have no interest in repeating the nauseating adventure. Although it begins with a seasick girl, this is not one of those stories.

This one is about lovesickness and two young people from very different worlds, who met aboard the December 1948 voyage of the Empress of France. Here Catherine Christensen describes the couple’s North Atlantic courtship:

“Martin and I first met on December 21 . During the evening I felt nauseous and sick to my stomach. In the early morning, I needed fresh air and raced from my room to go up on deck. As I left my room, I bumped into this big handsome guy and said, “I’m sick!” He smiled, and I ran upstairs to the deck. How was I to know that this handsome guy I bumped into was later to be my husband, a Dane named Martin?
In the evening Martin bowed and clicked his heels in front of me and said, “Dance?” We danced then he said to me, “I fra Danmark—you?” I said “Scotland?” and that was the end of our conversation. Martin took me to the first class lounge where we sat on a beautiful couch and we held hands. All of a sudden about four men in kilts came over to us. They were called “The Curlers”, and were going to entertain in Canada. Martin put his arm around me. They looked at him while holding mistletoe above our heads and said, “Kiss the wee lass.” He didn’t understand them, and I was too shy to kiss him. They came over and put our two heads together. That was our first beautiful kiss.
We enjoyed the company of each other throughout our trip. We had many walks around the deck, we saw movies, sang songs with the band and everyone around us. They were always cheerful times.
Colored portrait of a man and woman standing behind a blue chair, each with one hand resting on the chair, clasping the other. The man wears a suit with a red tie, the woman in a soft pink blouse, the background is blue.
Martin and Catherine Christensen
Martin departed from the Empress of France on December 28, 1948 in Halifax, Canada. We were going to discover our new countries and a new life, but in different directions. He was off to Vancouver and I continued on by ship to St. John, New Brunswick, where I departed for New York via train, where my family and I settled.
Martin and I corresponded for three years and in January of 1952 Martin came to the USA and we were married on June 21, 1952.”

Mr. and Mrs. Christensen visited Pier 21 in the summer of 1999 when the museum was just days old and shared their amazing story with us. They still reside in the United States and are the proud parents of three grown children and seven grandchildren. They remain as happy as they were on the day that they married.


Carrie-Ann Smith

Carrie-Ann Smith is the Vice-President of Audience Engagement at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. She joined the Pier 21 Society in the summer of 1998 and has watched the organization evolve from an idea into an interpretive centre, and now a national museum. Though she has occupied several positions at the museum, collecting and sharing stories has always been her favourite thing to do—it still is.