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An Alphabet of Canadian “Firsts”


  • the letter A

    First Attempt
    to Buy a Drink in a
    Canadian Bar

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    First Attempt to Buy a Drink in a Canadian Bar

    “A little anecdote of my first weeks in Canada. I took my 5-year-old daughter to an ice show at the Montreal forum. We got thirsty and went during the intermission to a tavern to get something to drink. The bartender told us he couldn’t serve us. I asked astonished: "Why not? You serve all the other people at the tables." He said, "They are all men." I told him, "Women get thirsty too. I want a drink and so does my daughter." He said, "Lady, you want to go to a drugstore." I said, "No, she is not sick, just thirsty." He said, "We serve soft-drinks at the drugstore." I gave up. What a country I had come to? Where one serves orange juice and coffee in a drugstore, where one is supposed to sell drugs”

    - Edith Boldt, German immigrant, 1951


  • the letter B

    First Beer in Canada

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    First Beer in Canada

    “I will always remember the process at Pier 21 and the train ride to Toronto - the vastness of the country. I also had my first Canadian beer (1 qt Oldham) before boarding train. It was a strange experience because I had to sit down before being served. The beer was great.”

    - H.J. Coleborn, Irish immigrant, 1952


    Morris J. Haugg was not so lucky, “...Coming from beer-loving Bavaria, it was only natural that I would take a break in my sight-seeing of Halifax by enjoying a beer. I entered a restaurant, sat in one of the booths and asked for a beer. First the waitress explained to me that I was not allowed to have a beer unless I ordered a meal. I was 18 and always hungry, so that was not a problem. I said "hot dog, please" and solved the problem. Or so I thought. She next asked me whether I was a miner. I was really puzzled. I couldn't understand what my occupational pursuits had to do with ordering a beer. Furthermore, I was dressed in my best blue suit, white shirt and tie. My face and hands were cleaner than they ever were in Bavaria. My shoes were polished. I didn't answer. I didn't know what to say. Next the waitress - and she was pleasant enough - asked for identification. I produced my brand-new passport, to which was attached my three-day old land immigrant card. She took a quick look, concluded that I was a miner after all and walked off.

    After a few minutes she brought me a hot dog and glass with a colourless, odourless liquid, which I did not touch. I thought she must have made a mistake. I didn't order that glass. She never explained why I did not deserve a beer. I wondered whether I should have pretended to be a miner to get one. I ate my hot dog and left. On Monday I told my immigration officer. He laughed his head off. He explained the difference between a "miner" and a "minor", a word I had not known. He also apologized for Canada's archaic liquor laws. He knew that that was a tough thing for Europeans to adapt to in this country. Well I didn't make that mistake again...”

    - Morris J. Haugg, German immigrant


  • the letter C

    First Coca-Cola

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    First Coca-Cola

    “...On the train, I had my first taste of the much vaunted Coca Cola, and I've hated it ever since...”

    - Madeline Anderson, English war bride, 1945


    Dutch immigrant Hugh Timmerman’s first taste of Coca-Cola was much more inspirational, “...It was here that I first tasted Coca Cola! I liked it so much that thereafter I walked the two miles up the gravel road to Newton and back once a week to buy a carton of Coke from my meagre allowance and hid it in a hole dug in the clay beneath a trapdoor in the living room. Six bottles of Coke at 5 cents each plus 2 cents deposit was all it cost. After work, I sneaked down that cubbyhole for my pick-me-upper, only to be scolded by my brother for being such a spendthrift by ‘wasting’ all that hard-earned money!...”

    - Hugh Timmerman, Dutch immigrant


  • the letter D

    First Day of School
    in Canada

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    First Day of School in Canada

    “...I also remember my first day at my new Canadian school when my mother sent me of in what she thought was the best clothes we had - my kilt. I needn't say what happened except to everyone in the school it was "look at the boy in the dress!!" Needless to say I ran home at noon for lunch in absolute tears never, never to wear a kilt again. Something now as an adult I'm afraid I regret but as a little boy I was at that time very fragile to say the least...”

    Dewar Burnett, Scottish immigrant, 1943


  • the letter E

    First Encounter with
    the Law

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    First Encounter with the Law

    “...When we went to our room at the hotel, I looked out the window and saw the ducks across the street in the Public Gardens. I went downstairs to the front entry in the hotel and asked if I could have some bread to feed the ducks. The person on the counter sent me to the kitchen to ask the cook. With bread in hand, I went outside across the street to feed the ducks. I was quite happy feeding the ducks even making the big ones wait for the little ones to eat. (I did not tell my parents that I was going to do this because I thought I would not be allowed.) When the ducks has eaten all the bread, I went back to the hotel for more bread. I WAS IN DEEP TROUBLE, MY PARENTS HAD NOTICED THAT I WAS NOT THERE AND HAD CALLED THE POLICE WHO WERE LOOKING FOR ME. After that I was LOCKED in the hotel room!!! That was my first experience in Canada...”

    - Elizabeth Evans, English immigrant, 1954


  • the letter F

    First Faux Pas

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    First Faux Pas

    “...I recall that the immigration person asked me to show the dollars that we brought in and since we were honest all the serial numbers were there and she gave it back to us. There was an interview there. A little funny thing happened: She called - since my wife was the main applicant - she called 'Veronica'. So being the polite person that I am, I didn't move to the front. Because she said ‘Veronica’, she didn't say ‘Carlos and Theo’... And then when we didn't move she said 'are you with the family', she said. 'Yes we are', 'why don't you approach'. 'Well you called Veronica' I said. Okay so she meant Veronica and family but she didn't say that. Sorry, my first faux pas, my first Canadian faux pas...”

    - Carlos Medina, Filipino immigrant, 2007


  • the letter G

    First Game

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    First Game

    “...Hockey became my passion after I saw my first game at the Forum December 12, 1949. The Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 3-1 with Maurice Richard scoring a goal; I was hooked for life, and Maurice “The Rocket” Richard became my idol...”

    - Sol Nyman, Polish Displaced Person, 1948

    Scottish immigrant Paul Callaghan arrived in 2007 and was soon bitten by the hockey bug “...So my wife took me to my first hockey game with was Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins, prior to Sydney Crosby being a superstar. And the game finished in a tie but it ignited my love of the game. And, prior to that, the only two hockey team I’d ever heard of was Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadians. They were they only two I knew even played hockey. So I had a quick education with it, and my father-in-law taught me so much...”

    - Paul Callaghan, Scottish immigrant, 2007


  • the letter H

    First Homemade
    Pumpkin Pie

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    First “Homemade” Pumpkin Pie

    “...Thanksgiving was a celebration day in Canada with which I was unfamiliar. Jim mentioned that fresh pumpkin pie was one of the traditions, which he really enjoyed, so suggested I give it a try and make one, as there were lots of pumpkins in the garden. I thought to myself I wasn’t going to the trouble of cooking pumpkin, so I purchased a can, read the recipe on the tin and make my first pumpkin pie. When Jim came home for the Thanksgiving holiday and I served the "Fresh Pumpkin Pie", he said that it was one of the best pies he had ever tasted, and that the fresh pumpkin made all the difference. Of course I accepted the blarney, then confessed the pumpkin was from a tin. He couldn’t believe I would pull a stunt like that. Consequently I have never made a Fresh Pumpkin Pie...”

    - Betty Crutcher, English War Bride, 1946


  • the letter I

    First Improvisation

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    First Improvisation

    “...My only suitcase was made of cardboard and unfortunately it broke. The only way to fix it until I reached my new home was to take off my belt from my pants to hold it together. It still brings tears and laughter thinking about it...”

    - Giuseppe Manera, Italian immigrant, 1959


  • the letter J

    First Job in Canada

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    First Job in Canada

    “...My boss was especially cheerful on the way to my first job. He seemed delighted to finally have a hard-to-get, but urgently needed, plasterer. He put me to work, on the public sidewalk of a busy street, of all places, to plaster a wall around a store window. He left all the tools and materials and told me he'd be back after lunch...Alone now, except for strangers stopping to watch, I couldn't delay any longer. I had to get started. I mixed the goo carefully and slowly, watered the old wall, and hit it with my mix, almost closing my eyes, not wanting to see what I inwardly feared. Sure enough, the goo wouldn't stick. It ran down the wall and onto the sidewalk. Up I pushed it and down it went, faster down than up. The wall and the goo were too wet to stick to each other. There was no way to keep going. I had to scrape it off and start over with a drier mix. By then a crowd had gathered, watching, staring, trying to figure out what I was doing. Unseen by me-but as fate had arranged it-my boss had joined the crowd...”

    - Alexander Muenzel, German immigrant, 1951


  • the letter K

    First Kiss

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    First Kiss

    “...Martin and I first met on December 21st during the evening of December 20th, I felt nauseous and sick to my stomach. In the early morning, I needed fresh air and raced from my room to go up to the 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...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 the 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" (3 times). He did not understand them, and I was too shy to kiss him. They came over and put our heads together. That was our first, beautiful kiss...Martin and I corresponded for three years after we departed the Empress of France. In January of 1952, Martin came to the USA, and we were married on June 21, 1952...”

    - Catherine Christensen, Scottish immigrant, 1948


  • the letter L

    First Long Trousers

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    First Long Trousers

    “...Packed into my little suit case was my first pair of long trousers, my parents had learned that young boys in Canada wore long trousers, in England in 1940 boys wore short trousers. The trousers had been made for me by a cousin who happened to be an Army tailor. They had to be specially made because it was impossible to buy long trousers for a small boy in England in 1940. I was to wear the trousers for the first time on arrival in Halifax, I couldn’t wait to put them on...”

    - Patrick Rogers, British Evacuee Child, 1940


  • the letter M

    First Meal

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    First Meal

    “...My first recollection of a good Canadian meal came In the form of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes served in a mini-box. Never having seen this before, I wondered in amazement if everyone in Canada ate out of little one-meal boxes!...”

    - Ole Falkeisen, Dutch immigrant, 1955


    When Li Lei arrived from Beijing, China in 2002 she was equally mystified, “...I remember they, they took me to a Chinese restaurant here as my first meal here and I, I was complaining about the food, you know the Chinese food here too, I said what, you know that's not authentic Chinese food and they told me you need to get used to it...”

    - Li Lei, Chinese immigrant, 2002


  • the letter N

    First No-No

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    First No-No

    “...I pulled my first no-no in Canada that night. When Nick and I headed for bed, Nick's father asked me what time we wanted to get up in the morning. Before Nick could say anything I said" Oh you can knock me up around nine." Well, the expression on dad’s face was something to see. When Nick could stop laughing he explained to his father that I wanted him to rap on our bedroom door at 9 am. Then he told me what "knock me up" meant over here. I was horrified. Believe me I never used that expression again...”

    - Joan Lucie Wallingford nee Longley, English War Bride, 1946


  • the letter O

    First Orange Crush

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    First Orange Crush

    “...My adventure was continuing and for three days I don’t remember sleeping. The view was everything, large buildings, automobiles everywhere, rivers, bridges and best of all, the railroad stations along the way. Why you ask, because of the snacks that I became addicted to, especially orange crush! To this day I can still taste that soda pop. It was my welcome to Canada...”

    - Hans H. Brouwer, 1953


  • the letter P

    First Pop Machine

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    First Pop Machine

    “...My first memory of Canada is using a Danish coin in the pop machine at Pier 21. I expected it to taste like Danish soda pop and was disgusted by what I thought was cold coffee - so I threw away my very first Coca Cola!...”

    - Bjarne Andersen, Danish immigrant, 1956


  • the letter Q

    First Quarrel

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    First Quarrel

    “...The first breakfast in our old fashioned kitchen. The electric stove with two burners only worked when either a single burner was on or if both were on it worked only at half the power each. If not used in that way, one would blow a fuse. Of course I was not used to that and by evening I had blown already 6 fuses. Of course that caused the first quarrel with Walter...”

    - Irene Balz, German immigrant, 1955


  • the letter R

    First Recess

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    First Recess

    “...I will tell you about my first experience with recess at school. I went to the playground and there was a crowd of students gathered so I went over to see what was happening. They were all laughing at my five-year old sister (who was in Grade Primary) because she talked funny. Some of them were even kicking and punching her. To her rescue I went, fighting everyone off her. Some boys helped me save her, which was much needed. The boys and I became great friends, and still are today...”

    - Elizabeth Evans, English immigrant, 1954


  • the letter S

    First Shower

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    First Shower

    “...The ship which sailed me into Canada was named “Columbia”. That ship had showers and it is there that I had my first shower ever. And from that day forward, I love showers, always fresh water, wonderful. No more sponge baths, or the bathtub taken out of the pantry into the kitchen, filled with cold water, and on the side hung a contraption which heated the water. After your bath, the tub water had to be emptied with a bucket...”

    - Brigitte von Schwerin nee Achatz, German immigrant, 1955


  • the letter T

    First Time Seeing
    French Words

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    First Time Seeing French Words

    “...I remember there was an electronic sign that said "welcome to Canada" in both English and French, I thought that was very interesting, it was my first time seeing French words! After that the officer told us to head to the immigration officers, we went there and there was an old nice lady who asked each one of us some basic questions, we answered them, at the end of the process I still remember her words she said "welcome home to Canada" I felt so happy, I finally had a home and that home was Canada!...”

    - Mayse Al-Haboobi, Iraqi immigrant, 2009


  • the letter U

    First Unusual Experience

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    First Unusual Experience

    “I had what was probably an unusual experience when I entered Canada through Pier 21 in August of 1940. I was coming as an evacuee from Scotland going to stay with distant relatives in Kingston, Ontario. I was seven years old and was sent over, on the Duchess of York I think, with a friend of a friend of my parents who was coming to Canada to get married in Toronto. She put me out of the train in Kingston when it stopped for a few minutes, but that was after our experience in Halifax.

    After we disembarked at Halifax she had a problem convincing the immigration officer that she was who she said she was, and his suspicions were confirmed when he addressed her in Gaelic and she could not reply to him. Apparently he was from Cape Breton and could not accept that someone from Scotland did not have the language used in the garden of Eden. She was locked up overnight and I was put in the care of the Red Cross until the next day when she was able to get to her baggage and establish her identity! That was my introduction to Canada.”

    - Alan Cairnie, British Evacuee Child, 1940


  • the letter V

    First Vaccination

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    First Vaccination

    “...There is a big ugly sore on my upper left arm where the doctor on the boat vaccinated me for smallpox. We already got vaccinated in Helsinki, but for some reason my vaccination didn’t take, so they did it again. That’s probably why I’m so sick now, because I got a double dose!...”

    - Kaarina Brooks, Finnish immigrant, 1951


  • the letter W

    First Washing Machine

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    First Washing Machine

    “...The one thing I really remember about this first home was the copper Beatty washing machine that was proudly given to me. I had never seen a washing machine before, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, I didn't know you had to turn your husband’s pockets out before you put his pants in the wash. The washer whirled and the screw driver in his pocket came out and gouged a hole in the side of the washer. The water leaked, and I had a mess...”

    - Ruby Fletcher, English War Bride, 1946


  • the letter X

    First X-Ray

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    First X-Ray

    “...One of the first things we were required to do, was to have physical and mental examinations, to be vaccinated and X-Rayed. This was done by Canadian doctors and personnel, with the help of an interpreter, because we did not speak a word of English...”

    - Cathy Bos, Dutch Immigrant, 1953


  • the letter Y

    First Yearning

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    First Yearning

    “...On the eastern shores of Canada, the dampness blanketed our unaccustomed bodies. “Is this what’s waiting for us?” Mother’s trembling voice cut through the surrounding cold. I heard the sadness in her voice. It was a desolate tone that I would hear often in the years to come, as she yearned for a home that she had left behind...”

    - Irene Fantopoulos, Greek immigrant, 1963


  • the letter Z

    First Zoo

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    First Zoo

    “...Went for a walk round the grounds and then all of us went over to the park. It is very beautiful. There is a zoo, with lions, bears, monkeys, wolves and other things. There is also an English garden. We saw a humming bird moth. Then we went to the pavilion, and bought fruit ices for a nickel. They were lovely. Then back home for dinner and after that in the afternoon, we went aboard buses, which took us to the children’s hospital for another medical exam. It is funny, all the traffic and steering wheels are on the different side of the roads from those in England... I went into the doctor, who was very nice. The asked me all about everything and examined me and then said, "she seems to be disgustingly healthy". When he came to mental condition, he said, "What shall I put" and I said "Oh, weak", and he laughed and put "bright". There was nothing wrong with me....”

    - Margaret (Maggie) Smolensky nee Beal, British Evacuee Child, 1940