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The Immigration Story of Helen Walker Robertson Locke (Scottish immigrant)

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May 25 1929
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Memories on the Duchess of York and Immigration in 1929

In 1986, my sister gave my mother a Journal to write all her memories in. One of the longest memories is her tale of coming to Canada. It took her almost 50 years before she returned to Scotland. These memories are precious to us now as my mother Helen Walker Robertson–Locke has been deceased since 1990. These memories she dedicated to her children, their spouses and her grandchildren so they would remember her many childhood memories. My mother married here in Canada and had 3 children. In 1970 my mother became a Canadian Citizen. Having come from a British country there was never a need to become a Canadian– once you immigrated– you were Canadian. But times changed and she wanted to travel back to Scotland– so she proudly became a Canadian Citizen. As much as she enjoyed her first visit back to Scotland– she was a Canadian and very glad to come home.

Coming to Canada

One spring day we had all come home at noon for dinner (we had dinner at twelve, even my Dad came home, and tea to 5:30 at night. Tea consisted of whatever we have for lunch in Canada. High teas when we had company and we had lots of extra's to eat (which we liked). So to get back to my story. We were all there having dinner. I still remember we had home made soup for dinner that day. Mother and Dad told us we all past our physical exam and so on, we would be moving to Canada to live. I was 11½ years old at that time, in my last year at public school and looking forward to starting High School the next fall. I still remember spooning my soup into my mouth, and thinking to myself, I don't think I want to move to Canada. I had my girlfriends I liked, my school I liked, I belonged to a group that put on plays and operettas. It was an adult group but always they had children in the cast. I really didn't want to move.

Mother said we either had to move to Canada or we at least had to move to a larger house. She wanted to go to Canada, as her Mother, Father, sister's and brothers, all lived there with all their families and the shipyard where Dad worked was going through difficult times, with strikes and so on.

Gradually I excepted the fact that we would be moving to Canada. We had all passed our physicals, IQ tests etc, and the end of May in the year 1929 we were booked to go to Canada.

In some ways it was sad to leave, other ways exciting especially at the unknown. We left Grangemouth by Taxi for the train.

We took the train to Glasgow, then taxi to "city of Greenock" were we first went to the larger boat by a smaller boat called a dory.

The boat we said on was called the "Duchess of York"

We head two cabins– 2nd class. One for my parents and Alex and David who were 5 by this time. One for Bill, Jim, Marion and I. We had two double bunk bends in each cabin. Marion and I slept on the bottom bunks, our brothers on the top bunks, plus we had a small washroom in each cabin. We had certain times to go to a large dining room for our meals. Dad always took us as poor Mother was seasick from the time we left Scotland, till we landed in Canada.

There were some round tables, which my older brothers sat at with boys their own age. We sat at a long table, with another family across from us. The chairs were bolted to the floor. The waiter came around to ask us what we wanted to eat. Dad always enquired what was the plainest food on the menu, then he ordered it for himself and us 4 children. This was the first time we knew you could get coloured ice cream, we had only vanilla.

Dad had to look after the twins, but Marion and I were able to go around the ship. We had great fun doing that, now that large ships are pretty well a thing of the past. I am glad we have that memory. Marion and I plus other children we met on board, were in every corner of that ship we could go in, the first class area, also third class.

Don't ever go third class, as their cabins were below the ship's portholes. I didn't like them very much.

All of us were only seasick about½ a day. Dad was never seasick. I always remember in the middle of the week, we must have had icebergs in the area, and the sirens seemed to go on all night. It was a little scary then.

I knew the next day was the 24th May, which we didn't celebrate in Scotland. The Ship's captain came around the dining room and gave every child a medal to keep for Queen Victoria's birthday. I don't know what happened to them, we also had souvenirs from the boat, but I guess over the year's they have been lost.

Finally we heard land ahead. I think everyone on the boat was up on deck to see land. Looking back it seemed to be almost like green flat looking hills, with smoke appearing there and there.

We landed at Quebec City the last Saturday in May, 1929. It had taken us one week to arrive in Canada. As we pulled into Quebec City, I guess the Dock's were in the old part of the city. There were men with quaint pants and hats on. I remember thinking, don't tell me that's how people in Canada dress.

We were taken to what looked like large sheds, it probably was the immigration department.

The Red Cross had a section, where all children 12 and under could go, while their parents, were being processed into Canada.

I know us 4 young ones went and we were given cookies and milk, and stayed there until our parents came and got us.

We then all boarded a train for Toronto. As we traveled overnight on the train, the seats we were sitting on, at night folded down to beds, which we slept on, with all our clothes on, and our coats over us to keep us warm. Mother and Dad had purchased bread, meat and something for us to drink at the Quebec City train terminal. There were places to buy these products there. So after traveling by train all night we arrived at the Union Station 6 o'clock Sunday morning in Toronto.

All our relatives were there to meet us. Mother was so happy to be back with all her family again. We of course had never seen them before except in snapshots. It was very exciting day for us meeting all our relatives and cousins.

Our relatives had rented a house for us, next door to our Grandma and Grandpa. It belonged to one of our uncles. The family had furnished the house with extra's they had, plus certain things which they had to buy. Grandpa paid for all the extra's that had to be bought then Mother and Dad paid him back.

After a day of reunions, our mother marched us 4 young ones up to the Public School. My mother was told I was too young at 11 nearly 12 to go to High School, so they advised Mother to have me repeat grade 8 in Canada. I was not happy with this arrangement, but I didn't have too much choice about it. After 1 year I graduated a second time from Grade 8. This time I finally went on to High School. The year I spent at Public School was very boring, the Arithmetic seemed to easy in dollars and cents, instead of pounds, shillings and pence.

We also started Sunday School again, and soon I belongs to CGIT then eventually Young People's. I sang in the Choir and belonged to the Drama Club.

Dad had problems getting work in Canada, we should have moved to a shipbuilding area, but Mother didn't want to move away from her parents brother and sisters, also October 1929 was when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression started. My two brothers managed to get work to help with the bills, and somehow the family survived.

My sister hated Canada at first, she sometimes used to cry herself to sleep, she wanted to go back home. Dad also would have liked to go back to Scotland, but as we didn't have the money to do it, he had to stay. Mother didn't care what country she lived in as long as we were all with her plus her Mother, Dad and other relatives.

Though times were tough for a few years, we survived and had lots of good times together as a family growing up.

Submitted by Brenda Anderson (nee Locke)

In memory of my mother– Helen Walker Robertson, born July 24, 1917 in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, Scotland.