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The Immigration Story of Jean Elizabeth Marlin (English immigrant)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

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February 19 1955
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The Robson Family at Pier 21

England has a tradition that, on New Year's Eve, the man of the house goes outside with a piece of coal in his pocket, awaits the stroke of midnight then re-enters his abode. It is an old superstition and is supposed to bring the family good luck if a male is the first to cross the threshold in the new year and, luckier still if it is a dark haired male. Each household member must spit on the piece of coal he brings in with him. This brings more good luck.

On New Year's Eve, 1954, going into the year 1955, such a scenario was happening at the Robson house in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England. Father was outside with his piece of coal in his pocket, while mother, four of my five siblings and I, were sitting around the fire waiting for the New Year to be rung in. Mother casually mentioned emigrating. She had spoken of this many times before but this time she was serious.

Thinking back, everyone thought this a great idea but, emigrate to where? Would we like to go to Australia? What about Canada? After, what seemed, a lengthy discussion, my mother decided to flip a coin. Heads - Australia, Tails - Canada. It came up "tails ". Canada it was!

Suddenly we were driven by an exciting sense of adventure. We did all the necessary things. Inoculations, arranging for passports, quitting jobs, getting the youngest ones out of the school system, selling the household furniture, saying goodbye to relatives and friends, etc.

We spent our final day in Middlesbrough with our sister Iris and her family. Iris, the eldest child, had decided to remain in England having just reconciled with her husband. Dad had decided to follow at a later date and was staying with Iris until then. These were tearful goodbyes. Goodness only knew when we would see each other again. Some of my tears were shed because my mother wouldn't allow me to bring my precious Dickie Valentine phonograph records. The box would be a hindrance, she had said. Being an impressionable 17 year old, they were my most prized possessions, but they were left behind.

Late in the evening of February 10, 1955, a courageous middle-aged woman and five of her six children boarded the train for Southampton with no specific plans other than to head for Alberta.

The Robson family, consisted of mother Ellen (Nellie), eldest son, Thomas William (Bill), 22 years old; youngest son, Michael, almost 16 years; three daughters, Jean Elizabeth, 17 years; Dawn, 11 years; and Beverly Anne, 7 years old that February. This was to be the greatest adventure of their lives, crossing the Atlantic Ocean to live in a new country.

We boarded the Cunard Liner "Samaria " on February 11th, and, after almost eight days at sea, arrived in Canada, at Pier 21, on February 19th. We were on our way! Mother knew people in Alberta, the daughter of a friend lived there. Although, at one time on the ship, someone had shown her a photograph of a small, white house in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and she thought that might be a nice place to live. But, right now, it was still Alberta. Alberta, here we come!

At Pier 21, we had to wait to be interviewed by the Immigration Officials before we could continue on our way. My mother and eldest brother, Bill, were taken into an office while the rest of us remained in the waiting room. We were still in a state of excitement and it was difficult to keep the younger family members from showing their anticipation of what was in store. Mom and Bill finally came out of the office, downcast expressions on their faces. We were not allowed to go to Alberta! We did not have enough money to take six people by train, for such a long distance! We had to stay in Halifax! Halifax!! What a disappointment!!!

Yes, we were disappointed. But we were still on an adventure! We were told we would be kept at the hostel at Pier 21 until the three eldest children had found work. Then, and only then, would we be allowed to look for a place to live - in Halifax!

We stayed at the Immigration Centre for three weeks. We were given beds to sleep in, (females in one dormitory and males in another) three meals a day and the freedom to come and go as we liked. The officials were our benefactors. They were kind, helpful and sociable. I remember being taken into the city and shown around. My brothers and I were driven to job interviews. When I started my first job in Canada (in the office of Ben's Bakery, Pepperell Street, Halifax), one or another of the officials would be waiting for me after work, to drive me back to Pier 21, making sure I arrived safely, not getting lost.

I remember, so well, looking out the window and seeing the lighthouse on George's Island, beautiful during the day, eerie at night. I remember hearing the trains during the night, chugging back and forth under the dormitory window, clanging together as they changed rails. I thought I would never get used to the noise, but I did. I slept very well.

We met some interesting people during our stay. There were two small German children whose mother had taken ill and was hospitalized at the Centre. The children were quite happy and well looked after while they waited for their mother to get well. Another person was being deported, I'm not sure why, but he seemed nice enough and we all became friends. I met my first Canadian boyfriend there. Malcolm (Mac) MacLeod worked in the canteen. His voice was deep, I remember, and he spent a lot of time teaching me how to pronounce words the Canadian way. We met on the Exhibition Grounds, in Truro, 22 years later. It was his walk and his deep, distinct voice which sparked my memory.

Then came the day we were told we could move out, away from the hostel. As I said, we were there three weeks. My brothers and I were working and making enough money to afford a small place for the family. It was an unforgettable day when we moved into the small house my mother had found in Spryfield. We were finally "here ", our lives in Canada had finally begun.

Our father did not follow us to this fair land. Our mother, Nellie Robson, died of a brain aneurysm in June, 1957, never travelling farther than Bedford, N.S. Never getting to Alberta. But I, my brothers and my sisters, will never forget the help, the thoughtfulness and the kindness we received from the staff at Pier 21 on our arrival in Canada.

We have all done very well for ourselves in this new country of ours. Bill became a successful professional photographer and has since moved to the United States. Mike, always interested in electronics was a Communication Electronics Designer, travelling overseas, before his retirement, sharing his extensive knowledge. Beverly, living in the Toronto area, worked very hard to a high position within the Ontario Dept. of Natural Resources. Dawn (Robson) Erickson has opened her own real estate title searching business (Erickson Title Searching) in Halifax. I,myself, after twenty-one years of working as secretary for the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition in Truro, I, Jean (Robson) Marlin, became manager of the South Shore Exhibition (The Big Ex), Bridgewater, N.S. in February, 1997. I love this job. This is where I belong. I know I would not have been so blessed if I had stayed in England.

We have had a wonderful life in this country. My brothers and sisters join me in saying, "Thank you Canada - definitely the land of opportunity "! and "God bless the staff at Pier 21 for making sure we, as a family, did not take on more than we could handle on that fateful day in February, 1955 ".