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The Immigration Story of Olive Doreen Pugsley (Northern Irish War Bride)

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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Olive Doreen McMurtry

My mother was born in 1923, in the newly-formed Northern Ireland. Her ancestry on her motherʼs side has been traced back to 1755. The Hill family, originally from Devon, England, is one of the oldest on the tiny peninsula of Islandmagee, five miles north of Belfast Lough, and it included many excellent farmers and master mariners. My grandmother grew up working on the family farm, set in a valley just up the road from a sheltered inlet on the east coast named Port Muck after the little island opposite, in the shape of a pigʼs back.

My own mother recalled digging potatoes as a child for a haʼpenny reward from her grandfather “John Hill of the Valley”. Mom completed Ballypriormore School and enrolled at Larne Technical College at 17 years of age, but hardship brought on by the War forced her to leave her art studies and take a full-time job at Tweedy Atchisonʼs, Larneʼs only department store. Twice daily, she would ride her bicycle ʻround the top of the Island and down its western shore to catch a small ferry boat that crossed Larne Lough. Weekends were filled with dances at the Rhinka and local Orangemanʼs Hall, sunbathing at Port Muck or nearby Brownʼs Bay, and occasional bus trips to Belfast for shopping or a picture show.

This was my motherʼs routine in the summer of 1944, when a young, Royal Canadian Airforceman, David Hill Pugsley, came looking for the birthplace of his great grandfather James Hill. James and his younger brother John had married sisters - one couple had immigrated to Canada in the late 1880s, settling in southwest Ontario; the other had stayed in Islandmagee.

My father was related through his mother, whose grandfather was James Hill, and thus, when my grandmother suggested that her eldest daughter might show David around the Port, he stepped out the farm house door with Doreen. Within 24 hours they had fallen in love and planned to wed.

My parents were married in the summer of 1945. Shortly after, Mom sailed out of Londonʼs Tillbury Docks for Halifax, Canada, with Dad returning home later on a troop ship. She liked to tell us details of the voyage, including a surprise invitation to sit at the Captainʼs table and about having sturdy sea legs when many of her fellow-passengers were green with sea sickness. There were long forms needing completion and one woman had scrawled across hers, “Born and bred in Ireland and never was out of it!”.

Along with hundreds of other War Brides bound for new homes across Canada, Mom passed through Pier 21 and boarded a train, intent to get off in Regina, Saskatchewan, a distance seven times the length of Ireland. She told us that when the train stopped in Winnipeg, she had all her cases together and was about to get off, saying to the porter she was sure her new in-laws could pick her up as they owned a motor car. “Madame", he replied, “Regina is another nine hours. I think you had better remain on board!”

My parents lived in Saskatoon for a year until Dad graduated as a mechanical engineer from the University of Saskatchewan. They moved to Calgary in 1948 and in the 1950s, to Lethbridge for a couple of years, then back to Calgary. In 1964 they moved to Montreal, then to Toronto in 1973. In 1986, they retired to Pleasant Point near Lindsay, Ontario where they spent a happy 20 years. My parents had five children and ten grandchildren, including two Pugsley boys to carry on their name. Mom and Dad both lived to the age of 87, passing within two years of each other.