Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Families of Immigrants: Mid-Twentieth Century

Most people in North America are either immigrants themselves or have ancestors who immigrated at a time when these passages were documented. In Canadian genealogical circles a common question is, “When did your family come to Canada?” I am never quite sure what to answer. Should I talk about when my family and I moved to Canada or perhaps when my maternal grandfather came to Canada in the 1910s? But that leaves out the Scots who came in the previous century and then there is that line that immigrated to the United States at a time before they were even united and later came north. What story can I tell to answer the question of when my family came to Canada?

Starting with the latest arrivals, my immediate family’s immigration story starts in England or perhaps in Canada. (We never could make up our minds which side of the Atlantic to live on.) As conditions were hard following WW2, my maternal grandparents decided leave England and return to Canada. Their Canadian-born daughter went with them. By that time, she had met the man she was to marry and urged him to put in for a transfer with his work so he could follow her.

Canada is a large country. I am not sure where the family went but there is evidence that the daughter, my mother-to-be, worked in Victoria, BC. The move didn’t go well. Post war laws restricted the amount of money that could be removed from Britain. My grandparents couldn’t adequately finance their lives wherever they had landed. They returned to England and so did their daughter.

A few years later, the daughter married her young man and they set up house together. The man, my father-to-be, still worked for the same airline company. Steady employment was a good thing to have as the young couple started a family, first having a son and then a daughter. The grandparents were happy having their daughter and her family close by. Then the work transfer, the one that had been requested years before, came through. Well, he couldn’t turn it down. His wife, my mum, said “anywhere but Montreal.” So, of course, that was where we were sent.

Our journey was not the slow sea voyage common to immigration in the past nor was it a fast jet plane common to much current immigration, it was a ten-hour trip to New York and then another leg to Montreal. My mother made the journey with two toddlers in tow. My father must have gone on to Montreal ahead of her. I don’t envy her that journey, prop planes often hit turbulence as they couldn’t climb as high as modern jets. Still, at least the journey was over in a short time, unlike immigrant journeys in the past. 

 A Northstar airliner similar to the one we immigrated on*

Our official greeting to Canada was different as well. There was no large immigration hall, such as Pier 21, for us to wait in. In fact, the airport wasn’t set up to deal with immigrants. They had to figure out how to process our family group. The airport saw their fair share of immigrants in the years after our arrival.

According to information at The Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, at the time we arrived as immigrants in Montreal the usual means of immigrant transport was by ship. Ships were the predominant mode of transport from Europe until 1960 when airline journeys became more frequent. Gradually this mode of immigration overtook sea voyages so that Pier 21, the main port of entry for immigrants to Canada, closed in 1971. 

Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21


* By RuthAS - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6019351

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