Hello. It’s Aggie again …
‘Tis a time since I last checked in with ye, but alive or deid, the summer heat slows a body down. Between me ‘n’ the lass struggling to survive, ’tis a miracle I’m sittin’ here today. Even this contraption I talk into seems to want to take a long rest. I watched that wee wheel spin ‘n’ spin ’til I was so dizzy I near fell off my rocker.
Och – an’ th’ chokin’ smoke from all th’ fires! Don’t even get me started.
I’m here now, though, so let’s begin.
Where was I now ?
Och – all that business – gettin’ on t’ boats – getting’ off o’ boats! Enough t’ drive a body mad. Pier 2 they called it, an’ herded us from th’ ship like cattle straight into a grand, half-empty building. An immigration shed I heard someone say. And twas'nae much more than a shed at that. Rough wood floors an’ a few benches where you cuid stop an' collect yourself between inspection queues. Th’ medical inspection was first. I didnae ken why my medical card for boarding in Glasgow was nae good enough. If a’ folks were braw getting on t’ th’ ship, what did they think we’d pick up on th’ way over? But th’ doctor in Halifax was thorough, I’ll give him that. He stepped close an’ studied right in t’ our eyes, made us open our mouths an’ cough, checked our pulse an’ even our hands an’ fingernails before stamping th’ new card.
In th’ next queue, an overpowering need t' ease some worry caused my words to pour out before th’ civil examiner cuid look up from his papers. “Is this where I pick up my train voucher?” “Your name, Ma’m?” He went on as if I’d said nothing. Th’ exam was mostly talking an’ reviewing the answers I’d already given getting on in Glasgow. I cuid see my very answers right there, ticked off on th’ manifest list in front o’ him. Where was I going? What did I do? What did my husband do? What was my religion? When he asked me to confirm th’ ages of all four of us, I cuid barely draw a breath for fear he'd detect my fib an' send us back because of Lily's deafness. From the corner o’ my eye I saw th’ bairns hold hands an’ nae move as I told th’ agent 26, 6, 3, and 2. But th’ man made a simple check on his paper an’ continued his questions. My stomach tightened at the final queue where I was to declare an’ show my $10.00 Canadian. I pulled some extra coins from my pocket an’ set ’em beside th’ required dosh to show I had it. All along, I knew th’ money was to prove I cuid support myself an’ th’ weans until we reached Edmonton an’ got reunited with their da, but ’twas a laing trip an’ I didnae ken who t’ trust. Everything was unfamiliar, an' I cuidnae help bein' uncomfortable - th’ way folks spoke, th’ way they behaved, even th’ way th' air smelled. If they planned to search my clothes ‘n’ my bags an’ found my stash o’ British dosh mixed with my extra Canadian bills sewn in t’ hems an’ tucked in t’ corners for fear o’ thieves on th’ ship, what wuid I do? I didnae think they’d take it all away but feared what was t' stop 'em?
When th’ inspector checked off my name, signed his document an’ stamped my card, I near fainted. “This is your official immigration card. You’ll need to keep it safe for three years and show it any time a government official asks, or you could be sent back to Scotland. Present it to the ticket agent downstairs for your train voucher.” He smiled. “Welcome to Canada, Mrs. Campbell.” I studied th’ piece o’ paper expecting to be relieved finally holding it in my hand but instead I felt an extra knot form in my tummy. It read: Steerage Inspection Card at Port of Arrival in Canada. There was my full name, th’ name of th’ ship I sailed on, where I came from, th’ date I left, th' port I landed in, an’ a signature proving I was vaccination protected. For passing my medical an’ civil exams in Halifax, two enormous stamps dated 19 May, 1911 an’ initialed by th’ examiners took up more than half th’ space. I didnae imagine such a wee scrap cuid be so precious.
Photo courtesy of Canadian Museum of Immigration
With th' ship being but half-full an' a guid number of passengers still on it headed to Boston,the queues were nae laing and by th’ time th’ bairns ‘n’ I found our way downstairs to the train station an’ stepped up to th’ ticket agent, th’ clock had just struck 8:00 pm. At th’ time I supposed ’twas quite reasonable since we’d docked at 6:30 or so, an’ steerage was last to leave th’ boat. The train was scheduled to depart at 10:15 pm so time was nae an issue but it wasn’t ‘til I had that voucher tight in my hand that I cuid begin t' breathe. And finally stop an' look around. To get my bearings, I settled us on one of th’ benches filling th’ main room in long rows. ’Twas a but a train station with walls filled with pictures of trains goin’ through trees, over mountains an’ past grand hotels, th’ CPR symbol stamped on nearly every one o’ them.
In one corner of the room was a grand booth,its shelves stacked with blankets, mattresses, pillows 'n' berth curtains. My curiosity pulled me to learn they were all available t' rent for $1.00 each except th' pillows. They wuid cost $.35 each. As far as anyone knew, I had but $10.00 to my name. Did they think for one moment that I wuid spend a single penny of it t' borrow pillows, blankets 'n' such for seven days? Mr. Ian Brown, the agent back in Perth, did warn me that frills 'n' comforts on th' train wuid nae exist so I'd planned ahead with as many shawls, coats, an' jumpers I cuid fit. And outside the main door th' food being hawked along with pot, pans utensils 'n' such were far too dear. The station's ticket agent had informed me there was a wee stove on th' train for preparin' meals an' there wuid be food available from th' dining car or at stops along th' way if I cared to pay th' extra. We'd nae touched our own provisions from home aside from th' bit o' fudge I'd nibbled to calm my nerves. I calculated how to stretch my tins of dried mutton, oatcakes, 'n' shortbread o'er th' next week. Th' thought of packing more food, storing it in our berth, an' standing in laing queues to heat a bit of supper in a pan I had no mind t' purchase didnae sit well in my heid. Och - th' weans 'n' I wuid manage just fine along th' way.
’Twas th’ telegram wicket in th’ far corner that teased me most. Having th’ weans with me didnae stop me from missing my family but sending my John a note was out o’ th’ question just yet. Maybe when we got to a station closer to Edmonton, th’ cost of a message wuidnae be too dear. But Perth felt more than a lifetime away. While I cuidnae justify sending a wire to let my folks know we’d arrived safe in Halifax, th’ idea felt too important not to spend a couple o’ pennies on a postcard an’ drop it in th' mail.
My mynd was so busy figuring things out, I near forgot about th’ weans until Colin tugged at my arm. “Mummy, when can we eat?” Th’ poor lad’s peely-walley face ‘n’ heavy eyelids near broke my heart. When I saw Jean ‘n’ Lily leaning on each other, trying to stay awake, I reached into my pocket an’ sifted th' coins through my fingers. “Och – luv. There’s a nice looking dining room richt through that door. You’ve been a guid lad an’ I think we can manage to find somethin’ nice t' eat before we get on th’ train. I know I cuid use a nice hot cuppa tea.”
Och – an’ there ’tis, richt in front of me. A steaming cuppa – with hot crumpets, butter soaking into them ‘n’ a crakin’ dish o’ strawberry jeely. Th’ lass’s timing is pure magic.
Ta ta for now.