Here I am, again. Aggie, gettin’ ready t’ talk.

Seems I’m nae th’ only one confused by this blogging business. My great-granddaughter had t’ start and restart this page three or four times before ’twas guid enough t’ get going. An here I was thinkin’ “Th’ lass kens what she’s doin’.”

I suppose like with anything, th’ more she does it, th’ better she’ll get.

Anyway, back t’ my story o’ movin’ t’ Canada …

May 10th, 1911 was a day I ne’er did forget. My body ached wi’ exhaustion an’ I cuid nae decide if I was happy or sad everyone came t’ Perth General Station seein’ us off. Except my eldest brother George havin’ t’ work, Mother, Da, James, both sisters – Louisa ‘n’ Stuart were there. All dressed in our Sunday best ‘n’ weeping as we hugged good-bye. Even Da had t’ pull out his handkerchief an’ dab his eye. After more than a stowed-out year of planning, waiting, and missing my John, all I wanted was t’ get on with it.

Some roof repair happenin’ made the train-shed busier than I expected an’ th’ bairns clustered t’gether, keeping mostly wheesht. No matter the fine weather, I had all three bundled in winter clothes t’ keep warm on th’ ship and t’ lighten our bags. Colin holding tight t’ his toy boat, Jean hugging th’ stuffed terrier Stuart sewed for her, an’ Lily, her faceless ragdoll dragging t’ th’ ground, clutched on t’ her big sister’s hand. Next t’ the crowd an’ masses o’ luggage on th’ platform, they looked like wee hedgehogs hidin’ in the bushes, but their eyes were saucers an’ took in everything.

Perth Railway Station History Scotland

YouTube The Railway 007

All Colin an’ Jean knew beyond, was that we’d be sailing on a grand ship before takin’ another train ride t’ Edmonton where their da was waitin’. Even though I showed them th’ route in my atlas, what they didnae ken was th’ time it’d take – stowed-out eight days crossin’ th’ Atlantic Ocean, an’ a full week travellin’ across a strange country. I wondered if their insides were as fidgety as my own. I cannae begin t’ picture what was goin’ through Lily’s heid.

Perth t’ Glasgow was th’ shortest leg o’ the journey. Nobody loves a crakin’ train ride more than me, but I was grateful my brother James was between house paintin’ jobs an’ offered t’ ride with us that first stretch t’ see we made it t’ the docks.

T’ my relief, all three bairns fell asleep before we were twenty-minutes out an’ I cuid close my eyes for a stretch. Our train was scheduled to arrive in Glasgow minutes before 5:00pm an’ steerage passengers were expected t’ board ship between 8:00 and 10:00 that nicht with th’ boat t’ set sail in the wee hours. Despite the ague creepin’ in t’ my muscles takin’ away my appetite, I was glad t’ settle an’ collect m’self over tea in th’ small restaurant on Oswald Street close by th’ docks. James was gey patient answerin’ Colin’s endless questions; I didnae ken what I’d have done without him

Outside th’ passenger station, the press of my brother’s goodbye-hug warmed my aches an’ I didnae want t’ let go. An’ when I stepped on t’ the bus takin’ passengers t’ th’ dock, I prayed all I needed was a good night’s rest.

Och – that Glasgow dock took away my breath. ’Twas one thing t’ see what appeared t’ be hundreds of ships moored along both banks o’ th’ Clyde but t’ find m’self right down on th’ very platform with crowds of people queuing up, I felt like a tiny herring next t’ a whale waiting t’ swallow us up.

S.S. Numidian

photo courtesy of Norway Heritage

Gettin’ on t’ the boat was a lengthy business. All th’ steerage passengers had t’ queue up in a big room an’ walk like a giant family of ducks past th’ doctor who did nothin’ more than glance o’er us with a quick peek in t’ our own eyes before a steward standing by sent us t’ a space on th’ open deck t’ wait. Full on crowded, with no place t’ rest, an’ th’ chill working its way in t’ my bones, I cuidnae stop checking my documents o’er an o’er t’ be sure I had everything. My stomach was nae goin’ to calm ’til I had my bairns t’ bed ‘n’ asleep.

It felt like hours before they finally directed us t’ a bigger space on deck where we queued again. At th’ front, a steward inspected my documents, tore my ticket, an’ gave me medical cards t’ prove th’ doctor had examined us. “What about my train voucher? My agent, Mr. Ian Brown, said it’d be here.” Fresh knots tied in my tummy t’ think they cuid deny us passage once we arrived in Halifax. “I’m sorry, Madam. Mr. Ian Brown has misinformed you. You will receive your train voucher once you pass inspection in Halifax. Now head over to that table for your berth assignment.”

I felt th’ blood rush t’ my heid as he pointed across th’ room t’ another lang queue where a lanky man, handsome in his fresh uniform, stood behind a small table. By th’ time we reached th’ front, Lily was a deid weight sleepin’ over my shoulder an’ I felt duin t’ drop. The officer told me we’d be in the family section and t’ wait with a group of families in one neuk of the room. A matron wuid be along t’ show us th’ way.’

’Twas a scurry of people eager t’ settle but after finding our berth and searching for th’ water-closet ‘n’ washin’ room t’ clean up th’ weans an’ settle ’em for th’ nicht, I stood in th’ middle of our cramped quarters, my back achin’ ‘n’ my mynd numb. Th’ walls reached neither th’ ceiling nor th’ floor an’ in th’ dull light I tried t’ figure what t’ do next. Th’ ship was still in dock, so my feet were firm t’ th’ floor, my handbags mounded in a neuk. Th’ space was nae much more crowded than we we’d been at home in Perth, but if this was an upgraded version of steerage, I nae wanted t’ see th’ original.

Two narrow metal bunks lined either side of th’ room, each double stacked. Right off I saw that but for th’ four hooks on either side of a fold-down stool an’ tiny mirror attached to th’ back wall between th’ beds where we’d hung our good clothes for th’ rest o’ th’ trip, there was no place t’ put our things.

Jean ‘n’ Lily were fine sharing th’ bottom bed of one bunk. Already they were sleeping, each with their heid at an end and their feet nae meetin’ in th’ middle.

Colin was tryin’ t’ settle on th’ bed above his sisters an’ I cuid nae see stuffin’ myself on t’ th’ low level of the other side. ’T wuid do for storage. Colin sat up rubbin’ his eyes. “I’m cold, Mummy.” “Hold on, luv.” I pulled a woolen shawl from th’ largest bag, cooried it around him an’ kissed his curls. “There ye gang my brave laddie. Crakin’ ’n warm.” I heard Jean cough an’ looked down t’ see she’d shifted t’ curl herself ’round Lily so unpacked two more shawls. As I laid one o’er th’ girls a quiverin’ of the ship come up through th’ soles o’ my shoes. It climbed up my legs into my body an’ I knew we were on our way. With the damp chill workin’ its way into my bones getting’ some sleep seemed best if I wanted t’ have strength by mornin’.

“New Steerage” – post 1908

Photo courtesy of Norway Heritage

Och – Climbing into a top bunk is nae easy, especially when th’ entire room is movin’. But after banging my elbow an’ both my knees on th’ iron rail I felt th’ straw mattress crackle under my weight. A life preserver is a poor excuse for a pillow, even with a wee cushion covered in cotton ticking to soften it, but it had t’ do. With th’ ship movin’ in a kind of rolling rhythm, I pulled my third shawl over-top th’ malinky blanket and stretched out my legs, willing my aching body t’ relax.

Och – ’twas a memorable trip. Just thinkin’ back that far has me richt out o’ breath. I think I’ll just have myself a crakin’ cup o’ tea and close my eyes for a bit so I can pull together a solid story for ye next time.

Now, where is that off button … ?


“Hellooo … Aggie here again.

I dinnae ken why I get so anxious every time I caber in t’ this thing. It’s nae pernicketie if I follow th’ steps.

Och – what’s this? A crakin’ pot o’ tea an’ hot scones – with clotted cream ‘n’ strawberry jeely?  That lass knows me well. I’ll just get m’self settled here…

… A’richt, now. Where did I leave off?

Aye. That lang year planning an’ waiting for our shift t’ Canada…

Every night before bed I’d look at th’ photie of John, dapper an’ braw in his suit. Most times I’d tell him I missed him an’ cuidnae wait t’ be with him again. T’ have our wee family reunited. But on days I struggled with th’ bairns, had a row with Mother, or worked m’self t’ exhaustion, he’d get a solid piece o’ my mynd t’ be sure.

Ye’d better ken what you’re about way out there in Edmonton, John Campbell. Nothin’ less than a braw warm cottage waitin’ for us ’ll do. I didnae marry ye just for your looks, ye ken. Ye ‘n’ your smooth blether, all your plans and schemes. This is th’ last o’ it, I promise ye that.”

There was so much t’ do, my heid ne’er stopped buzzin’. I spent a guid month or more packing up th’ most household goods I cuid fit in th’ 10 cubic foot crate included in our passage. ‘Tis a braw line between what’s ‘necessary’ an’ ‘too much’. At 4 pence for every cubic foot over, I had t’ be canny.

Things I knew we’d need like clothes, pots, dishes, linens ‘n’ blankets seemed easy enough ’til I saw how much space they took. An’ some things I knew I cuidnae leave behind. Wedding treasures like my silver teapot, fine china cups ‘n’ saucers, brass candle holders, an’ ceramic fireplace dugs. An’ of course, photies o’ my family. What if I forgot what they looked like? But I thought about th’ freezing winters an’ with no idea what I’d find when we got t’ Edmonton, I decided spending an extra 80p was worth puttin’ my mynd at ease.

Finally, thirteen months after John left, ’twas time t’ get Colin home from Lossimouth. With over two weeks o’ travel ahead, I was nae keen on takin’ th’ train t’ get him but I knew a trip t’ Perth wuid be pernicketie for John’s folks, Catherine ‘n’ Colin. Nae just that runnin’ a fishing boat kept John’s da stowed. They’d only travelled there but once since th’ tragedy.

Their own sweet Lily, John’s favourite sister, workin’ as a nursemaid in our very own county just t’ be near us, dyin’ of appendicitis when she was 16. Only five months before Jean was born. An’ John havin’ t’ sign th’ papers arranging t’ send her home near broke him. ’Twas only after our Lily, her namesake, came along that his mum an’ da rode th’ train out t’ Perth.

I feared my in-laws wuid refuse t’ make th’ trip with my wee laddie but t’ my relief, they were happy t’ do it, saying their visit wuid make for a proper family goodbye.

Och – I’d missed my wee Colin. My heart was duin t’ burst when he came runnin’ in so proud t’ show me th’ newspaper clippin’ from almost a year earlier, with th’ listing of passengers arrivin’ in Lossiemouth. Like th’ one I saved from our trip out when he was a baby.
“This time they put my name in, Mummy.” Maybe he thought havin’ our names printed like that made us famous.

How I laughed when he reminded me o’ th’ day he’d overheard John an’ his mukkers talking in th’ front room back when that’s all it was. Blather. Colin askin’ me what we’d do with free land. An’ how much free land was there?
He said he didnae want t’ live on a farm with cows, sheep, ‘n’ chickens. That he didnae want t’ feed animals or wash up after ’em. Or wash dead chickens like he’s seen me do with th’ kill from his da’s huntin’ trips – grabbin’ the bird by its feet an’ plunging it in t’ boiling water, plucking out all the feathers an’ slicing it open t’ remove th’ insides.  I didnae think he took me seriously when I’d teased him about giving him th’ hackit task. I ken as well as anybody, th’ laddie wuid rather be paintin’ pictures.

The day before we were t’ begin our journey, John’s folks left for home. Everything was packed an’ duin. The bairns ‘n’ me, all four bathed ‘n’ clean, our guid clothes set out. While Jean ‘n’ Lily napped, I eased my nerves by darnin’ holes in Da’s work socks an’ turned my heid t’ Colin runnin’ the bonnie blue boat his papa carved for him along the front-room rug. He’d named his toy S.S. Numidian, identical t’ th’ ship we’d be sailing’ on. Th’ laddie hadn’t stopped talking about the trip an’ seein’ his da again since he arrived back from Lossiemouth.

But right then I needed t’ be certain he knew what t’ do once we left for Canada.
“Come ’ere, lad.” I set my mending in th’ basket. “You’re a smart yin but let’s go through it again.”
“I ken Mummy. I ken.” He clutched his boat t’ his chest and stood beside my chair. “If a’body asks how old I am, I’m nae seven. I’m six. An’ th’ identicle for Jean. She’s three, nae four. An’ Lily is two, nae three.”
“Well done laddie, an’ don’t ye forget it. All in all, ’tis best t’ keep wheesht and nae say anythin’.” I gave him a hug. “It’s a guid thing you and your sisters are all wee like your da. Now go fetch Jean from her nap so I can test her again.” 

T’ be sure, Lily was my biggest concern for th’ long trip ahead with no way of explainin’ it t’ her outside a few photies of trains ‘n’ ships. She was just Lily. Sweet ‘n’ funny, with a fiery-hot temper when she wanted somethin’ I cuidnae ken. Maybe ’twas being so close in age, but Jean had a knack – as if she cuid read Lily’s thoughts – an’ made it natural t’ be takin’ care o’ her.

I was nae concerned about Jean. She ‘n’ her brother both understood that claiming Lily was only two would explain her lack o’ speech. We cuidnae risk being turned away from Canada because the lassie was deaf. They’d nae find anythin’ physically defective about my wee girl. She just cuidnae hear.   

Earlier in th’ week, when we all four had watched the wagon drive off with our crates, I felt like I’d signed away my life. In the morning it’d be me ‘n’ the weans getting ready for the train t’ Glasgow. My tummy sat heavy, like I’d swallowed a kist of leid weights. Sailing o’er the Atlantic on my own with three bairns was nae something I’d ever pictured for m’self.

I hope I’m nae havering on an’ boring ye with my story, but th’ more I think, the more comes t’ mynd.

 Now, I’ve given as guid an answer as anyone’ll get from me for the question “Why did I move t’ Canada?” I see th’ next thing that great granddaughter o’ mine is askin’ is “What was the trip like?” If she wants more than ‘bloody hell’ for an answer, I’ll be givin’ it some thought.

That cuid take some time.

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