Awright – Aggie here again.

I cannae help wonderin’ about th’ lights I keep seein’. Everywhere I turn. In th’ gey middle of th’ nicht, paukit lights keekin’ out from corners, like wee faeries spying on ye. Green ones. Red ones. Och – even th’ light switch has a light.

The lass says it means things are workin’. I suppose with everything runnin’ on electricity th’ logic has some sense, but do they need to keep flickering ‘n’ changing colours?  And why folks need to know th’ tellybox is workin’ while they’re sound asleep is beyond my ken. Maybe modern folk have just grown feart o’ complete darkness.

But I will say that crossing th’ ocean to Halifax, I did appreciate th’ soft light outside our berth at night …

Steerage or not, sailing o’er th’ Atlantic was nae th’ most tricky leg of our journey t’ Edmonton, for certain. Once we found our way around an’ set a rhythm, nae much happened. Th’ days stretched lang, as if th’ ship was being dragged by one o’ th’ wee tugboats I’d seen hauling timber on th’ Clyde back in Glasgow.

Rough waters for a day ‘n’ a half near th’ start did cause a brief seasickness for Jean ‘n’ Lily, an’ they made guid use o’ the bucket hanging inside our berth for a time, but we were lucky. ’Twas over in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Some folks didnae recover from th’ motion sickness for half th’ trip. At least th’ stewards ‘n’ matrons kept a regular clean-up schedule an’ in that stuffy space, I came to appreciate th’ reek of disinfectant.

Being a few years older an’ with such charm, his magic tricks ‘n’ knowin’ so much about th’ ship, Ion was a good distraction for Colin. Once th’ lassies’ tummies settled to th’ rolling motion, they’d sometimes venture to play with other weans in th’ common area but mostly kept close, entertaining themselves with their toy animals an’ Jean’s wee stack o’ books while I knitted. Lily favoured Peter Rabbit an’ wanted to read it over ‘n’ over. So muckle, even Jean wuid lose patience an’ object. But they both well knew that any fussin’ wuid get ‘em sent straight to kip so for th’ most part kept wheesht.

Och – when I think back, I can see Jean was already perfecting that stern-eyed, tongue-rolled-under th’ teeth, crabbit face of hers.


The boat was but half full an’ most passengers stayed outside on th’ top deck th’ entire day for fresh air. But th’ cold wind took away my breath an’ sent a chill through my bones. Every time th’ stewards sent us there to be out of th’ way for clean-up an’ inspection, I’d tuck myself into a protected corner if I cuid find one an’ let th’ weans run ‘n’ stretch their legs, but was aye happy to get back inside.

Folks tended to be pleasant enough but stowed with their own business. Most socializing happened at mealtimes or outside where ’twas crowded. In th’ two or three days of rainy weather most women lounged in a designated sitting area but th’ men mainly kept to their own room where they were permitted to smoke their pipes. Aside from th’ handful o’ blokes gettin’ into their cups ‘n’ a little disruptive every nicht after supper, ’twas gey civil.


Some passengers were to stop in Halifax. Others movin’ on to Boston with th’ ship. Most wuid be getting th’ train at th’ docks like us but getting off in any number o’ places along th’ route. Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg … all th’ way to Vancouver.  One woman, Martha if I recall, said her family was headin’ to Edmonton, same as us, but only to catch a wagon goin’ up north. The gey thought of somewhere further north than Edmonton sent a shiver bolting through my body an’ clouded my ears so I ne’er did hear their exact destination.

Except for a couple of overcooked and dried out suppers, th’ food was bland but edible ‘n’ plentiful enough. If it weren’t for th’ dishes o’ pickles served at dinner ‘n’ supper, I’d have come to fear my taste-buds had stopped workin’. Afternoon tea ‘n’ cake was one thing I came to appreciate for settlin’ my mynd an’ givin’ me a sense of home.
Counting th’ days calmed me for a time but once we reached Day 6, my insides began to churn, I had so many questions swimmin’ in my heid.

What if they discovered Lily was deaf?
Would they just put us back on th’ boat?
What if I lost my passport or our medical cards?
Would my train voucher be there, waiting?
What if th’ train leaves without us?

How many times I checked, sorted, and re-sorted my papers in th’ middle of th’ day or nicht, I cannae count but ’twas nae near enough to soothe my worries. Th’ only thing I cuid do was make certain we were organized, an’ keep on knitting.

With a full-on week o’ train-travel waitin’ for us, I knew th’ weans ‘n’ I needed a solid washup, hair ‘n’ all, before we got off th’ boat. Somethin’ told me th’ CPR wuid nae be offerin’ us a proper space to wash in. At least on th’ boat ’twas always possible to find a basin available on th’ long wall in th’ women’s lavatory, an’ I had my own soap ‘n’ two crakin’ towels so didnae worry if th’ ship’s were all used up. Takin’ a soakin’ bath was out of th’ question, though. For some reason, th’ three bathtubs on board were kept secret. I didnae learn of them ’til over halfway across th’ ocean an’ by then I’d adjusted to duin’ without.

An’ when I did learn of ’em, that steward peddlin’ appointments was nae gettin’ a cent from me to use one of his precious tubs! Och – Th’ same crook who cleaned th’ floors around th’ berths at night sellin’ fruit ‘n’ biscuits from a leather sac hangin’ over his shoulder. All of it, nae better than third-rate an’ aye a luxury too dear for th’ likes of us.

But I knew most everyone else on th’ ship had th’ identical plan to mine so th’ day next to docking, I woke th’ bairns well before th’ morning bell to be first in th’ lavatory. Colin balked at having to wash with his sisters so I gave ’em my button bag ‘n’ some lengths of wool for stringing an’ sat ’em facing a neuk while I teuk care of him first. Once he was spic ‘n’ span shiny, I sent him off to claim a spot for our breakfast while I bathed th’ lassies. My own washing would have to wait until nicht when everyone was sleeping.

The day we were to finally reach the Port of Halifax, th’ sound of th’ 6:30 wakeup bell set th’ ship into a high-spirited flurry of crew cleanin’ ‘n’ passengers packin’.  Th’ excitement was contagious but with everyone so occupied, I cuidnae but picture us bein’ fed anything besides bread ‘n’ jam for th’ day. Imagine my astonishment when th’ stewards announced th’ cooks had prepared a goodbye dinner for us. An’ a magic meal ’twas. Th’ curry flavour added to th’ mutton ‘n’ rice was a crakin surprise, but th’ plumb pudding drizzled with hot brandy sauce tickled my tastebuds. ’Twas a braw cheerio, indeed.

Th’ ship was supposed to dock around 6:00pm, or so. Th’ gey thought had Colin too worked up to rest so to keep him from getting on my nerves, after th’ table was cleared I cast off th’ last row of my knittin’ an’ ran my hands over the crakin’ ‘n’ cozy wool muffler before rolling it tight ‘n’ handin’ it to th’ lad.

“Take this straight to Ion an’ give him my thanks. Help him an’ his mam with their packin’ but make sure to be back by 4:30 so ye can get changed into your guid clothes.”

I cuidnae believe it. After eight days crossin’ th’ Atlantic Ocean, we were about to arrive in Canada. I’d been up since th’ wee hours bathin’ ‘n’ washin’ my hair, shakin’ out an’ brushin’ off my fine woollen suit ‘n’ silk shirtwaist waitin’ all week to be worn again, an’ getting our packing done well before th’ day started.

Exhausted as I was, I didnae ken what to do with myself while Jean n’ Lily napped. Nibbling at my stash of fudge while I paced th’ dining area to slow th’ somersaults of disbelief in my own tummy as I waited for tea-time was a boggin’ effort.

If I was to be right ready when we landed, watchin’ time was critical. At 4:00pm I drained my cuppa’ an’ returned to th’ berth. Wheesht as a mouse, I tightened my corset, slipped on my braw skirt ‘n’ creamy blouse before plaiting up my hair. Och – fine as ’twas it felt guid t’ be out of that striped day-dress an’ have my cameo chain around my neck again. With no mirror to check th’ fitted lines of my jacket, I had to trust th’ braw fabric an’ my own sewing skills.

After fluffing th’ plume ‘n’ smoothing th’ velvet of my guid hat, I pinned it on solid an’ woke my wee lassies. I’d barely got ’em dressed, a crakin’ bow tied in each’s hair, when Colin returned.
“Mummy, we’re nearly there.” He charged in to the berth his face flushed pink ‘n’ smiling.

         “Och – I ken, luv.” I took a deep breath. “Get your knickers ‘n’ shirt changed an’ close-up th’ poke when you’re done. We may be th’ last to get off th’ boat, but we can gang up to th’ top deck ‘n’ watch th’ ship arrive in Canada.”

            I was nae about to waste an afternoon’s work of dressing, so after tying down Jean ‘n’ Lily’s curls under th’ mohair bonnets Mother had knitted for them, I shoved an extra pin into my own hat an’ wrapped a fine shawl o’ertop to keep everything in place. But up on deck, bitter winds from every direction set th’ heavy clouds to churnin’. I swear they were trying to strip th’ clothes off our gey backs an’ cuidnae fault Ion ‘n’ his mam for stayin’ below. The gales were tough enough to carry th’ wee woman all th’ way back to Ireland.  I ne’er did spy th’ young leprechaun again.

As th’ weans ‘n’ I stood clutching our coats tight, watching th’ land come closer ‘n’ closer, I didnae ken if ’twas from excitement or terror, but in that windy welcome to Canada my heart felt duin to burst.


’Twas nasty weather indeed when we arrived in Halifax an’ late as ’twas, our day was far from over. Th’ gey thought still sends a chill richt through my bones.

Hmm – a wee dram of whiskey would warm me up nicely richt about now. I ken th’ lass has a braw bottle or two stored in th’ cabinet an’ with any luck, she’s left it unlocked today.

Ta-ta for now…

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