One in four Hamiltonians come from cities, towns and villages outside of Canada. How blessed we are to have been chosen. What a responsibility we bear to welcome. What an opportunity we have to learn and live together.
By Maureen Wilson
Published August 01, 2018
In October 1956, my dad landed in Canada. After a rough voyage across the Atlantic, his boat docked in Montreal.
Dad made his way into the city to find something to eat. It had been days since he had been able to hold anything down.
He ordered the very first item on the menu. Keep it simple. Don't create work for people. For the first time in his life, my dad was served two eggs. Never before had he eaten two whole eggs. He had arrived.
My grandparents worked in the linen mills. Dad worked in the co-op grocery store. Like so many others of his generation, he had to leave to find his way out. Ireland's loss. Canada's gain.
He was into health and fitness before health and fitness was a thing. He was a member of a runners' club, the Belfast Harriers. It wasn't unusual for him to run multiple half-marathons each week.
He was and remains curious. This curiosity caused him to hop a vessel one weekend with his bike and ride around Paris.
After landing in Montreal, he made his way to northern Ontario. The nickel mines were hiring. The city boy from Belfast found his way up to Wawa, north of Sault Ste. Marie and eventually to a small town an hour outside of Sudbury. So began life in the mines.
I am a proud miner's daughter.
Our small town was predominately a mix of French-speaking Canadians - transplants from northern Quebec - and immigrants. It was a great place to grow up.
My dad studied "new math". We got the Globe and Mail two days after it was printed. It came into town from Toronto on the Greyhound. Dad still gets the Globe and reads it cover to cover each day. He liked to read. He would stay up all hours and read history books and biographies after his shifts.
He is probably one of a handful of Canadians who watches the Parliamentary Channel on a regular basis. Dad knows more about Canadian politics and history than I do.
My mom took the same voyage to join my dad. She learned how to sew and knit. Much to my eldest brother's chagrin, she made his high school graduation suit. She canned, pickled and preserved. The grocery stores were over an hour away. The winter drives were often treacherous.
Dad got laid off in the mid-1960s. The family drove to B.C.'s interior and Dad found work. A year later, he was called back and the family returned to the same mine in northern Ontario. We settled in and stayed.
Dad got two weeks of summer vacation. My mom would have the car packed and ready, and we would pull out of the driveway with the tent trailer as soon as dad completed his last shift on the Friday. We had one blue Coleman cooler and one green two-burner Coleman stove.
We would drive 400 miles before stopping to find a campsite, set up the trailer, and get dinner ready. This was before the days of GPS, ATMs, car radios, power steering, air conditioning and Apple products. As a mother of three children, I don't know how my parents did it.
We stopped at rest stops along the way and ate tomato sandwiches out of English chocolate tins. Today, my brothers and I still refer to tomato sandwiches as pink sandwiches. By the time my dad decided to pull over, the juice of the tomatoes had fully saturated the bread. We finished our meal with thermoses of tea and homemade cookies. Life was good.
While my small town was a great place to grow up, my parents wanted to ensure that we knew of life outside the town.
My parents missed the sea. Our destination was always Canada's east coast. Mom and Dad's only regret was that we never had enough vacation time to get to Newfoundland. So when my dad stopped working in the mines, the first place he and my mom travelled to was, of course, Newfoundland. That was in 1986. They still exchange Christmas cards with the woman who hosted them in her Bed and Breakfast.
My mom took the highest prize for mathematics in school in Belfast. But my very stern great-grandmother informed her that a university education would be wasted on a girl.
Like the children of most immigrants, my parents valued family and education above all else. It was the only way to get up and out of the hand you were dealt. And by golly, work hard. Work harder than anyone else. And then work hard some more.
I thought of my mom and dad's journey this week after I checked off an item on my bucket list. At Hamilton City Hall, I watched 40 people from 15 different countries take the oath of Canadian citizenship. It was all that I expected it to be - moving, uplifting and motivating.
Dr. Gary Warner administered the oaths.
Dr. Warner told everyone in the audience that Canadian citizenship is highly valued throughout the world because Canada is considered to be a tolerant and peaceful society.
He spoke about the importance of being an active citizen as part of our efforts to maintain a robust community. It was nice to hear someone of Dr. Warner's stature speak to the importance and value of activism.
Dr. Warner spent time addressing the need for all Canadians, old and new, to acknowledge the presence of Indigenous People and called on each of us to learn as much as possible of their past and present contributions to Canada.
He noted that citizenship enjoys both rights and responsibilities. Dr. Warner said that we all have a duty to help create a society free of discrimination.
My parents didn't become Canadian citizens until the early 1980s. There was paperwork, but no ceremony. I wished they would have had the opportunity to participate in what I observed this week. I know with great certainly and enormous pride that since their arrival to Canada, they have worked hard at answering Dr. Warner's call.
One in four Hamiltonians come from cities, towns and villages outside of Canada. How blessed we are to have been chosen. What a responsibility we bear to welcome. What an opportunity we have to learn and live together. How much stronger Hamilton will be because of our diversity.
I read an article in the Globe last week that made me sad and angry. It said that a select group of voters from Ontario don't care about reconciliation with the first peoples to walk this land.
But the Citizenship ceremony and Dr. Warner's teachings left me buoyed and confident that more people will heed his call, and the insecure and angry voices among us will soon be drowned out by the new Canadians and young Canadians who follow us.
My parents worked so very hard. They sacrificed so much. They left their families and friends behind and they started anew. I know they have made Canada stronger and better. This week's service reminded me that this tradition will continue.
Editor's Note: Maureen Wilson is a registered candidate for Ward 1 in the upcoming October 22, 2018 municipal election. You can see the official list of registered candidates on the City of Hamilton's Nominated Candidates for Mayor and Ward Councillor web page.
Raise the Hammer has a longstanding policy of not endorsing candidates, and this article should not be regarded as an editorial endorsement of the author. However, all candidates are welcome to submit articles for publication. We will accept any submission that does not violate our submission guidelines. Raise the Hammer is a free, volunteer-run publication that does not charge money for access to content and does not receive any revenue of any kind, including for commercial or political advertising.
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