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Origin Stories: All aboard for a new life in Canada

As part of Metro's ongoing Origin Stories series, Barbara Powell shares how her desire for a 'great Canadian adventure' led her across the Atlantic — and to her new home in Ottawa.

Barbara Powell holds a photo album of her journey to emigrate to Canada on the Empress of Britain in 1957, in her home in Ottawa.

Justin Tang / For Metro

Barbara Powell holds a photo album of her journey to emigrate to Canada on the Empress of Britain in 1957, in her home in Ottawa.

During the Fifties, the Government of Canada was actively recruiting people in the United Kingdom to emigrate to Canada. Frequently the newspapers would have advertisements indicating there would be a film and informational talk with government officials at some downtown location.

I was barely out of my teens but a fairly seasoned traveller for my age and I was very restless living and working in the British midlands, so the idea of going to Canada definitely appealed to me, as did a pleasant evening of film and discussion. I was easily won over to the idea of a big trip to another country and started the process of application to emigrate.

I passed the medical checks, all the forms were completed and I booked a passage on the Empress of Britain to sail out of Liverpool in July 1957. My trunk was loaded into the ship’s hold, I had a small suitcase with me in my cabin and I was incredibly excited to be on my way to the great Canadian adventure!

The Empress of Britain was an immigrant ship and I was sharing a cabin with three young women — one of whom was terribly seasick and spent the whole voyage in her bunk bed. After a rather queasy morning going around the south coast of Ireland I felt just fine. Of course it was wonderful meeting many others on the journey headed for cities and towns all over the country. We had a grand few days and the weather was especially nice sailing down the St. Lawrence.

Postcards, left, and photos, right, of the ocean liner Empress of Britain, is shown in Barbara Powell's photo album of her journey to emigrate to Canada in 1957, in Ottawa, Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.

Justin Tang / For Metro

Postcards, left, and photos, right, of the ocean liner Empress of Britain, is shown in Barbara Powell's photo album of her journey to emigrate to Canada in 1957, in Ottawa, Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.

Announcements were made that immigration officials would board the ship at Father Point in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and we would be called for interviews. I will never forget that experience. The kindly immigration officer asked me where I was going: “Ottawa,” I said, then he asked what kind of work I did. “Secretarial,” I said. “Oh, they’ll love you there!” was his response as I was handed a “landed Immigrant” slip.

Wow, this was really something. What better welcome could a person get!

We had a brief stop in Quebec City and disembarked in Montreal. While everyone’s luggage was being removed from the hold and placed in alphabetical order on the dockside, we curious newcomers hung over the ship’s railings and gawked at the line-up of huge cars. At least they seemed huge to us — remember the old Chevrolets with the butterfly wing back?

I collected my trunk and suitcases and boarded a west-bound train for Ottawa. Other occupants were going to northern Ontario (Algoma Steel) or to various cities out west.

I was extremely lucky to be able to stay with a friend for a few days while I searched for employment and accommodation for myself. I had both inside a week; first I was hired to work in the express office of Canadian National Railways which was located in the old train station across from the Chateau Laurier, and secondly I found a bed-sitting room on Nepean Street.

We had street cars in those days in Ottawa and on my very first day in town I visited Parliament Hill and saw thousands of logs floating in booms down the Ottawa River. No Rideau Centre, no National Arts Centre or National Gallery in those days. It was a very different place back then.

As years went by I put down roots one root at a time. I went to college, carved a career, became a Canadian citizen, got married, had one child, and travelled the country from St. John’s to Victoria. Now here I am — 60 years later having experienced Canada's’s 100th birthday at Expo in Montreal in 1967 and its 150th birthday in Ottawa in July.

We are telling tales of our multicultural nation through your stories of arrival. Share yours for a chance to be included in the series with #MetroOrigins or email: sjbattersby@metronews.ca

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