I was born and educated in England and immigrated to Canada in 1967. My family and I lived and worked in many different countries while my children were growing up. The places where we lived included: Switzerland, Zambia, Iran, Laos, South Africa, Chile and Ecuador. I now live in Ottawa, Ontario.
Canada’s Centennial was in 1967. That year, on Jan. 18, Cunard’s Carinthia docked in Halifax and my toddler daughter, my husband, our dog and I became landed immigrants to Canada. We were glad to step onto solid ground after a very rough Atlantic crossing from Liverpool, England.
This year, 2017, is Canada’s 150th birthday and this month marks 50 years since we landed in Halifax, young, ready for adventure and a new life.
Fifty years sounds a very long time but the years have passed quickly and much has happened. I’ve been truly blessed as an immigrant to Canadian shores.
We spent our first years in Northern Quebec – a magical land of trees, lakes and snow – where we were befriended by our neighbours in a small enclave of houses beside a mine. The Cree made a sled for our South African German Shepherd dog to pull the whole family across miles of frozen lakes. He took to Canadian life wholeheartedly and soon had offspring for miles around. Since then, we have travelled and lived around the world – wherever work took us – and on the whole life has been good.
When we came to Canada we always intended to stay. I believe our mindset was different from established people, as we looked upon every new move and place with excited anticipation and we never thought about pensions or growing older. I suppose we lived in the moment. We were lucky when we came to Canada: there was a choice of jobs for my husband and as we had been seduced by the movies about the north aboard the ship, that’s where we decided to go. We spoke French and English, and Quebec appealed as being the most European province.
My husband had started his journey as a refugee in Switzerland and on marriage I was part of his fate. Our children accepted our nomadic life as normal (although perhaps 18 schools was a bit much) and they have both succeeded and are firmly rooted now.
On returning to Ottawa from our world travels, I worked for the government. When my husband and I parted ways, my life expanded as I was welcomed by a widespread indigenous family across the Prairies. My family has grown, with my own grandsons and many step-grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My travels have been the basis of my novels – six published and the seventh struggling to be born. I’m very involved with the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign raising funds for sub-Saharan grandmothers bringing up their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren. With groups of Canadian grandmothers, I travelled to two African Grandmothers' gatherings in Swaziland and Uganda, amazing experiences. And, quite separately from this, after many years of helping to build and stock a library in Guinea Conakry, West Africa, I attended the inauguration of La Bibliothèque Communale Jennifer Baniczky Cook, in Donghol Touma, last October.
Recently, as I worked and talked to a fellow volunteer at the soup kitchen where I’ve worked for more than 30 years, we agreed that we were an amazingly multicultured people. Our Saturday volunteers originally come from India, Ukraine, Syria, Morocco, the Philippines, Haiti, Africa, Iran, Europe, the U.S. and other places, as well as those who were Canadian-born. We work harmoniously together. We all have different stories and different roots but we are Canadians.
I’m lucky that my life is so rich in people and experiences. I’m a great believer that life is what one makes of it. This is what I have embraced after Canada took my family in 50 years ago. Truly a blessing.
(1) my daughter and I arriving in Canada; (2) a view of our new home beside the mine in Quebec and (3) our car with the Expo 1967 plate.
(1) Zoltan as a carefree puppy in Africa and (2) Zoltan the working dog pulling the sled with my two children riding, a little friend and myself going for our afternoon "walk" beside the mine.