Mom at the Glasgow Airport waiting for her plane to Canada, 1960


This letter was written by my mom in September 1960 just after she had immigrated to Canada.  I am not sure who the letter was intended for, as it is a draft, and there is no name after the salutation.  I think it was for a friend as she mentions her mother and sister in the letter.  Mom kept the letter in her papers, so I am not sure if a version of it was ever sent.  It is possible she was just writing out her experience for her own pleasure, or she made a copy for herself, or that she intended to type it.  

September 26th 1960


Well at last I’ve managed to sit down and put down details of my trip and impressions to date.

When I heard on Monday, 29th August, that my sailing had been cancelled I had no idea of how or when I would get here.  Tuesday I spent 3 hours at the Cunard office with no date or passage fixed.  Wednesday it was the same thing and I arrived home at 2:30 pm feeling that I’d never get away.  Imagine therefore the scene at 4 pm when Cunard phoned to say there was a flight from Glasgow the next day if I could manage to be on the 10:50 pm train on my own.  I certainly couldn’t have managed it, but, with Mom and Beryl doing the donkey work, we managed to pack a case to go with my be air and the case to be sent on after by sea and the family got me on the train.

It was unfortunate that my first trip to Scotland should have been such a brief one.  I arrived at 8:30 and after a cup of coffee went to the Cunard office to settle arrangements and then had till 1:30 to see Glasgow.  All I had time to do was to see some shops, have lunch and then it was time to collect my luggage and get to the air terminal.

The plane took off at 5:40 and the flight was a first for the majority of people on board. The plane was a Boeing 707 of Varig Airlines (a Brazilian co) and the crew normally flew New York-Buenos Aires and Rio.  It carried 168 passengers and cruised at a height of 35,000 ft at 540 mph.  The interior was very tastefully decorated, the seats were upholstered in a rough weave of blue with a black fleck, the carpets were lilac and grey flecked and the paint work was in light grey and white.

The journey seemed to consist of eating and drinking as far as I was concerned and we started off with chewing gum as we took off.  About an hour later we had dinner served by two hostesses (very pretty Brazilian girls with nice legs) and two stewards.  The meal consisted of soup; steak, chills, peas and tomoatoes; salad; fruit salad, rolls and butter; and red wine, then coffee afterwards. After this till the end of the flight there was a constant supply of cokes, 7 Up, tinned beer, cookies and chewing gum – all this of course supplied for free.  We were also given a packet of 4 cigarettes and some matches, but we couldn’t buy any cigs on board.

The weather was glorious all the way till we got to the coast of Canada where it was misty.  However, the mist cleared as we got over Quebec and so I got a glorious view of the St Lawrence which even from the air looks gigantic.  So 6 ½ hours after leaving Glasgow we were over Montreal, but because of the heavy air traffic, we had to circle for 20 minutes before landing.  So it was 12:30 before we stepped onto Canadian soil – or rather tarmac.  On landing the watches had to go back 5 hours and thus it was only 7:30 there.

The immigrant had to fill out a form and were the last to go though customs etc.  We saw one official who just checked passports and smallpox certificates and then on to an Immigration official to whom I handed the sealed envelope and found out that it was a typed duplicate of the form I had just filled in and he tore the latter up.  I wasn’t in the least amused because half way through filling up the damned form my pen ran out and I had to search for a bottle of ink in my bag – much to the amusement of all around.

After this I claimed my luggage only having to say whether I was carrying any furs, valuable jewellery, liquor or cigarettes.  Since I hadn’t any of the first 3 and only 5 cigarettes I was through customs almost immediately.

The porter picked up my luggage and asked where I was going and when told I hadn’t got anywhere directed me to the Traveller’s Aid.  This is a service provided free in main stations in all the larger centres, and they help  you find temporary accommodation and if you don’t speak English or French they usually provide interpreters.  Anyway I got fixed up at that and caught the airport bus to Montreal.

[page 2]

Provide an interpreter.  Anyway I got fixed up at the YW and caught the airport bus into Montreal.

By this time I was dead beat and when I got to the YW I went straight to bed, for although it was only 9 pm there, it was 2 am at home and I hadn’t had any sleep the night before.  I still felt tired the next morning so when I checked the time my train I changed my ticket and got  a sleeper.  To add to my confusion about time the trains run on standard time, which was an hour earlier than local time, which had an hour summer time – anyway at 4:15 local time I was on my way to Edmonton.

The trains are extremely clean and the service is very good – the result no doubt of having 2 competing railroads.  You can either sit in seats below your sleeper or in the lounge car, where you can get drinks up to 12 midnight. In the tourist class, ie just below first, apart from the conventional type sleeper, they have roomettes, which have their own fold away bed, wash basin and WC.  There are 2 dining cars on the train; a diner, which is a restaurant, which I didn’t frequent!, and a dinette, which has a snack bar counter, which serves meals through the day up to 9:30 pm.

I managed to “acquire” 8 males through the journey, and got my drinks paid for.  After 1 bottle of beer I stuck to martinis & rye.  The beer was just like pop and with not as much taste, but I was told that beer outside Ontario is stronger – it needs to be!!!

In the 2 hours between Montreal and Ottawa you get farms (like at home), patches of forest land and small towns.  This was my first sight of Canadian houses which are not the least like in the UK probably because they use such a lot of wood.  Coming into Ottawa is very pleasant along the side of the river with gardens.  When you leave Ottawa you back out for a long way before proceeding down a side line.  From then on till 6 pm the next night you’re in Ontario and the scenery is predominantly fir trees and lakes.  When I went to bed the first night I had a wonderful view out of the window of a full moon shining over the trees & lakes and it was breathtaking.  The first day what grass I had seen had been very brown and parched, but on the second morning it was raining till noon and the grass began to look greener tho’ nothing near as rich a green as in the UK.  In the early afternoon we had a 10 minute stop at Sioux Look Out & here I saw my first American Indians – alas in western dress.

Winnipeg we reached at 11 that night, and had a 45 minute stop and I got off.  I walked around the station (stations are much cleaner and more alive than those of BR).  Soon after this you hit prairies (although you see more by the other route).  However, as we travelled through this at night, the only prairies I saw were in the morning when I woke up just before Saskatoon.  The fields looked very beautiful in the morning sun but I can imagine how boring they would get if you had to look at them far more than an hour.

The Alberta scenery I liked very much. Except that it was more vast it was similar to the UK with rolling grassland with shrubs.  So at 1 o’clock on the 3rd day I reached Edmonton.

The journey apart from being mainly eating and sleeping gives you an excellent opportunity to meet people.  Canadians are extremely friendly and soon get talking and their friendliness is not of the nosey parker type either.  Anything you want to know no matter how trivial it may appear will be forthcoming because they want you to know their country and its ways, and there is no doubt in their mind that you will like it.

Edmonton, itself is a very pleasant city.  The houses are well spread out on either side of the North Saskatchewan River.  Everywhere is very


Clean, largely due I should imagine to no heating by coal (or very little).  Alberta has a plentiful supply of natural gas (which it exports to the States) and most of the heating is by this.

One of the first thing that strikes you (or rather doesn’t strike you!) is the traffic.  It seems to go much slower than at home and the standard of driving seems generally to be a lot better.  More care is taken on intersections and cars slow down nearly to a halt.  In Edmonton pedestrians have right of way at all intersections not controlled by lights (which have a wait and walk light) and still find it strange to find cars stopping to let me walk over.  Equally there doesn’t seem to be as much jay walking because the law is just as firm on this.  I must say that the law is different in Montreal and there as in London or Birmingham, you takes a chance!

In Montreal I saw a few Volkswagen but only 4 British cards, a Minor 1000, Riley 1.5, Austin Cambridge and Hillman Minx.  Here I would say that 2/3 of the cars are the monster type. The rest are foreign. Volkswagens are popular but are outnumbered by British – Austin (Cambridge, 90s, Sprites & Healeys), Riley 1.5, Hillman, Jaguar, MG (Saloon & Sports) Triumph TR3 (I haven’t seen a Herald, although they are on sale here) Morris 1000 & Miniminor.

The big department stores (Hudson’s Bay Co & Eaton’s) are very much as at home.  The Bay, particularly, seems to have a lot of stuff imported from England though a lot of it should have stayed there. China like Wedgewood, Royal Staffordshire, Royal Albert etc are fine but there were far too many pieces of the crinoline lady in violent colours and gold paint type were around. I was talking to one lady about buying a Denbyware teapot, which she eventually bought and I’m sure it would last longer than the gold plastered rubbish.  In the clothes line, Scottish sweaters are fine but they have a lot of trash too.

In style clothes look very similar, though tailored clothes (coats, suits, dresses) seem to be of much inferior materials and are very expensive, eg a coat costing about 10-12 guineas costs over 90 dollars, ie about £30.  Court shoes are pointed as at home, but there doesn’t seem to be as great a selection in flat casuals & haven’t seen any louis heels yet.

The weather has been mainly glorious, we’ve only had 3 days rain in 3 weeks.  Although it’s very warm during the day the nights are beginning to get colder & temperatures of 35°F are quite common at night.

General wear for rain seems to  be plastic macs & rainhats or head scarves.  The first day it rained I used my umbrella and only saw 2 others in town, but I don’t think umbrellas are as pretty as in the UK, but they don’t have as much use for them.

The price of food is as a whole slightly more expensive – some things are the same price but others dearer. But of course wages are higher.

I have a job at the University but am moving around until they have a permanent post to offer me.  The University buildings vary from residences built in 1912 to buildings just completed.  Even the old buildings look better because they’re clean.  The atmosphere is the same as in the UK and the administration works on the same lines too!


October 16th 1960

In typical fashion I don’t seem to have been able to get down to writing this and as a result there’s been quite a gap between the first 3 pages and this.

I was informed when I started the University that I should be moving around but as it turned out I worked in one department all the time and as from Monday 17th October I shall be the departmental secretary due to the transfer of the present secretary to another department.

The Department is Mining and Metallurgy and is a smaller one than Maths & Physics at B’ham.  However, in spite of its size it has 3 Profs and one assistant Prof and a lecturer.  It has an active research team and I’m looking forward to having a fair amount of typing to do.  I have an IBM electric typewriter and am gradually getting used to it.  I find the proportional spacing of letters a pest when I make mistakes, but it should teach me to be more careful.

Our hours are 8:30 – 4:30 with an hour & quarter for lunch, Monday to Friday and during term time Saturday morning 8:30 – 12.  When you remember I found 9:30 an impossible hour to get to work you will be astounded to hear that except for 3 mornings I’ve made it for 8:30. I like the idea of leaving at 4:30 because it gives you a chance to spend a leisurely evening and if you want to go out in the evening have plenty of time to get ready.

Cinemas here are as in the UK except that they don’t open on Sundays and you can’t smoke. There are some drive-in theatres round town but up to the present time haven’t visited one. The films showing are the same as in London, and we get, it seems, as many British films as in the UK.  There is only one price of admission to a show and you can sit anywhere in the theatre –  I don’t know if this holds good for other parts of Canada.

As I said in the earliest part weather has been very good.  On the Thursday and Friday the week before last it was so warm that I went to work in a cotton dress & cardigan. Imagine my surprise therefore when I woke up on the Saturday to find it snowing.  It snowed from 7:30 am – 1 pm and by 11 am 3.7 inches had fallen.  It rained during the afternoon and with that, the sun on the Sunday all the snow had cleared.  And since then, except for last Wednesday when it rained all day, we’ve had warm sunny  weather.  When people had said that the snow would come suddenly and I’d wake up one morning and their it would be I thought they were kidding, but now I know better.

I have been extremely fortunate in getting a housekeeping room only 7 minutes walk from the University.  The four girls with rooms on the same floor and the family are extremely friendly – in fact it feels like being a member of a large family instead of renting a room somewhere.  I pay slightly less for my room per month than I did in London and I don’t have to pay for electric, gas or local telephone calls.  In the basement there is a washing machine& we can dry washing down there or in the garden depending on the weather.

A fortnight ago I went to a dance which I enjoyed. On the whole I don’t think the men dance as well as Englishmen – they’re too inclined to shuffle.  One thing they beat the Englishmen on there is manners.  After a dance you are escorted back to the side; a very pleasant change from being left in the middle of the floor by the average Englishman. A lot more of the men have cars and therefore it is common to get a lift home.

A thing I’ve really missed has been the flowers. The season is very short here and what flowers that were in the gardens when I arrived (asters, pansies & dahlias etc) have now been dug up in preparation for the winter.  Flowers are expensive to buy and I miss being able to get small bunches of anemones etc to put in my room Potted plants


To put in my room.  Potted plants are very popular particularly South African violets of which I have a remarkably fine specimen. In any case the plants would stand up to the heated rooms better than cut flowers I guess.

You now have a jumbled account of what I’ve been doing and what I think of things – I hope you’re able to sort some sense out of it at all.

Before I came I’d been impressed with the fact that life over here was different and thinking this I’ve not found it to be as different as I expected and therefore I’ve settled down very easily – far more easily in fact than I found it to settle in London.  Although basically we’re the same kind of people believing in the same kinds of things, Canadians do things differently and they have a different slant of things – once this is accepted and you don’t say ‘we do such and such in the UK! And realise that the Canadian way is much better for them the differences don’t seem so marked. I find that I now do my thinking a la Canadian and that the number of times I class myself as English are getting fewer. For example, when people ask me about things in the UK, I find it difficult to explain why we do things in a certain way.

One thing we have superiority in is our BBC television and our theatre and music. I haven’t seen any theatre productions in the main cities but have found that culturally Edmonton doesn’t have a great deal to offer. Of course Canada is a new country and its population’s small compared to its size and therefore it is more difficult to support symphony orchestras etc, within easy reach of most small cities. Of course it’s usually the way of things that when you have a wide selection of theatres within easy reach as in London you don’t go (I only went twice in 9 months) and then when you haven’t got them you suddenly think you’d like to go.

Television (ie CBC) is slightly better than ITV but is equally riddled with gangsters and westerns.  Last Monday I saw an excellent production of HMS Pinafore. It was a Tyrone Guthrie Stratford (Ontario) production.  It was far superior to the Doyle Carte productions I’ve seen.  I understand that another station is contemplated in Edmonton and it will be interesting to see what difference competition will make.

That’s all for now.  Best wishes to you all

[Signed] Sheila