Journey of the Immigrants: Part II

The writer’s correspondence describes arrival in Cranbrook to friends back in England


Cars in the winter: We eventually purchased a Plymouth and learned the hard way about keeping it going in Prince George winters.

February 1956. Dear old friends:

Your wife wants to go shopping and it’s forty below so you retrieve the battery from near the furnace in the basement. You stagger into the elements, put the battery down while you open the car door and freeze to it. It takes about five minutes to remove the hand, less some skin, from the handle and attempt to prise open the bonnet (hood) and install the battery.

The next move is to rush indoors and suffer the agonies of thawing fingers and defrosting ears and nose. Feeling thoroughly sick, you again venture outside to disconnect the lead (extension cord) from the cylinder block heater. This electrical marvel is supposed to keep the engine oil from freezing solid but is usually found well cemented into the now congealed oil.

They have a happy knack here of not providing starter handles on American vehicles so the unfortunate starter motor is urged into action. With many misgivings you climb into the driver’s seat, freeze your nether regions and turn the ignition key which, by then, is securely frozen to your thumb. Nothing happens. You might get a feeble whirring noise or, more usually, a dull clunk.

You are now forced to get someone to give you and the car a push or pay $2.00 service charge and ‘bump start’ by being shoved around town by a demoniacal driver from the service station. This is more excitement than most people need in a life-time. The Plymouth is presently buried under several feet of snow. We cadge rides.

Just the opposite of this is ice-fishing. Some of the few Canadian teachers in the High School invited us new-comers to go ice-fishing. I don’t know whether this was kindness or sadism. On one frigid (as per usual) Sunday we stood around small in hole the ice of a local lake and froze our bottoms off and caught nothing. Then along came a game warden and we immigrants were ‘arrested en masse’ for having no licences. We didn’t realize that one has to be licenced to freeze to death. As one of the Canadians commented, “They’ll have to shut down the school. You guys’ll be in court on Monday.”

Somehow, we got away with it, being ignorant ‘Jay-cees’. This is short for ‘Just-a-comes’, that is ‘immigrants’.

Most people here are immigrants, it seems. Our landlord has a Ukrainian accent as thick as borsht although he’s never been to the Ukraine. He was born in Saskatchewan, a couple of provinces east of here. He’s a very pleasant man and allows us to use his telephone whenever necessary. Like you, probably, we’ve never had a phone in the house.

The locals informed us that there are only two seasons here: ten months of winter; two months of something else. So, although everything is frozen solid most of the time, the locals still make strips of ice indoors so that they can go ‘curling’. This is a sport that was invented in Scotland and very quickly exported. Jimmy and I were invited to a ‘bonspiel’ where we were sorted into teams of four individuals whose common aim seems to be to get drunk as soon as possible and thus sit out somewhere in the warm. I was appointed ‘lead’ and was first to throw a huge lump of granite down the ice to where it crashed into some boards with a resounding ‘thunk’. I was quite proud of my prowess. The fourth one to slide a ‘rock’ gently down the ice was the ‘skip’, a very bossy woman. By midnight or so, the other players on my ‘rink’, including her ladyship, were incapable of coherent thought or actually standing up. I became skip. Elsewhere, Jimmy was skipping too.

Most weekends we ski at the local American Radar base and some evenings on a local cut-bank where there are three convenient lights. I can now make three consecutive turns; Jimmy is incredibly patient with me.

Cheers, us