Grandpa's Story

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Part Two

I am on my way to Canada.  The last goodbyes have been said.  A worried Mother and family left behind, the final and definite step taken and the wheels of the railway carriage are clickety-clacketing me in to the unknown.

I am scared and full of doubt.  What lies ahead of me?  Are the things the immigration people have been telling me true?  The pictures showing such wide open spaces with no houses in sight makes it look a very lonesome place where one could easily get lost and die.  Have the hordes of people like me been fooled into believing Canada to be the promised land of plenty?  What is going to become of them?  Who is going to guide and direct this vast variety of people into channels where they can find what they are seeking, a new and better life in a new world?

I wonder if these other people in this railway carriage with me can see how scared I am?  I have never been on the sea or on a ship before and now I am facing a voyage of thousands of miles.  What will it be like?   If I am sea sick, who will look after me?  Ah well!  I will not be the only first-timer aboard and if I am going to get along in Canada, I will have to take what comes and learn to depend on my own resources to get by.

It will not be any harder to do than my first week as salesman in Wales.  I remember I was so scared I walked by the first store I was to call at three or four times before I worked up enough courage to go in.  Once I was inside I found the storekeeper sympathetic to a new man on the road and, from then on, the work of selling became easier.  It will be the same now, so face up to it, you have to go through with it, there is no turning back.

 Tickets on CorsicanThe miles slipped by and in a more relaxed mood I reached Liverpool, the train stopping on the dock beside the 'Corsican' the immigrant ship upon which I was booked to sail.  There was lots of activity unloading and loading luggage, checking tickets, asking and answering questions, and trying to understand all the unusual sights and procedures of a busy dock where a departing ship was being loaded.

Eventually we were shepherded aboard and I went down several flights of steps into a room with four double bunks on each side, one port hole which would not open.  We were told to keep any extra clothing or belongings we had with us on our own bunk as there were no closets or cupboards in the room, and there was certainly no extra space with sixteen men in such confined quarters.  We were told to go to the 'dining room' in two hours time and we would be given a meal.  This crowding of passengers appeared to be general throughout the steerage class quarters, showing the effectiveness of the Canadian immigration campaign and the strong desire of the English middle and lower classes to attempt to better their living conditions.

On the same morning I left Leicester, a local train left Gillingham in Kent, carrying a young lady who would transfer in London to the Liverpool express, her eventual destination, Canada, via the 'Corsican'.  Her older sister, May, had been working in Toronto for some years and in her letters home had been extolling the benefits to be found in Canada and urging her parents to let Emma join her in Toronto.  This they were reluctant to do, as two other daughters, Linda and Margaret, had also gone to Canada and they did not want to lose another one of the family.  However, Emma attained her 21st birthday in 1911 and made her own decision to go and on this day, March 7, 1912, had started her long journey to join her sister in Toronto.


The 'Corsican' finally got under way and the passengers returned to their quarters to prepare for bed.  In our cabin there was excitement, confusion and talk, people getting acquainted, hope and prospects discussed, one man telling everybody what they could expect and what they should and should not do, full of knowledge and willing to share it with anyone who would listen.  It later developed he had never been to Canada, but had read a book about it.

We began to feel the motion of the ship a little and things quietened down with most of us trying to get to sleep.  During the night, the ship began to pitch and roll and I, together with some of the others, began to feel the effects of the motion.  I wondered if I should ever see land again and why I was so foolish as to leave it.  By the time morning came, I was so sick and weak I did not care if the ship went down.  One the crew came around about noon with some hot broth and told us it was a lovely day and we should go on deck and get some sunshine and fresh air, also that the men were coming to clean and tidy up the quarters and it would be best for us to get out.

Much against my wishes and only by a determined effort and some assistance did I manage to dress and go onS.S. Corsican deck, where I found a place in the sun to sit and after awhile began to take some interest in my surroundings.  Near by where I sat a couple of girls were chattering and laughing, and shortly a young fellow came over to join them which seemed to increase the fun and I was enjoying listening to them.  The girls would occasionally look over at me and smile, I would smile back, and finally, the one I thought was the nicest of the two, said to me "you look lonely, why don't you come over and join us?"  So I did, little knowing at the time I was walking into a lifetime of loving companionship and happiness.

Every day after that, during the rest of the voyage, the two of us would spend most of our time together.  Emma had a rug which we used to cover our legs with against the cold sea wind, as we sat on deck getting to know one another and speculating on life in the new country.  On March 17th we were nearing Halifax, Nova Scotia, and we were all lined up for our medical and civil examinations.  And in late afternoon we went ashore.

What a grimy place!  The streets were covered with dirty snow, the few shops were in old wooden buildings and there were no people around.  What a disappointing place!  From the immigration officers and the pictures they showed us we expected a bright new country, everybody busy making money and waiting with open arms to welcome us and share their prosperity with us.

Halifax Train StationWe wandered around for awhile looking in the store windows.  One in particular interested us, a shoe store with small panes of glass, and showing men's shoes with 'bulldog' toes, a high square looking toe cap, which we thought was terrible.  Our train was not leaving until very early in the morning, so we returned to the railway station and spent the night in the waiting room.

When we boarded the train we found everything different to what we had been used to.  The coaches were not divided into compartments, there were seats on both sides of the coach, all facing the same way with an aisle running down the center and you could walk through into the next coach.  There was a tank containing drinking water and a small stove to boil water on.  We were puzzled by the sound of a bell tolling every time we reached a village or a town.  We thought there must be a lot of churches in this country and that they had services at different times in the day.  We later found the sound came from a bell mounted on the engine which was rung when approaching level crossings.

During this trip I changed my mind as to where I was going.  Emma was going to stay in Toronto and I decided to stay there too.  I do not think Emma was too pleased about the change, I was alright to have as a companion during the trip, but conditions would be different in Toronto where she would have sisters and their friends and also employment and I could be a nuisance.  As for me, I knew no one other than Emma in this vast country, and I did not want to be left all alone, besides, I liked being with her and I did not wish to lose her.

May and Margaret were at the station to meet Emma and she went away with them.  A Fraternal Order, the 'Sons Of England' had a committee of it's members meet the immigrants, and those who had no place to go were provided with a bed and food and an endeavor was made to find employment for them.  I was fortunate in that they found me work at Trinity College, of the Toronto University, helping to serve the students at meals, cleaning up around the dining room and acting as a part time servant to the Reverend Dr. T.C. Macklem, the Provost of Trinity College.

I had a small bedroom, my meals and a small wage, the work was not hard but the building was old and the students dining room was in the basement.  There seemed to me to be lots of rats around.  I have seen them come up from the sewers into the toilet bowls, but they seem to have been taken as a matter of course by everyone.  On certain evenings, I had to take my turn acting as gateman in a room through which students had to pass when returning to college.

May had work lined up for Emma, helping with housework, and in the evenings we would meet and usually we would walk along Bloor and Davenport, which was then a nice country road with trees and bushes on each side of it.  However, by the latter part of August we were both dissatisfied with the poor prospects and lack of opportunities in Toronto, where almost every day, train loads of immigrants would arrive, all looking for work and willing to accept any wage that was offered.  Emma had given up her house work job and gone to Eaton's at the ice cream counter, but could barely get by on the wage they paid.

At this time of the year, the C.P.R. was advertising the usual harvesters excursions to the Prairies and, after talking it over, we decided we would get married and go by the excursion to Regina where Linda was living and see if conditions were better out there.

I left the college, rented a bedroom in an old house and got a temporary job at Eaton's.  In the next day or two, I began to break out in big red lumps all over my body which itched terribly and one of the men at the store told me I had been bitten by bed bugs.  This was something I had never heard about and he told me if, after I had been in bed a short while, I would turn the bed clothes down and put the light on, I would see what they were.  That night I did as he suggested and I saw them, not only in the bed, but on the walls too.  I made up a bed on the floor after going over the bed clothes as carefully as I could and I slept that way for the remainder of the time I was in Toronto.  It was no use looking for another room with so many immigrants needing accommodation's

September 3rd was our wedding day.  After work we went home and changed, I called at the florist's and bought a small bunch of Lily of the Valley flowers, met Emma and we boarded a street car to go down town.  We were married in the vestry of the Holy Trinity Church by the Reverend Derwyn T. Owen, the Rector.  After that we returned to our rooms and the following morning we met and took the train to Regina.

This Harvesters Special was certainly not intended as a honeymoon train.  The seats were wooden slats with no upholstery, at night they were pulled out flat for sleeping on.  The passengers were a cosmopolitan group, families, single men, immigrants, and men who made a practice of going harvesting each year to make some money and for a couple of months change of scenery.  The many languages and dialects made a babble of sound all day and sometimes long after the oil lamps were lit at night.  We kept very much to ourselves, the scenery and the strange sights such as elevators and silos, the towns and villages kept us interested and amazed.

It was very warm in the car and we had the windows down for ventilation.  A new conductor was making his check of passengers and I had our tickets in my hand when a gust of wind snatched them from me and carried them out of the window.  The conductor wired back to have the section men look for them on their rounds, and we had to leave the train at Winnipeg so that an investigation could be made.  They put us up in the C.P.R. Hotel for the night but I had to buy tickets from Winnipeg to Regina out of our scanty funds.

We went to Linda and Ted Warren's house on the outskirts of Regina and near the R.C.M.P. Barracks and Riding School where Ted worked.  While we were with them, I heard of possible employment at Moose Jaw, so I took the train there, leaving Emma at Regina for the time being.

I obtained a  job with the C.P.R. in the Dining Car Department as accountant and checker at $50.00 per month.  I also found a C.P.R. employee who had a bed-sitting room to rent with the use of the kitchen which I rented.  I returned to Regina and brought Emma and our belongings to Moose Jaw and we took up residence in our first home.

George Victor WilkinsonMy first job there was meeting the 'Transcontinental' on arrival both from the east and west.  After the dining car had been disconnected I would board it and check what supplies remained on hand, including liquors and wines. After leaving the C.P.R., I went to work at Gorton, Ironed and Fares, Abattoir, which was bought out shortly afterwards by the Harris Abattoir, a Toronto firm.  They installed a Hollorith Electrical Machine system of punched cards, sorting and data machines, a forerunner of the present computers.  I was put in charge of the department and responsible for devising methods of supplying information on travelers sales, quantity sales of various meat products, stock on hand, live stock purchases, cost, quantity sold and value of any particular item such as hams, bacon, etc. and providing cost and sales figures to the audit department each month.  I understand this was the first installation of its kind west of Toronto and I had visits from a number of executives from various firms desiring demonstrations.  We went next to live at and manage the 'Rosery', a florist shop owned by a German living at Medicine Hat where he had large greenhouses and shipped supplies to Moose Jaw by express.  While in Moose Jaw, I joined the Masonic Lodge and Oddfellows and Emma joined the Rebekahs.

Toward the end of 1919 we were very tired of the long, cold winters and the heavy snowfalls and we decided to go to the west coast.  I was first to go, and if things were better out there, Emma and the girls would follow.  A place called Anyox was very much in the news as a thriving place, offering many opportunities, so I bought a ticket to Prince Rupert, which was as far as the railway would book me, and started on my way into another period of adventure.

After passing Smithers, I made the acquaintance of another passenger named MacLaren, an insurance and real estate man, living at Prince Rupert.  When he heard my plans to go to Anyox, he persuaded me to try for work in Prince Rupert and promised to help me find work.  The day after our arrival, he took me in to see a grocer named Gavigan, who hired me as driver of his delivery truck.  Some job for a stranger in a strange town!  However, I stayed with him for nearly twelve months, Emma and the two girls came out in August and we found a small house to live in while we looked around for suitable accommodation.

I met a lot of people through the Masonic and Oddfellows Lodges and one of  the Masons, a druggist, Cyril Orme, had an opening for a bookkeeper and part-time store clerk which he offered to me and I accepted, staying with him for eight years.

We bought a house, another baby girl arrived, I was on the board of the General Hospital, and I organized a collection of used books by the school children to form a much needed public library.  I also had a couple of hives of bees, something which was new to Prince Rupert but after two years, I cam to the conclusion the weather was not suitable for bee keeping.

In 1928, I was offered the managership of a stationary and radio store, which I took.  In 1930, a grocery store was up for sale and I was approached by another grocer to go into partnership with him in the purchase of it.  We came to terms and the store was bought, now I was in another kind of business I knew very little about.

We existed through the depression years, I bought my partner's share of the business and then the war came.  I hadBetty, Edith, Ruth, George and Emma Wilkinson been a member of the 102nd Battery, R.C.A. for some years as Lieutenant in the signaling section, and in early 1939 I had been asked to organize the quarter masters stores for a new Searchlight Battery that was being formed.

When war was declared I was asked to enlist with the new battery until such time as the organization of the Q.M. stores was completed, which would be in a very short time I was assured.  But with the usual government unpreparedness, the length of time it took to find and distribute material left over and stored from the previous war, and the huge demand for more modern equipment, a small newborn battery like ours was lost in the shuffle.

The Q.M. stores were put on an active working basis, the Searchlights established and operating at Frederick Point.  And in 1941, I was transferred to the Ordnance Corps at Signal Hill, Victoria, supposedly in charge of Searchlight spare parts.  But it was not long before I was sent to Prince George to set up and equip a camp for the Oxford Rifles, the Brockville Rifles and the Prince of Wales Rangers, who were coming from the east.

During June and July I supervised and checked the unloading, trucking, storing, and distribution to units of equipment and materials received in fifteen railway cars.  This was no mean feat, considering the only troops I had were raw recruits and most of the N.C.O.'s were very little better.

By the time I left, the camp was in operation.  I had received clearance for everything from the Regimental Quartermasters.  The Brigadier, I believe his name was Martin, had has H.Q. established and a hospital ready for the Medical Corps.  I returned to Signal Hill where I remained until I was sent to Shaughnessy Hospital for a hernia operation and subsequent discharge.

I had been having trouble with the man I had left in charge of the grocery store, he was not collecting his accounts and not paying his bills to the wholesalers.   I engaged an accountant to take over the finances at the store and eventually it was sold to a Co-Operative Association.  I lost over $5000.00 in unpaid accounts.Tammy,Great Grandpa George, Ruth, Jack, Gail and Melisa

George, Lizzie McCubbin, Emma, Ruth &Tom, Jack & GailWe moved to the Victoria and I worked at the Dockyard until my retirement.  I went back to my hobby of beekeeping and worked inspecting bee hives on Vancouver Island.


George, Daughter Ruth and GrandchildrenI have lived through an era of great change, from the horse and buggy to the space ship and men walking on the moon, from the village serf to freedom of the masses (which appears at the moment to be getting out of hand).  From general poverty to an affluent society, continuity of smaller clashes and through the development of immediate world-wide communication and medical, commercial and scientific achievements of deep significance.

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