Toronto First Impressions: Leprosy and Landlady Advice

In February 1969 I worked my way from London to Canada on a Norwegian cargo ship, the M/S Lundefjell. I left the ship at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Interrogated by Canadian Immigration, I was found wholesome with the appropriate visa and released unto the land to trudge through a blizzard to the railway station in my purpose-bought (but unlined) Wellington boots, with my canvas trunk on my shoulder. The trunk carried all my worldly goods; a dowry for my new country.

I soon found a train to Toronto and arrived at Union Station late in the afternoon. The two north-bound lines and an east-west line of Toronto’s subway system seemed simple compared to London’s Underground and so negotiating the subway to the downtown YMCA seemed a snap. Except it was rush hour. The train quickly became packed with homeward bound folk and of course, when I got to the station I needed, I was on the wrong side of the car from the opening door – me with my awkward trunk and my silly, unlined Wellington boots hanging around my neck on a piece of cord.

“Please let me out. I got leprosy, folks; I got leprosy!” did the trick right smart – the crowd parted, people tittering and frowning. I had found an unknown bold voice. I did not care what strangers thought of me – nobody knew me in Canada.

The YMCA had no vacant room and directed me to a boarding house a few blocks away near the Maple Leaf Gardens hockey arena. The house was cheap and nasty in decor, but had a room, admirably cheap in price. I immediately went to bed, fatigued. I awoke the next morning to gray squirrels leaping off the window sill and tree twigs tapping against the ice-bound windows. It looked freezing outside but the room was gloriously warm from hot air coming up from the floor from vents. I had rarely felt so cozy. My flat in London had often been cold -the only way to heat it was to feed coins into a gas meter and enjoy the feeble gas fire before the money-controlled fuel supply stopped.

No breakfast came with the room, unlike British hotel and B&B accommodations. My slight expression of surprise to the landlady prompted a harsh piece of advice, along the lines of: “You Brits always complain. But we don’t owe you anything – we are not your colony any more. If you want to succeed here, change your accent.”. I’ve been trying for almost 40 years, lady. I’ve been trying…

About Ed Medley

Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 50 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his decades of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
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