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…