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My Vancouver starts way back in 1946. My mum was a Scottish war bride; she married my Canadian soldier dad in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1943 when he was stationed in the North of Scotland. I made my entrance a year later and after the war in 1946 my mum and I set sail on the old Queen Mary to join my dad in Vancouver, Canada. It may as well have been the far side of the moon; it seemed so far away in those days. My mum survived the trip with me, an energetic two year old along with hundreds of other war brides and their children. After they reached Halifax, they boarded a train to cross the vast reaches of this huge country, what must it have been like for all these young women, most of whom had never been out of their towns and villages in tiny Britain!
It must have been terrifying for the ones who were dropped off along the way to meet their new husbands and families on the wind swept prairies with nothing but fields to be seen for miles and miles, at least my mum was going to a city, a very young growing post war city but civilization at least!
I don’t know what her impressions of Vancouver would have been, and I was too young to recall, my dad had purchased a veterans house on East 61st Ave. and his mother was staying there, keeping house for him but it wasn’t too long before my mum told him, ‘either she goes or I do’, you can’t have two women in charge in the kitchen!
It was a small house, two bedrooms, living room and kitchen and a coal cellar, I know because I rolled my little trike down its stairs, splitting open my forehead and forever embedding coal dust in the scar!
Sadly, not long after we were settled in, my mum was found to be suffering from tuberculosis, which the emigration examination had somehow missed. She had to go into hospital so they sent for her mother, my granny Smeaton, to come out to Vancouver to look after the house and me until my mum could come home. So my memories really start from that point. I remember going with my granny and dad to VGH, Heather Pavilion, to visit my mum. However, I was not allowed contact with her and would wait downstairs in the waiting area, avidly watching the young switchboard operator answering the phones. She was a lovely young woman who, when it was quiet, would tell us waiting children the most amazing stories, she had our rapt attention and always said one day she would get her stories published. I wonder if she ever did.
My mum was in hospital for five years and sadly passed away aged 32 never having seen very much of Vancouver at all. I have very little memory of her, just a face at a hospital window, waving to me and on a couple of times she was allowed home for visit, but I was kept separated from her then too. How hard it must have been for her.
But my childhood was otherwise a very happy one, one that was typical of the time. Our street of similar houses was backed onto by bush and trees everywhere and we kids had the time of our lives running wild! My dad took me to the beach in summer, Spanish Banks was our favourite spot, granny would stay in the car of course while we swam and picnicked on the beach!
My dad worked at Weldwood mills and on his days off he took us sightseeing all around Vancouver. At that time, the tallest buildings were the Sun Tower and the Hotel Vancouver! Can you imagine? All else was low rise homes and businesses.
I remember English Bay and Stanley Park, I loved the petting zoo and the pony rides they had then, especially the ponies! We were lucky that dad had a car and could take us around. At one time, my mum was even allowed to come out in the car with us so at least she got to enjoy seeing the park too.
Dad took granny and I to the Malkin Bowl to see ‘Brigadoon’, I guess he thought we’d like it with its Scottish theme! I just remember being bored and going to play on the swings while they watched.
Dad also took us to the movies, downtown there was the Vogue and the Orpheum, all lovely movie theatres and shopping at Woodwards of course! My mum wouldn’t recognize the Vancouver she barely got to see if she could see it now. All this came to an end with her passing. My granny wanted to go back to Scotland and wouldn’t go without me, now eight years old, and my dad let me go.
Suffice to say that returning to Edinburgh in 1952 was somewhat of a massive culture shock for me, missing my dad, my home, my friends, my school not to mention a nice house and a car, all that disappeared in bleak post war Scotland. My gran did say once that she wished she had stayed in Canada but it was too late by then.
Anyway, the years passed, my dad kept in touch and remarried and had two boys, my brothers, I didn’t get to meet them until they were 16 and 18. Though my dad did manage to come over in 1966 to give me away at my wedding which caused great excitement, we even made it in the papers ‘together after 14 years’ etc. I had a daughter in 1969 and my gran passed away in 1973 still regretting, I think, that she had taken me away from my country and possibly a completely different life.
In between I managed a couple of trips out to Vancouver and immediately felt as if I had ‘come home, I loved it and couldn’t get over the changes even then in the 70’s. Dad and the boys came over to see us too and later on dad visited again and we toured the north of Scotland where he had been stationed during the war, he enjoyed seeing his old ‘stomping grounds’ again.
After my marriage ended in 1980, my dad suggested that I might consider coming back to Vancouver with my daughter and after reaching agreement with my former husband, I applied to emigrate to Canada. I was accepted and in 1981, I once again found myself stepping off a plane at Vancouver airport, this time for good and with my dear daughter too. It was still hard leaving my life behind in Edinburgh, we had a difficult period of adjustment to our new life here, the reverse of what I had gone through before, only this time I was putting my daughter through it, at least I had discussed our leaving with her and let her choose if we should make the move, a choice I wasn’t given all those years ago.
So here we are, 33 years on, my daughter married with three children whom I love to bits, a boy and two girls. We don’t let them forget they have Scottish blood in their veins though, and I hope one day we can all visit Scotland together and show them where their mummy lived and went to school. For myself, I never remarried, never found anyway else I wanted to settle down with. I found good employment with the phone company a month or so after we arrived and retired from there a few years ago.
Has Vancouver changed, you bet it has, some for better some for worse. Stanley Park is still there much the same, no petting zoo but the pool on Second beach is still filled with laughing children and I just spent a lovely day at Spanish Banks playing on the beach with the grandchildren and telling them stories of my adventures there all those years ago.