10 March, marks the 43’rd anniversary of my family of origin’s arrival in the great land that is Canada. It took me quite literally 25 years to become a citizen. It is kind of ironic too, in that I was able to enlist in the Canadian Forces as a British Subject (now British Citizen) and swear allegiance to the Queen in the defense of Canada, and yet not be a citizen of this great land. I was but nine years of age when I came to Canada, flying out of Belfast, to Prestwick Airport in Scotland, for the transatlantic flight on a BOAC 707. The pilot had been an RAF pilot which fascinated me as I had at one time dreams of being a pilot myself. The dream began to diminish when I got airsick on this flight and had to use the “barf bag” in my seat! Another memorable thing on that flight, was that no matter how many times my Dad reminded me to not forget my new camera, an expensive German camera, I left it in the plane and was never able to recover it.
I remember my Dad and my Mom being all excited about coming to this country. We had left France where my family had ministered from 1956 – 1966, leaving everything behind, giving many of our possessions to the Canadian family that was taking over the pastoring of the church which my parents had planted in St. Die, in the Vosges mountains in eastern France. This was a most difficult time for me as an eight year old. I had to give my bike away, and my motor car race track too! I only took a few Dinky toy cars, which I still own, a bag of marbles, my six colour ball point pen, and my Sandy teddy bear which I had since I was born. That was the extent of my possessions. Not much to remember France by. I remember having to say good bye to my friends Tony and Nicole. That was really difficult. I remember looking behind out of the car window, with a longing look at my friends who were waving good bye, wondering if I would ever see them again. That was 1966, and I have never seen them. I don’t even know if they are alive. Forty three years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
It seemed odd to me that my parents were leaving France. It was the only home I had known, other than a couple of furloughs that they had taken during the dozen years in France, when they had returned home to Belfast, and one of those furloughs was for my birth. They went to that trouble because at the time the UK was not part of the EU and to have me born in France was a huge expense. It was cheaper to actually make the journey from France to Northern Ireland, and be born under the British universal health care system, than to remain there in France. My siblings, Paul, Jacqueline and Stephen were all very fortunate to have been born in France. They did not have to suffer the same identity crisis which I had to subsequently endure.
My parents had become more French than the French. For all I knew, we were French. It was not until we actually moved to Canada that I discovered that I was British. Here all along, my childhood heroes had been Joan of Arc, Napoleon, and General De Gaulle. Upon the discovery and my questioning of my father as to my true nationality, my Dad simply replied, “Look at it this way. You did not lose the Battle of Waterloo. You won!” That was his way of dismissing what I thought was an important question concerning my identity and my origins!
My Dad took us to Belfast in the fall of 1966, before the Troubles started in 1968 when the marches of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) were met with a violent backlash by police and civil authorities. The riots in Derry in 1969 led to 30 years of violence and bloodshed. My Dad then remained for but a few weeks, as he was going to go to Canada on a five month mission, preaching and teaching, and searching as to what would be God’s plan for our family in this new land. His being bilingual and a seasoned missionary in France, made the choice almost academic. The province of Quebec would be our new home. Coming to Canada and to Quebec at this time opened up a whole new world to me. So Dad came home to Belfast, his and my home town, in February 1967, just in time for my birthday. We barely had a couple of weeks before having to pack up and move to Canada. We had several trunks with all our worldly possessions, plus several suit cases for all our clothing. The trunks had to be sent as quickly as possible because they were going by ship, out of Belfast harbour, bound for Montreal, Canada.
So we landed in Montreal, at Dorval Airport. I was flabbergasted by what I saw upon my arrival! I could not believe the snow! It was a record breaking storm, the worst in over eighty years! I looked at my Dad and I said, “I want to go home!” He lovingly looked at me and calmly said, “Sam, this is your new home!” I looked around and I said, “Where are the cowboys and Indians?” He looked at me and laughed, “Son, that is history! But there are many Indians all over Canada, who are just like you and I. There are a lot of cowboys too, but they have not only horses but lorries (trucks) too!” I was perplexed. He had gotten me on the plane by telling I was coming to the land of cowboys and Indians. I had been all excited, and now I was finding out that they were just like me, and that they had motor vehicles and lived in normal houses too! I felt cheated!
We were met at the airport by a contingent from the PAOC (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) who took us to the campus of the bible college in Montreal where we were going to be based until we could go to our new city. A month later we would be in Drummondville, Quebec, where my mother and father would plant a Pentecostal Church which flourishes to this day. That congregation was formed consisting of our family and a single convert and his family. We met in our home. My Dad received a minimal salary through the PAOC Home Missions Department, and worked on the side, first selling fruit, and then by teaching French at an English high school, and later he also tutored in French in our home for extra cash to make ends meet, and forced me to be one of his students!
As our family was Protestant and the laws of the land in Quebec had not changed (they would in 1972), I was forced to go to an English school! Imagine! Me, fully immersed in French language and culture, had to learn the foreign tongue of English (even though I was born British)! So, not only did I have to go to an English school, but they had to set me back a grade to assist me in my assimilation, as the Grade 3 teacher was also the French teacher, and she was from Wales too! Talk about a weird world. That was Mrs. Nodwell, who is now retired and lives in Ottawa.
The sad thing here as well was that when my parents witnessed to people and they were converted, their kids would be kicked out of the Roman Catholic parish and all its cultural supports as well as the out of the French educational system. These kids became some of my better friends, for they totally understood having to deal with a foreign language and culture, English! Regrettably some of them became Separatists, and I would challenge them that it was the provincial law at the time that did this to them, expelling them from their culture and language, yet they were more comfortable blaming the Federal government.
My parents also planted sister churches in Sorel with the assistance from the Pentecostal church in St. Hyacinth. I have fond memories of my time in Quebec. My parents moved to Montreal in 1969 and remained there until October 1970, the height of the October Crisis with the FLQ. I became a big Montreal Canadiens fan, as well as a fan of the Expos, and the Alouettes. I am still a fan to this day, although I no longer support any Major League Baseball, since the Expos left Montreal and were renamed the Washington Nationals.
Forty three years and counting. Wow! The memories. I love Canada. It is my home. Canadians who were born here really cannot fully appreciate what they have. I am thankful that my Dad and my Mom brought me here. Each time I look at my wife and my daughters, I am thankful. I am truly blessed.