The Bride Who Didn’t Fit In
(MRS.) M. E. GRANT
THE article in MacLean's Magazine a few months ago, written by Beatrice M. Hay Shaw, on the question of desirable
immigrants for Canada, and their reception on arrival, determined me to write my own experiences: whether for publication or not is for the editor to decide. But the mere action of setting them down on paper has relieved my pent-up feelings considerably.
Mrs. Shaw’s article itself 'proved a solace and a balm to my turbulent frame of mind. For weeks and months past 1 have been worrying to find out wherein lay the fault, and at whose door the crime; but now I know that I am not the only English woman in Canada who feels like a round peg in a square hole, decidedly out of place, and decidedly out of tune. That I came to Canada with no other intention than to become a thorough Canadian I think I have clearly shown in the following article.
The best methods of the Old and New Worlds make, to my mind an ideal combination, but so little has been vouchsafed to me on this side in my unpleasant experiences, that I, for one. have decided to “gang my ain gait.”
NO PERSON ever set foot on Canadian soil so full of optimism and eager anticipation for the new life as I did at Halifax two years ago. To wake up in that beautiful harbor and hasten on deck was one of the greatest events of my life: and, gazing at the blue sky and the calm blue water surrounded on all sides with undulating hills, I thought I had indeed found a haven of peace after the troublous times of the war. My husband was waiting at the quay-side, having come across half the continent to welcome me to my new country, and I could scarcely curb my impatience at the slowness of the disembarkation. I felt I must get ashore as quickly as possible for this was* Canada—the land of sunshine and of snow, the land I had heard so much about from the dear boys who had been in my husband’s unit overseas, the land that had always had such a curious fascination for me even in my earliest schooldays. How the bright posters in the windows of the Emigration Offices at Home used to attract me with their gaudy pictures of great fields of tall, golden grain and huge, sunburnt men! But little did I dream in those days that that land would be my land, and her people my people.
AS MY husband and I journeyed across the country my interest increased. The glimpses of the wide, slowly-flowing rivers; the blue, sleepy lakes; the scattered, peaceful homesteads; and, above all. the never-changing blue sky—all these made me more and more anxious to reach my destination speedily. My admiration for Canada was further aroused with my first day in Montreal, that city of beautiful churches,
and the few people to whom I spoke I found courteous and polite. The covert glances of the passers-by I put down to the fact that they recognized I was English and had only just arrived, for my face was beaming with pleasure and delight at everything I sawr. That my clothes were of different quality and cut did not strike me at all!
Then on we journeyed to the town where my husband had established himself before I left my comfortable home in the Old Country! We arrived at night, so I caught only a glimpse of the town on the way to the house where we were to stay until our own home was ready. The following morning I awoke to singing birds and the sight of a tremendous maple tree just outside my window, and I was filled with a deep thankfulness and joy for the beautiful surroundings among which my future life was to be spent. A later inspection of the town proved to be further satisfying.
My home was to be in a place of quaint, wooden houses, interspersed with high, old-fashioned, grey stone buildings: several churches mingling their spires with the beautiful branches of the immense shade trees; and winding its way amongst them all was a sleepy, easyflowing river. It looked to me very English, very much like Home; but there, the sky never was quite so blue as it was on that first morning! How very delighted I was with Canada!
Everything I saw pleased me and was certainly fulfilling my highest expectations. Truly Canada was great— but what of her people? Her boys had proved themselves brave and true, and those that I had met in England had been kindly, well-behaved gentlemen. I was eager to be on friendly terms with everybody, and longed for the time when my home wouldhe complete and we could keep an open door. Democratic Canada was sure to be so warm-hearted and friendly.
At last our little house was fitted up, and made as cosy and comfortable as possible; and my housekeeping days began. We are both English—my husband I had known long ago and he, having been on this side at the commencement of war, enlisted with the Canadian forces. After demobilization he decided to remain here. So I had no relatives, or friends even, to whom I might turn for advice or assistance, for there is a marked difference between keeping house here and in England, and I should have welcomed any helping hand; but at that time that was only a secondary matter to my mind. Soon I should get to know many people, and thèy would certainly help, and give me hints in the various things to which I was unaccustomed and of which I was ignorant, such as managing a cook-stove. But, no, the weeks sped along and neither the friends nor the advice were forthcoming.
At first this did not trouble me, summer was at hand, we required only the lightest of meals and housework was not so laborious as at home. We managed capitally, my
THIS ARTICLE won second prize in the "War Bride" corn-
petition. It is the only one, amongst the seven prize-winners, where a story of discouragement is recorded. It is a searching, honest appraisal by the writer oï herself and of the Canadians whom she met. . Perhaps the fact that she hasn’t “fitted in” is only temporary.
husband and I; and we were, oh, so happy! As time wént on, though, I longed for some other companionship occasionally—some woman’s sympathy. Every afternoon the simple,unpretentious tea-tray was prepared, with dainty cloth and ch na, a little plate of bread and butter or cake, and the kettle and tea-pot placed in readiness for my expected, warm-hearted, kindly Canadian women who were sure to come to see me, as I thought, and take me to their hearts as I wanted to do them. But every day that little tray was put sadly away, and I settled down on the verandah to wait for my own soldier boy whom I knew would not fail me. And so on through the beautiful, warm, summer.
AII Ready for Happiness
HOW bright and cheery the sun was! How cold and, chill the people were! It was the same at church. After
some of the services the minister’s wife introduced me to a few people who were very, very polite, but made no overtures of friendship. Occasionally some person, usually one of the storekeepers from whom we had bought some of our household furnishings, came round in the evening, and took us for a drive in his car; but soon we began to interpret these attentions as being a discount on our purchases, for no friendship arose out of them. These little runs into the country were very pleasant, though, and increased my admiration for the people who toiled on the land. “I wish I lived in the country,” I used to think, “the farmers’ wives would surely make friends with me—they have a bigger outlook on life and a
greater sympathy than women in the town.’'’
The summer passed. The harvest was
gathered in. I saw tremendously long freight trains of wonderful grain pass on its way to the
sea. The trees mellowed and burst into living fire, and nature was an untold joy and delight to me. Then came the winter’s chains. Never shall I forget the awfulness of my first winter in Canada. Nature was magnificent, human-nature appalling!
The icy fingers of the winter’s blast almost fastened around my own heart, even whilst I was accusing the people amongst whom I lived of being frozen too. I had a few callers. They left their cards on the receptacle most convenient to their elbow. I invited a few to tea. It was an English tea, simple and dainty and served on my best afternoon-tea cloth. The food was plain but good. Conversation did not flow easily though I launched several topics. My bread and butter was praised, my tea and cake also, but with the most frigid politeness. How I wished someone would upset her cup—anything to divert them and cause a little animation in the camp.
Only one lady had the courage to make a personal remark. She admired my tea-cloth. “It must have cost a . deal of money?” she said. “I made it myself,” I told her, “and I will help you to copy it if you like.” (Friendship has been based on smaller things, I thought). “No thank you,” she hastily replied, “I consider that kind of work a waste of time.” And she, dear reader, I learned , later, knitted face cloths for the soldiers during the war, which was more than wasting time, I am thinking!
Still the weeks slowly passed, and Canadian friends seemed as far away as ever, and each succeeding effort to find them failed like the first. I was informed that the only way to succeed was to cultivate the social limelight. This was not in the least what I had anticipated in democratic Canada, but I resolved to persevere. I returned my few calls; attended the few teas to which I was invited— ate the olives, the sandwiches, the nut-bread, the cookies, the ice-cream, the cakes, the nuts, and the candy that were served; endeavoured earnestly to be interested in the latest way of fixing sleeves in the latest kind of sweater ; took interest in the various cakes with their elaborate fillings and frostings —while all the time Rome was burning! My heart ached for just a piece of friendly bread and butter and simple cup of tea; a word of cheer, of welcome, or of kindly interest in my home thousands of miles across the sea; or even a new book or an old one, a magazine article or some sport; anything that I might be able to join in and converse about, and that would make us feel akin.
“What is the matter with them and with me?” I used to ponder. “True my clothes are a little different— plainer, maybe—my manner perhaps a little restrained, but not frigid, I hope. I am English but I hardly think that is anything to be ashamed of.” Whenever England, or anything pertaining to the Homeland, is mentioned these people close up like clams, for what reason I do not know. In the face of all the pride in being British that is expressed it is certainly hard to understand. In the Old Country we regarded the women of Canada as our sisters beyond the seas.
It is evident they do not want me for a sister!
A NOTICEABLE lull as I enter a room, a buzz when 1 leave, an appraising survey while I am present, my
accent listened to too intently, the manner in which I conduct myself keenly observed by all,—no show of kindly interest on their part, no open criticism, no frank disapproval which could be met with and fought outright —but a subtle showing that I am different, queer, odd, and apparently not wanted. Is it jealousy, I wonder? Surely not, for on all occasions I am struck with their self-assurance and their self-sufficiency, and I quickly gained the impression that it was considered bad form to admit ignorance of anything. Why cannot the Canadian women show a little real, kindly, interest sometimes?
The only conversation which I really enjoyed was at a Bridge Tea which I adorned the other week. Needless to say, all the elite of the town were present. After the game a lady came in to have tea. She could not play Bridge, she said, she had no head for cards. That attracted me at once—a Canadian who cannot do something! Here was a novelty and something to write home about! She had just reurned from a trip to Europe and was describing her experiences somewhat luridly. That she had risen in the social scale was evident, hut the lady did not try to disguise her humble origin in the least. I was the only woman in our little group who showed any interest in her recital. At first I merely asked a few polite questions until she was launched—then she was entertaining—but the others sat around with no expressions of interest .
I suppose if they had it might show their own lack of
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 16
travel or some such triviality. Well, I enjoyed her immensely.
I am afraid we even got too confidential. The climax was reached when she described how terribly ill shè had been whilst crossing. “Nothing would stay on my stomach,” she said, ' indicating that part of her anatomy with her hands, “until I thought if only I could get a Dill pickle it would give ease.”
So she told the stewardess, never dreaming there would be any Dill pickles on board. “And,” continued my new acquaintance, “she brought me two of the biggest pickles I have ever seen in my life. Say they settled my stomach all right!” My polite and very formal friends hurriedly rose to put an end to any fur her reminiscences from the lady, but I, I blessed her for her humanness, and her “simple, common touch.”
Are We Narrow-Minded ?
ARE the Canadian women narrowminded? I have accused them of being so more than once. My early experience of lack of callers and friends caused me to talk over matters with a few other English people in the same town, and from them I learned strange things. It seems many curious and unfounded rumors about the Old Country travelled to Canada during the war. Many were exaggerated, many untrue. I heard an astonishing one the other day. Lately we have moved into a larger house in a more pretentious neighborhood, consequently there are more callers. In the course of an afternoon’s call a lady apologized for not making my acquaintance earlier.
She had been afraid to meet the English people, she said, because her sister had been a nurse overseas and had told her that all English women smoked and drank. I pointed out to her that, at any rate, those who had come to Ontario would be unable to continue these practices, at which she appeared much relieved. Do not these Canadian women think for themselves? Have they no discrimination? My pious caller’s attitude towards
all English women may possibly account for some of my early experiences: it certainly explains «how gossip of the most scandalous nature about all kinds of people appears to be bandied about with considerable relish, and an utter disregard of the decencies, not to mention the facts.
Becoming a “Booster”
AS A step to popularity I was advised to boost Canada, boost the town, boost everything you see or hear on this side. Why? Cannot the Canadians stand criticism? Are they children that they must be flattered and pampered before they will make friends? That is the treatment one shows to pets, but to an educated people - never. Friendship on those terms would not last long and at the best, would be worthless. I wonder if anyone recalls that remark of Robert Louis Stevenson:—“To keep a few friends but there without capitulation.” One might boost Britain and all thingsBriJsh, but this is neither necessary nor desirable. During my first winter here I attended a lecture by a Canadian woman of some prominence, (in the daily papers, at any rate"1, who had just returned from visiting England. It was under the auspices of one of the popular women’s organizations and dealt with the existing conditions of the people in England. There was a very large attendance, everyone in town seemed to be present. The lecturer had been in England six weeks and knew it perfectly, so felt in the position to make some very detrimental comparisons with regard to Canada. She certainly boosted Canada, but England and the English were going to the dogs, if they were not there already.
From her profound knowledge she described the housing problem, and the morality of the people, and cited the number of divorce cases awaiting the Courts of Justice. The number was truly appalling, even for that vast population. An adverse criticism of English hospitals, of the Labor and the Land questions, not ore of which she understood, and a surprising little tilt at the various languages
Spoken there, instead of the pure English spoken here, created the impression— whether deliberately or not, I would not like to say—that England was all wrong and Canada the one and only Utopia on the face of the earth. Verily a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! How the audience patted themselves on the back! What an awful and audible concern was expressed at the morality of poor, warwearied England, and how proud they were of their own houses and hospitals!
Well, dear lady lecturer with the broad horizon, you did anotable work that night!. ..
Where Lies the Fault?
Y?ES, the Canadian women have failed me, whether from ignorance, indifference or deliberate intention, I do not know.
I am no longer unkown in town. I pass a word or two with people when I meet them on the street, sometimes a few pleasantries with my neighbours, occasionally I arti invited to make a fourth at bridge, but friends I have none, nor hope to have whilst living here. I even tried a Girls’ Society in the hope that some might arise from their ranks, but it was of no avail. I_ believe I almost ruined the association instead, although taking no prominent part in it. I was certainly the skeleton at the feast. Whenever I appeared on the scene their manners changed, their voices dropped, and a stilted, strained, atmosphere developed iñ the room. They treated me as a being apart, a creature from some other sphere, that they had heard about but never seen. And all I wanted was only to join in their merriment and fun for a little while, to help to drive away this aching and longing for my “ain folk” and friends.
Just one more experience I must describe. A young Canadian girl has lately taken up residence close to me as a bride. She is a stranger to the town, and I gave her an early call with an offer of my services as a neighbour, should the need arise. I was much attracted by her, and as our husbands had met in business, I was hoping great things from the acquaintance.
She lost no time in establishing herself in town; gave the usual reception, and considered herself launched on the social sea.
Her acquaintances increased rapidly, entertaining was much indulged in, and a bold bid for popularity made. During the first five minutes of her conversation with me, I was informed that she had been to College! And yet, while conscious of at least equality in education and upbringing, I have not received anything like the social attention she has. Perhaps I do not make my qualifications sufficiently wellknown, but, then, we are bred to reticence about ourselves. Of course, I neither seek nor want social prominence, I crave a friend; and I had hoped the little bride would have proved a candidate for the position. That dream, however, is over, for I have been shown quite clearly and unmistakeably, on more than one occasion, that I am not desired—or desirable >—I am apt to wonder which.
My kitchen utensils are borrowed, and
anything she happens to be without at the time; my telephone is convenient for her to hold long conversations with her friends; yet there is no wish to be seen associating with me. She confided at the commencement of our acquaintance that she and her husband were very anxious to get into the “right set,” and that needs no comment!
That Ridiculous Calling
MY TASTES are simple. I came to Canada to live a simple, happy life—in search of freedom and reality—and I find her people hemmed in by a lot of social codes, more empty and ridiculous than even those practised in England in the worst (or best) of pre-war days. But here in Canada, which boasts to heaven of its priceless freedom from such oldworld stuff, I never even imagined such things existed.
Is the “Open Sesame” to true and lasting friendship really to be found in the utterly childish and ridiculous game of “Calling” that is played throughout most of the year?—when women scamper round from house to house with their printed books of addresses and dates of Calling Days, boasting of the number of Calls they have made in one afternoon, or, maybe, of the number they have received. How futile it all is, and how utterly depressing? The hurried greeting, the cup of tea, the piece of cake swallowed amidst a few fulsQme compliments to the hostess, some wretched gossip, and then—on to the next! Not a moment of reality or sincerity! Is this the Royal Road to Canadian hearts? It certainly is not to the hearts of us North Country people, who were reared on sounder stuff than that
........But perhaps I do not understand.
There cannot but be dissimilarity in our outlook; but what a difference an ounce of real welcome would have made, an out stretched hand, a word or two of understanding, the least show of kindly sympathy. But there was nothing, and the heartache and bitterness crept in.
So, my dear Canadian Women, it is inevitable that I should have long since come to believe that we from the Home land are not welcome, and the reflection is not a happy one. But there is still a welcome over there and we are going Home, yes, going Home from this magnificent land, this land of opportunity, where friendship, and freedom and equality were denied. Going Home to that dear country that is going to the dogs; back to the social problems, the drink, the dirt and the grime; but going to a land of homely cheer and honest goodwill, though maybe, squalid comfort. We are all going Home—myself and my husband, our hopes and aspirations crushed by selfish and heartless people; my heartbroken, cultured Gentlewoman, who lost her all in the War and came here to “heal her of her grievous wound”; her daughter, endeavouring to live and save something towards that passage money out of a stenographer’s salary; and my poor,downtrodden, and broken, char-woman, drudging away her poor old life in the city. We are all going Home, away from your land of plenty, “for our hearts need a-feeding as well.”