Why one English family is coming back to Canada

Over ’ome, they say, there's a penalty for hard work

Leslie F. Hannon May 6 1961

Why one English family is coming back to Canada

Over ’ome, they say, there's a penalty for hard work

Leslie F. Hannon May 6 1961

Why one English family is coming back to Canada


Over ’ome, they say, there's a penalty for hard work

Leslie F. Hannon IN ENGLAND

HULL, YORKSHIRE—Next month Dennis and Billie Davill will begin their second try at emigrating to Canada. This time they’re taking their adopted baby son, Craig.

A lot of Davill’s chums on the Hull police force tell him he’s crazy. Hasn’t he read about the breadlines in Canada? Doesn’t he realize that there’s no National Health over there, that Englishmen are not liked? Well-meaning relatives have been sending the Davills copies of the mass-circulation Sunday paper The People carrying the long and tearful tale of an English immigrant named Peter Ruddock. The first article was headlined: We Starved in a Land of Plenty.

Ruddock and his family had some tough luck in Toronto, compounded by his almost incredible naïveté. On a basic wage of about $60 a week from Ontario Hydro, he undertook to pay $40 a week in rent and installments. Then he quit Hydro and tried to sell $250 encyclopedia sets to fellow immigrants.

None of this faces the Davills; they know exactly what they’re doing.

“We know Canada isn’t paradise,” says pretty Billie Davill, “but we are convinced that life is better there than it is here.”

Canada promised a future

The story of why they went to Canada in the first place, why they came back to England, and why they’re now on their way over again adds up to an unusual report on the two societies.

Dennis Davill is 31. He’s a large man, among Englishmen. At 18 he was called up for two years and joined the RAF as a radio mechanic. He had to serve an extra year, while the Berlin airlift emergency lasted. At a Wiltshire airfield he met Maud Billie Davies, a Durham girl who was in the WAAF, and married her in 1950. After his demobilization he returned to his job with the telephone company that serves the port city of Hull.

Davill, a steady, methodical man looking for a secure future, subsequently joined the Wiltshire constabulary. The personality of his wife now began to play a marked role in their lives. “You can always tell a Durham girl, but you can’t tell her much,” Billie says. It would be unkind to call her aggressive. Let’s say she’s determined to get what appears to be the best out of life. In Wiltshire, the housing shortage forced the Davills to take a 400-year-old house with stone floors. Once, when Billie opened a door, the whole thing fell out of the lintel. The ancient charm did not make up for green mold on the walls inside. Even in England it was too much to ask of a woman.

Davill obliged by transferring to the police force in Hull, where rebuilding after the devastation of the blitz had given the city a new lease on life. As a constable he was earning $150 a

month. Britain was grinding through her self-imposed austerity and the brave new world that wartime teenagers like Davill had been promised seemed far away.

In 1956 Canada seemed to promise a boundless future. In a rush they decided to emigrate, and with $200 above their fares boarded the Ivernia. To their astonishment they found a thousand others with exactly the same idea. But Davill wasn’t dreaming of a fortune in uranium. They took the train straight to Winnipeg and after supper on the night of arrival he went on duty as a policeman at $275 a month. They found a new apartment at $75.

Six months later he was lured by bigger money and promotion prospects into the General Motors parts depot, where he made $385 a month. Billie added a shorthand and typing course to her WAAF office training and took a job with Canada Malting at $250. With more than $600 a month, they were sitting pretty. They owned a fairly new Pontiac, all the labor-saving household machinery that Englishwomen hunger for, and they were saving steadily. Then in 1959, with a suddenness that on the surface matched their original decision, they threw their hand in and returned to Hull.

In the sitting room of their semi-detached house a few days ago they tried to tell me why they’d quit. “We made a mistake coming back.” Dennis said.

“Yet we’re both glad we did. It was a sudden decision, yet I think a lot of small things had been building up. We had all the comforts in Winnipeg.

But we felt at times we didn’t belong. It’s hard1 to pin it down.

We used to talk about what a Canadian was and although we didn’t know, nobody else did either. It didn’t seem to be us sometimes. We’d fall into that trap of looking back through rosy glasses. The old friends we had left behind, the fam^ ily circie, even perhaps the feeling of being important. Other immigrants who were going back to England influenced us a bit. Some of them simply hated it over there.”

Billie jumped in forthrightly: “We were simply appalled for a while. The people we met wanted to talk only about the TV and what they saw last night. Nobody had any interest in world affairs. Nobody really did anything — they just talked about it. The general standard of education seemed low to us, and the sloppy speaking and bad manners bothered us. People would let shop doors swing back into your face. Children wouldn’t stand up for old people in the buses. Now we realize that life in Canada might not have the fine gloss that’s on top of English life, but underneath it’s more open and honest. Class means nothing.”

“Things got really prosperous in England in the late Fifties, and that made a difference too,” Dennis added. “Layoffs and unemployment were showing up in Canada, and although we were well fix-

ed for ready cash the bright promise seemed to have gone out of Canadian life. Perhaps like lots of others we had oversold ourselves on Canada in the first place. People were writing us from home saying that things had never been so good.”

Billie had had a long spell of trouble with a foot ailment that began originally with an infection in England. After minor surgery, she came to distrust the Winnipeg doctor who treated her. and felt an urge to return to familiar things. (In Hull, she waited nine months for a hospital bed and eventually had a toe amputated.) For another thing, they had been waiting in Canada for what seemed ages for an adopted child. Now that they have Craig, that void has been filled.

"The Canadian sense of humor baffled us,” Dennis admitted cheerfully. “We were having our legs pulled and we didn’t know it. People were taking the mickey out of us. It took us a year to realize that most of us English are bigheaded blighters. Why, I don’t know. Must be the way we’re taught at school. We do it all around the world, always telling people how things are done better at home. The truth is, the English are good at thinking things up but very slow at developing them. Look at television, for instance. It takes years and years here for new inventions to be put into use by the majority of the people. Look at the telephones. I think the Swedes have more of them than we have.”

Welfare is expensive

Over tea, the Davills punctured a few balloons about the supposedly cheaper cost of living in England. They have been paying off a mortgage on their fiveroom house in a quite ordinary postwar suburb at four pounds a week. Their heat—coal fires—and power cost about 30 shillings a week. Their housing costs, therefore, the equivalent of $62 a month, compared with the $75 they were paying in Winnipeg. Dennis has been earning just over $50 a week. (In Winnipeg, a first-class constable makes $422 a month.) Tax and other deductions cut his Hull salary of £ 18.10s to £ 14—less than $40. He figures that with the increase in the National Health Service contributions this summer he’d be paying the equivalent of the $12 a month he paid in Winnipeg for Blue Cross comprehensive coverage. And that was for semi-private, he points out. “Here, the wards are like barracks. And remember Billie’s foot. You have to wait months for a bed.”

With $2.80 a week allotted for cigarettes (the cheapest cost 50 cents a pack in Britain), the Davills found themselves budgeting to within $1.25 of their net pay — and not one cent was going out on time payments.

"We can’t afford petrol for a car—we can’t even afford to bowl,” Dennis says. Bowling in the new alleys springing up in disused movie houses all over England costs 50 cents a game. In Winnipeg, the Davills used to bowl four games in their league and have a cup of coffee for $1.25.

Billie fills in other details: “I have to pay $4.25 for a romper suit for Craig.

I could get one in Winnipeg for $1.50. Overalls for crawling cost 59 cents in the cheaper stores in Canada. They’re $1.40 in Hull. A portable TV cost us the equivalent of $325 here.” It’s worth remembering that Davill’s weekly wage is more than $12 higher than the national average in manufacturing industries.

Dennis is convinced now that two things have gone sadly wrong with Britain in the Sixties.

First, the welfare state penalizes the man who works hard (he is not referring to the executive class) and favors the man who leans on his shovel. He pointed out his front window at a row of semi-detached council houses under construction, each of them at least the equal of his own. “They’ll rent for 28 bob — less than $4 — a week, while people like us will be taxed to subsidize them. And they have built-in garages. A workingman is crazy to try to own his home here.”

Second, the conception of civil liberty has gone wrong to the point where there is liberty only for the misfit or the sharpie. The policeman was talking now. “Here in Hull it’s almost impossible for a man to take his wife into most cafés in the evening for a meal.

She certainly couldn’t go alone.

The teenage toughs will make indecent suggestions or try to provoke a fight.

They’ll do it on the open street and they’ll taunt a cop to arrest them. Do you know that we have only one law in our book that gives a cop the right to stop, search and seize? It’s the Poaching Prevention Act, 1862. We can’t even ask a kid to come to the police station. That constitutes an arrest. In this country, years ago, a cop would simply take an objectionable young tough up an alley and give him a thrashing. Maybe that wasn’t pure justice, but we had no teddyboys either. Today our jails are overflowing and everybody worries so much about the rights of a punk who flicks lighted cigarette ends around a cinema or stands on a street corner and molests a respectable woman walking by that the cops are practically powerless.” He paused for breath. “Have you ever noticed that Canada, by comparison, is just about free of this kind of thing?”

When the Carinthia docks in Montreal the three Davills will go down the gangway with more than $200. quite sure that this time it’s for keeps. Dennis wants to go into police work in the west and hopes that his 31 years won’t be a handicap. Billie will go back to asserting herself. “In England, a woman still has to nag and cajole to get her own way,” she says. “Canadians think it’s normal for a woman to run the home. Personally I think that when there’s a family the father should be boss. But I’m not going to try to remake Canada. I’m just going to enjoy it. We’ve missed Canada more since we’ve been back here than we ever missed England when we were over there.” -fa