We spent the morning in the Canadian Museum of Immigration. John’s family came to Canada from England in 1953 on the Atlantic. He was five years old. He had a memory of a large hall, some paperwork, then continuing on to Quebec City; his family boarded a train and went to Calgary to begin the rest of their lives.

It was quite a morning. The film, the tour, the cases of exhibits — photographs, suitcases, recorded stories of those who’d come to Canada from every possible place on earth.

In the Scotiabank Family History Centre, the wonderful staff helped him find a passenger list with the names of his father, mother, sister, and himself typed neatly into allotted spaces. He arranged to have a photograph copied of the Atlantic, a copy made of the passenger list.

A young man asked if he could help me. After determining that he could find materials from vessels which docked at other ports, I asked him to try to find information about my grandmother’s arrival in 1913. I have the passenger list at home, downloaded from a database; I knew she arrived with five children, having travelled with them from Antwerp to Saint John on the Mount Temple, in steerage. (The mattresses, according to one report, were stuffed with seaweed.) However, this helpful guy parsed the list for me so that I learned that my grandmother had 100 dollars, that she was literate, though her children were not, and their date of arrival: March 4th. I know they continued on, by train, to Drumheller where her husband Joseph Yopek was waiting for her.

How far they came. John’s family, my grandmother (my father 13 years in the future), from one soil to another, one language (in my grandmother’s case) to another, from tired countries to this one, with its promise and its raw space.

I will write about this over the winter. It will be a chapter in the book I’m writing about the last fractured century and what my grandparents made of it with their hope and the inevitability of their otherness in a place both foreign and finally embraced as home. It occurred to me this morning that we are the vessels of their yearning for something impossible to express in a language they were still learning when they died. 


~ by theresakishkan on September 20, 2013.

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