My husband Steve finally became a Canadian Citizen last week. It was done on ZOOM with me sitting beside him at the kitchen island. After immigrating here in 2015 from Berkeley, California, he finally cut up his permanent residence card and was officially allowed to say “EH” last Tuesday.
Steve began the day at 8:15am and sat patiently while they allowed 30 folks in at a time into ZOOM. I wondered what the contrast was to those who landed in Halifax or Montreal for the first time years ago with a suitcase in hand and less than ten dollars in their pockets. In the 1900s the immigrants had heard that the streets were possibly paved in gold. They quickly learned that the streets were not paved in gold and actually, not paved at all, and some were expected to pave them. Steve on the other hand had no issue finding a job, and he wasn’t expecting streets of gold, except maybe to talk about the weather all the time.
Just like the long lines standing in the early immigration places, the Zoom site was soon filled up with many languages all chattering at once. Some wore suits, some had Canadian flags on their back walls, and folks were constantly posting congratulations to everyone in CHAT. Steve thought that was amusing. So amusing, he had to mention it to me eight minutes later when he posted a beaver with a Canadian flag into CHAT.
When Steve immigrated here in 2015 he had to pass a medical and as he was older, some things in the exam were not easy for an older man. But, they were kind and he passed. However, it was nothing like my great grandfather who emigrated to Ellis Island in New York after leaving his wife and my grandfather in London. Alexander was part of the British Music Hall scene and thought he could make a fortune in the United States. Alas, he caught something on the way over and died when he reached his destination. He never even made the immigration line. I still have the postcard photo of his gravesite, and it was once nailed to the wall in my grandfather’s family home. Apparently my great grandmother Mary used to remind him every single day:
“Your father ran away to the USA without his family. If you look at this photo of his grave, that is why you should never leave your family- this is what happens– you die!!!”
At 9:30 am Steve is finally speaking with a real person on the screen, checking his ID and then sent back once again to a Zoom waiting room. Steve is Jewish, and had he tried to immigrate in 1927 to Canada he would have been out of luck. After 1927 Jewish immigration to Canada came to a near halt with new restrictive immigration laws. It was explained that it was a result of a depressed economy, but was later admitted it also reflected the antisemitic attitude of some very key politicians of the day. Between 1933 and 1939 Canada only accepted 5,000 Jewishimmigrants out of 150,000 people.
By now excitement is building in the waiting rooms and voices are practising Oh Canada in unison. Did you know two Quebec City locals wrote O Canada and it was originally called Chant National. There were no English lyrics,and while Chant National was making the rounds in the 1880s, Anglophones stuck to their songs of choice: The Maple Leaf Forever and God Save the King. It wasn’t until 1980, 100 years after its premiere that O Canada became the official anthem.At 10:30 am Steve said his oath along with the others, and just like that he became an official Canadian.
Steve, walked away from family, friends, and a wonderful job in California to come here to be with me. It reminded me of the war brides immigrating to Canada for their loved ones. My Grandmother immigrated to Canada after the first world war. In Cowansville, Quebec there were many women who had married military personnel in times of war or during their military occupations of foreign countries.
Mary Louise Deller Knight said she found herself coming over to Canada in a ship loaded with women. The war brides came because of the man they loved, and most had no idea what life in Canada would be like. They arrived tired, dusty and weary, and some were met by their husbands and some had no one as their husbands were still deployed in the service.
No matter if your family immigrated here for safety, a job or a loved one today or years ago —you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change your ending.
Welcome to Canada Steve!
Things that Steve will have a right to complain about now.
-When you watch a show that’s supposed to take place in New York City, you can clearly see a Scotiabank in the background.
-The anxiety of not being able to text back in the winter because you can’t take your hands out of their mittens.
–Trying to open that little tab on the side of the Kraft Dinner box.