Our Mother’s Journey to Canada

It was 21 years ago yesterday that our Mother passed away after spending over 6 long years in an Alzheimer’s Care facility. And with Mothers’ Day coming up this weekend, I spent some time digging through a few old pictures and memories.

This picture is from over 80 years ago in 1929. That’s our Mom on the left with our older brother sitting in the chair and that’s our Grandmother with Dad’s sister standing next to her.

Dad had gone back to China for his arranged marriage and soon went back to Canada to finish college and Mom had their first son. Unfortunately, our brother died when he was around 3 years old (small village with no doctors nearby). Dad ended up going all the way back to China again to mourn for his son and hopefully have another child. My sister was born not long after he went back to Canada in 1932 and then World War II broke out in the 40’s. So Mom and our sister didn’t get to see Dad until the restrictive Canadian immigration laws finally changed in the late 40’s.

The village where they had came from had no electricity, no running water and Mom and our sister had never even been to a big city. I can’t begin to imagine how much they had to adjust to first arriving in a big city like Hong Kong, then making the first leg of their airplane ride to Tokyo (which they dreaded because of the Japanese war on China that had just ended). Mom was very anemic at the time and they got delayed in Tokyo while she was cared for by the Red Cross. Then a long flight on a 4-prop Viscount airplane across the Pacific where Nancy recalled looking out a window and seeing one of the propellers sparking and smoking!

Once they arrived in Vancouver (a day or two late – to the dismay of our Dad – because of their unexpected layover in Tokyo), Mom ended up needing another transfusion through the Red Cross again. What a panic it must have been for Dad when they didn’t show up as scheduled! Remember this was January 1950. No e-mail, no cell phones (let alone any phones!) and no real-time schedule updates! After some frantic telegrams with hours waiting for responses, Dad finally confirmed their delay and did some shopping for them while he waited for their later arrival.

So at 16, our sister finally got to meet her Dad and Mom was re-united with her husband!

Then they had to board a train for their 3,000+ mile, 12-day trip across Canada to a new home that they had never imagined in their wildest dreams, literally on the other side of the world from this tiny village in Southern China.

Mom and Dad never managed to make it back to our family village again. And when I finally got to go back and visit in 2000, it was still only 200 people… and still with no running water!

A copy of Mom’s plane ticket, along with her smallpox and cholera vaccine certificates. Note that Mom didn’t sign either certificate (being a woman during that time, she had never gone to school so she never learned to read or write Chinese and never learned much English over her lifetime). And it looks like the vaccines and certification were a total of $2.50 apiece. (You can enlarge these images by clicking on them.)

As you’ll also see, her ticket was $798.60 from late Dec 1949, so in today’s dollars, it would be in the thousands of dollars. I think the average annual wage back then was around $10 – $12,000.

(SOME RESEARCH: The Canadian dollar experienced an average inflation rate of 3.52% per year between 1950 and 2017. So CA$100 in the year 1950 would be worth CA$1,013.85 in 2017. Which means Mom’s ticket would have been over $8,000 in today’s dollars. Then add our sister’s ticket PLUS their combined train tickets and expenses! Wow! Easily a $20,000+ journey – a lot even in today’s dollars.)

Dad certainly had to save up for a while to finally bring them over back then. A little reminder once again to those people who have no clue what non-white people – especially the Chinese – had to go through back then to immigrate and stay over here.

Happy Mothers Day, Mom! Thinking of you.

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