By: Susan Ditchburn
My husband and I came to Canada in 1968, only intending to stay for two years, and here we are almost 50 years later! Many world events in 2016 have reinforced our decision to settle here – the refugee crisis, Brexit, contentious elections, terrorism, and racism to name a few. And here we are, in Canada, with its breathtaking beauty, concern for others, and pride it its diversity. Let us pause and celebrate, and choose our next steps wisely in a time where change is the norm, and where the possibilities are endless. I wrote the following as a letter to my grandson about his grandfather’s and my journey to this beautiful country:
As I write this morning, I think that if we had not come to Canada you would not be! So, our journey was to be, for surely you were meant to be. Both Grampie and I were teachers in Melbourne, the city where we both grew up. Grampie had a mentor, an older man who was in a senior position in the Victoria School System who had undertaken his graduate work at the University of Alberta under Dr. Jack Cheal, and his experience was the catalyst for Grampie’s wish to follow in his footsteps. The degree he wished to pursue was only possible at three universities: The University of Alberta, University of Calgary, and the University of British Columbia. Dr. Cheal was then in Calgary where he established the Educational Administration Program.
The University of Calgary was only two years old in 1968, having been an off-shoot of the University of Alberta: The University of Alberta at Calgary. For years, this designation rankled many, as Calgary was a vibrant and rapidly expanding city at the time, and many felt that it did not need, deserve, or want this dependency. Protests started to appear, with small groups of faculty and students waving placards, and demanding full status. When we arrived, the campus was a bald prairie, and the buildings on campus were few: Administration, Mac Hall, the library and Education, if I recall correctly. To our great surprise, we would see trees being delivered frequently on the back of trucks for planting. Its history is being profiled this year, 2016, as it is the 50th Anniversary of the University of Calgary, with its charter being granted in 1966.
Although, we nearly didn’t arrive at all – by some bureaucratic misinformation we were granted visas as “Student Husband and Wife,” whereas I had secured a job as a teacher before we left and our visas should have been those of Landed Immigrant status – working wife and dependant husband! Our status meant that we could only stay a year, with a possible extension, and Grampie needed two years to complete his degree. We took the chance, intending to stay for those two years, and here we are almost 50 years later!
We flew via New Zealand, staying there a week with friends of a friend, then onto Hawaii and Vancouver, where we boarded a train to travel across the Rockies. We awoke in the first light and made our way to the observation car to watch the sunrise in the mountains. What a breathless sight! The majestic mountains were bathed in golds and pinks, we saw wild animals including moose – rarely seen because of their shyness. It was such a romantic journey: tartan attired porters awaited guests of the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise. From our perch, we watched as guests and luggage were whisked away to the awesome CP hotels, a make-work project in the depression years.
You have holidayed with your friend Clayton, who’s family takes rooms at the Banff Springs each weekend during the winter. There, you had your first Japanese food, and when back in Calgary you stated with conviction: “I only eat Japanese food at the Banff Springs Hotel!”
The proximity of the mountains to Calgary is one of the great attractions to the city. The majestic arcs seem to embrace the horizon, pink in early morning, a white ribbon under a brooding Chinook sky, from some vantage points, it feels like one can almost touch them. We now live in Canmore, the gateway to Banff National Park, and we never cease to wonder at their awesome presence. Up close, it seems hardly possible for these gigantic peaks to exist. The very thought of them being pushed up by tectonic shifts is almost impossible to contemplate. The tourists are so numerous that there have been long traffic jams as people try to reach Lake Louise, and its exquisite aqua waters are framed by its glacier. In winter the ice sculptures around the romantic chateau catch the sun at the edge of the lake, skaters weave in-and-out, and guests take wagon rides snug under fur rugs. In summer, hikers walk its trails, and canoes – those iconic Canadian vessels – drift lazily across the glassy, reflective surface of the lake.