‘Canada is now my home, and the home of my 12 children’
Growing up in Buncrana in the 1970s, Canada was as remote as could be
Sharon and Rob with their family in Manitoba: ‘The lives of my children and grandchildren now are forever mingled with Canada.’
Growing up outside Buncrana in Co Donegal in the 1970s, the thought of moving to Canada was as remote as could be. Mrs Bryce, my teacher at St Mura’s NS, had a daughter in Vancouver and although she told us lots about the country that was to become my home, little did I think my dreams would ever become reality.
My father was a kind and hardworking man but he didn’t see the importance of educating girls, so when I was 15 he took me out of school to work in a factory. It wasn’t what I wanted but you didn’t question things back then. After six years I got married and moved onto a farm to begin another chapter in my life.
We had five children, four boys and a girl. We knew we would have to seriously look at ways to provide for our sons. The oldest wanted to farm too, and our 86 acres would never support another family. Farm realtor agents from Manitoba were doing a tour of Ireland in 1999 and told about the great opportunities waiting there. We listened, asked questions and made the trip to look at farms. Finding one we liked, we came back to put the wheels in motion and make the move that would take me many miles from home and family.
On April 4th 2001, we arrived in Winnipeg to take up permanent residence in Canada.
Foot and Mouth disease had just broken out in the UK and our containers were delayed in port in Ireland for another 10 weeks, until I finally convinced an official in Ottawa that Ireland was Foot and Mouth free and that Ireland and England were not connected by land as he seemed to think they were. After eight weeks in quarantine in a house and unable to visit our farm, we were allowed to move to our new home.
That first year on the farm was the most difficult in my entire life. I had no friends. To not know anyone - who could I trust, who couldn’t I trust - was an unimaginable experience. I found myself working from dawn to dusk and falling asleep sitting on the chair eating supper at night as I was so exhausted.
The stresses and strains began to show and my husband and I separated in 2002. Somehow I kept going. How was I going to manage? Here I was, with no qualifications in a strange new country with a small family to share with an ex-husband.
But I refused to say I wasn’t educated. I’d always had a hunger for learning and had read everything sensible and edifying that I could find over the years. I received a very good offer of employment in a hog barn in Northern Alberta right on the North West Territory border, and spent two years there. After work I took classes, studied, wrote exams and completed my Grade 12, earning my diploma, equivalent to the Leaving Cert.
In July 2007 I married Rob, a wonderful, gentle Canadian man in Lethbridge, Alberta with all our children around us to celebrate. My five and his four now made my family grow to nine. He encouraged me to apply to do nursing as this had been my dream since I was four, and I was accepted to my surprise (I was over 40) in Manitoba, so we moved there.
I graduated second in my year and I now work as a staff nurse in a busy emergency room in St Pierre-Jolys, a bilingual hospital where I have learned to speak French. I have also worked at a teaching hospital as a nursing instructor for students, and have decided to learn Russian for fun, as I love languages.
On March 9th 2016, I took my oath of Canadian citizenship in the Via Rail building in Winnipeg, Manitoba with my family, lots of friends and colleagues to cheer me on. I often feel like an extra in “The Bourne Identity” when I look at my two passports, one blue and one burgundy.
I had the privilege of being one of two speakers at the ceremony and I made my speech to the 250 people gathered there in French and English. I was tempted to throw in a little Irish but I didn’t want to be a show off. I told of St Mura’s National School on the shores of Lough Swilly in Co Donegal, and the teacher who first put Canada in my head; of the pictures on our classroom wall of Totem poles, giant red cedars and the log jams on the Fraser River; of the opportunities that awaited those brave enough to go; and of how Canada was now my home, and the home of my children.
My children now number 12 as my husband and I have just adopted three orphans and made them part of our family. The Irish names they carry of Niamh, Conor and Declan are testament to my Irish heritage. The lives of my children and grandchildren now are forever mingled with Canada.