‘I am 95 now, and may never get back to Ireland’
My husband and I left for Canada in 1947 with no more in our luggage than dreams
‘Years before we left Ireland, I had my cards read by a man named “Silk” who was well known in our community as a fortune teller. He told me I would go to a cold country, not by boat but by some other means. It appears that he foretold my destiny.’ Eileen Jones pictured in Devonshire in England, 1942.
For the 150th Canada Day on July 1st, Irish Times Abroad readers in Canada have been sending us their stories. This is one of the dozens we received. If you would like to become part of our Network and share your emigration stories and opinions, you can join at irishtimes.com/abroad.
I was born Eileen Healy, the sixth of eight children to Thomas and Julia Ann Healy on a pleasant day in March of 1922 in Knocknaboul in Co Kerry. Raised on a small farm, my early memories of childhood are still some of my fondest. Although I was not aware at the time, it was in these early years that I had crossed paths with my future husband Dan Jones, who was growing up on a farm in nearby Ballydesmond, Co Cork.
During my late teens I moved to London, where I trained and worked as a nurse during the second World War. Dan was also working in England in building reconstruction. We kept up with each other, fell in love and married.
We talked about emigration opportunities to Rhodesia that were on offer at the time. A chance encounter by my husband one day while sitting next to a stranger on a train shifted our focus to Canada. He told Dan we were going to the wrong country, that we should go to Canada.
It was a coincidence at this same time that Canada’s Deputy of External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, had proposed to select skilled workers looking for opportunities and a new life in Canada. We offered our services and were selected.
Looking back, we left Ireland for Canada with hardly a notion of where Canada was and with no more in our luggage than our dreams.
Our trip to Canada, also our first trip on an airplane, was memorable. We had a stopover in Scotland to pick up 56 “war brides”, also destined for new lives in Canada. We also encountered unplanned stops in Greenland and Newfoundland due to airplane engine troubles. We finally arrived in Toronto, Ontario in July 1947.
One of my first most impressionable memories of Canada was the food available at that time. We were just recovering from the lean war years and were used to food rationing. Upon arriving, we discovered grocery store shelves filled high with fresh vegetables and fruit.
I recall my Dan purchasing a big red tomato, which we never had when we were young, and taking a bite of it and quickly spitting it back out. He had expected it would taste much different because of how it looked. Dan, in his later farming years, went on to grow and sell some of the best tasting tomatoes in the local area.
Once established in Toronto, we soon found employment, me as a nurse in the Toronto General Hospital and Dan as an overhead crane operator for the Taylor security safe company. He later went on to install bank safes throughout southern Ontario, and credited his “alignment” expertise to the skills he learned in the reconstruction of London after the war.
I recall being terribly homesick. Dan was not so much at that time. He was, and always remained, excited and thankful for all of the opportunities that came his way in his newly adopted country.
You could say that we lived several different lives in Canada. We first lived in Toronto, then moved to Streetsville, Ontario where we bought 20 acres of farmland. Dan found work at the new Ford Motor Company in Oakville as a crane operator. We then bought a 100 acre farm in Hornby, Ontario where we started a dairy farm. Eventually we rented an additional farm close by and we started an English riding stable called Green Willows.
All this time Dan continued working at Ford. By that time we had seven children and our lives were overflowing with the busyness of raising them and also operating the riding stable. Naming the horses was my job and our stable was full of horses with Irish names such as Donegal, Kinsale, Bantry Bay, Ballyheigue, Kerry and Setanta. To this day we share and laugh about our many great times with the horses, including memorable moments from all the horse shows we participated in.
We had a great life here and through the years made many trips back to Ireland to visit family and friends.
There are many things that I came to love about Canada, to name just a few: the fall colours of the trees, the warm, humid summers with lots of swimming, the swirling snow in the winter and of course the kind Canadian people who welcomed us.
Years before we left Ireland, I had my cards read by a man named “Silk” who was well known in our community as a fortune teller. He told me I would go to a cold country, not by boat but by some other means. It appears that he foretold my destiny.
We felt safe here and thankful for all the opportunities that came our way. I was granted my Canadian citizenship on January 18th, 1957.
Though Canada has been my home for so many years, Ireland remains my first love. I still think about the sound of the cuckoo bird in the spring and would love to hear it one more time. I am 95 years old now, and may not get back again.
My husband Dan passed quietly in October 2002. In his last few days he often talked of his Irish heritage. I thought he would be pleased in having the phrase “Born in Southern Ireland” inscribed upon his headstone.
To date, Dan and I have been blessed with seven children, 20 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. So, when I am asked of my life and times in Canada, I think back to what a wonderful lifetime it has been.
I am Eileen Jones of Canada, by way of Ireland...