When Everything Changed for Me
During 1957, the world experienced many important events. There was the conflict over the Suez Canal which caused the formation of the UNEF Peacekeepers. Russia launched Sputnik which began our venture into space. We even experienced a pandemic known as the Asian Flu that killed over 150,000 people worldwide. These were very important and historic happenings, but for me, it was the year that turned my world upside down.
I moved from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere; from the cosmopolitan city of Sydney to the small prairie town of Lethbridge; from a population of over two million to a population of just over thirty thousand; from pounds, shillings and pence, to dollars, quarters, dimes and nickels. Everything changed.
We arrived in Vancouver on the first of April. Yes, April Fool’s Day! An auspicious beginning in my new homeland.
The first thing I had to get used to was cars driving on the wrong side of the road. In school, it was drummed into our heads to – look to the right, then to the left, then to the right again, before crossing the road. That lesson would have gotten me killed the first time I stepped off the sidewalk. Sidewalk, not footpath. Oh, there were so many words and meanings to get used to. I would repeat them under my breath – sidewalk, not footpath; trunk not boot; hood not bonnet; downtown, well, there was no equivalent for that one.
In Lethbridge the streets were wide and cars parked at an angle, while in Sydney the streets were narrow and parking, if allowed, was at a premium. But at least the traffic was not as busy and people did not blow their horns all the time.
My first milk shake was also different. In Sydney, it was mostly milk with one small ice-cream scoop whizzed into it, while here, the drink was so thick that it took real effort to suck it through the straw. Then there was the wonderful beef-dip with fries. I was used to fish and chips, which I missed terribly, but this new treat became an instant favourite.
One of my newest and most joyful experiences was spending time at the malt shop. My new friends and I would talk and giggle, as young girls do while sipping a coke and playing the jukebox. For a quarter, the jukebox played five songs, so it was never silent. There was even a small area for the more energetic to dance if they wanted to.
Another fascinating thing that entered my life was cruising. My sister and I had never heard of cruising. In Sydney, we were beach converts and spent as much time as we could by the ocean, but here we learned that young people “cruised”. When we were asked if we wanted to go cruising, we said “why not?”
We had no idea what we were getting into, but driving around a city block was never in our imaginings. Round and round we’d go until it was time to have a shake or a coke. After that, we’d get back in the car and begin driving around the block again. It was almost hypnotic, sort of like an unorchestrated parade. The same cars, the same people, and the same block until it was time to go home.
Watching television was also new to us. When we left Sydney, television had only just arrived and we didn’t know anyone who had one. In Lethbridge, every house had one. One house, one television and one channel. I remember watching the Plouffe Family and trying to understand the concept of the show. Their accent was very different, and the situations the family faced in each episode, was foreign to us. We decided that you had to be Canadian to understand what was going on. The Honeymooners were not much better. The constant arguing and yelling between Ralph and Alice, or Ralph and Ed, eventually became tiresome. Our favourite during those first few months was the Ed Sullivan Variety Show.
There was also a Canadian variety show that we enjoyed very much. The Don Messer’s Jubilee. It was a happy and light-hearted program with lots of singing and square dancing.
Our house was built on 10th Avenue North. Back then, our street was the last row of houses before the expanse of the prairies began. The area is known as the big sky country, and for us, it took some getting used to. During our first summer, we witnessed immense dark clouds rolling in from the north. These storms produced incredible lightning flashes that raced across the sky. The thunder that followed was almost deafening, and certainly somewhat frightening. We had thunderstorms in Sydney, but we never experienced such fierceness. Perhaps it was because Sydney was so much larger and built on hilly and rocky terrain while Lethbridge was built on flat land.
That winter we also experienced our first Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. What an incredible show! One that fascinates me to this day.
Hard to believe that 65 years have passed since our arrival. Do I ever wonder what my life would have been like had we stayed in Sydney? Sometimes. But what’s the point of that? Here is where fortune has brought me. Here is where I have spent most of my life, and happy to have done so.