What's Your Story

How my grandmother risked it all in a new land, and finally became Canadian

For years after immigrating to Canada, Joan Chaput's grandmother pined for her home back in Scotland. How long does it take for a new place to become home?

Starting over in 1920s Manitoba was difficult, and Joan Chaput's grandma longed for her Scottish homeland

When Joan Chaput's grandfather was fighting in the trenches in WW I, he and his sweetheart back in Scotland kept these photos of each other in their pockets. (Joan Chaput)

How long does it take for a new place to become home? Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Joan Chaput of Ste. Anne, Manitoba, shares hers:

'A family photo just before Grandpa left for Canada. They went on to have two more children in Canada.' (Joan Chaput)

This is a story about my grandmother, but really it is the story of every Canadian whose family moved across the globe to make their future in the new world.

My grandmother grew up in Scotland, and she and my grandfather were young lovers during World War I. My grandfather never shared his experiences in the trenches of Europe, and my grandmother was introduced to another world when she was sent down to work in the big southern cities of Great Britain. I still have the photographs that were folded and mashed in each other's pockets during the travels of the war.

When Grandpa returned home, the two married and began their lives as crofters [tenant farmers] on the East Coast of Scotland. Babies began to arrive and the future looked bleak — a crofter works for board and room, but will never own a tract of land, nor have money in the bank. And so in 1924, my grandfather decided to follow his older brother over to Canada, the land of hope and opportunity.

We are the products of those courageous souls.- Joan Chaput

He followed the train across eastern Canada, finally stopping in the prairies, taking odd jobs in flour mills, farms. He sent money back to his family sporadically.  My grandmother, feeling increasingly more desperate, decided to borrow enough money from her parents to follow her husband to the new world. In 1925, she left everything she knew to travel across the sea with three children under five-years-old. She had no idea what might be awaiting her.

Chaput's grandparents settled in Shoal Lake, Man., for 15 years before moving to Winnipeg. (Joan Chaput)

The good news is that she found my grandfather in a small Manitoba town and they went on to have two more children.

The bad news is that Grandma was sorely disappointed with this land of plenty!

She had given up her home, family and friends to arrive in the Prairies in the middle of the Depression. She told stories of the rolling clouds of dirt that blew through the town — how her white sheets and towels came off the clothesline covered in black dust, and how the children returned to the house with the same dirt streaming from ears, eyes and nose.

But they stuck it out, even though the older brother returned to Scotland. The children grew up, found careers, partners and homes of their own. Grandpa never talked about Scotland or family back home, but Grandma pined for Scotland. We often heard stories of the beauty of Scotland, her brothers and sisters, and we knew that she had a hole in her heart.

Then one chilly winter day, my grandfather passed away and shortly after that, Grandma decided it was time to go home. So with much nervous anticipation, she left for an extended visit to the land she loved and everything she had left behind.

It was with great surprise but also immense pride that when Grandma returned weeks later, she proudly announced that she was CANADIAN! Scotland no longer had the pull on her that it had had for over 40 years, and she realized that her home was here, in Canada.

'She realized that her home was here, in Canada.' Chaput's grandparents at home in Winnipeg. (Joan Chaput)

This is the story of my grandmother's life, but it represents every Canadian who left one world to risk all in a new land. We are the products of those courageous souls.

What's your story?
What defines Canada for you? Is there a time that you were proud to be Canadian, or perhaps a time you felt disappointed? Is there a place, person, or event in your life that sums up what being Canadian is to you? Tell us at cbc.ca/whatsyourstory.


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