Arriving in Montreal aboard the Empress of England
by Michael Hill
Photo of the Empress of England arriving in the Port of Montreal from the Archives de la Ville de Montreal on Flickr. (Navire «Empress of England» escorté par un remorqueur, 1963, VM94-AD-5-056)
I emigrated to Canada in the spring of 1964, arriving in Montreal on May 6 after a voyage of seven days. Although I never did find out all the salient details, I was informed around Christmas 1963 that we were moving to Canada. At this point I was halfway into my first year of secondary school in Yorkshire, in the north of England. My father apparently had tired of rainy England and procured a job in Toronto, and he flew out in February 1964, to stay with the sister of a neighbour of my maternal grandmother. Mum was left with the job of selling the house and most of the contents, car, etc. By mid-April this was accomplished and we left the house for the last time in a taxi to the station on our way to Derby to stay with my grandmother until our sailing on April 28. This was very interesting and exciting for a twelve year old boy. The only thing I regretted was leaving my school and friends. Mum must have felt sorry for me and acquired tickets for a special steam train excursion from Derby to Crewe, including tours of the railway shops.
On the morning of April 28 we boarded a train for Liverpool, and found our way to the big CP ship, which was at the time, I believe, berthed at Gladstone dock. The ship was very impressive, and loomed large at the dock as we were processed through the ticket agents and customs inspection, then walking the gangway onto the huge vessel, then finding our way to the tiny cabin on B deck. As mum unpacked and then took a nap before dinner I set out on an exploratory mission of the ship, picking up a few friends here and there, mostly emigrating to Canada as I was.
The first night was smooth and peaceful, and we awoke next morning anchored in the Firth of Clyde to pick up more passengers. The rest of the day was spent on deck watching the passing scenery, and then watching the land recede as we made our way toward open ocean.
The next five days were spent exploring all the ship's amenities, including the small theatre, deck games, and of course many hours just walking the decks with my friends. I can still see hear and smell the ocean spray from the stern of the ship.
Finally we encountered land as we passed PEI, the Gaspe peninsula, and entered the St Lawrence Seaway. I remember it was hot and sunny, a distinct contrast to cold rainy Liverpool, and was marvellous sitting on the deck watching the scenery drift by on either side of the ship.
On May 5 we docked in Quebec City, where we disembarked to process through Canadian Customs and Immigration. I was now a landed immigrant. After this we had most of the day to explore, and conveniently a hoard of taxis arrived to take us on tours. Then back on the ship one final night, waking up in Montreal. We had booked train travel to Toronto, leaving that afternoon, so in the meantime we hopped on a scenic tour bus to see Montreal. It was at the top of Mount Royale that I experienced my first real hotdog, priced ten cents. It was so good I must have eaten at least six. Then to the train station and onto the train. It was slow but comfortable, the onboard sandwiches were expensive but we didn't have much of an idea how much things cost.
After what seemed like many hours we arrived in Toronto very late at night, to be met by dad and Elsie and Ray. Dad had found a modern apartment in the west end, and I collapsed into bed, my head spinning trying to comprehend that I had just travelled about one third way around the globe.