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One of the people whom I had met at University College was an "eternal student" by the name of Nick Cleary. He had seen service in India in the war and had emigrated to Canada soon afterwards. He was an absolutely fearless individual who rolled his own noxious brand of cigarillos, drank hard and told lots of what I assumed at the time were very tall stories. He was back in England, courtesy of the Canadian Government to get a degree, which until that point had always eluded him in his many stints at various universities (hence the "eternal student" label). Despite the debonair persona he was genuinely interested in science and mathematics and by then he had acquired a great deal of background in many facets of it through the various surveying and other courses that he had taken. His descriptions of life in Canada appealed to me, especially after having spent most of my life until that point in a sort of continuous academic boot camp with virtually no time for any social life.
I began enquiries about emigration to Canada with the idea that although I would have to have immigrant status over there to be able to work and so on, I would only be going for a year or so to see for myself what it was all about. At the back of my mind was the idea that I might go on to Australia and right the way round before settling down. As I approached graduation I started to look for jobs and got two offers, one from DeHavilland Propellers out at Hatfield starting at 600 pounds a year, and the other from GEC somewhere in North London starting at 520 pounds a year. I was not thrilled with either of these, the money was actually quite good, but the environment was rather bleak in both cases and the people all looked a bit pale and grim and singularly uninspiring. My plan "B" kept resurfacing in my mind and eventually I decided that nothing ventured nothing won. I got a passport and went through the emigration process at the Canadian Immigration Office in Green Street.
The Suez Debacle
It was a busy place in those days following the cynical invasion of the Suez Canal zone, planned by the French who persuaded the then Prime Minister Anthony Eden to make it a joint effort. Ostensibly the reason was to "separate the combatants" in a flare up of the ever present Egyptian-Israeli conflict. In fact it was a clumsy attempt to "deal" with Abdul Nasser, the upstart Colonel-cum-president of Egypt who had made no secret of his intention to take control of the canal, which had been built in the 1880's with British and French money as the gateway to the Far East for their mercantile interests. It back fired badly when it became embarrassingly apparent that the claim that the landing of a joint force had been to "separate the combatants", was demonstrably false since there were no combatants in the area when the landing took place. I remember writing a parody of a scene from MacBeth with Anthony Eden as MacBeth and the French Premier Mollet as the scheming wife egging him on, which was published in the college newspaper "PI".
The debacle was compounded when Nasser blocked the canal by sinking ships in it, thereby denying passage through it for all nations, There was talk of other nations sending Britain and France the bill for lost trade, but in the end it was the ill- conceived military intervention itself, designed to keep the canal under British and French control, which ironically destroyed its commercial profitability. By the time it was again navigable, the world had discovered that it could manage without it. By building bigger ships (too big to pass through the canal) it was soon established that economies of scale could be achieved which made the other route (the voyage around the Cape of Good Hope) an economically viable alternative and given the volatile politics of the middle east, even an attractive one.
This piece of imperial chicanery on the part of the two original European powers was the last straw for many British people in their thirties with young families. They regarded it (probably correctly) as a pathetic attempt to divert attention from the grey post war years of seemingly endless austerity and belt tightening. "Didn't we win the damn war?" was a question that was often asked as people saw Germany apparently doing better than we were with aid pouring in from all directions. This perception of a once great imperial power reduced to picking fights with tin-pot dictators like Nasser, and then suffering a humiliating black eye from the rest of the international community as a result, led to only one conclusion for many people - leave it, go to one of the richer dominions where there was room to turn around, where the living standards were better (from all accounts) and last but not least, where the weather was better. There was quite an exodus at that time of young professional people, triggered by the Suez debacle and other reasons, which became known as the "brain drain" and was much on the minds of politicians of the day.
The Atlantic Crossing
I bought a cabin trunk at some second hand shop and spent a lot of time at shipping offices looking for the best deal on a passage. I ended up with a ticket for 70 pounds on the "Empress of France", a Canadian Pacific liner sailing from Liverpool on August the 20th 1957 and bound for Montreal. There was much to be done in the meantime, not the least of which was to pass the final degree examinations. For some reason they were held that year in the Chelsea Town Hall in Kings road. The cheerful bohemian atmosphere of that area with the espresso bars and so on, contrasted oddly with the ordeal which faced the several hundred students who had descended on the place. There were nine three-hour papers I remember, covering physics, and pure and applied mathematics. Unlike North American universities the courses were not modular, the examinations for everything had to be taken all at once in a sudden-death type ordeal at the end of the entire university career, failure in any one subject meant that the exams in all the subjects had to be taken again the next year, even those for which top marks had been obtained. This academic version of snakes-and-ladders was responsible for more than one suicide in the student community and as a result a crescendo of stress was the norm in the months coming up to the finals.
I made it through and so did Nick Cleary, he had returned to Canada to resume his work with the Topographic Survey of Canada before the results were posted and I said I would check his number and send him an air letter to his field head quarters in Trail B.C. with the result. I addressed it "N.Cleary B.Sc." to spare him the trauma of having to tear open the letter with trembling hands before learning his fate. He later told me that was a master stroke because he got a radio message from his H.Q. to the effect that there was a letter for him addressed to "N.Cleary B.Sc." from England and was this some sort of joke. The letter itself did not reach him in his remote location until some weeks later.
I had assured my Brother, Mother and Father that this was just a wanderlust thing and that I would be back within a year or eighteen months. They were pretty unhappy nevertheless as they saw me off on the "boat train" at Euston Station, the big London Terminus which handled trains to the North on what had been the LMS (London Midland & Scottish) railway. I arrived at the Liverpool docks where all the luggage was loaded on board the ship, this was the idea of the boat train, it went alongside the dock where the ship was tied up, for direct transfer of luggage to the cabins indicated on the labels. I was in a cabin with three other young wanderers, one was an Australian who had done quite a bit of wandering already and quite a bit of wild-oat sowing apparently as well.
The voyage was a superb 70 pounds worth, seven days of being well fed and well entertained which would cost a small fortune today. In mid Atlantic a storm was brewing and we had to heave-to for about 12 hours and ride it out. It was pretty awesome, with the ship pitching so much that the propellers would come clear out of the water. Each time that happened the whole ship shook like a paint mixer from stem to stern. As it grew worse the hatches were battened down and no one was allowed on deck. Not too many passengers turned up for meals and for those who did it was a memorable experience, the table cloths were dampened down to keep the crockery from sliding around (a surprisingly effective trick) and chairs were chained to the floor to prevent the passengers from sliding around.
Waiters pirouetted gracefully between tables with panache and aplomb, showing off their mastery of the rolling ship beneath their feet. Before the decks were closed I ventured out to see at first hand what a mid Atlantic storm was really like. It was certainly something that I would not have wanted to face in one of the old wooden sailing ships, the seas were mountainous and I realised then why we were hove- to, it needed all the skill of the helmsman just to keep the bow pointing into the wind and waves, never mind making any headway on our chosen course. I knew from dinghy sailing that in a situation like that it could be game over if the ship was allowed to veer round broadside on to the sea.
Iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland
Sister ship to Empress of France
we crossed near Quebec City
Landing a job with the Canadian Hydrographic Service
I had sent an application some months earlier for a job with the Canadian Hydrographic service. I had been given a competition poster at the Canadian immigration office which was headed in bold red capitals "THE CIVIL SERVICE OF CANADA REQUIRES", and then went on to reveal that it required a hydrographer to work in small launches taking echo soundings around Vancouver Island and inshore coastal waters. I had not had any reply and I debated whether or not to stay on board until Toronto and try job hunting there, or disembark in Montreal and go to Ottawa and follow up this lead.
In the end I chose the latter and after getting my worldly belongings together I took a train to Ottawa. I was fascinated by the cars which were all at least twice as big as the ones in England and had about ten times the power. The first one I ever rode in was a taxi and when it accelerated away from the kerb I thought we were going to the moon. I was impressed with the Canadian trains, roomy, comfortable, clean and quiet. The Montreal-Ottawa run was scheduled as two hours and it pulled in to the downtown Ottawa Union station on the dot.
I found a room at the YMCA and next morning set about tracking down the job application. I was directed to the Civil Service Commission at the Jackson Building which was a five minute walk and after knocking on a few doors eventually found the right one. "A job application you say, let me see...ah yes here we are, this was the form you filled out... yes we still have some vacancies there." Then there followed verification of identity, qualifications and so on, after which he asked if I wanted the job at the entry level "Technical Officer grade I" at a salary of $4020 pa.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven, four thousand dollars a year! That translated to about thirteen hundred pounds which was more than my Father was making at that time. When I said I did, the Commission man said "O.K. raise your right hand, put your left hand on this bible and repeat after me....". After swearing an oath of allegiance to her majesty (I had no problem with that, having been a card-carrying monarchist all my life) he told me how to find the Canadian Hydrographic Service.
I found the bus (10c at that time) and made my way to "number eight temporary building" where I found the agency to which I had just signed my life away. I was ushered in to the office of the Dominion Hydrographer who welcomed me to the outfit "So you are the new fellow, good, we have an assignment for you right away." The outfit was not very big at that time, which was why they had had the news that I had been hired before I had even arrived a half hour later, and also why the top man made a practice of greeting new employees personally. I was also impressed by the fact that they had an assignment all worked out in the same half hour time period.
This agency was also a part of the department of Mines and Technical surveys along with the Topographic Survey for which Nick Cleary was working. It was flexible and productive in those days with only the number of administrators actually needed to take care of administering the department. The process which I went through in about an hour at that time would require many weeks today and would be subject to all sorts of constraints to ensure that all the right gods had been placated; the god of employment equity, the god of bilingualism and so on and so on ad infinitum.
The original poster which had prompted my application indicated that hydrographers were needed to work around the Vancouver Island waterways on the west coast. My marching orders were to go to Halifax, Nova Scotia. My Canadian Geography was not very extensive but I was pretty sure that this on the opposite side of the country from Vancouver and how right I was. One of the senior people briefed me on where I was to go when I got to Halifax. I was to join the crew of a brand new hydrographic survey ship the CGS "Baffin" which had only been commissioned a few months earlier, but had "had a little accident" and was now in dry dock undergoing repairs. The crew were now landlocked and working from a small hamlet about 40 miles up the coast from Halifax called Salmon River. I was issued with a government travel warrant for the train journey to Halifax and told to go to the Naval dockyard and go aboard the Baffin and identify myself to the person in who was the resident caretaker.
I returned to the YMCA, collected my cabin trunk and once again sampled the Canadian trains, but this time first class with my new employer footing the bill. It was quite a ride, first heading back to Montreal, which I had left barely forty eight hours earlier, and then changing to the train known as the "Ocean Limited", which took a day and a half to do the 900 miles to Halifax. From Montreal the train ran through the Eastern Townships of Quebec and within a stones throw of a house in a textile town called Drummondville, which was destined to become a part of my life a year or so later. The scenery for much of the journey was spectacular, especially through the forests of New Brunswick and I was duly impressed.
Getting acquainted with the hydrographic ship "Baffin"
I arrived at Halifax and found the Naval dockyard and the Baffin and made myself known to the skeleton crew on board. I spent several days on the ship and with the aid of some technical manuals which I found in a bookshelf in the hydrographers mess (mostly British Admiralty publications I was intrigued to see), I gave myself a crash course on the principles of hydrographic surveying, a subject about which I knew less than nothing at that point.
The Baffin was a spanking brand new ship with a displacement of 3700 tons, driven by twin screws, each one powered by a diesel electric engine. The ship was incredibly well appointed and obviously no expense had been spared, it had all the latest navigational aids including the very latest one, the DECCA navigator, another British innovation. Since this system played a pivotal role in the Baffin's "little accident", a simplified and non technical explanation of how it worked is in order. If you drop two stones simultaneously into a basin of still water a few inches apart, you see ripples travelling outward from the two points in ever growing circles until eventually the two sets of circular ripples intersect, at which point you see an "interference pattern" where the ripples cancel each other out in some places and reinforce each other in other places. If you could keep up a continuous flow of stones, you would see that the pattern remains fixed, an example of so called "standing waves". A tiny ship moving through that pattern with a "ripple detector", would actually be able to navigate around the basin by counting the peaks and troughs of the ripples in the interference pattern caused by the "transmissions" from the two stones, provided of course that the positions where the stones were thrown in were known with considerable accuracy.
The "Baffin" hydrographic survey ship
docked at Shelburne, Nova Scotia
There was a helicopter pad on the ship to allow personnel to be ferried back and forth without having to put into port each time and to move people and equipment when the shore base transmitters had to be moved. In the chart room were the echo sounders which provided a continuous record of the ocean depth as the ship traversed back and forth on a predetermined grid of lines with the aid of the DECCA navigator. Each echo sounder used an electric discharge at the tip of a moving stylus to make a visible trace on the strip chart paper as it moved slowly through the machine, and after a while the smell of the ozone that was generated became quite unpleasant.
Quite apart from the technical aspects of the ship, the thing that struck me as most curious was the disparity between the quarters for the hydrographers and the ships officers. The hydrographers cabins were all fitted with mahogany furnishings and the "hydrographers lounge" was like a first class state room, with a thick pile carpet into which was woven the official hydrographic service crest; reading lamps were fitted to each sofa and all the other furnishings and fitments were quite surprisingly lavish. The hydrographers mess was equally plush, with individual tables seating four each and waiter service. The ships officers quarters by contrast were considerably more modest; their wardroom did not have a carpet and their mess was more like a cafeteria.
It had always been my understanding that on any ship the captain was cock of the walk and that he and his senior officers had the best accommodation and generally speaking the highest status on board, no matter how important the passengers may be. As I learned more about the "little accident" that had put the Baffin into dry dock, the more I realised that the anomaly that I had observed in the accommodation arrangements vis a vis officers and passengers, was indeed an indication of the root cause of the problem.
Eventually the party chief came in from Salmon River to drive me back there in his prized possession - a Studebaker "Golden Hawk". It was a very upscale and expensive sports car of the day and had a top speed of at least twice the legal limit and then some. Mr. Goodwill was a confirmed bachelor in his middle fifties, a mining engineer by training and a hydrographer by long time profession. His chief passion was ornithology (about which he knew a great deal) and showing 16mm colour films of his feathered friends which he had taken, at any and every opportunity. The films were really spectacular - from an ornithological point of view, but had a distinctly soporific effect on his field party, most of whom were ex-mariners, surveyors and draughtsmen with a strictly limited interest in the feathered species of the animal kingdom.
The forty mile drive was more of an ordeal than I had anticipated, because it was alarmingly evident that he was not a very good driver and hell bent on getting every ounce of speed out of the powerful engine at all times. We barely touched the road (two way traffic all the way) and he did not seem to understand the hazards of passing on curves and up hills with limited vision. Later I discovered that he had only recently learned to drive and that the entire field party lived in fear and dread of having to ride with him in his new toy.
Field operations in Nova Scotia
I had expected some sort of camp with tents and so on, what I found was a party living in a motel with individual cabins for the most part, with one for an office. A helicopter pad had been constructed in a clearing for the little Bell G-2 helicopter which was stationed with its pilot and engineer with the party. Normally it would be with the Baffin. Since the accident and while the ship was undergoing repairs, the party was engaged in setting up stations up and down the coast line were the Baffin would be working. These would be used to take sightings from the ship to verify the DECCA navigator.
Once I had gone on a few sorties to see how things were done I was put in charge of a group of seamen from the crew of the Baffin and flown into high points in the bush to set up a stations. They were simple flags made of purple high quality Irish linen nailed onto a simple scaffold with a two-by-four mast that carried the flag. The base would be weighted down with rocks or whatever was to hand. The positions were related to local geodetic survey points by taking theodolite readings and later computing the triangulation necessary to fix the position.
The original Bell G-2 helicopter
A case of two Masters
In the next few weeks among other tasks I was put to work preparing maps for the report on the mishap to the Baffin for the brass in Ottawa. During that assignment I picked up skills in drafting and cartography which have been of real value all through my career, even though now that sort of thing nowadays is done with computers. As I pieced together the story of what had happened I felt sorry for the genial and good humoured Goodwill, known as "Father" to the field party (he was about twenty years older than everyone else), because it became clear that he was at least in part the victim of too much technology too soon and a system that involved split responsibilities. The ship belonged to the Canadian Hydrographic Service and was of course designed to conduct ocean soundings to produce the hydrographic charts which was the raison d'etre of the agency.
The hydrographers were agency staff who had the skills and expertise to conduct such surveys and were for the most part ex-merchant navy officers with master-mariners tickets which qualified them to command ships at sea. These men although not university graduates, had received excellent training in a subject which was of crucial importance, navigation. Most of them were married and had found themselves in a box when they came to look for work ashore, where their seafaring qualifications counted for little. The government hydrographic service was tailor made for them and they for it, even though they still had to put in a lot of sea time, at least there was a specified season, normally six months at the most, which was better by far than the occasional shore time that the merchant navy offered them.
The ships captain and crew were provided by the department of transport and were by and large less qualified than the ex- master mariner hydrographers, having only tickets for coastal waters. As a result they were regarded simply as operators who took care of the mechanics of the day to day running and maintenance of the ship. The chief hydrographer gave the orders and made all the decisions as to where the ship went and when. The captain did not seem to have a problem with that arrangement which led to a grey area of responsibility where there should have been a clear dividing line as to who was ultimately responsible for the safety of the ship.
The Baffin was on a survey line in foggy weather not far from Halifax, relying on the DECCA navigational aid to maintain course. Everyone on board apparently was aware that a hazard known as "Black Rock" was not too far away but were not particularly concerned because the DECCA readout showed that they were a comfortable distance from it. Suddenly the ship shuddered from stem to stern as they ran full tilt onto the rock and worse still became impaled on a jagged portion of it. The captain really did not have the experience to deal with the emergency and the ex master mariners who did were reluctant to offer advice which might later be used as a stick to beat them with in any investigation.
It turned out that unquestioning reliance on the DECCA system had been their undoing, the readout had "slipped a lane" so that instead of being on a heading that would have kept them clear of the rock, they were actually on a collision course with it. The Baffin, the brand new multi-million dollar flagship of the Canadian Hydrographic Service was now severely damaged with a gash torn in the hull below the waterline after only a few months at sea, fortunately there were no casualties.
All immigrants are "Noo Canadians"
The ship was not ready to put to see again until October and during that time I started to adjust to being a "noo Canadian". The life was totally unlike the one that I had left, very much the pioneer sort of existence that was the stereotype image of Canada for people in England, with logging roads and lumberjacks and tracts of forest and bush as far as the eye could see from a helicopter. What surprised me was the high standard of living, the variety and amount of the food at the motel was quite unlike anything that I had been used to, in fact I was privately aghast at the way people would leave anything up to half a plate of barbecued chicken or whatever, uneaten, to be taken away and dumped in the "garbage can" the device which I had always known as a dustbin.
Just about everything was cheap by comparison with U.K. prices, cigarettes were something like 33 cents for a packet of 20, compared to about two shillings at home for a packet of ten and at three dollars to the pound sterling that worked out to about half the price. Cars were much much cheaper and for two hundred dollars I could have had a five year old Chevrolet "Biscayne" that would have been well beyond my reach at home. A new one at that time was just $2000 as I remember, a great deal less than a comparable one in England. Of course the operative word is "comparable", in fact there was no comparison between the modest postwar four cylinder British cars and the huge sleek overstyled behemoths which were the norm on this side of the ocean. I remember during the day or so I was in Ottawa being fascinated by all the gross monsters smothered in chrome plate and with lethal fins like rockets, rising from the elongated rear decks, lined up at traffic lights, and the roar as they leapt away with screeching tires, propelled by huge V-8 engines, with scant regard for pedestrians who might be scurrying across as the light changed.
I found it hard to get use to the new words for standard items; petrol was gasoline, or more confusingly just "gas", in which case what was gas (as in gas heating) called? Well, actually it was also called gas, you just had to get used to it. Paraffin was kerosene, curtains were drapes, taps were faucets, cookers were stoves or ranges and pavements were sidewalks; pavement was something that roads were covered with (when they were covered in something other than gravel). Other minor but interesting differences were electric light or other switches which operated in reverse, up for "on" and down for "off" and a peculiar reluctance to refer to the room housing the toilet as a lavatory. Children were always asked if they wanted to go to the "bathroom" or "washroom", or in later years when even these words with their aquatic connotation were considered to be too descriptive and therefore indelicate, the "restroom".
Interesting too were the odd traces of seventeenth century English usage that I heard from time to time. One of the expressions I heard as someone was directing somebody else reversing his car into a narrow entrance was: "keep going.. a bit more.. more yet", the phrase "more yet" was one that I had never heard in common usage in England and it was a living testament to the way in which two societies which split and go their separate ways for several centuries develop differently, the one retaining language idioms that fall into disuse in the other..
A minor mystery was that stationery was apparently manufactured in two solitudes. One company made the envelopes and another one made the writing pads, with the result that the pages of the pads were always just too large for the envelopes that were sold with them. Instead of folding the page into three and tucking it into the envelope as I had always done without a thought of the mechanics of the whole business, I now found that invariably the page was either too long, or more maddeningly - just too wide. This non-fit syndrome spilled over to other areas as well. Items sold in boxes did not always fit, for example a set of cutlery sold in a box where I came from would have a baize lining with indentations designed to accommodate the individual pieces. Here I discovered that the box was just that - a green baize lined box in which the cutlery just rattled around in general disarray.
I took out a "learners permit" (provisional driving licence) on a trip in to Halifax and put in some time with the jeep belonging to the field party with a vigilant supervisor in the other seat. It took a little time to adapt to driving on the wrong side of the road and the really confusing situations were traffic circles (roundabouts), where I really had to resist the temptation to take them in an anticlockwise direction. After many years of driving in both countries off and on, I can now say that I am reasonably "ambi-driverous" and can jump into a car on either side of the Atlantic without too much readaptation and drive off without hitting anything, however to this day I sometimes get into the passengers seat in a moment of absent mindedness. While I can adapt to driving on the wrong side of the road, I still have difficulty with the wheel being on the wrong side of the car.
Sports were of course quite different from home, baseball was followed with a religious zeal, even though there were no commercial teams playing in Canada at that time. At one point it was decided by mutual consent to take an afternoon off to watch some of the games of "World Series" on TV and make up the time later on. I had trouble with the idea that the final matches of a game played only in the USA, and only between American teams, were by any stretch of the imagination a "World" Series and I marvelled at how modest we were in referring to the cricket matches which were played annually between England, Australia, India, New Zealand, and the British West Indies (as they then were), as simply the "test matches". If games played only in America were "World Series", then perhaps the test matches should have been dubbed the "Inter Galactic Series".
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