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Montreal Magic

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Do you remember what you were doing at 2.00 p.m. on Thursday, February 12, 1959? I do. I was standing in the arrival area at Windsor Station in Montreal -- head high, eyes wide open, senses tingling, and feet on Canadian soil (well ok, so it was really concrete). The other boat-train passengers had all gone their various ways, and now I was alone. For one brief moment of panic, I wondered what on earth I had done.

Anne Joseph 1959.jpgAll I had was a referral from a crew member on-board ship to a total stranger, and after I rather hesitantly phoned, she invited me to meet her. One thing I did not have to worry about was luggage, because for some inexplicable reason mine had been left behind at St. John, New Brunswick, and all I had was a tiny overnight bag. When I left the station, the sun was shining on lots of lovely snow and all I wanted to do was walk. So, with map in hand to guide me, I trundled up to Sherbrooke Street and continued westward to a concave / convex building where I was met by this delightful young lady who plied me with coffee and conversation. She made a reservation for me at the YWCA, and I then walked back to Dorchester Street, checked in, and promptly recognized a shipmate. We were soon joined by five more former shipmates and planned to meet that evening in the cafeteria.

We all had cartons of milk, and our biggest problem was trying to figure out how to open the darned-fool things. Over the next few weeks, my faux pas included hailing a police car instead of a taxi, depositing my outgoing mail into a trash can which I still swear was a look-alike mail box, and not getting onto a bus if there were already five people standing. Postcards in hand, I asked for directions to a pillar box. I grew accustomed to “that look.”

On reflection, I am still not sure whether I was brave or stupid – probably both. I came to Canada without knowing even one person from Atlantic to Pacific, did not have a job or home awaiting me, and was cushioned by a mere $270. I left England as an unbelievably shy critter, but somehow as soon as I was aboard ship, I knew that my future was held by me, and me alone, in my own two hands. It was sink or swim.

The magic of Montreal and its people saved the day. Just four days after my arrival, I signed a lease on an apartment with two other girls, who are now senior citizens like me, and who remain among my closest friends. On my fifth day in Montreal, I started work as a secretary.

large_Anne Joseph 2007.JPGWhen the build-up started for Expo ’67, my love affair with Montreal just grew and grew. I got interested in its history and had by then met the man I would marry -- a 7th generation Anglo-Quebecer whose family had arrived in 1760. The warmth of my feelings for my homeland will never diminish, but one day a few years ago, I realized that Montreal had firmly captured me in a blanket of contentment. Sadly for me, my husband had just died and my own English family encouraged me to, in their words, “go home” – a loving gesture that I much appreciated – and yet I just knew that a permanent move back across the Atlantic would never happen.

I am a Montrealer – re-born and bred.