Coming to Canada: Part 2, Leaving for Toronto

Campo de Santana by Emanuel Melo

When my father arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he lived with his aunt and uncle and their son. While there, he found a job pressing suits during the day and, in the evenings and weekends, he took it upon himself to organize his uncle’s warehouse. His uncle was so impressed with how tidy and clean the place looked that he wanted my father to stay a bit longer. However, my father’s US visitor’s document expired after seven months, so he crossed over the border with Canada to live with his older sister, her husband and their two children in the city of Toronto. They had been the first of our relatives to leave the Azores and establish a new life in Canada.

In Toronto, my father did various jobs, including work in construction and other backbreaking manual labour such as jack-hammering concrete near streetcar tracks. He even worked for a time on a tobacco plantation near Georgetown – a town several hours from the city. After three years, my father returned to São Miguel to be with my mother and me. My father had been away so long that I almost did not recognize him. He was like a mysterious stranger from a faraway place that I knew nothing about except for what I saw in the photographs he had sent me over the years.

Two months later, he brought my mother and me to Canada where we joined my cousins, paternal grandparents and my two aunts and uncles. When the day came, we left our house through the darkness of early morning, without even saying goodbye to my maternal grandparents. It was raining hard and we carried suitcases down the wet cobblestone street. I thought we were on our way to visit relatives in the country, but it was only then that my parents told me we were going to Canada. I was so shocked that I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to leave my home, my friends, and my grandparents. I wasn’t even given a chance to choose a favourite book or toy to take with me.

We walked to my mother’s best friend’s house where we changed from our wet clothes into our travelling clothes. My mother had sewn a brand new dress for the trip and a new suit for me. From there we travelled to the airport. In those days, the local people jokingly called the airport in São Miguelaero vacas,” as it was nothing more than a big field where cows grazed nearby. There was a small shelter room where we waited for the SATA airplane to come and take us away. I watched people saying goodbye to each other with only their tears and embraces.

It was my first time seeing an airplane up close. Up until then, an airplane was a thin matchstick moving across the sky once a week over our house. But now, I walked toward the grass runway and climbed the stairs to get inside a real airplane. It was so small that it could only carry twelve passengers. I was so nervous about this new adventure that I wanted to stay by my parents’ side for the flight. However, the stewardess escorted me to the very front where I was to sit by myself behind the cockpit. “O menino fica aqui,” she told me, “Little boy, you stay here.” As soon as her back was turned I ran back to my parents, but was sternly brought back to my solitary seat where I could see the pilot and his panel full of strange instruments. I was very scared, indeed.

Soon, the engine began to roar and the small propellers began to spin round and round. The airplane started to move and then, without any warning, the little aircraft lifted from the ground and made its way up, up into the blue Azorean sky. I was mesmerised by the view out of the small round window as I watched the greenest parcel of earth get farther and farther away from me until the sight of the blue hydrangea, marking the highways and fields, blurred with the blue of the vast sky and ocean below.

We landed very shortly on another island, Santa Maria. This was the island where the big jet airplanes landed and took off with immigrants to Canada. There must have been some engine trouble, or some other reason to keep us there, because we had an unexpected stay on this island for several days. We stayed in a hotel where there was a large dining room with big round tables decorated with linen tablecloths and napkins and plates with rolls and butter. Every night, after dinner, all the children would leave their parents’ tables and go sit on the floor to hear a singer and a band play.

The day finally came for our departure. The Air Pacific airplane was a hundred times bigger than the little SATA one that brought us to Santa Maria. I was given a window seat next to my parents where I could always see a bit of land outside the window until I realized that what I was looking at was only the long wing of the airplane.

After many hours flying across the Atlantic Ocean, we first landed in Montreal. It was February and we had to walk down a flight of stairs onto the tarmac before heading for the shelter of the airport. In my little cotton grey suit I could feel a cold that I had never felt before. And I saw something so foreign to me: snow! It was like a beautiful blanket covering everything in white. In São Miguel our winters were only rain and damp wet weather. But here, there wasn’t a sign of green anywhere at all. To me, Canada was just grey and white and that was very strange to see.

From Montreal we took a connecting flight to Toronto. My cousins, aunts and uncles, and my grandparents were waiting for us at the airport. I had not seen my little cousins for a long time, but they still looked just as I had remembered. I was so glad to see them that I almost forgot how much I missed my home in São Miguel. I also met my other two cousins who had come over to Canada when they were very little. Now, I would be living in their house along with the rest of the family.

I found myself very far away from my green island home, and suddenly in the middle of a vast city, made up of tall buildings and long wide streets, all spread out in a perfect grid going far into infinity.

coming-to-canada-part-2World Cloud created by Stephen Dow


Written in 2008 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of my arrival in Canada.

About thetorzorean

The musings of a torontonian azorean on identity and belonging. You can find me at
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5 Responses to Coming to Canada: Part 2, Leaving for Toronto

  1. Kathie says:

    Like you, I grew up having never seen snow fall, albeit in the San Francisco Bay Area rather than the Azores. I was 21 and meeting my future in-laws in the midwest over the holidays for the first time, when it began snowing late one afternoon. Excited at the prospect of communing with the magical stuff I’d only read about in school books and seen in old snowbanks melting along California mountain roads in summer, I bundled up and dashed outside their house — only to discover that the snowflakes felt like miniature razor blades slashing my face. I ran back inside, disappointed in the extreme. Ever since, I’ve considered snow highly overrated.


  2. Pingback: Coming to Canada 53rd Anniversary | Emanuel Melo torontonian azorean writer

  3. Nuno França says:

    Que fantástico!
    O “aero vacas” devia ser uma coisa do outro mundo, quando comparada com aquilo que conhecemos hoje em dia em termos de aeroportos.
    Como os tempos evoluem.
    Desejo enorme em conhecer o Canadá. Depois da viagem à Islândia (que exigiu uma grande poupança), agora uma das próximas a exigir mais ainda (por ser mais caro segundo sei), é precisamente para o Canadá, Toronto, etc.

    Grande abraço

    Liked by 1 person

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