As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog series, James Rea did not stay in County Armagh all of his life. Instead, he chose to immigrate to Canada in 1926. Here, he recounts his long journey to Winnipeg.
“I discovered that the British government was about to launch a campaign for immigrants to work in her domain. There were at least three choices of countries to emigrate to. They were Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. I chose the latter, but a couple of weeks later I was asked by the immigration agent if I would change my mind and go to Canada. Apparently the boat for Canada was being booked faster, even though the fares the fare to our destination was the same to each country. I can well remember going to one of the immigration meetings and viewing the large poster on the wall, which displayed the golden harvest in western Canada. It sure looked good enough for me.”
“I booked my passage on the Alaunia, a boat owned by the Cunard line. The fare was $25.00 and that amount took me to Winnipeg Manitoba. It was hard saying goodbye to my relatives and childhood friends that I had grown up with. Even though conditions in Ireland at that time were fair, it did not prevent me from crossing the ocean to a new land.”
“The ship sailed from Belfast in March of 1926. The trip across the Atlantic took seven days. I enjoyed every minute of it. To make it more pleasant, there were two families on the boat that I was well acquainted with in Ireland. There was Mr. and Mrs. Tommy George Robinson, and their family of four boys and one girl, ranging in ages from around nine to seventeen. The other family was the Campbell’s, close relatives to the Robinson’s…Most of our time on the trip was spent playing cards, games etc. Making new acquaintances was an interesting past time. Everyone was talking of our past experiences and wondering what the future had in store for us.”
“When we arrived in Halifax, small boats took us from the harbour where the Alaunia was anchored to shore…Our stay in Halifax was short as we made our arrangements to board the train for a long journey to Winnipeg. The seats were hard, and so were the bunk beds that us single men slept in. Families were given a little more consideration, and most of them slept on the lower level. Their seats could be converted into cots. No doubt there was some sort of a place to eat on the train, but myself and the family that I travelled with decided that would do our own cooking. There were many train stops on the way, and occasionally the conductor would allow us to get off for about ten minutes. This enabled us to by some tea, sugar, milk, bread or cookies…The scenery during the daytime was lovely. I wondered around and talked to the passengers. The main topic was, where did you come from, your name, and where are you booked. Most of the people on that train were booked for Winnipeg, which was a distribution centre. The train ride was anything but smooth, but I survived it, and so did my friends…The Robinson and Campbell families were great company. We all had much in common, and it helped to shorten the trip. There was about ten of us that formed a group that were very close. It seemed to me that we brought along a little bit of Blarney, especially when we would go into a store to get supplies. The storekeeper would say, ‘And what part or Ireland did you come from?’…’From County Armagh of course’, I would say.”
I hope you have enjoyed reading James Rea’s written account of life in County Armagh as much as I have. Thank you for taking the time to read it.