Remembrance of things past
We became Canadian citizens in 1970, by which time I had a position teaching at the U. of T.
Straight from Tidewater Virginia, we had come to Canada with a VW Beetle, a six-month old daughter and a dog. When we pulled up at the border at Queenston I was asked why I was coming to Canada. I said I was coming up to study. “Where?” they asked. “At the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies,” I said. The agent riffled through sheets presumably containing the names of all the schools known to the government. At last he spoke. “Is that a hair-dressing salon?” Once we got that straightened out, we were let into the country on a student visa - the Beetle, the luggage, and perhaps the dog, coming along under the heading of Settler’s Effects. It had never occurred to us that a sovereign nation might want a bit of advance notice of immigration. Those were innocent days!
In the course of the years that followed we moved about the city, the family grew to six, the dog died, and we became part of a community through our involvement in a Montessori school, and members of another community because we were interested in overseas adoption.
It was that second community that had us driving east 40 years ago. One of the families we met through overseas adoption meetings had suggested we jointly look for a piece of property north of Toronto, where we could take the kids on weekends to enjoy a bit of life away from the rush of the city. To our surprise we had gotten a letter from them saying they had come down to New Brunswick to visit an old friend and, oh, by the way, “we bought a farm.” And so, that August, we set out to see what this was all about.
And so it happened, on a warm summer evening in mid August, as our host drove from their farm with some trash for the dump in Collina, that I noticed, sitting above the road, a small house and sturdy, straight-backed barn, highlighted in the sunset on the hill behind them, and two signs at the bottom of the driveway. One sign, in faded blue and white, proclaimed the property a “Century Farm” and the other proclaimed the property “For Sale.”
The next day - Wednesday - we went to see, and Thursday morning as well. Friday morning we made, in one of the maddest cases of impulse buying, an offer. Around noon the phone rang at our friends’ place. The offer had been accepted. Saturday morning we climbed into our car and started back to Toronto.
The next summer we came down for the few weeks between the end of the kids’ school year and the beginning of mine and discovered just how far a thousand miles was. To our surprise the family whose home it had been had planted a garden for us, and the feeling grew upon us that here was a good place - good not in the abstract but concretely - a good place to be.
The next year I had a sabbatical leave from the university and we decided to spend it at the farm. The children, those who were in school, would go to the local schools, on the bus - a new experience for city kids. The Saturday after their first week of school we bought an elderly Jersey cow we named Brownie, and I, with the help of a kindly neighbour, began learning to milk a cow by hand.
Like the sight of the young man plowing with horses, it seemed an opening into another, and appealing, world.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.