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Hurry Up and Wait...The Five Stages of Travelling During the Holidays

I have noticed that as soon as I start to think about travelling during the holidays I become a bit jaded. It has been my experience that airports during the festive season are—to be frank—somewhat less than jolly. Often I am left dreaming of a QUIET Christmas.[1]

Recently, I was travelling from Toronto to Halifax. I had spent a week at home with my family to attend a wedding and share in festive traditions with my family for Christmas. I also arranged to pick up artifacts for the new Canadian Immigration Story gallery while I was in town so I was on an exhibition adventure.

I was three hours early for my flight and especially nervous since I was responsible for important cargo. Standing in the airport with mountains of baggage, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the stories people have shared about coming to Canada. The experiences I had for this short flight do not come close to the complex mix of emotions people have shared about their journeys to Canada, but standing in an airport this holiday season I empathize with what an emotional adventure it could be.

Stage 1: The Stressful Start

I know I am leaving home and have to get ready. Where do I start?

I pack! Packing for a trip is fraught with questions and decisions:

  • What is the weather like where I’m going?
  • Can I fit the Christmas presents?
  • Is my suitcase the right weight and size?

Generally for me, my entire packing process is plagued with doubt. This trip my packing priorities were straightforward; wedding and Christmas presents first, then anything else that would fit. Bottom line, this is a frustrating process.

“Much must have been left behind but also many possessions were packed.…Mother was mainly in charge of choosing what was to be taken and Father was in charge of the packing….”
- The Nissen family, arrived from Denmark, 1928. [S2012.1215.1]

Anxiety sets in: do I have my paperwork in order?

The start of every Christmas visit makes me nervous; have I crossed all of my t’s and dotted all of my i’s’? I had never travelled with artifacts before and visions of lost luggage lingered in my dreams. What if something goes wrong? Changing travel plans during the holidays is not easy. How do I ease my fear? By getting organized and have my paperwork in order![2]

I have come to love the travel documents we hold in the archives here at the Museum. Each is special in its own way and every country presents itself a little bit differently. German passports are full of useful information often containing subtle hints to connect this person with immigration programs. The Italian documents are informative but they are also truly elegant. I know that arranging this paperwork was a critical and often difficult part of the immigration process. Looking at my passport I am humbled by how simple my travel is by comparison.

With the arrangements made and Loan Agreements copied for the road, I felt much more confident about the upcoming voyage. The time has come: how do I say goodbye? Ticket in hand and the car packed, there is an overwhelming sadness in the air. I know I will see them again, but leaving the family behind is never easy. We back out of the driveway with a last glance of home and its official, I am on my way.

“The bus by now was full, all younger couples like us…We saw them say goodbye to their beloved ones. That brought the tears back to our eyes too.”
- Baukje Bouma, arrived from the Netherlands, 1948. [S2014.592.1]

Click each image to see the full size photo.

Stage 2: Learning to Love the Line

The airport is a confusing place at the best of times; worse during the holidays. I look for the right airline but couldn’t find it. As it turns out, I was in the wrong terminal. I walked, wrestling with my bags and an artifact crate through the halls. The goal was not to crash into the people still bundled in winter gear. It was like competing in a marathon. As I entered the lineup labyrinth to check-in, fear began to nip at my toes.

Did I forget anything? What if the airline won’t take something on the plane?

“We knew we were harmless but the sight of two uniformed officers seemed to terrify them…We spoke to our fellow officers and asked them to smile, even if it hurt.”
- Arthur J. Vaughan, Customs Officer at Pier 21, 1945-1965. [S2012.808.1]

My rational side knew that there was nothing to fear, but the entire process was downright intimidating. I am in line, again. The security gate reminds me of photos I have seen of the Pier 21 customs areas. There were people and bags everywhere! Walking through the metal detector I wondered if I will set it off. Are the guards going to take anything from me?

“One of the men travelling with us on the boat kept saying that he was bringing with him a beautiful prosciutto that he made himself and could not wait to eat it with his family when he got to Toronto. Sure enough, it was confiscated at customs in Halifax.”
- Maria Rosaria Pagano, arrived from Italy, 1961. [S2012.246.1]

As nerve-wracking as this process was for me, I can only image the anxiety that newcomers must feel.

Click each image to see the full size photo.

Stage 3: Boredom

Finally! I have made it past the security checkpoint and I am overwhelmed with the bustle of people, smells and the jingle of familiar a Christmas classic. Reminded of stories of lost luggage I pray that my crate is alright.

“…We saw the huge nets hauling baggage out of the hold to be loaded on trains and we watched in horror as one load swung against the side of the dock. We recognized a large sea chest belonging to us that we had packed with a great care a few days earlier. It split open and silverware, china, books and pictures, all our precious memories dropped into the dark, oily waters of the Halifax Harbour!”
- Beryl Affleck, arrived from England, 1946[3]

With hours left before I board, the waiting game begins. Unable to go far, all that’s left for me is to forage for food, find my gate and get comfortable. Because it’s the holidays, everyone is early. A 747’s worth of people at the gate means a seat is prime real estate. Rather than snuggle with strangers, I find a nice bit of wall space, sit and pull out my book. As I wait, boredom quickly sets in.

“Having endured the boredom of a week’s crossing…they had now successfully run the gauntlet of Canada’s immigration inspectors, [they] would be whisked to Montreal tomorrow, and after that Toronto, Winnipeg, who knows where.”
- Malcolm MacLeod, Pier 21 staff, c. 1954. [S2012.1773.1]

There is something about running the gauntlet to get to the airport gate that gets my adrenalin pumping. I’m excited and aware—making sure I don’t miss anything that might cause a delay. With the rush over and my time spent quietly, boredom turns to fatigue. One second I was people watching; the next, asleep!

I know that many newcomers during the Pier 21 era spent a week crossing the Atlantic by ship but it still feels like an eternity before the announcer finally calls: “It’s time to board.” I join the line. After being jostled by a fidgety crowd I find my seat. Relief! I say to myself “Self, you’re where you need to be. Now, do they still give out peanuts on flights?”

“This train I am looking at is to take us to our final destination, first stopping in Montreal and then to the city of Toronto. All this is new to me. We just stepped off the ship. We are very tired, exhausted from our trip.”
- Mary Leonetti Caravaggio, arrived from Italy, 1955. [S2012.961.1]

Click each image to see the full size photo.

Stage 4: Impatience

Are we there yet?

“We also became increasingly impatient the closer we came to what was to be our new home. We came to Carievale about 9…tired of travelling and impatient to get the last of the journey over with.”
- Bent Grønlund, arrived from Denmark, 1954. [S2012.2344.1]

Stage 5: Happiness

The final stage is happiness.

“When our train arrived…I came to a city blanketed by 5 inches of snow on the ground and me in short pants. My dear mother was waiting there, tears and all. Her look of happiness when she hugged and kissed me is a memory that will always be with me.”
- Ronald Batchelor, arrived from Wales, 1930. [S2012.148.1]

I was excited to finally reach my destination and tuck the artifacts away in storage, relieved they were not lost along the way.

“If you have never been parted from your worldly goods and chattels for more than an ordinary holiday period, you will not appreciate what it means to get them back after a parting of 3 months.…I marveled at the skill of Bendall of Cheltenham in packing everything so well. Everything was safe and sound, even teacups and pictures.”
- Jennie Frances Hudson, arrived from England, 1950. [S2012.1924.1]

Being surrounded by the treasures of newcomers to Canada had me thinking about the trip I had just taken. It reminded me that what marked the end of my adventure is just the beginning of a whole new journey for newcomers looking to establish themselves in Canada.

Click each image to see the full size photo.

Do you have an immigration story? Please share your immigration story at

  1. This being said, my mother makes the world’s best peanut butter balls…those alone are worth braving the crowds!
  2. Please note: not all people will find this relaxing. I am my own brand of special.
  3. Granfield, Linda. (2002 publication). Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes: Stories from Canada’s British War Brides. Toronto. McClelland and Stewart Ltd.