The immigration story of Jean Stoddart (Scottish immigrant)

Category: 
Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2017.114.1
Story Text: 

To whom it may concern:
When I visited Pier 21 in September of this year (2016), I spoke to one of your guides and mentioned the enclosed letter which she felt you would be interested in reading.
A word of explanation: the letter was written by Mr. Jean Stoddart to her sister Jessie who lived in Glasgow. Mrs. Stoddart lived in Vancouver and was a longtime friend of my mother-in-law, Mrs. Nancie Richards who lived with her husband Harry here in Toronto. The baby girl mentioned in the first paragraph was my wife Esther, born in July 1939 and passed away in 2002.
Although Jean lived most of her life in Vancouver she never went on a ship again, not even to Vancouver Island. She made a number of visits back to Scotland to see her sister. My wife and I went to Vancouver in 1996 to celebrate Jean’s 90th birthday, she died four years later.
My own mother and father travelled on the ‘Athenia’ in 1926 when they came to Canada, went back on the ship in 1931 to live in Scotland for the remainder of their lives. It was rather poignant for me to see a photograph the Athenia displayed in the exhibition, knowing they had been on the ship.
I trust you will find the letter of interest, I do not require it back as I have the original.
Sincerely,
William A. Goodfellow

Vancouver
30th September 1939
My Dear Jessie,
Just a wee note while Mrs. MacJannet has the machine. We came back to Vancouver on Tuesday morning after staying a few days in Montreal with the Cannons and two days with Nancie Richards at Toronto. In Montreal we could have stayed at anyone’s house we knew. They were all asking us; even Nan’s house was open. I had two days in bed to rest and then we took the train to Toronto. Miss Heenan took us to dinner at the royal York Hotel, Harry Richards provided the taxi. The Martins too met us in town for a wee while. Nancie has a lovely baby girl, as good as gold. I intended buying some clothing, but didn’t feel like it so came back here in the clothes sent by a friend of Nettas.
What a welcome we received here. Freddy Cowan, Jack MacJannet and Mr. Perman next door all stayed away from work to meet me. We drove up here to find the house all cleaned from top to bottom including flowers sent from different people. Margaret had a woman in, now wasn’t that good of her? After depositing my luggage, one toothbrush and paste, we went to the MacJannet’s where a lovely breakfast was served to the lot of us. Then the boys went to business and I rested a while. In the evening we all went to Cowan’s for dinner. In between times the phone was ringing at the three houses, even the newspapers wanted the story, but I refused that. We never realized we had so many friends and it seems they were all upset when I was missing. Mrs. MacJannet cancelled her long looked forward trip to the prairies. The office sent £10 and Mr. Patterson the Halifax manager and his wife and sister were at the docks to meet us and stayed with me all day at the immigration shed where I had a bath and food etc. From the Red Cross I received £2 at the docks. We were some sights I can tell you. Archie flew from here to Montreal and from there took the train to Halifax, and was I glad to see him. Now if you think I was spoiled before, you should see me now. Breakfast in bed, medicine handed in and no work to do, just rest and get better. Yesterday I was at the Dr. to be examined and I have only a bad cold in the head, and of course shock. It will just take time to wear off. Actually, I feel not too bad except that I have no strength and get tired out easily, so it is up to myself to go easy. I think I was very lucky in escaping as I did. So many people were injured especially about the legs. Mine were black and blue of course, and my ankles were skinned, but now they are O.K. What an experience it is to be torpedoed. Are you not glad you didn’t return with me? I’m certainly glad my mother didn’t come. It was bad enough getting myself off the boat.
Whilst it is still fresh in my mind I had better tell you about the torpedoing. When we left Glasgow we proceeded to Belfast, and then came back to Liverpool where we stayed all day. Twice the Captain went ashore in his civilian clothes. Finally, we sailed about 4 o’clock. There were four in my cabin and it was so crowded I didn’t unpack. Sunday I felt a bit sick, but when I read on the bulletin board that war had been declared I really was scared, so didn’t even think of being sick. I felt that way all day and kept saying to another lady that I was sure we would be blown up. Before six I felt I had to take off that grey costume as I was so cold and it was nearly dinner time. I put on the old black velvet dress and my old brown tweed coat. All this time I carried my purse around with me. I went down for dinner and felt like crying at the table. Then with the lady opposite at dinner, I went up to my cabin and put my purse below the pillow, taking out the red bank book and dollar bills and putting them in the coat pocket. I put on the scarf you gave me and went straight up on deck and started to walk around. It was just before dark. We had just walked around twice (the deck above ‘A’ deck called the Boat Deck) when the next minute we were thrown up from the deck and there was a terrific crash. I found myself on the deck and bumped down to the rail of the ship. My throat was parched. The other lady got up and ran and I didn’t see her again, although I think she is all right. Anyway, I lay there and thought what a shock my death would be to my mother, and then I got up and decided to jump into the water. The ship was away to one side and I walked around then tore off my coat and shoes. On the deck chairs the people were dead but I didn’t see any blood. They must have died of concussion I think. There didn’t seem to be anyone up there at the time and I stood looking at two lifeboats when Andrew Taylor came rushing up the stairs with his lifebelt on. I was so glad to see him and I said “Oh Andrew, what will I do, I haven’t a lifebelt?” “Keep calm” he said, and walked on. I started for the stairs down to ‘A’ deck, but remembered that my bankbook was in my coat, went back and got it and put it down my neck. I got to the stairs but by that time droves of people were coming back but I kept going down. I wanted my lifebelt in the worst way. Then I reached ‘A’ deck but remembered the boat station was No. 9 on ‘B’ deck. This time I fell down the stairs. When I reached ‘B’ deck which is the third class promenade deck, my stewardess Miss Harrower was standing and there was an awful crowd of people there. She asked me if I was all right and I said yes. She then offered to go back to my cabin which was B-159 near the dining room to get my lifebelt, but I said not to go. She told me to stand and not move and she might find one, but at that moment I heard someone say there was room for one or two more in a lifeboat that was already in the water, so I walked right forward and people were standing along the deck at the front rail, but I climbed up on the rail and there was a rope swinging which I caught at and jumped. I swung right over the lifeboat and then when I came back I let go. Some men caught my legs and I fell in. I lay on the bottom of the boat and shut my eyes. Once I felt myself going unconscious or fainting or something. Anyway, I still lay there. I couldn’t move or I would have got the oars on my head. We had quite a job getting away from the side of the ship. Eventually we got away with two oars at one side and four at the other. Nobody seemed to know how to row and the swearing was awful. We tried to get away as far as possible from the ship. It was dark and you can imagine a boat loaded full and riding up and down the waves. We kept turning around the wrong way all the time. I was scared to death, and of course shivering without a coat. I was afraid the boat would capsize and without a lifebelt there isn’t a chance.
After a long time I got up on the edge of a seat and sat with my feet in the water at the foot of the boat. It’s a wonder I didn’t get pneumonia. All night we rowed around and we say the “Knute Nelson” in the distance, but couldn’t make it. When it got light we could see two Destroyers but they didn’t seem to be picking up people. They were probably looking for the submarine. We had an awful time getting to the yacht “Southern Cross”. You have to approach carefully, one boat capsized just near it. Finally we were alongside and the sailors dropped ropes over your head and arms and pulled you up. I ran up the side of the boat in my stocking feet. We lay in rows on the floor ‘til we came to. They gave us clear brown soup. We stayed on that boat until 1 o’clock when they gave us our choice of going back to Scotland on a Destroyer, or going on an American boat which was coming along. I felt that if I went back to Glasgow I would never go on a boat again to Canada, so much against my own wishes, decided to go to America (at that time they intended going to New York, but later decided to call at Halifax). I would have loved to go on the Destroyer. After sitting around for a long time we were taken off the yacht. Again, lowered with a rope to a lifeboat and rowed across to the “City of Flint”. Then we had to go up a long rope ladder. What a boat it was – a real cargo vessel with no accommodation for passengers. We lay in the hold. My clothes were wet, but I just had to let them dry on me and they were still on me ten days later. The crew were very nice indeed and did everything they could, but water was scarce. They did their best with food, at first it made you feel ill to look at it, but you got used to it. I may say I never was sick. In fact, I haven’t been sick since I left Glasgow. The first night we went into a 30 mile an hour gale, the boat rocked and we were thrown on to the floor and water came down from the deck. I thought it was the finish. One other night it was very rough. Each morning I got up after 4 or as soon as it was light, and with a shawl on I’d climb the iron ladder and get a drink of hot water in the mess room. You could wash your face, but that was all.
I must say that I thought we would never see land, but the sailors would laugh and say “this is nothing”. Some of the cases were pathetic. We had one little girl of three, all alone, and some of the women had lost their husbands. Then a little girl of ten died from a head injury and the body was taken back with us to Halifax. Two days from Halifax and airplane came out and we all ducked, but it was the newsreel men from New York. Some cried and some laughed. The coast Guard Cutters came and escorted us in. That night a submarine was spotted off the coast of Newfoundland and I was unlucky enough to hear of it. However, I did not dare tell the others down below as I knew they would be in a panic, the Doctor gave me a sleeping draught. What a night I put in.
On Wednesday morning we drew into Halifax and reporters rushed on. I didn’t say a word, but the enclosed notice was in every paper across Canada. Archie came on board right away and I was glad to see him. Mrs. MacCartney was also there, she had driven 68 miles to see me. The Red Cross nurses were there in full force and beds were ready, but everyone wanted away.
The Cunard White Star was also there and they took a note of the clothes required. I must say they wouldn’t give much. They said I could have a pair of shoes and a pair of pants and a sweater. Imagine travelling 4000 miles in a sweater. We insisted on a coat and they gave me one which I took back the next day and paid the difference on a rust coloured rep with chamois lining. That was all I bought and I still haven’t bothered with anything except a dress in Montreal. I don’t have to waste any time choosing what I will wear and there was no trouble with Customs.
Whilst I don’t want to appear mercenary, I am still worrying over all the things that I lost. Not to even have a hanky in this world is an awful blow. There isn’t one thing in the cupboard here nor in the drawers, and it means starting from the skin again. I’m afraid that insurance I took out from Mr. Thomson won’t be worth the paper it’s written on, nor is there any claim from the Donaldson Line.
If Britain wins the war I believe you can then claim from Germany. What worries me now is how you are all getting on with this war strain. Here, you wouldn’t know such a thing existed. The sun is shining and the shops are full of good things to eat. I wish the war would end quickly and I pray they will never bomb England.
Archie is going to take a few days off the rest when he catches up with the work. I have had so many letters, but so far no mail from home at all. I wish some news would come soon. I hope my mother was not too worried when the boat sank. Archie was nearly out of his mind everyone tells me. He collapsed when he heard the news over the radio, then he felt I might be saved, but when the cable came “reported missing” he was down again. Whenever he heard I was on the “City of Flint” he hopped an airplane and went to Montreal. It is going to be a lean winter, but never mind we are still here and can soon get rigged out again. It seems such a waste when you think all these nice things at the bottom of the sea.
Margaret was so glad that her mother was saved. She had the news before Archie. Her mother’s legs were injured she tells me. Now I think this is all the news this time, I must get dressed and get out. This is Saturday. The Cowan kids got the jerseys and socks I posted. I thought they might be on the same boat. Trust everything is well with you all at home. Best love to all.
Yours affectionately,
Jean