Other Difficulties

Migrants for Canada

Migrants for Canada

Mr John J.Cole, the indefatigable minister responsible for emigration at the time, expressed a somewhat sober judgment on the first officially selected groups to Canada. Mr Cole did not think that the glare of publicity which accompanied the arrival of Mr Robillard and his team and the actual fanfare organised at the departures of the ships to Canada and New York were appropriate. Such 'festivities' obscured the seriousness of deciding to leave one's country to live in another. Some people might have been attracted by the sights and sounds on the quays and on the waters with hundreds waiving good-bye. Life in a distant country was full of pitfalls and Mr Cole warned that future movements of emigrants had to be more gradual and certainly less spectacular. He wanted to organise smaller groups which left at longer intervals because it was in the mutual interest of both Malta and Canada to ensure that only those who were seriously motivated should be allowed to seek their future in other countries. (48)

Rumours were floating around that some of the migrants were thinking of giving up and return to their families. At first sixty-six did return. But what did the others think? One letter gives an insight: "The pay is about the best one can get at 1.35 dollar per hour for a forty hour week. Work starts at 8.00am with a break for dinner at 12.30 pm. Then work again at 1.00pm up to 4.0 pm. Presently I am working overtime till 9.00 pm. So it is not bad for a start. Little rest, but the pay is good".(49)

Another thanked God because he never expected so much. As a clerk-typist he received a net salary of one hundred and twenty-five dollars as a start. He lived in the same school where he worked and this saved him a lot of money. He did not have totravel:"I know very little about life in Canada because I hardly go out. The weather is fine, but housing is very bad though most articles are cheaper than in Malta". (50)

A letter written by another immigrant helps to throw light on the life of a recently arrived man from Malta in 1948. The writer is a Mr Lj. Connor, who was a close colleague of Mr R. Miller, then the general secretary of the G.W.U. The letter was written in St Thomas, Ontario, and was published in a newspaper in Malta. Mr Connor wrote:

"We had a welcome at Halifax by the Canadian Red Cross, and books and cigarettes, tea, cakes, etc. were in abundance, free of course. We finally arrived at our destination, Fingal Camp, from there we were gradually dispersed to different places. I was only at the Camp for three days, when the car with the manager of Weatherhead Co. of Canada took six of us. He told us to get in his car to show us his factory. We left, but on the way he stopped the car at a hotel and we were treated to a meal. After that he showed us round his workshops an introduced us to his men. Then we went to his office to discuss our terms of employment. We agreed to the rate of L14, and that is just a start. In the meantime the manager had one of his scouts hunting rooms for us which he finally found and then the firm's truck was sent to fetch our belongings from the Camp. The firm provided us with maps to help us find apartments for our families. The Chief Engineer of the firm took me for a tour of the city and then to his farm where he gave me a meal. Different from the employers in Malta, eh?" (51)

It came as no surprise that not all Mr Connor's mates shared his enthusiasm. On November 4,1950, another group had left for Canada on board the Nea Hellas. By their third week in Canada many re complaining about life in the new country. i ney claimed that accommodation in Ajax Camp was poor and that since they arrived, thirty of them were still idle. They did not like the food and they thought that what was given to them would only satisfy a ten year old boy. They said it was difficult to keep one's job because foreigners were the last to be hired and the first to be fired. A few Maltese were taken to Val d'Or in Quebec to work in a mine with French Canadians. It took them almost a whole day to arrive in Val d'Or. There were twelve other Maltese working in the mine. Of these only four stayed, while the others decided to return to Ajax Camp. On December 9 those who had returned to the Camp were offered work on the railways in Toronto. They were paid sixty-three cents per hour for this and they were expected to keep on working even if it rained or snowed. The Maltese found this hard to take and matters worsened when they found out that others were being paid one dollar fifty cents for the same work they were doing. (52)

Mr Cole was worried about such complaints. He refused to admit that there was any discrimination against workers from Malta, but he did admit that there were some problems with the Canadian experiment. The lack of decent housing could be unsettling especially to those migrants who enjoyed spacious houses when they were living in Malta. This problem could only be solved slowly as the migrant earned enough money to put a deposit on a house of his own. Homesickness was inevitable, especially with married men separated from their wives and children. A certain degree of culture shock was inevitable. Mr Cole admitted that the first few years could be traumatic but he also reminded his critics that other immigrants managed to cope and he was sure that the Maltese would be able to do so too. After all, the minister said, Canada was a land of opportunity where the future was promising and the care and education given to the young could never be equaled in Malta. (53)

Canada's Deputy Minister of Labour had approved of the first intake of workers from Malta. He did however mention two points which had been worrying him: he had his doubts as to whether the Maltese could withstand the rigours of the Canadian winter and he criticised the attitude some Maltese had in shifting from one job to another. These two points had been mentioned to the authorities concerned in Malta. Mr Cole did admit that such comments caused him a lot of worry. (54)

It was also at this time that adverse criticism on the Maltese appeared in a Toronto periodical, Star Weekly. The criticism was inspired by the wave of anti-British feeling prevalent in Malta in 1950. The article was not very well prepared nor was it entirely reliable. It gave the wrong impression that Malta was then seething with leftist propaganda and that most Maltese were willing to throw away their British connection. Their loyalty to the Crown was n jeopardy. The writer also claimed that land conditions in Malta were primitive. (55)

Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7

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