Hardly had the Lake Manitoba pulled away from the quay than Mother ~me deathly seasick. She took to her bunk where she lay more dead than alive for the entire voyage. We rolled at anchor in the Mersey all that first night, tossing monotonously from side to side to side as we waited for the morning tide. The first-class accommodation we had been promised proved non-existent and my father's demanding voice was raised in anger until our Captain provided special makeshift accommodation for Mother adjacent to his own quarters. Mabel and Emmy, who had both just left Convent School, took care of Baby Ray, two-year old Buzzy and Father, my married brother Bert, his wife Emily, Ted and Dick all combined forces to keep track of Joe, Hog and Fred.
Over two thousand people were herded into this tub of a ship designed to accommodate eight hundred. Tiers of bunks lined each small cabin. These had been hastily constructed from two-by-four uprights; hoard springs, and straw mattresses. The tiny floor area was covered in ~
After two days at sea we were already a generally dispirited lot surviving on hard-boiled eggs, salt pork and hardtack - a diet that did little to alleviate the pitiful plight of the hundreds who were already seasick. To add to our disillusionment the Lake Manitoba gradually lost her snowy camouflage to reveal her true self.
As hardened horse manure lay exposed under the peeling whitewash and the heat of the area below deck - already foul from unwashed human occupancy - became more intense, it was evident that the old tub had been used as a supply transport for horses during the recent South African War.
Our fellow colonists hailed from every walk of life in Britain. Some were remittance men whose past would be truly left behind as they met the exciting challenge of Canada's West; others would find themselves so steeped in habit that their characters would disintegrate completely in the new land. Mr. Robin Redbreast from the Liverpool dock turned out to be a fellow passenger whose exuberance was in direct ratio to his alcoholic content of the moment. One disheveled women sat on deck each day and combed the lice from her children's heads.
One steerage passenger cut his throat. A baby was born. A number of stowaways were discovered. And over each one of us lay the spirit of adventure.
The only passengers who knew exactly what to expect in the new country were two of my older brothers who had been taken to see Buffa1o Bill and his traveling company at the theatre in London before we sailed. They knew about buffalo hunting, bronco riding and Indians on warpath. Proof of their preparedness lay in the conspicuously strapped hunting knife each wore sheathed at his waist.
The previous year the Reverend Isaac Barr had made a trip to Manitoba and had received from the Department of the Interior a land reservation comprising the even-numbered sections of land, exclusive of that belonging to the Hudson's Bay company, in sixty-eight townships in the Northwest Territories, as that sector of the western provinces was then called.
On his return to London, Barr began an extensive publicity program for a non-denominational and self-supporting immigration scheme for British people.
Everything had been planned in detail. On paper. He had received monies in advance for homestead entry fees, absentee entry fees, share. in stores and transportation syndicates, hospitalization and insurance. We were on the first lap of our long journey by sea, rail and overland trek to establish the new British colony of Britannia, in Canada's West.
Few of our number knew a single thing about farming methods, and Father and the older boys spent many hours absorbing information they could glean from the few who did. Each man had put his trust in the man of the Cloth who led us westward". Westward, so that in time to come, we were to be known as "Barr's Lambs". Father was a busy man on the voyage. He administered to his seasick wife, kept his venturesome sons in line, and had a weather eye hovering constantly over his two attractive older daughters. No matter how stormy the day, he never missed a meal. "It's his Danish and Irish blood coming out," Mother moaned from her sick berth "he has a stomach of iron!" Several times each day Mr. Robin Redbreast slowly and gingerly made his way up the companion way from one deck to another while a group of male passengers stood round and watched. As he negotiated the steps successfully to the top his audience would give a resounding cheer. The object of their attention always genially and waved in response as he proceeded to weave an unsteady path along the deck of his most recent choosing.
Our Captain was every inch a hero in my young eyes.
During one particularly heavy sea, I caught a glimpse of him standing on deck, legs braced apart and hands locked behind his back. Everyone else appeared to have gone below, and I gazed for a long time at the silent figure standing there. He must be the bravest man in the whole world!
I found Fred and Reg lying face down on the deck, looking through the cracks into the engine room below.
"What are you looking at?" I wanted to know.
"Come here, Patty! Look down there at those sailors. They have tattoos all over their arms and chests!" I looked, and they did. "That one has a hug. Dragon across his chest," Reg wriggled in excitement. "I bet he got that in China! One of the sailors told me last night that pirates in Singapore captured him and they tied him down on a bed of nails while the pirate king stuck him with about a million red-hot needles.
He passed out with the pain and when he came round he had his whole chest and arms covered with secret pirate signs!"
"I think I shall go to sea when I grow up," announced Fred from his prone position.
"I thought you were going to be a doctor," Reg said in some surprise, turning away from the crack in the deck to stare at his older brother.
"Oh, I am. But I think I shall go to sea afterwards!"
A sea voyage was something none of us on board had experienced before, and angry complaints about accommodation and food became the order of the day. On more than one occasion men gathered outside Barr's cabin, intent on a show down. But the fire in their eyes became dulled and anger was replaced by awe when they spied the huge map spread on the table. There sat the Reverend Barr allotting homesteads. One by one the men approached the map in reverence, most of them completely ignorant of the meaning of the markings. After lengthy contemplation a trembling forefinger would be placed on a tiny patch of blue, the name would be noted in a large book, and the new landowner felt himself grow in stature unaware · that the land he had spoken for was often worthless for farming, lying as it did largely under alkaline slough.
"Patty, come quickly called Fred as he raced back to the rail side one morning after breakfast.
"What is it?" I panted after him.
"Icebergs great thundering big icebergs"
I stood in awe at the rail's edge and gazed at the massive forms rising from the blue-black water. The monolithic shapes were silent and majestic as we slipped past. Sunlight highlighted some projections in unprecedented brilliance. Indentations in the massive surfaces blended together in tones of aquamarine.
"Do you know that those bergs are nine times bigger underneath than they are above the water?" Fred stated in his categorical manner.
"That one looks like a bear," I observed, my eyes like saucers.
"Just keep looking at it for awhile. It's shape will completely change," said Fred with the certitude of one ~o had already witnessed the miracle.
We stood spell-bound for a long while, mesmerized by the spectacle outlined against the pale blue of the sky and the puffy white clouds sailing overhead as our old tub, rolling incessantly from side to side, picked a passage through the monstrous forms.
We were nearing the Grand Banks now. Fog enveloped us on all sides - gray, smothering fog. It Seem~ to me that our ship was alone in the universe. The dull wail of the foghorn, sounding like the Voice of Doom boomed out into the vast gray nothingness around us every two minutes.
"What if we crash into one of those icebergs we saw today someone asked?
"I heard that ships do that all the time," another stated in a timorous voice. "Sink without a trace, they do! Not a soul survives to tell the tale!"
Later that night we heard the horn of yet another ship, and we suddenly felt a little less alone.
I was up very early the next morning. The seagulls, which had been with us from Liverpool, were still lined up along the rail, sleeping with their heads tucked under one of their wings.
As I stood, silently watching, some slops were thrown out from the galley. One by one the birds shook themselves into wakefulness, stretched their necks, and glided to the water astern they fought with one another for the first meal of the day. These winged companions circled the ship all day long, wheeling and diving.
Their plaintive, "Skree! Skree!" served as a background medley to our lives on board.
"Land on the starboard bow, sir" I heard a sailor shout.
Land! The news traveled through the ship like wildfire. People who the day before had been so ill they prayed to die suddenly appeared on deck and dragged themselves to the rail. There it was! As the hours went by we seemed to be no nearer, but we all felt safe suddenly.
Fear of sinking, of icebergs, of fog a thousand unvoiced terrors, which the unknown had conceived - were suddenly stilled.
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