Arrival in Regina. 1963.
Winter 1963. A cool beginning.
The metallic clatter of the train coming to a stop awakened all three of us. At first I thought that the noise was the compartment being detached from the locomotive as we were informed would happen upon our arrival in Regina. We were then to be able to sleep on in the sleeper unit until disembarkation at eight a.m.
There was a rat-tap-tap at the compartment door and I flicked the light switch and looked at my watch. It was four o'clock in the morning.
"Excuse me, sir," the porter's muffled voice, apologetically,"I'm afraid we're not able to uncouple the Regina sleeper. I'm sorry but you'll have to get off. The train leaves in one hour. So you should get all your stuff together. All your accompanying baggage will be in the baggage department and you can arrange to have them delivered later".
"But they told us we wouldn't have to get off until eight." I said.
"Yes, but they can't uncouple the rail-car, It's frozen up and so you'll just have to get off now. You can take your time, the train doesn't leave for another hour." It was forty degrees below zero outside.
There wasn't much more to say.
"Okay." I turned to awaken Irene, "I guess we have to get off, so we better start moving."
She was awake already and ready to get up.
"I'll get Rena ready while you get washed and dressed, then you can take her while I get ready."
Half an hour later we were sitting in the huge deserted waiting room of the rather dated magnificent Canadian Pacific Railway station in Regina, Saskatchewan. (it was later to become a Las Vegas type casino, but that was a long way away.) A few other passengers had also disembarked and seemed to have disappeared almost as soon as they had gotten off the train. Rena ran around happily, singing away to herself. Irene and I sat on the bench and looked at each other and tried to smile.
"Well, what now?" She asked .
The business manager of the sixty- doctor clinic I was joining was picking us up at eight o'clock, the time we were supposed to be leaving our sleeper after a good nights sleep.
"It's an awful long wait until eight o'clock when the business manager picks us up. Especially as it looks as though we can't even get a cup of tea." The station was deserted at that hour of the night. "Maybe I should call him anyway."
"You can't phone someone at four o'clock in the morning."
"Okay, well why don't I just take a look out into the street and see if I can see some little all night café. There should be something like that near a railway station," I said.
"Okay, I'll keep Rena busy while you take a look out. I'm sure she'll be hungry soon."
I walked across the large deserted atrium of what would be a fashionable casino a quarter of a century later. I peered out through the large glass doors onto South Railway Street. It was too cold and too late for the hookers who frequented that area earlier in the evening. Across the road I saw a small variety store restaurant with a flashing neon sign. I pushed one side of the heavy double doors open wide enough to read the sign. I gasped at the blast of cold air. The sign said "Chinese and Canadian Food". I walked back to my family.
"At least we're not going to starve while we're waiting. There's a little restaurant right across the road from the station. It's really cold out there, but I think we can make it!" I added dramatically.
"I must confess I'm starting to feel a little hungry myself," Irene said.
"Let's make a run for it."
We found a locker in which we were able to store our hold-alls and after dressing Rena as warmly as we could, we made our way to the exit. I picked up Rena and wrapped her inside the big brown topcoat that had been my father's and which he gave me when I was leaving for Canada saying 'you'll need something really warm in that cold climate". We stepped out into the cold. Little did he know!
What did we know? It was totally unlike anything we had experienced. There's a convergence of fahrenheit and centigrade at forty below zero and it was close to that. You could almost hear the cold. The occasional car that passed by left a dense white trail of water-vapor behind it. Inside the heavy brown all-wool overcoat I could feel the heat-exchange between myself and Rena. The road was a little slippery but had been sanded down so we ran across it without mishap. Our exhalations left a trail almost as dense as the car exhaust.
"Cold daddy", Rena said from beneath the greatcoat.
A minute later we pushed through the door of the Chinese - Canadian Restaurant and were greeted by a blast of hot air that thawed us out instantly.
"Welcome, welcome, come in out of cold," a middle-aged Chinese man with an accent said to us". Take off your coats, it's warm in here. Chunhua will hold baby for you.
You just come from station?"
Chunhua took Rena and engaged her in some Chinese baby-talk before putting her down and helping her out of her warm winter over-clothes.
"Hungry baby?" she asked.
"Yes, hungry," Rena replied succinctly.
"You all sit down and I bring you a nice hot drink and a glass of milk for baby. Then you look at the menu and order breakfast. What you like to drink?"
"Tea," said Irene.
"Coffee," I said.
She came back with the hot drinks.
"Where do you come from?"
"England," I answered. We had been living in England for about three years before we came to Canada,
"Welcome to Canada, I come from Hong Kong," Chunhua said. "Many years ago," she added.
We ordered a basic breakfast and Chunhua and her husband, fussed over Rena and fussed over us, bringing treats for us all.
"When are you going to be picked up?" Ken asked them.
"Not 'til eight o'clock," I said and told him what had happened.
Ken and Chunhua were horrified.
"That's such a long time, it's not yet six. You sit here until eight and be nice and comfortable."
So we did and sat and sipped innumerable cups of coffee and tea. Chunhua stopped by the table frequently as things were quiet and fussed over the baby, bringing her little treats to nibble and a colouring book and crayons. The time went by quickly and before we knew it, it was a quarter to eight. As we got up to leave, Ken and Chunhua came over to warmly wish us happiness and success and waving us goodbye said, "you come back to have a cup of tea or coffee with us sometime after you have settled in."
"Yes, we will," said I after thanking them for their hospitality and I really meant it. Of course we never did. We have loved Chinese people ever since!
Mac Chase walked into the busy Canadian Pacific waiting room, looking for a young couple with an infant child. He was getting used to doing this. As the business manager of the Medical Arts Clinic, he was justifiably proud of the multiple specialty sixty physician clinic for which he was responsible. He regarded it as the Mayo Clinic of the north and in truth it was a remarkable achievement for a city the size of Regina. When Tommy Douglas brought Medicare into Saskatchewan, he watched in desperation as physician after physician flocked from Saskatchewan for other provinces and for the United States, to escape socialized medicine. The aggressive advertising campaign in the British Medical Journal and the Irish Journal had been successful beyond expectations and had brought a crop of mostly young, enthusiastic and competent physicians who did a remarkably good job considering the more experienced, established physicians they were hired to replace. There were other advantages as well. A new energy replaced the ennui that had accompanied the continuing political harassment and endless meetings. The immigrant doctors were much more easily satisfied, at least for the moment, than their Canadian counterparts and were used to taking call and making housecalls. The fact that we liked most of the new immigrant doctors and that their backgrounds were similar to ours, was an added bonus.
I was just starting to get concerned when I saw among a group of people coming into the station a well dressed man who was obviously looking for someone . He walked toward looking concerned.
"I was beginning to think you might be still asleep in the Sleeper," he said after we had gotten over the introductions. "when they told me that they couldn't disconnect the sleeper I was getting worried that you had gone on to Vancouver."
I told him the story of how we were turned out of the sleeper at four in the morning. He was genuinely horrified.
"For goodness sake," he said, "why didn't you phone me? I'd have been pleased to pick you up and drop you off at the house we've rented for you. The owners are in Arizona for four months, by the way, so you'll have plenty of time to find an apartment. I really feel awful that you've had to sit around here since four this morning."
"We just couldn't wake you up at such an unearthly hour. Anyway, we found a nice little restaurant across the road, where they treated us like royalty and we had a good breakfast. They were so taken with our daughter that they made us promise that we'd visit them after we settled in and we will."
"That's nice," said Mac. Do you have any more hand luggage?"
"We left a couple of bags in the lockers over there." I pointed.
They picked up their bags and Mac shepherded them out of the station to his illegally parked car which he had left just outside the doors with the engine running.
"When it's this cold we usually leave the engine running to keep everything warm, if we're not going to be away too long," he explained. "This is the coldest snap we've had this winter. It's nearly forty below, with the wind chill factor. You didn't exactly pick the best possible time to arrive," he smiled as he ushered us out of the cold into the warm car.
We were soon being driven out of the downtown area and along Albert Street, a fine wide tree-lined street, with the bare trees adorned with beautiful glistening diamonds of ice that reflected the early morning sun. Fine, large majestic homes lined both sides of .the street. Hardly what we expected to find in a prairie city of 120,000 in 1963.
"It is beautiful," Irene said.
"It's really beautiful in the summer," Mac said.
The exhaust of the cars left dense white trails as the water droplets in the hot emissions immediately froze. We noticed the deep tracks in the snow eroded by by the cars, that made driving somewhat like running on railway lines. After another few minutes we were turning into the driveway of 29 Angus Crescent. It was a very attractive two story home,that I still like to drive by whenever I visit Regina a lifetime later.
"Looks like no one has been shoveling the snow since the Kings have been away."
He got out of the car, took three of the bags, held the keys between his teeth and walked up the three stairs to the door. He guided us in, "watch the ice it's pretty slippery here."
He tried to brief us on everything. He showed us how to soften the water, (what the hell did water need softening for?) He showed how to turn the heat up, (it needed turning down. It was so hot we thought we were going to faint.)
"I'll let you settle in and I'll pick you up in the morning. Not too early. I made a tentative appointment for you to meet with Doug Higgins, a trustworthy used car salesman -you can't function without a car in this climate! Don't worry, Doug is a second generation used car salesman who is absolutely trustworthy. Then we'll go to the bank to make sure that you have enough money to manage until your pay cheques start rolling in."
Doug Higgins was the most honest and reliable car salesman I ever dealt with. I remained his customer for as long as he lived in the area. Mac left with, " see you in the morning. "
"I think I'm going to faint if you don't make it cooler," Irene said.
I walked over to the thermostat.
"Holy cow , it's eighty degrees in here. " I stretched out my hand to alter the temperature setting and quickly withdrew it as a powerful static spark flew across to my fingers. I'd never experienced this before.
"I think there's a short circuit in this damn thing."
In the old country where central heating was restricted to institutions, upscale hotels and the wealthy it was rarely comfortably warm in winter , unless you were sitting right in front of the fire. We sat and relaxed for a while and fed and played with Rena until her eyes grew heavy and she was ready to sleep.
"What have we got in the way of food?" Irene asked. "Mr. Chase said he had put a few things in the fridge and that we'd see about grocery shopping tomorrow, but I think I better take a look."
"I'm supposed to be getting a car tomorrow, but I can't believe it will go that quickly and I have to meet the bank manager to secure a loan for the car and furniture when we find an apartment. Then I have to see about getting registered to practice as soon as possible."
Irene walked back into the shining hardwood floored living-room She looked a little concerned.
"There's enough of the essentials for a day or two, but it's pretty sparse,"
"Mac said there's a little grocery convenience store about five minutes from here that we could walk to when the weather gets a little warmer. Maybe I could wrap up warm and take a brisk walk and pick up some essentials," I said.
"I don't know, it's really cold out there. Maybe we should just wait, we won't starve."
"Don't worry, I'll just take a brisk walk and pick up what we need. Make a list."
Irene made up the list, while I wrapped up in my heavy wool topcoat and wound my scarf around my neck. I stepped into my overshoes that I had bought in Montreal, when we had stopped for a couple of nights to meet with some of the family, who had come up from New Jersey to see us . I walked out the door into the incredible cold. At first I didn't really feel cold at all. The sensation was rather one of stinging pain and as I walked it seemed to get worse. The cars drove by, belching forth voluminous amounts of exhaust steam, momentarily obscuring everything from view. I increased my pace, until I was almost jogging, narrowly avoiding slipping on ice several times. I was starting to feel anxious until I saw the store in the distance across the road. I further accelerated my pace until I could go no faster without losing my footing on the icy sidewalk . I opened the door and was greeted by a delicious blast of hot air that almost knocked me off my feet.
"Hi," said the young woman behind the cash register, "a pretty crisp day, eh?"
"That it certainly is," said I, "I thought I was going to freeze to death before I reached here."
"You walked in this weather?" she asked incredulously.
" Ah, from just around the corner." I said. "We've just moved in and I haven't got a car yet and I had to pick up some groceries."
I looked around the store and could see most of the things I needed from where I stood. Canned tuna and salmon and a variety of vegetables and fruits. I filled two bags with these items and some cookies and cakes, so that I had two fairly full bags on check-out. I had arrived in Canada with forty dollars and had spent six on breakfast in the Chinese Restaurant that morning, so I still had enough money left. Mac Chase was going to take me next afternoon to the bank so that I could arrange a bank loan that would tide me over and provide the wherewithal to buy a car and furnish an apartment when we found one.
I paid for the groceries and as I was leaving the girl said to me ,
"Where's your hat?"
"I haven't got one," I answered.
"How long have you been in Canada?" she asked.
"Just a few days," I said.
"You better put your scarf around your ears and face. It doesn't take skin long to freeze at this temperature."
"Yes, I said, grasping that the first thing I needed was a hat with ear flaps."
I stepped out into the petrifying cold, and it hit me like a punch in the face. I must be walking into the wind. I thought because it felt worse than when I was coming. Tiny icicles were forming at the angle between my scarf and my face and my ears were starting to sting. The two bags of groceries were getting heavier and heavier and I could feel my fingers getting colder in my gloves. The tingling sensation in my face and my ears was getting worse. My feet, despite the extra layer of insulation, were feeling cold and making it more difficult to walk faster. I could feel the scarf slipping down and exposing more of my face and my ears. My ears grew more painful, but as I turned the corner into Angus Crescent the pain miraculously vanished as the freezing cold anaesthetized them. Irene was waiting for me as I staggered in through the double doors into the warmth.
"You look like a snowman, you poor thing, with your scarf and eyebrows all frosted up. Are you okay?"
I had put down the bag and was peeling off my coat and jacket.
"I'll tell you this, I'm going to buy some sort of hat with ear flaps or something. My ears were really hurting from the cold, then the pain just went away."
"They're sure flushing now," Irene said. "They look as red as beets."
"Yes, and they're starting to tingle a bit," I said.
Five minutes later I was in agony as my ears thawed out, and the anesthetizing effects of the freezing was lost. It was still only noon of their first day in Regina.
Next day at two o'clock they finished lunch and were exploring their temporary new home, when the bell rang and it was Mac Chase.
"How are you settling in?" he asked.
I assured him we were settling in very nicely and went on to tell him the story of my grocery shopping expedition.
"You froze your ears. They're looking pretty frost burnt. You're going to have to be very careful because for the rest of the winter they will freeze very easily. You'd better get a hat with ear flaps. What you need most urgently is a car, otherwise you're housebound in weather like this. That's partly why I'm back here so soon. I've made an appointment with the bank manager to secure you a loan, so that you can buy a car tomorrow and have cash for whatever else you need. It's for about three o'clock and I allowed a little extra time so we could pick up some groceries. I didn't anticipate you going out walking to pick them up. I was remiss in not warning you."
"I think there is a short circuit in the thermostat, I tried to turn it down last night and a big spark hit my finger,"
He laughed, "That's just static electricity. You know, like when you comb your hair and it becomes charged and will pick up paper. The heat dries out the air. You just need to turn up the humidifier a bit. I guess it doesn't get that dry in the "Old Country", as Canadians and Americans referred the countries of origin from which generations of them had originated.
"Let's go, today we've got to get you a car and introduce you to the Bank Manager!