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The story of George MacKay – Part 2

Coming Home to Scotland

In Tuesday’s blog we learnt about George’s story up to the point before he made his move overseas and landed on Canadian soil. Here, in this post his story continues…

When he was 20, in 1950, he had the chance to take a boat to Canada to live with relatives and work there, so he jumped at the chance.  At the time, he was expecting to be there for a couple of years, but he fell in love with Canada – British Columbia in particular.

But it wasn’t just Canada he fell in love with.  One year, to the day, after arriving in Canada, George was working away at the office.  He had managed to get a job with the Hudson Bay Company and was always off on trips – he was now training as a surveyor in the North West.  On this particular day, unusually for him, he was pouring over maps at work and the new office administrator walked in – it was Eleanor.   Their eyes met over to the office and George tells me it was love at first sight.  For him anyway, Eleanor told me she didn’t even notice him. The next day George was off on a trip for a month and he couldn’t get this beautiful young woman out of his mind.  In the weeks that followed, he became determined to ask her out as soon as he arrived back.  And that’s exactly what he did, much to her surprise.

Very quickly George and Eleanor were a regular couple and married after eighteen months in St Christopher’s Church in Vancouver in 1956.  They had planned a longer engagement, but George had already, with the help of his extended family, got them a flat in Vancouver and fully kitted it out, furniture, curtains – the lot.  All he needed was Eleanor to agree and so with some persuasion, the wedding was brought forward.  He obviously had an ability to sweet talk Eleanor!

The wedding was a very Scottish affair, with the pipers, the kilts and of course, Scottish songs and dancing at the reception.  George had been teaching Eleanor ‘the dashing white sargent’ – and they were all keen to try it out.  They had a wonderful wedding and one that was talked about for a long time.  Life returned to normal and they settled in to their new home.  George was doing well at work and had moved onto managing a small survey team.

A couple of years later Fraser was born followed by Ellie.  The flat in Vancouver was not big enough to hold the growing family, so when baby Fraser was two, they all moved through to Victoria BC.  They had friends who had made the move from Vancouver, so they settled in quickly to a nice new home in Milwaukee Drive.

George continued to work for the Hudson Bay Company for many years, a job he loved.

He was good friends with Tam Howet, who had made the trip over from Scotland too.  They loved the company of neighbors Margaret and Robert and enjoyed many parties both in the house and at Margaret and Robert’s.  There was always singing Scottish songs, laughing and when pals from the Victoria Pipe Band came in with their banjos and guitars, George would join in on the comb and paper or on the washing board.  It was a great family to be part of.

But he always missed Scotland and his family there.  He’d joined the Vancouver pipe band and the Scottish Society and was fiercely proud of his heritage.  George thought about Scotland regularly.  His own family history can be traced back to 18th century roots in Ayrshire, his ancestors were farmers and George, a lover of Robert Burns does like to tell people that his family were neighbours of the Burns.

His family moved to Glasgow in the late 1800s, as many rural workers did.  Scotland in the 1800s was a largely agricultural nation. Farming was one of the main employers across the country.  Work was usually manual and cottage-based as it was for George’s great-great-great grandfather, Hamish McKay.  This all changed with the coming of the industrial age.  Hamish was forced to move to Glasgow with his wife Agnes to work in a factory.  They had a seven children, large families were common on those days.  They were very poor and had to make a heart-breaking decision to leave the land due to poverty and starvation.  Glasgow offered work, but in those days, terrible conditions.  Both Hamish and Agnes got a job in one of the factories spinning cotton.  They were housed, with other workers, under one roof.  Factory owners did this to maximise production levels to increase profits for the factory owners.  Only two of the seven children lived into adulthood to continue the family line.   The family have lived in Glasgow since – they were working class, hard working, good people.

George left his parents, his much loved younger sister and all his aunties behind.  In those days it wasn’t just a quick flight home.  It was over 10 years before he set foot in Scotland again.  Sadly it was to attend his sister Margaret’s funeral.  Maggie had been a poorly child and as an adult had continued to suffer from ill health.  When she was in her early 20’s she died of TB, which was still a killer in Scotland in the 50’s.

It was a very sad time and his parents were devastated.  He didn’t want to leave them here in Scotland, but he had a wife and family now in Canada.  He told me he will never forget the day that he left for Canada again – they all fought back the tears, people were very stoical in those days, emotions were kept in check.

After arriving home he just couldn’t settle.  So he hatched a plan to bring his parents out to Canada.  His father was still working, so he secured him a job locally and wrote to his parents to plead with them to come over to Canada.  Putting all their savings together, they managed to make it work, and so George and Maggie boarded the boat with everything they had to start a new life, at the age of 52 and 55, in Canada.

You can only imagine the joy when mum and dad arrived in the docks, with George and Eleanor and the kids waiting.  They had never seen their grand-kids, so it was a great celebration.