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When the Steel Went Through
Voyage to Canada

AFTER finishing my apprenticeship, I spent some three weeks at home, completing my preparations for sailing to Canada. I invited Mather to spend a few days with me so that my father and my brother Robert would know the companion who was going to accompany me to Canada to try his fortune there, too. We secured berths on the Allan Line steamship Peruvian, which was due to sail from Liverpool for Halifax and Boston on the 25th January, 1882.

I had inherited from the estate of my maternal grandmother, who had died some eight years previously, the sum of 80, which my father was holding in trust for me. I had forgotten all about this, and was agreeably surprised when he turned this sum over to me. So that was the capital with which I started on my voyage to Canada.

My friend Hyslop, now living alone in Glasgow, had invited me to a small supper-party which he was giving in his lodgings as a send-off to me, on the evening of the 24th, the evening on which I was to leave Glasgow for Liverpool. So, having said good-bye to my father and Robert, I left that morning for Glasgow and attended the supper-party. Besides Hyslop and myself, there were four of our closest friends. We had a very happy evening from about 7 to 10 o'clock, and when the party broke up, they all accompanied me to St. Enoch station. Mather, with some of his friends, was there when we arrived. So we took our places in our carriage for Liverpool; and, as the train pulled out of the station our friends bade us farewell and wished us bon voyage.

We arrived in Liverpool at an early hour the next morning, and put up at a hotel by no means prepossessing near the docks. Here we had bed and breakfast. Later in the day, we got aboard the Peruvian; and she got under way that day the 25th of January, 1882.

A call was made at Queenstown, where the passengers were allowed a few hours ashore. This was the first time Mather and I had been to Ireland, so we enjoyed the novelty of most of the sights we saw. We had considerable difficulty in escaping from the numerous groups of women and girls who tried to sell us shamrock and other souvenirs. One insisted on pinning a bunch of shamrock on my coat. I protested that I didn't want it, and that she was just wasting it. "Sure, and I'd waste the world for your sake if I was fond of you," was her enigmatic reply.

After we were well past Queenstown, we were met by a strong head wind; and the Peruvian responded by giving a demonstration of the cork-screw motion, as she pitched and rolled her way in the teeth of the gale. This form of motion was all very interesting to watch; but very upsetting; so much so that Mather and I beat a retreat below to our cabin.

I need not dwell on the state of mind in which we lay there bemoaning our fate. It has often been described with variations more or less fantastic by others who have had a like experience. A short time after our retirement to the lower regions, we were brought to our senses by our bedroom-steward, a little curly-haired fellow with twinkling eyes. He looked in on us in our cabin, and seeing us both in bed, exclaimed with feigned astonishment: "Hello! gone to bed already?" We moaned something incoherent. "You'll never get well lying there; get up on deck and get the fresh air," he insisted. He spoke as one who knew what he was talking about; so, we obediently complied, and with his help struggled on deck, and fought it out there; with good results.

A day or two later we got our sea-legs, and were able to tramp the deck in spite of the rolling; and to mix with, and get to know our fellow-passengers. There were not many about twenty-five or thirty and of these there were a few whom we never met, or even saw, for they kept to their cabins all the way.
The Peruvian had nothing of the luxury of the modern Atlantic liner; it depended on oil-lamps for light and on open port-holes for ventilation. Our cabin was under the dining-room, below the water-line, and so had no porthole to open. It was haunted by an aura emanating from a blending of the smells of bilge-water and the cook's galley. Stuffy would be a mild term to use in describing the condition of the air in that cabin. But we didn't mind that a bit; we were young and could stand it.

In the dining-room, one long table had seating capacity for us all. This table ran lengthwise of the ship. The captain's seat was at one end, and he Captain Ritchie entertained us at meals with his rich fund of stories. I can see him yet, seated there, swaying to keep his balance with the rolling of the ship, and laughing heartily. It seemed that the more the ship rolled, the heartier his laughter.

But it was in the smoking-room that we got to know each other best. We played cards there generally vingt-et-un, and Nap and exchanged yarns. The ship's doctor joined us frequently; he was a good story-teller, and was the life of our gatherings. Of the names of the passengers whom I got to know best, I particularly remember Gibson, who was in business in Montreal, and was returning from a visit to his native land, Scotland; and Beeston, an employee in London of the Hudson's Bay Company, who had been transferred to the company's store in Winnipeg, and was on his way there to take up his new position in the accountancy department.

The meeting of a ship at sea is always an event of interest, and we had the good fortune one evening to meet and exchange greetings with the Parisian. She was the newest ship of the Allan Line, and according to standards of comfort in those days was considered most luxurious. She was on her way to Liverpool, and had as passengers the Marquis of Lome, who was then Governor-General of Canada, and the Princess Louise. The lights on the Parisian made a pretty picture. We watched her as she passed and kept watching her until she was lost to sight in the distance.

The day before we reached Halifax Saturday, 4th February the storm which had accompanied us all the way from Queenstown had abated, and we were all much relieved at being able to move about freely on the ship and to have our meals in comfort. But not so, apparently, the captain. He seemed to have lost all his bonhomie, and sat at table in solemn silence, apparently brooding over some pending trouble. And there had been trouble brewing, as we learned at breakfast on Sunday morning. The Peruvian, we were told, had reached Halifax during the night. She had reported that there was a case of smallpox on board, and had consequently been ordered away from the dock, so was now lying at anchor in quarantine.

We lay there all Sunday in a blinding snow-storm; we could see nothing of the land, nor of anything to indicate where we were. But dreary as this situation seemed, we managed to pass the time quite pleasantly. The smallpox patient was removed from the ship that afternoon, and the ship was thoroughly disinfected. But this did not relieve us from quarantine. The captain, however, took the responsibility of running the ship alongside the dock at an early hour on Monday morning, and landing the passengers. For thus breaking the quarantine, he was said to have been fined $400.

The Halifax authorities were naturally not too well pleased at this action of Captain Ritchie, and were in no mood to welcome us. Nor were the hotels at all keen to take us in. We could, however, use the waiting-room at the station as a resting-place. But this room, with a red-hot stove in full blast, was too suffocating. So Mather and I wandered about the city in search of some quiet place where we could get something to eat. We eventually found a small grocery store out in the suburbs where we were able to buy some crackers and cheese, which served as our lunch. The woman who served us said that she was not at all afraid of smallpox; so we spent some time talking with her while we ate our crackers and cheese.

By the time we had finished our lunch, it was near train time, so we wended our way to the station, and got on board the train for Montreal. Just how long the journey took, I can't remember; but it was the longest railway journey either of us had ever taken. Beeston and Gibson, our fellow-passengers on the Peruvian, journeyed with us to Montreal, too. Beeston put up at the Windsor Hotel, which, with the position he had, he could well afford to do. But Mather and I, having as yet no position, looked for less expensive quarters. In this we were aided by Gibson, who knew Montreal well. He directed us to the Albion Hotel, near the docks. So it was in that hotel that we spent our first night in Montreal.

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