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Scotland to Canada: The First Trip, 1968

October 19, 2010

Descending the Cairo Side a novel of the traveling life

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My grandparents were kind people who hailed from Detroit.  In 1968 they asked if I wanted to accompany them across the Atlantic to Scotland, from where we would board the S.S. Empress of Canada for the return cruise to North America, specifically to Quebec City.  This was during the waning days of transport by sea between the New World and the Old, before jet airplanes put this mode of travel out of business completely.

I jumped at the chance and said, “yes” without hesitation.

1) The junior diplomat in Montreal’s Dorval Airport, getting ready to fly to Europe and negotiate critical international deals

We landed in Glasgow, I believe.  My grandparents accompanied my  mother and I on the flight from Montreal.

2) Land ho!  First glimpse of Europe

Once in Scotland I was far more concerned that the local girls appreciate my stylish clothes than I was in any of the sights.

3) In Glasgow: newspaper in hand, wondering if my jeans were tight enough

After several excruciatingly boring bus tours around Scotland – no teen-aged girls on those trips – we finally boarded the Empress of Canada.

4) The ship tied up at dock; a far cry from today’s floating casinos and norovirus hatcheries

Exploring the vessel was great fun and I even managed to meet some kids my own age.  We hung out together, trying not to overly terrorize the adults.

5) Departure as our tug pulls away

The trip was enjoyable for the most part.  Seasickness was an issue for many passengers but the affliction never seemed to bother me.

6) Enjoying the deck with my grandfather, Neil McMath.  Doesn’t look like the weather was exactly tropical

The crew tried to provide diversions for the kids on board.  At one time we were invited into the wheel house to see how they piloted the liner.  A far cry from today’s walls of computers and interfaced GPS navigation with locked steel doors to keep the mortals at bay.

7) Listening raptly to an officer explain the arcane science of ocean navigation

I also amused my mom by participating lifeboat drills. The chances of survival if we’d been dumped into the North Atlantic were virtually nil, but everyone felt better once informed how to go about freezing and drowning with proper etiquette.

8) Life jacket drill

At last we reached Canadian shores and the St. Lawrence River, steaming to Quebec City with all the dignity the ship could muster. The Chateau Frontenac, one of Canada’s most famous landmarks and hotels, looked as imposing then as it does today.

9) Quebec’s Chateau Frontenac

For my mom and my grandparents, docking in port represented only the end of another trip.  Me, I was hooked for life, and years later I still calculate and scheme to achieve my next port-of-call.

35 mm photos by Peg Herring; 28 mm Kodak prints by me

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