Thursday, December 29, 2016

Arrival of Joseph Baggs in Toronto, Canada, 1874

The following piece is an excerpt from Chapter One of my forthcoming book: Pack your Baggs: a family's journey from Newfoundland to Australia

Toronto, Canada 1874

The train bringing Joseph Baggs to Toronto draws in to Union Station. There is a screech of metal and the wooden carriage gives out an almighty shudder, as if rattling its aching bones. Joseph hears the low hiss of steam and simultaneously feels a sigh of relief for their safe arrival. He has reached his final destination, but the arduous journey has taken a toll on his 54-year-old body and he is exhausted. He draws up the carriage window and puts his head out, only to be hit by a blast of hot humid air. The mayhem on the platform is overwhelming. Porters are loudly touting for business and a sea of strange faces pass by. In the centre of the platform a stout man in a long frock coat stands holding up a sign that reads "Wesleyan Methodist Congregation". 'Maybe they can help,' thinks Joseph.

Joseph turns to his wife, 'Phoebe, will you just look at all these people. I've never seen so many gathered in one place.'

'I suppose most of them have come to meet the new arrivals,' Phoebe says.

'Well no one will be here to meet us,' Joseph says. 'We are strangers in this place.'

That thought gives him pause and he casts his mind back to home.

'If only my brothers could see all this. They'd be astounded,' Joseph says.

'Yes indeed. I wonder what they are doing right now?' Phoebe says.

'Most likely they'll be heading back into the cove in their fishing dories – if the weather was kind to them today.'

Joseph keeps his inner fears to himself as he reflects on the momentous step he has taken in coming to a new country. After years of agonising over whether to branch out on his own, Joseph has acted and arrived in Toronto. Will he be able to find work at this stage of life? Cod fishing, which has sustained his family for generations, is not an option in this inland town. His future is vested in the decision to emigrate, so he has to make it work. Added to that, there is the enormous expense he has incurred – the cost of the steamer out of Saint John's and the tickets for nine members of the family on the railroad.

'That man on the train kept going on about "the Panic",' Phoebe says. 'Whatever did he mean?'

'There is an economic depression and they are predicting rough waters ahead. But I take the positive approach. We are blessed with our seven children and the older boys are behind us in this venture.'

Joseph gathers the younger children to him and pushes open the carriage doors.

'Come along Allan, Arabella, collect your belongings.'

His eyes scan up to the high vaulted roof of the train station.

'Look children, what a grand building this Union Station is! You will never have seen its like before.'

Nothing could have prepared Joseph for this new world. Until now, he had spent his entire life in the familiar surroundings of his close-knit fishing community in Newfoundland, where everyday life had continued unchanged over generations. How will he make the transition to city life in a new country at this advanced stage of life? What work will he find?

Joseph Baggs, his wife Phoebe and their seven children, some of whom are adults by this stage, make their way down the platform carrying a motley collection of bags and boxes from home. When they reach the Wesleyan man holding up the sign, Joseph pauses.


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