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 andthe 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.
man on the train kept going on about "the Panic",' Phoebe says.
'Whatever did he mean?'
'There is an economic depression and
they are predictingrough 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.