Nellie Grimmer first stepped foot on Canadian soil in Halifax, June 16, 1945, as a war bride from England. It was the day before her 19th birthday.
She went back earlier this month, 70 years to the day, to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, a visit arranged as a surprise birthday present, by her daughter, Pam Grimmer.
Things have changed in 70 Grimmer said with a smile.
“Changed? It was nothing but a shack when we first got there,” she said with a laugh.
“Of course it didn’t look the same. It’s lovely; they’ve done a nice job.”
Because of her daughter’s preparations and advance contact with the museum, Grimmer said she was met at the door and treated like a queen by the staff and museum guides.
She was presented with a corsage and an “alumni” museum pin, and received a number of presents, including a certificate congratulating her on her 70 years in Canada.
Also among the gifts were a museum mug, two framed photos of the “Samaria”, the vessel in which she made the journey from England, and some salt water taffy.
“They knew I was a war bride. They were expecting me. Pam had planned all this ahead.”
Pam Grimmer said she and her partner were talking one day, trying to come up with an idea to celebrate her mom’s birthday this year. She said were discussing trying to do something special to recognize the fact she has lived in Canada for 70 years when an advertisement for Pier 21 came on the television.
“It was like it was meant to be.”
Pam said after many e-mails with Carrie-Ann Smith, the Chief of Audience Engagement for Pier 21, the visit was all set.
“Much is said about the veterans who selflessly defended our beliefs (as it should be), but “Lest we forget” that behind every good man is a woman,” said Pam.
“I would have to say that I admire the courage of all of these women who came to Canada as war brides, most of them teenagers like my mother who didn’t turn 19 until the next day on June 17. “They gave up everything that they knew to take a chance on a new life, in a new land that they knew nothing about. To take her back to that time for a moment was priceless. Carrie-Ann and her team treated her like a “Queen for a day”, and that was all that mattered.”
Nellie Grimmer came to Canada as the bride of Kenneth Grimmer of Tower Hill whom she married in 1944. They had met at a dance, like many young people of the day.
Once Grimmer arrived in Canada – without her husband – she and the other brides were processed during which time she showed officials her “papers” including her marriage certificate, before boarding a train which took her to Saint John.
There, she boarded a bus and, thanks to a talkative bus driver who instructed her to sit directly behind him, soon learned all the history of the countryside.
“I think I know more about the history of St. Croix than anybody does,” she chuckled.
Arriving at the home of her husband’s parents – “my mother-in-law, Adeline, was a war bride from England in the First World War” – she was welcomed with open arms and accepted the offer to have a rest after her long journey.
When she woke up, Adeline had a birthday cake ready for her, telling the young bride, “For goodness sake, from now on not, I’m not Mrs. Grimmer, it’s mom.”
Grimmer said her own mother and father weren’t too happy she chose to leave them and her older sister, who still lives in England, to come to Canada.
“They didn’t like it, but they knew I was going to go.”
Grimmer was pleased with the displays the museum at Pier 21 had to offer, remarking on the stories which accompanied the photos and displays. To those who might say they wouldn’t want to go there Grimmer states, “If you haven’t been there, don’t knock it, it was wonderful.”
She remarked on the number of young people touring the museum when she was there, speculating they may have been searching their family histories.
Grimmer is glad her daughter arranged for the visit and said she welcomed all the memories the visit prompted.
“It really is a nice place.”