Putting down Canadian roots

by Raymond Parker on July 14, 2010

in Autobiography, Cycling, History, Politics, Racing

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Stranger in a Strange Land

Today is the 45th anniversary of my arrival in Canada.

In 1965, I landed at Vancouver International Airport (in a DC-8), with my parents and siblings, the fourth generation of my family to emigrate from the UK. My maternal great-grandfather John Jones homesteaded early in the century at Golden, British Columbia.

We were met in Vancouver by my mother’s eldest sister and family. Driving to New Westminster, I was taken by the strange customs and giant automobiles.

Why did my cousins keep pointing out sights along our route, asking “Neat, eh?” Did they have some kind of preoccupation with orderliness? And where were the bicycles? That was the critical question to a teenager obsessed with all things cycling, especially racing.

My cousin pointed through the Ford Fairlane’s open window to a field with a chain link fence in one corner. “There’s the baseball diamond. Neat, eh?”

Certainly there wasn’t a scrap of litter in sight. But what’s a baseball and what does it have to do with diamonds?

Oh, sounds like rounders. I hate rounders. Where’s the velodrome?

I learned there was no bicycle racetrack nearby, at least not that my relatives knew of (the closest was the neglected wooden China Creek Track in Vancouver, built for the Empire Games in 1954).

For the first time in years, I missed coverage of the Tour de France. I was beginning to suspect my parents had brought me to the ends of the earth!

Then, I saw my first Canadian “cyclist” — a kid with a crewcut on a two-wheeled affront to bicycle design. It was an abomination, a contraption conceived in Hell. It was a “chopper.”

I’d seen such horrors in the back of American comic books that had made their way to England, but assumed they were as fictional as the Super Heroes populating the rest of the pages.

Was there some kind of kryptonite antidote for this evil? I wanted to pluck out my eyes.

My parents had convinced me it would be cheaper to buy a new bike in Canada than ship my treasured Sun racer. It was liquidated, along with the rest of our household goods. Now it seemed there were no “real” bicycles in this strange land. Homesick, I retreated petulantly to my temporary bedroom and a copy of the recently-released Beatles LP, “Help!”

My first experience, later that summer, with “American football” resulted in torn knee ligaments. I took control of my rehabilitation by riding my cousin’s large tricycle … under the cover of darkness.

Salvation came in the form of a fishing trip to Howe Sound with my uncle Dick Slater, who subsequently died tragically in a motoring accident. Looking up at the mountains towering above Lions Bay, I was as hooked as the feisty salmon jumping on the end of my line.

I went on to fall deeply in love with Canada, and B.C. in particular. My uncle’s introduction to the wilderness led me eventually to a kind of homesteading lite, practiced just south of the area my great-grandfather pioneered — though I did not realize it at the time.

I still lament the relative obscurity of cycle racing and bike culture in Canada. Velodromes still struggle to survive and the great cycling epics compete with in-depth analysis of Tiger Woods’ sex life for a few seconds of coverage on television sportscasts.

Over the years, I’ve learned to accept a wider variety of velo styles. I’ve even grown to appreciate fat tires! These days, I fear the greatest threat to Canada comes not from unorthodox bicycles but reactionary politics.

How lucky I am that my great-grandfather pioneered the way and succeeding generations of my family, including my parents, were brave enough to break the bonds of the familiar to put down new roots in Canada.

My UK Roots | Tourism BC | Canada Travel | Statistics Canada

{ 2 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Don July 21, 2010 at 5:38 am

I have always wondered what possesses people to relocate to foreign lands. Certainly things like the potato famine, tax structure or the Klondike gold rush were all good incentive s at the time, but they no longer exist.

I do believe though, that there is a place on earth where someone truely lives, where they belong and are at home, whether they are there or not. I grew up on the West Coast and am described by friends as a “classic west coaster”.

I relocated to South Western Ontario 11 years ago for employment and have never really accepted it as my home. When asked where I live when traveling, my standard response is ” I reside in Ontario, but live in BC”. I get a lot of blank stares with that answer.

The only thing that has allowed me to accept my place of residence is cycling. There is beauty and challenge everywhere and the bicycle has always helped me find it.

I love pretty much anywhere in Western Europe and still can’t understand why people would leave it. Well, unless as it was for me, to put food on the table.

You reside in a beautiful part of the world Ray. It sounds as though you live there too!

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Raymond Parker July 21, 2010 at 10:14 am

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Don.
To be honest, I do miss some things about “The Old World,” but much of it now only exists as a memory — England’s bicycle culture, for instance. Now France ….
What I treasure here is the land. I hope we have the good sense to preserve (more of) it as well as Europe preserves its human-made monuments.

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