Leaving our Homeland,
migration Story of Emilie and Soren Jensen
A Journey from Copenhagen to Standard, Alberta, Canada
Summer of 1920
Sunday, May 30th, Emilie and I left Sǿnderskov Station by train (it was 5:16 p.m.) for Copenhagen where we had to be Monday morning to obtain our tickets from the Canadian Pacific Railway. We were to leave Copenhagen Tuesday morning for Hull, England.
As there was a general seaman’s strike in Denmark at the same time and no Danish ships were moving, we had to take a Finnish freighter from Copenhagen to Hull, England (the ordinary route being from Esbjerg to England). Then we had to take the train from Hull to Liverpool to board the CPR passenger liner for Quebec.
While in Copenhagen we stayed at my father’s aunt’s place. Aunt Marie is a very nice lady, she couldn’t understand why we wanted to go to Canada, as we could do just as well here at home. Tuesday morning, Aunt Marie wanted to go along to the boat to see us off; we had to board the ship at eleven o’clock. As it was the first time we had ever seen Copenhagen, we were glad Auntie came along to show us the way to the harbour.
There were hundreds of people on the pier to say goodbye to their relatives and friends, quite a few tears were shed of course, no one knew if we would ever see our homeland and dear ones again.
Shortly after noon the ship pulled out of the harbour, which took some time. Now we were moving into the Ǿresund, going north towards Krongorg. As we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast, and it was not long past dinnertime, we were all starting to get hungry.
There were no signs of any meals anywhere. We started downstairs to look around to see what was going on.
As it was a freighter, there was naturally no accommodation for passengers, but they had put up some tables and benches from two-by-fours and shiplap which was just fine. The tables were not set, but a lady brought some steel plates, knives and forks, and threw it all into a pile on the table. Then another lady brought a pail of potatoes, they had been boiled with both peels and dirt on. Another lady brought another pail of what should be meat and gravy and set it on the table too. It looked more like a pail of slop for pigs.
I started to peel a potato; but no, nothing doing, if we were to eat pig feed like that. We went upstairs again, that was our dinner.
As we sailed northward into Kattegat, the wind started to blow harder and harder. It didn’t take very long before the passengers started to disappear down, Milla started to get seasick too.
Milla was shown a cabin where there was supposed to be room for eighteen, it was for both couples and singles, men and women. So she crawled up into the top bunk (there were three bunks on top of each other) as she said, “I don’t want anybody to vomit down on me.”
The cabin I was shown was a big open place. I don’t know how many bunks there were. The bunks consisted of a straw mattress, or rather a big sack with straw in it. The pillow was a small bag with some hay inside. A couple of dirty blankets were just thrown on top of it all. So here you are, now just try to enjoy yourself.
Milla was sick in bed, she didn’t want anything to eat for supper. As I was still hungry, I went hunting for something to eat. In the same room as we were served the delicious dinner, two ladies brought in a washtub covered with a dishtowel, they set the tub on the floor and removed the towel. Now everybody could help themselves, it was sandwiches, rye bread, each slice at least an inch thick with a little of butter and a piece of red meat in the centre. As my stomach couldn’t stand the rye bread, I just tasted the meat. It was so salty—I just couldn’t eat it. Then they brought in tea in great big mugs, which tasted good. This was our supper, with no dinner, but it wasn’t too bad, especially as people had started getting really seasick.
As we were passing the northern tip of Denmark, the waves were going right over the ship. Further into the North Sea, the waves went over the bridge.
By Tuesday morning the wind had gone down and the passengers had started to get up. Thursday noon we were served yellow pea soup which tasted good, and it was the only meal we had on this wonderful Finnish freighter “Astrǽa.”
Just take a look at the cabins, as there were absolutely no cleaning done for three days and they were full of seasick people. For example, the cabin Milla and seventeen other passengers had been sick and sleeping in all that time (about seventy hours), just imagine what it looked like, not to speak about the smell.
In the bottom bunk in the left hand corner was a newly married couple, the young lady had a red hat (or bonnet) which came floating down the isle. Milla saw it coming and said to the lady, “there is your hat coming.”
We reached Hull late Thursday evening, but didn’t go into harbour before Friday morning. It didn’t take long to land, but then we stood on the wharf until noon, after being seasick nearly three days, with nothing to eat from Tuesday morning until Friday noon. Our knees, yes the whole body, was just shaking, having to stand there for hours. Finally some coaches arrived, picked us up and hauled us to the railway station. As soon as we arrived there, we were served a fine lunch, which really tasted good after so long a period of starvation. The train was leaving at two o’clock for Liverpool. At the same time the CPR passenger boat left Liverpool, the ship we should have gone on.
This train was really beautiful, no comparison to the Danish trains. We were really going now through very fine countryside, but it didn’t take long before we were into the mountainous country. We passed through several tunnels, it took about fifteen minutes to go through one of the tunnels. We were now in the real industrial areas—coal mines and factories. This lasted all the way to Liverpool. As soon as the train stopped, a dark man came hollering, “Canadian Pacific, Canadian Pacific, come on, come on.” Then we were led to a bus, piled in, the door shut and it took off. After a little while he stopped and turned off the main street into a very narrow back street, the bus stopped a very large door was opened, the bus door was also opened. (This reminds me of a good sized cattle-liner in Alberta.) The Two men stood there and shouted, “Come on, come on.”
As soon as we were all inside, the door was shut and locked right behind us, one of the men shouted, “Hurry up, you dogs, get on, get on.” Of course this was in English and we didn’t understand it, but two of the passengers had been in the U.S. and Canada for many years, they really told him off. Well, the dog chaser chased us in through a long, narrow hallway. Now he opened some doors and let us in, ten to fourteen in each room, it was supposed to be our guestrooms.
After a little while, a lady showed up with a bell, to call us in for supper. This supper consisted of bread and butter, a piece of canned meat and a cup of coffee without sugar or cream.
Everybody thought that if we were going to live on this ration for very long, we would soon go to the dogs (as the saying goes). Well, we soon found out that we would get all kinds of time to be familiar with both this and that. Soon we found out we had to stay there for two weeks, as the next boat didn’t sail before. I really don’t know how these two weeks passed on, but they did, and at last, on June 18th, the CPR’s passenger liner “Minnedosa” left Liverpool for Quebec.
We boarded the “Minnedosa” at seven a.m., it pulled out of harbour, then they cast anchor and stayed till nine p.m. before we put out to sea.
We passed Ireland the next forenoon in the most beautiful weather we could ask for. After dinner we took a noon nap, Milla said she would call me if she woke up first. I woke up first after a good sleep. The ship had already started rolling, the ladies had begun to get sick. Milla stayed in bed, I was ready for bed after supper. For the following two days, most of the passengers stayed in bed as the waves went right over the ship’s deck.
The storm cleared off and we had the finest weather for the last five or six days. Now the worst was the food, which we weren’t used to, half cooked. The dishwashing wasn’t good either, as foodstuffs from previous meals were still on the tools and plates. The forks could be closed completely (then the appetite disappeared).
Milla was at the table three times in the eight and a half days it took to cross the Atlantic Ocean. After the seasickness left, I developed some rash by my left ear, which spread very rapidly. Finally I went to see the doctor, who gave me some salve to put on. As I started to leave, he hollered at me, he had to have two shillings. I had to pay him even though it said clearly in the contract “Free doctor all the way while on board.” The day before we landed, I had to see the doctor again, to see what could be done as I might be refused landing with such a face, as it had worsened badly. I got a man who could speak English, so we could get some understanding of the situation. The doctor told us I was a day late in coming to him the first time as this stuff came from the ear and everything it touched would burn, that was why it got so bad.
The next morning, Sunday, at nine a.m., we pulled into the Quebec harbour, an hour later we were landed. The passengers started to go through doctor’s examination, passport, tickets and money examinations. I didn’t like the situation at all on account of my sore face, but it went fine until we got to the passport and ticket exam. Then they stopped Milla and asked where she was going and to whom she was going. Of course, we said we were going to Standard, Alberta, but had no specific name or address to go to. We were just pushed into another room, as we were not married and Milla couldn’t go along with me, as I could be a slave-trader. We didn’t know at that time why we were pushed aside as we didn’t understand what they said to us.
All the other passengers went through and were taken to the train for Montreal. Two men came (one was an interpreter), they took us aside and started to question us about where we were going and why we weren’t married in Denmark. I told them that the CPR top official in Copenhagen told us we could much better go to Canada without being married. Our plans were to go over and see how things were over there and then get married. The two gentlemen thought just for a second, then they told us, “You can’t land before you are married. There will be a minister here tomorrow morning who will perform the marriage.” We had already discussed it and if their reason for holding us back was marriage, then we would say yes, so we said that was fine.
We had had nothing to eat since Saturday night and it was getting on to Sunday night. I was beginning to be a little irritated and I told the men that we wanted something to eat, as I thought this whole thing was just ridiculous. Finally, the interpreter took us down through the basement, which was the railway’s waiting room for immigrants, and from there up a lot of stairs. When we arrived upstairs our interpreter left and a real arrogant fellow took over, he pulled me through one door as he pushed Milla through another door. Now we really felt we were behind bars.
I was led through one large hall which contained 96 bunks. Our guard led me further on into a small room where they had beddings stored, the guard picked a couple of blankets, a pillow and a sheet. Now I could just go ahead and make up my bed. I guess anybody can imagine my feelings.
As Milla was pushed through the door, (which I mentioned before) a lady was there to show her a room, and it was a really presentable room which was for two only with two nice beds too.
The next morning I woke up, the thought struck me, “It is my wedding day today.” I hurried, got washed, dressed and we had our breakfast. After breakfast Milla and I took a little stroll on the balcony, which was enclosed with a high steel railing with sharp spikes on the top so there was no chance for the prisoners to escape.
We waited hour after hour, but no official appeared. It was really lonesome as there weren’t any Danes to talk to, otherwise I think all races and nationalities were represented.
The next forenoon and official arrived, we had to follow him down the street, here a wagon was waiting for us. We were ordered up with him behind. The driver was ordered to go. After about ten minutes we stopped and were ordered into an attorney’s office, we had to have a permit to be married. The attorney asked some questions, how old we were, etc. Then he wanted to know whom we were going. We both had to be 21 to marry in Quebec, and Milla was only 20. So, I said, “We are not going to anybody, but out into the Wild West.” “Well,” he said, “then there is nothing to do but send you back to Denmark.” Now I started to get hot under the collar, I asked for an interpreter and for a talk with a CPR official to get all this mess cleared up. The official excused himself and said he couldn’t help it as it was the Canadian law said so. I asked the man if the CPR’s top official in Copenhagen was allowed to send people right out in the blue like that, even on a lie that we could get much better land in Canada without being married.
Here we stood (sent on a lie) and they wanted to deport us. I could understand if we were criminals, if they had a reason to hold us back and deport us, but we had gone according to the CPR’s top official’s word, which was a lie.
The man thought for a while, then said, “The only thing we can do is to send an application to the Canadian Government in Ottawa and ask for permission to get married.” But at the same time he said it was practically impossible to get such a permission.
Well, I thought we either had to go one way or the other, so go ahead. The application was sent to Ottawa. The man said it would take about a week to get the reply. As mentioned before, we were the only Danes, otherwise I think all nations and races were represented in this “Hell hole.” Many of those people looked terrible, full of lice and what not.
Twelve days is a long time to wait in such an institution. After twelve days the answer came from Ottawa, that we could land and go to Standard, Alberta, as long as we were married within thirty days from that date. It was July 8th—that meant we had to be married before August 8th and a certificate had to be sent to the Immigration office in Winnipeg.
As soon as we said yes, we were let out of the confinement and got our baggage checked in to go to Standard. Now we were taken to the railway station, here we had to wait until eleven p.m. before the train was leaving for Montreal. We arrived in Montreal at six a.m. and had to wait there until ten p.m. It was the express train from coast to coast we had to go on. It took three days and four nights from Montreal to Standard. As