My mother never said much about her family. I knew they lived near Edmonton, Alberta, but after Mom died, they invited me to a family reunion in 2009. My cousin Genevieve, the director, sent me a color-coded chart of our family which included my mother’s seven siblings and their families. Fifty people planned to come. Fifty cousins and their families that I had never heard of. I learned that our forebears immigrated to Canada as homesteaders from Ukraine in 1898.
It was a long trip from Maine—a flight to Toronto and an all-day wait for a plane to Edmonton. A late-night arrival for East Coasters.
The first surprise came as we sat between planes at the Toronto airport and watched a steady stream of foreigners‑it seemed that Toronto was Canada’s Ellis Island, it seemed. Many-hued people of all ages dragged themselves wearily around the airport wearing confused expressions as they lifted their eyes to the overhead flight monitors. Canada welcomes immigrants—at least those with certain skills, so few sneak across the border. I don’t know what will happened with the current Middle East refugee crisis, but ever since 9/11, every crossing requires a passport.
We boarded the airport shuttle bus to Edmonton. As the bus filled, a blind woman tapped her way up the steps. She turned and tapped her way down the rows to find an empty seat. “Bear with me,” she said. “They’ve scheduled me for cataract surgery, but not for another year.”
We sympathized with her long wait, but to the busload of immigrants, she represented hope.