|Vancouveria hexandra and maple 10 September 2022
|Rosemary in Chapultepec Park circa 1970
In these blogs I have written often on how Argentine I feel. I have even indulged in the idea that because of my five years in Austin I am Texan and most of all with all my time 10 September in Mexico (Mexico City, Veracruz and Nueva Rosita, Coahuila) that I have nostalgia for that country.
I know of something around the idea that there is no fate in one’s life and that coincidence happens more often than not. I will elaborate how today 10 September when I spotted a dark maple leaf on my 7th Avenue sidewalk. I picked it up and suddenly I was overcome with the emotion of how Canadian I feel that I am. This is in the heels of my have written a blog on the 8th of my Argentine Englishness which hit me upon finding out about the death of Queen Elizabeth.
My so-called fate about ending up in Canada and Vancouver began when as a little boy in Buenos Aires my grandmother told me how it was that when she became a widow around 1920 she and her two daughters and son emigrated to (bizarre to me even now) to the Bronx. She told me that they boarded a Japanese cargo ship in Manila and that it dropped them of in a place, “Un lugar con montañas y árboles y se llamaba Van-coo- ver.” Furthermore she told me that they boarded a train in a cavernous train station (the downtown ex-CP Station) and went to Montreal and from there to New York.
When I returned to Buenos Aires in 1965 to do my military service in the Argentine Navy I spotted a curious monument outside the Retiro Train Station. It was a Canadian totem pole. In 1963, Kwakiutl carvers Henry Hunt and his son Tony Hunt Sr. had been commissioned by Ambassador Bower to carve a 20-metre (66 ft) totem pole for the plaza called Plaza Canadá. It was carved from a 2,000-year old British Columbia red cedar, the totem pole depicted an eagle, a killer whale, a sea lion, a beaver, and a cannibal bird called a hok hok. After being shipped to Buenos Aires, the pole was erected in Plaza Canadá in May 1964.
When I left Buenos Aires on 8 December 1966 to return to my mother’s house in Veracruz I boarded an ELMA (Argentine Merchant Marine Company) Victory Ship called Río Aguapey.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out that Liberty and Victory ships were WWII cargo ship wonders that were built as fast as the German Navy sank them. The assembly of these ships was the brainchild of Edgar Kaiser’s father Henry. I also found out, to my surprise, that the Río Aguapey had been built in the Burrard Shipyards.
And of course all this became my fate when I met my Rosemary Elizabeth Healey in late 1967. I married her in Feb of 1968 and we had two daughters. In 1975 she informed me that we were moving to Canada. She said that I would never learn French in Montreal and I would not like the Toronto snow.
In Vancouver, I tried to get work and the only job I found was washing cars for Tilden-Rent-A- Car on Alberni Street. I was promoted to counter clerk and when I answered the phone I was instructed to answer (proudly they insisted),”In Canada it’s Tilden’.
I kept my Argentine passport for many years and chose not to become a Canadian. Then I did become one in 1992 but kept my Argentine passport and citizenship. Al that changed when later on when I arrived on a family trip to Buenos Aires my passport was stamped “annulled”. It seems that consular passports had that happen when one arrived in Argentina. A friend of my half-brother was a police chief. He took me to the Casa Rosada and I was able to obtain instantly a passport. The police chief told me that the next time I returned to Buenos Aires to make sure I travelled with a Canadian passport.
Since then I tell my BA family that if I lose my driver’s license I get a temporary one without a lineup and that a new one is mailed to me in a few weeks. They do not believe me.
Somehow my new-found love for my Canada and my Vancouver is on the other side of the coin that is all about my grief for Rosemary.
Canada to me is Rosemary and she is Vancouver. Curiously while reading Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela (a few months before Rosemary died and it did take me about four months to read it) I found in Hopscotch that in Paris Cortázar wore a flannel lumberjack shirt when it was cold. He calls it a canadiense!
As for the shiny green leaf in my scan her it is Vancouveria hexandra. It was a favourite ground cover of Rosemary’s. It was not available in Vancouver until the late 80s. Why?
This plant grew in Washington State but seemed to respect borders. An enterprising nurseryperson imported it. I proudly display it in my garden.
Furthermore when I would go shopping on 41st in Kerrisdale and I would often spot a very tall and handsome man. I would cross the street to greet him. He was Patrick Reid who was singly responsible in the design of our Maple Leaf Flag. Imagine living in a country and running into that man!
How was I to know all this when I boarded the Río Aguapey?