Remembering Our First Christmas in Canada

In the winter of 1963, this Irish family celebrated their first Christmas in Toronto. The snow was like nothing they had ever seen before.

Through the picture window on a quiet winter’s eve, December 24th, I see the familiar profile of my father. It was his silhouette through the frosted window pane, cloaked in the warmth of the table lamp light that I looked for every time I walked up the drive to the house on Christmas Eve. The trinity of candles on the windowsill, nestled in a cluster of red poinsettias, shining, tiny white lights pointing heavenly upward, always reminded me of the joyous reason for this winter gathering.

For 50 years, all nine of us—and many more as the family grew—came together this way to celebrate on Christmas Eve, all of us by some miracle managing to find our way back to the family home. It was a solid and unbroken tradition for 50 years in the Megraw family and is still unfolding.

Some of us, of course, have left this life over the years. My dad, like a lighthouse on a rock, an unwavering beacon of steadfastness and reliability, has taken flight and I think of him in the hush of heaven. My profoundly lovable younger brother John went before Dad, and in remembering them on that first Christmas Eve without them, we felt the weight of the room sighing with us at the empty places and the hearts that once filled those places with great wit, faith and celebratory good cheer that came complete with Glenfiddich whisky and beer.

In the winter of 1963, we celebrated our first Christmas in Canada, in the city of Toronto. Snow, oh glorious, deep snow like nothing we had ever seen before! My mother tells me that as a child in Ireland the snow would sometimes fall, and on the rare occasion that it did, her brother and sisters would race out the door to play in it before it fast melted under the Irish rain. A Canadian friend once said, “You know, Ireland would be a lovely place, if it had a roof over it.”

So, on Christmas Day 1963, we tobogganed in Toronto’s High Park, just above Grenadier Pond—gleeful beyond measure and thrilled by the speed of the toboggan on the snow. My parents, a young couple with five children just steps apart in age, were beginning a new life in a grand and expansive Canada. The crisp and bright cold white of a Canadian winter was energizing and so different from the misty green of Ireland.

Starting over often creates limited means and added expenses. Yet we kids wore brand new snowsuits, with my mom in her beaver coat, and my dad in his overcoat and fur cap, making the best of an exciting new beginning.

As a young girl, my mother had always dreamed of Canada, having come across many stories in The Belfast Telegraph about the land she would one day call home. Much later, when she was married and the mother of five, she spotted an ad in the Telegraph, indicating that several U.S. companies and the de Havilland Aircraft Company of Canada were coming to Belfast, seeking to hire aircraft design engineers. My dad had the requisite skills and applied to de Havilland. Three weeks later, he crossed the Atlantic by plane to begin his new job in Toronto; Mom and we kids followed soon afterwards; later, two new members were born into the family, Kevin and Megan, making us nine.

And so my parents found their path to this then foreign land, a place brimming over with potential, where they were able to raise their family and live their dreams. My mother worked in the arts, founding the South Simcoe Theatre more than 50 years ago, which showcases great musicals and plays to this day. As his engineering career drew to a close, Dad also taught at Banting Memorial High School until his retirement.

Next, find out what a 1950s Christmas was like in rural Alberta.

Originally Published in Our Canada