Having started a conversation with a new-found cousin on ancestry.com I found myself being asked by said cousin, Why did my great-grandfather Crook (yes, that was his surname) move from Hampshire in England to Winnipeg in Canada? What skills did he take with him to this new place? And why Winnipeg?
This new-found cousin still lives in the UK, as do many other members of my Crook family who did not choose to emigrate to Canada in the early 20th century. The question then, was quite natural. But it was a question I hadn’t thought much about.
My answer, because I didn’t really have one, was going to go something like this: my great-grandfather Crook moved to get away from a place where his background—his class and accent—held him in check, to go to a country where he would be just one of many other immigrants, neither more nor less.
And while this is true in many ways, I hadn’t thought the question through in a more literal way: What did my great grandfather expect to find here? Why did he choose Winnipeg? Did he have any skills? I had no idea.
And then it occurred to me, why not look at the Passenger List from the boat he came over on, and see if this shed any light on the problem? It was a document I’d looked at many times before, but only to ascertain the date of his arrival in Canada.
It turned out that this document posed many interesting questions to each passenger:
WHAT WAS YOUR OCCUPATION IN COUNTRY FROM WHICH YOU CAME?
My grandfather’s answer? MANUAL LABORER
HAVE YOU EVER WORKED AS A FARMER, FARM LABORER, GARDENER, STABLEMAN, CARTER, RY SURFACEMAN, NAVVY, OR MINER?
IF YES, WHICH?
Answer: SIX YEARS
Answer: IN 1905
WHAT IS YOUR INTENDED OCCUPATION IN CANADA?
Answer: RAI LAB
I had not realized that the passenger list was such a wealth of information! I’d found it so hard to read the first time I looked at it (about 2 yrs ago), that I hadn’t spent much time with it.
Now, however, I knew that my great grandfather had been a carter before he moved—that is, he carted things around, a very common job description at the time. I also discovered that he’d been employed this way for a long period—6 years straight work for a working class person was a very long period indeed—and that he either lost his job, or lost heart in it, because at this point, he decided to come to Canada.
But his intended occupation still puzzled me. Rai Lab? ‘Lab.’ usually stood for Laborer. I looked again. Rail—there was an ‘l’ there, I was pretty sure. Rail Lab., then, would probably mean—railway laborer?
I looked up when the railway came to Winnipeg, and it turns out it was being built at the time my grandfather emigrated. Begun in 1908, it was finished in 1911; my grandfather arrived in 1910. It all seemed to make pretty good sense.
Nevertheless, I still didn’t feel absolutely confident about this conclusion. I’d thought my great-granfather had wanted to be a farmer. I began to browse the Canadian census for 1921, another document I’d looked at many times before, and there I saw, once again, his occupation: farmer. But wait, I’d read it wrong—looking at it again, I realized it read ‘teamster’.
Teamster! The Union for people that worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway!