Happy International Women's Day!

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

In honour of International Women’s Day, I wanted to spotlight my amazing grandmothers. For this piece my Avó and Grannie, from Portugal and Scotland respectively, shared with me their stories of relationships, family, and migrating to Canada for a better life. They told me the advice they received from their mothers, and how they influenced the next generation of women in their own families. So many young Canadians like myself have parents and grandparents who have made the courageous choice to move to Canada, seeking better opportunities, for themselves and for their children. I encourage you all to ask your elders about their stories, their battles, and the decisions they made, that have put you in the very place you are today.

Grannie – Anne Smith

My father’s mother, Anne, is a fiercely independent 81 year old woman. In her early 20’s she married a young man named Alexander and they had three kids in Glasgow, Scotland. She worked very hard as a seamstress to provide for her family, as her husband slipped into an addiction to alcohol. He began skipping work, and eventually was let go from his job. This left the sole financial responsibility of the family on Anne. My Grannie described Alexander as “work shy”, she’s too kind to call him lazy and spoiled (Alexander was the only surviving baby in a set of triplets, and as a result was coddled by his family). My Grannie worked so hard to provide for her children, while her husband avoided work, spending his days drinking and gambling. She put so much of her energy and income towards making sure her children were fed and well cared for, she could not feed herself. One Christmas, with no gifts for her children, she took them to her parents’ home, hoping they might have some presents for them. When she arrived at her parents’ house, her own mother didn’t recognize her, she was so skinny and malnourished. It was decided then and there that Anne and the kids would move in with them, it was time for their father to figure things out. He never did. In fact, it took 6 weeks before he visited his children. Visits grew fewer and farther between until eventually he stopped visiting all together.

My Grannie shared with me a particularly heartbreaking story that happened a few years after this separation. During a summer period, the garment factory Grannie worked for closed for 6 weeks for renovations, and her boss encouraged her to seek government assistance during the closure. When she sought help from the government she was rejected because her estranged husband Alexander had already claimed he had sole custody of the children and relied on government assistance to help raise the children all by himself. In truth it had been many years since he’d seen the children, and had never offered my Grannie any support of any kind. This news shook Grannie to the core, however when Alexander was threatened with jail time for his crime Grannie protested, and suggested they make a deal instead, she didn’t want this incident to bring shame on the family. Alexander had to pay Anne back all the money he had falsely claimed.

Grannie is hardworking, empathetic, and probably the most stubborn woman I’ve ever met. She can always be found making this, fixing that, going here and there, and the stories! My goodness does this woman have a story for every situation and occasion, she loves to entertain and pass on her wisdom to her grandchildren. I will forever be amazed at her ability to raise her children without any physical or financial support from their father, it would have been so difficult. My Grannie managed to raise wonderful, smart children, who are anything but “work shy”.


Grannie, what was it like moving from Scotland to Canada? How did you decide to make the move?

I had no problem making the decision to move to Canada because I had visited Canada on a holiday, and the people were very friendly. I specifically loved Sarnia because it was easy to get around and I made friends easily. Canadians loved my accent and would always ask me questions just to hear me speak.

As a single mother, did you ever worry about your kids growing up without a father figure?

I felt like I had to take on the roles a father normally would however, my own father became a great influence on my children. He was always so strict when I was a young girl because he was sergeant major in the war for eight years. When he returned from war, he was so used to being very strict, I was often scared of him because he didn’t know how to speak to children, only soldiers. When I moved in with my three kids I noticed my father had a soft spot for the grandkids, it was a completely different side of him. A side I had never seen.

What did your own mother teach you?

My mother taught me the best thing was always to volunteer and help others in need. That’s what the world needs. During war, all neighbour’s help each other. My mother was a midwife, and helped deliver 200 babies!

What values do you have as a mother, which you instilled in your own daughters?

I instilled fun in my daughter’s lives, to be creative. And I always encouraged them to get an education.

What advice do you have for your (7) granddaughters?

Be careful who you chose as a life partner. Get to know them before moving in together. Take your time in relationships. Know your partners by listening to how they speak to their parents and family, and friends.

Keep up all the things you do in the relationship that make you happy.

I have so much respect and admiration for my Grannie. She was a fighter from day one, born premature, weighing only 2 lbs at birth. She was one of the first babies in Scotland to be put in an incubator. It was clear she’d be a fierce warrior from the very beginning. The stories she shared with me were stories of overcoming adversity and hardships, they make me believe that anything is possible with a hard work attitude, and some patience. She still volunteers her time at the local blood bank and is an active member of her church, she truly is a humble godsend through and through. I am so thankful for her positive and uplifting attitude, and for her endless supply of stories.

Avó – Maria Lopes

My Avó (grandmother) Maria had an arranged marriage when we was only 19 years old. She was married to my Avô (grandfather) Jaime, a man she had never met, who was 11 years her senior, and who had already migrated to Canada many years previous. They married by proxy, meaning they weren’t even in the same country on their wedding day! She didn’t migrate to Canada until she was 20 years old, and had only communicated with Jaime through letters up until this point. I cannot imagine being married at 19 years old, and I certainly cannot imagine marrying a man I’d never met. With the uncertainty of the life that lay ahead of her it must have taken such bravery to make that long journey here.

Through his letters Jaime promised Maria a better life with him, this brought excitement and optimism for my Avó, as she’d grown up in a very large and very poor family. She knew Canada would provide more opportunity for her and her future children. Arranged marriages were not entirely uncommon in her culture at the time, it was a gamble marrying a man she’d never met, but she never really had a choice. She hoped she’d have a better life after migrating, everyone on her little island of Sao Miguel wanted to move to Canada, and she was one of the lucky ones who would actually go.

Avó had envisioned an amazing marriage with Jaime as he expressed in his letters to her how established he’d become in Canada. He had spoken so highly of himself, but not everything he promised came to fruition. Once she arrived in Canada she was quickly helping her husband with work on farms, jumping from job to job, town to town, as their family grew to include five children. As well as working outside the home my Avó was expected to complete all housekeeping and parenting duties on her own. A week after the birth of their third daughter Avó had to travel from the hospital to collect her eldest girls from a family member, as my Avô wasn’t expected to care for them on his own. When she finally arrived home, newborn in hand, she found the house was an absolute mess, and the crib my Avô said he’d put together hadn’t been assembled. She’d have to do it all by herself, throughout their marriage she’d have to do a lot all by herself. Her wifely duties of course also included preparing food for the entire family, and whenever my Avô demanded. If he came home late at night, after she had gone to bed, he’d wake her to make him dinner. My Avó makes the best food, she makes amazing chorizo, massa and malasadas, all classic Portuguese foods. I always look forward to family holidays spent together because the food is always wonderful and made with such love. Some of my most treasured memories take place in Avó’s kitchen. However, she was never afraid to make threats and remove her slipper when we were misbehaving. We always ran away, laughing as she never intended to actually catch us.

Interview Avó, what did your mother teach you?

My mother was happy for me to have an opportunity to move to Canada and start my own family. She taught us unconditional love, and taught me how to make good food. I was the oldest of 9 children so I had to help raise my younger siblings as well. My mother always made sure we were bathed and well-dressed and looked presentable.

What values did you try to teach your own daughters?

Work hard and never give up, and always be in good spirits no matter the situation. I wanted to ensure my kids always felt safe, and at the end of the day I wanted them to know I’d always be there for them. I taught them the value of being clean and well-dressed.

What do you hope your (6) granddaughters have learned from sharing your stories with us?

Have a good life and pick a good husband. (This made me laugh)

My Avó’s stories show me just how incredible she is, and it is because of the leap of faith she took marrying a man half way across the world, and then moving here to be with him, that I have the opportunities she never had. She lived a life without choice, it was hard, and she carried so much on her shoulders, but she always remains so positive. She has become one of my biggest fans, it brings me tears of joy when I receive video clips of her cheering for me, she prays for me and my teammates every day. And I’m blessed to have the opportunity to perform in front of her in May in Langford.

I am so thankful for the brave, fierce women in my life. Thank you, Maria and Anne, for taking the time to share your stories with me, and thank you for both being such great role models in my life. Happy International Women’s day. Who are the inspiring women in your life ?

#150women #internationalwomensday #sheroes #iwd #fierce #brave #rolemodels #grandmothers

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