Starting Life in the Great White North

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With an honours degree in Civil Engineering in his back pocket, Milton now had his future ahead of him. Things looked bleak when his family was deported from Uganda, but he made the best of it.  In fact, he left all of the wonderful memories of his beloved land behind, except of one – the most important one of all!

Milton came to know his future wife, Val, when they were both toddlers in Uganda. Their respective families were friends and so they became platonic friends. When Idi Amin deported Asians in 1972, they went their separate ways with Val heading to Montreal while Milton went to the UK.

“I did not think I would see her again, until one fine day in December 1973 Val called me to say she was coming to London.  It was a December to remember.  Even as the UK was in the grips of a major energy crisis, we made the most of her visit, even taking in an Elton John concert, one of my favorite musicians, at the Hammersmith Odeon.  You see Val had worked hard since arriving in Canada and saved her money to make this trip and also paid for the concert! We rekindled our relationship and, I guess in hindsight, we took it to the next level,” remembered Milton fondly.

Val told him how beautiful Canada was and after a visit in the summer of 1974, he started contemplating a life in the Great White North. “Two years later, I couldn’t wait to leave the UK, having become enamored by the great expanse of Canada and North American life,” says Milton.  “So within weeks of graduating from the University of Southampton, I sold or gave away most of my text books and headed to Toronto – it would have cost too much to ship them.”

“Immigration rules required us to marry within three months of landing.  And so with limited funds, we married in the fall of 1975.  Our wedding celebration cost us all of $400, with about 30 invited relatives and guests in attendance in an apartment party room.  I was still as poor as a church mouse!” exclaims Milton.

An economic recession was gripping North America in the mid-1970s. Milton went six months with only the odd interview.  The couple relied on Val’s take home of $450 a month salary to pay for their $220 apartment rent and everything else. It was a tough time for him. “I felt most depressed and unable to fulfill my role as a provider, or so was the thinking at the time,” recalled Milton.

Living in the UK, Milton got caught up in the stuffy British view that North Americans were uncultured and somewhat inferior to the ‘regal’ English.  And he had no idea what a recession was. He changed his mind about Canadians very quickly but had no idea how to get work in a new country.

In the spring of 1976, he got a break when the Ontario government developed a re-training work program for the unemployed.  Milton landed one of these jobs as a ray of sunshine and hope that his life was going to get better.

“The government work program paid a miserly $2.50 an hour.  I think it may have been the minimum wage at the time.  I was lucky to get a job as a draftsman,” he says. “It wasn’t intellectually challenging but by this point I was a broken man.  The job gave me temporary relief and time to regain my confidence.” 

Everyone needs a fresh start and Milton decided to heed his engineering friends who kept saying ‘Go west, young man’, where work was supposedly plentiful.  Soon after arriving, Milton and Val found their fresh start in the wild west of Calgary, Alberta.  Read about how the west opens up new doors as Milton takes advantage of the opportunities that come his way by click the link below.