My First Train Ride to Independence

Author: robertinseattle

I was originally determined to go to Montreal to attend Sir George Williams University to go for my Master of Fine Arts degree. Dad has always promised that he would pay for our college when we finished high school. Unfortunately, Dad’s interpretation of going to college meant that he expected us to pursue a ‘professional’ career: lawyer, doctor, architect. But definitely NOT art! Ah – Chinese parents and their expectations for success!

I realized I had creative skills early on and never let anything hold me back in exploring my artistic skills. I was so blessed to have had an encouraging art teacher during my junior high school years and at the end of Grade 9, she awarded me with a scholarship for Grade 10 at the Nova Scotia College of Art! (I think it was Mrs. Williams?) She was one of the first people to ever acknowledge and praise my art and it truly gave me the confidence I needed to keep at it (especially during the generally unpleasant three years of my Junior High life). And she kept awarding me with another scholarship for the next year’s class until she gave me that scholarship for my first year of High School. So I also ended up going through high school art classes on scholarships each year until I was finally awarded a full scholarship to the College. (Dad would certainly never pay for any of my art classes!)

But I was so determined to break free from our restrictive family at an early age that I ended up turning down the College of Art’s full scholarship.

By the time I was 12, I started selling magazines door-to-door to make money for myself and saved up enough to open up my first business by the time I was 14. Some of this money allowed me to buy my own art supplies that I needed for my classes as Dad would never encourage any pursuit of art.

So I certainly remember my first solo train trip to Montreal to explore that city where I originally hoped to be attending college. That first adventure is certainly food for another post of its own later! As controlling as Dad was, it was surprising that he actually let me head up there by myself. I was only 14! And I ended up booking a room at the YMCA for the few days I was there (Yep – the ‘Y’ had facilities like that back then!)

At that time, I was so determined to go to Sir George Williams for my MFA degree and they even accepted Grade 11 students for admission which meant I could leave home at 16 instead of wasting another year at home to finish boring Grade 12! But that was not in the plan for Dad’s expectations: NO art degrees, NO art college. So I ended up dragging myself through Grade 12 with little interest but at least enjoying my two art classes a week after school, all while also running my business after school every day. I was determined to follow my own passions even back then! I ended up winning that scholarship to NS College of Art along with a partial scholarship to The New School of Art in Toronto at the end of Grade 12. So finally, I broke free at 17 and headed up to Toronto with my worldly possessions to start my own life.

Back in those days, we used trains to get around and those old CNR train rides are still some of my most precious memories. It was a 24+ hour ride from Toronto to Halifax (and just a few hours less from Montreal. You certainly learned a lot more patience back then. And walks to the dining car three times a day for your meals!

And I still remember my first plane ride home to Halifax for Christmas after I’d just turned 18 – an Air Canada flight. Sadly, like everyone else who has gotten so used to flying these days, I haven’t ridden a train since. So one new adventure to add to my list.

How many of you would consider a train ride from coast-to-coast across Canada? And the States?

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