"Whoever we are, and however tough we consider ourselves to be, there will come a time when we all need a helping hand. All of my life since my serious traffic accident at the age of eleven years when I was unable to walk for three years with a spinal injury, I was determined to be fiercely independent. In many ways, it could possibly be argued that I did become as independent and as assertive as any person has a right to be. I knew that I was fighting the medical establishment when they told my parents after my traffic accident that I'd never walk again; this was not the kind of news that my ears were prepared to accept.
At the age of fourteen, I regained my walking mobility when my spinal cord re-commenced sending signals to my brain and over the next seven years, I engaged in all manner of sporting activity and dance in order to regain a sense of balance that meant I did not fall over as much whenever I suddenly moved my body in haste.
At the age of twenty-one. a time when most young men dream of joining the Forces, travelling to foreign lands, falling in love or pushing out the boat of adventure, I decided to travel to Canada for a few years and to explore a new way of life. I recall sailing from Liverpool to Nova Scotia during the coldest of Decembers and landing there some weeks later after a turbulent crossing in a temperature of minus 15 centigrades. Being still green at the edges, I knew not how to dress in the cold of a Canadian winter.
I arrived in Nova Scotia from England on January 3rd, 1964 on ‘The S.S.Sylvania’ and disembarked in the bitter coldness of winter. My first sight of a Nova Scotian winter was wonderful to behold but somewhat too cold for any newcomer from England to so readily readjust to without three or four layers of heavy clothing, along with overshoes. I had seven pairs of winkle-picker shoes with me at the time (the pointed ones designed for all males with two toes only), and although new, each pair of shoes were worthless in this snow and cold without having 'overshoes' to protect them. This stranger to Canada had never heard of 'overshoes' until then, and in the meantime, as I stamped my feet to restart the blood flow, I held a real fear of acquiring gangrenous feet and needing my toes needing amputating before I arrived in Quebec!
I arrived in Quebec by train, and during the long journey, I was amazed to discover how far one travel across any stretch of land without seeing a dwelling or a person for forty or fifty miles. Once landed in Quebec, I quickly discovered that the accommodation I wanted to move into wouldn’t become available for three days. Being a stranger in a strange land, I cursed myself for having foolishly selected Quebec to be the start of my Canadian experience. I’d initially picked Quebec to start my Canadian experience in, in the full knowledge that the people spoke French there and that I couldn't. In the weirdness of my reasoning, I’d told myself that if I could survive in Quebec until I overcame my homesickness, then I’d be able to survive in any province of Canada I went to thereafter!
I thought that Nova Scotia was very cold, and even though Quebec may not have registered as being as cold on the barometer, it looked every bit as cold under the snow. Its waterfall had frozen, as it usually does every winter.
Within an hour of my arrival, everyone I met (with one exception) spoke French. Being unable to speak French, I found it impossible to communicate with any of the customers who occupied the diner where I had taken refuge from the cold to drink a warm coffee.
My ‘Good Samaritan’ came in the form of a 40-year-old man wearing winter headgear that was adorned with the likeness of some furry creature like a racoon, sitting on top. He was seated towards the rear of the diner. Having overheard my failure to communicate with two or three diners I’d approached, he kindly waved and said, “Over here” and introduced himself as Sandy.
Sandy ordered me a coffee and French fries and over the next hour or so he started to inquire about my background and to ask where I came from, where I was heading and what led me to 'up sticks' and come to Quebec in the coldest month of their winter. I soon learned that most of the people in Quebec could speak English if they wanted to, but in the main, the vast majority of them refused to. Sandy told me that they spoke French only to distinguish themselves as rebels. I learnt that most of the natives of Quebec were 'separatists' and that they had their own Prime Minister and wanted to become independent from Canada. Some, I was to learn in subsequent months, many separatists were radicals in the extreme and planted bombs all over the province as a means of public protest. They viewed Quebec as still being as French as it was when the native Indians and the French trappers controlled the rivers and the lucrative fur trade.
After learning of my accommodation predicament, Sandy fed me and accommodated me in his house for three nights until I could move into my new digs. Upon introducing me to his wife and four children, I was warmly welcomed and seated down at the table to share some food with them. It was almost half an hour after Sandy had brought me home that he first informed his wife that I’d be staying with them for three days until my rented accommodation became available. His wife warmly smiled and gently said, “We will be very pleased to have you here, Bill. Very pleased.” I went to bed that night and slept like a log. I looked forward to exploring the old city of Quebec the very next day.
Sandy and his wife refused to accept anything monetary for their services over the three days I spent with them, but Sandy invited me to help him clear the drive of a disabled neighbour that the recent snowfall had blocked in. It took us the better part of the two days that I spent with Sandy and his lovely family to clear his neighbour's drive. I was soon to learn my first winter lesson in Quebec: if you don't keep on top of your snow-clearing duties as soon as it snows here, then the accumulating snow fall shall stay on the top of you! I also found what 'digging the car out of a hole' literally meant!
When I insisted that I be at least allowed to give them a present in return for their kindness to a stranger, they accepted, as long as I gave them what they wanted.
“What would you like?” I asked.
“There will come a time in the near future,” Sandy said, “when you will meet some stranger ‘in need of a helping hand'. When that time comes, we would like you to voluntarily help him or her with whatever is required if it is within your capacity to give. In any event, give them no less than they need or less than you would have given us in repayment for our services if that is what they require."
At this stage, Sandy’s wife added, “But be sure to take no money payment for your help, Bill. Take no money, that's what we ask of you. Instead, should they ask to do something for you in return, charge them with the very same task as we charged you; of passing the favour on to the very next stranger who asks for their help?”
What a wonderful approach to life Sandy and his wife had. I have tried to follow their example ever since and it heartens me to estimate the cumulative effect of such pyramid mass-action that 'giving a helping hand' can have." William Forde: March 15th, 2017.