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People > Scots of Windsor Today > Robert Bamberry

People: Scots of Windsor Today

Robert James Bamberry:

The summer of 1945 was a time to rebuild and start anew. Two months after the war ended in Europe, Robert and Nan (McLaren) Bamberry welcomed the arrival of Robert James Bamberry into their family. Having wed on New Year's Day in 1941, the summer of their son's birth was the first time the Bamberrys had lived as a married couple in peacetime.

Robert, a Linlithgow native, married Nan in her hometown of Bo'ness. After they wed, Nan moved to her husband's town, where he worked as a slater. Since money was tight before and during the war, Robert spent his leisure hours sweeping chimneys to earn extra money he stashed away for the holidays. And, like his grandfather and father before him, Robert also had the distinction of ringing the town's bell during the Linlithgow Marches, the annual inspection of the town's boundaries by its local dignitaries.

The Black Bitch of Linlithgow
The Black Bitch of Linlithgow

Linlithgow, a Royal Burgh lying twenty miles west of Edinburgh in the Central Lowlands, was granted its franchise from King Robert II in 1389 and received its Royal charter in 1661. The Riding of the Marches, celebrated on the first Tuesday after the second Thursday in June since 1767, date back to the mid-sixteenth century, and today's celebration differs little from the historical one (save that carriages have been replaced by floats). The procession lined up on High Street in an order proscribed by the Council in 1687: Hammermen, Tailors, Baxters, Cordiners, Weavers, Wrights, Coopers, and Fleshers. Each of the local trade guilds appointed a deacon to represent the interests of their workforce and to chair the meetings at which craft regulations and trade standards were set. The deacons took turns carrying the Burgh Standard in the procession, an honour retained today by the Deacon of the Dyers, the last genuine trade deacon left in Britain, as the Dyers are the nation's only remaining craft fraternity. Although today's activities revolve more around the festival's colourful parades, its more ceremonial duties are still conducted by a variety of local groups and magistrates dedicated to ensuring that traditions, both old and new, are maintained. The Bamberry family tradition of ringing the town bell during the procession was, unfortunately, broken with Robert's immigration to Canada.

Linlithgow Palace
Linlithgow Palace

Memories of his father ringing the bell during the Marches remain strong in Robert's mind. Another highlight of his childhood, the 1952 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, is an equally stark memory. Not having a television set at the time, Robert Sr. took his family to the local ice cream parlour/fish and chips diner to watch the ceremony. Robert Jr., who was just six years old at the time, still remembers the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd jammed into the eatery, the hushed excitement as they all watched the Archbishop of Canterbury place the crown atop Elizabeth's chestnut tresses.

Robert studied at Linlithgow Public Academy before taking a pre-apprenticeship course at the Ramsey Technical Institute in Portobello. After finishing his course, he began an apprenticeship as a fitter, working in Kinneil Colliery, a coal mine in Bo'ness. He was still a teenager when he met his future wife, Janet Cook, at a local dance in the Linlithgow Town Hall. The young couple married in October 1962, and moved in with Janet's parents, sister, and grandmother in Bo'ness. They welcomed their first child, Patricia, in the spring, and their second child, Anne, was born in the house the following summer. Life, however, was getting more difficult for the young family as the region's heavy industrial sector continued to decline. The coal miners went on strike nearly every year, usually around Christmastime, and the Bamberrys grew weary of the instable economic condition this created for the family. As the 1970s wore on, it became clear to Robert and Janet that they could have a more financially secure life elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

On 4 October 1974, one day before Robert and Janet celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary, the Bamberry family departed Scotland to begin their lives anew in Canada. The Bamberrys had considered other countries as well, including Australia, New Zealand, and even Zambia, but they decided ultimately on Canada "for obvious reasons," said Robert. Janet already had two aunts and an uncle living in Windsor, making the destination an easy choice.

The family's involvement in Chalmers United Church in Walkerville gave the Bamberrys ample opportunity to meet many new people. Mary Isobel Whiteside and Thelma Sutherland, two of the good friends Robert and Janet made through the church, even attended their citizenship ceremony in 1979. Finding stable employment, however, was another matter. Robert spent his first two weeks in Windsor at McGinnis, followed by three months at Sun Tool and Stamping. After another three-month stint at Romeo Machine Shop, Robert landed a steady job at Arc Boiler Repair and remained with that company for nine years. In 1983, Robert accepted an offer from the University of Windsor, from which he is due to retire in August 2010.

Life in Canada's sunbelt, however, was not what National Geographic Magazine had led the family to believe life was going to be like in the Great White North. "My vision of Canada," chuckled Robert, "was one of huge mountains and lots of snow." The plains of Essex County paled in comparison to the rolling hills of Scotland, and it was difficult for Janet and the girls to adjust to the new landscape, the new life. The sun just didn't sparkle on the Detroit River like it did on the Forth, there were no purple hills rising in the backdrop, disappearing into a dappled sky.

"My dad loved Scots history," Anne, an employee at the Windsor Public Library, said of her childhood in Scotland, "and he always wanted to show us . . . places that had history. As much as [Patricia and I], as kids, loved this, we didn't really appreciate the history [of Scotland] until we came to Canada. . . . You never really appreciate some place until you leave it."

Kids at King Edward School asked Patricia and Anne if they knew what television was; another little girl, dumbfounded by their accents, asked in all earnestness what planet they were from. Their first Christmas and New Year's in Canada was especially difficult. "Things were just so different," said Anne, her words rolling on her thick accent like the hills she left behind. "We knew all our family and friends were celebrating . . . and we weren't part of it. No one went first-footing in Windsor."

After that lonely first Christmas in Canada, the Bamberrys returned home for the holidays in 1975, where they passed their days in the close company of their family and friends. Reinvigorated by the trip home, they were finally able to settle into their new lives in Windsor after returning to Canada. As the years passed, the Bamberrys continued to take holidays home, and friends and relatives flew across the ocean to visit them in Canada. Janet's mother, having served with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War, loved seeing the Lancaster Bomber in Jackson Park.

"As much as I love Canada, I will always be a Scot at heart," Anne admits today with a shy grin, her face lighting up as she reminisces about her most recent vacation to Scotland. "Whether I'm listening to the one o'clock gun in Edinburgh, standing near Antonine's Wall at Kinneil Estate in Bo'ness, shopping in Stirling – a stone's throw away from where some of the bloodiest battles were fought for Scottish freedom and independence from the English - I am always amazed at Scotland's beauty. And," she adds with a faraway twinkle in her eye, "the skirl of the pipes any day can send shivers up and down my skin, and will more often than not bring a small tear to my eye." 

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