Weird Mother | Skillshare Projects

Janice Bannister

Stand up Comic, Speaker, Storyteller



Weird Mother

This is the final presentation the night I did my story for Listen To Your Mother, 2016.


My Mother, Antoinette Marie Cornelius, arrived at Halifax harbour in November 1946. The war in Europe was over and she was on a ship along with 200 other war brides from Belgium, France and Britain. They were coming to Canada to be with their husbands who were all Canadian service men. My Mom was 26 years old. And her journey had just begun.

My Mom grew up in Mouscron, very close to Ypres, who many of you will know as Flanders' Fields and only 2 1/2 hours from Paris.

Her mother died giving birth to her younger sister Anna. She had one older brother Antoine and so her father, seeing a need to have a woman to take care of the children, married his cousin. My mom's step mother although kind never really cared for being a mother, and she was a very strict woman. Her Dad, was worried about money and spent a lot of his time hiding money under the floor boards while telling the family that they had no money.

My mom did go to school and she learned the basics of reading and writing and math- really what more do you need?

Like every teenage girl there were conflicts in the home and my Mom left home when she was 15, and she moved to Ypres to work in a Carpet factory. This factory was repetitive piece work paid by the number of carpets you completed. My mom was on tying the fringes and tassels, and was one of the best workers. I often marveled when I was growing up how fast my mom could tie a shoelace, wrap a parcel with a magnificent bow, and untangle a skipping rope, I am sure that was because of the carpet job.

She lived with a woman she called Mammam, above a bar that Mammam owned. Mammam was an older woman and in some ways became a Mom along with a friend to my mother.

During the day my Mom worked in a carpet factory, then at night she worked in the bar. She would save up her money so she could travel to Paris to see live concerts with Martha Love, Tino Rossi, and Edith Piaf. I still have many of her programs from the nights at the theatre.

As glamorous as this all sounds around the time my mother was striking out on her own WW2 was starting, and so the European lifestyles changed dramatically. My mom never talked too much about the reality of living during the war, she just jumped to the part where she worked in the pub where the Canadian soldiers would come. And that is where she met James Edward, a tall, handsome Canadian soldier with dark brown curly hair, a fanciful full dark mustache, and wonderful twinkling blue eyes.

He spoke no Flemish she spoke no English. And yet somehow the language of love did its work and after getting the permission of her father they were married in April 1946 a year after Belgium was liberated.

My Dad was returned to Canada but the brides were left behind till the Canadian government could make arrangements to bring them over. This included over 41,000 woman, and nearly 21,000 children. Most brides were from Great Britain along with 2500 from Belgium and France.

The journey to Canada was long, and rough. These were not cruise ships but refurbished hospital boats, with minimal facilities. Apparently the French girls showed up with short skirts, peek aboo toed shoes, and hats only to quickly realize they needed warmer more suitable clothes to travel to their new country.

Babies were crying, and many of the woman including my mother were seasick, and throwing up. She said she felt like she had a hard boiled egg stuck in her chest the whole trip. And she did remind me of that every time we rode a ferry.

The journey was about 21 days and the arrival at Halifax was only a small step to meet up with her husband.

My Mom was then shuffled along with her large black chest containing all her belongings, and branded with her name and CANADA. Everything was loaded on to a train to begin the journey to the Prairies.

Any friendships she had made on the boat were ended as everyone was heading to different parts of Canada.

She soon learned Canada is a really big country. My mom had left behind her family, her friends, Mammam and she was now in a country that was the size of 17 Belgiums.

Her train ride was 6 long days through miles and miles and miles of the same scene of Canadian Prairie. Then my mom arrived in Wilkie, Saskatchewan. Now I know where Mouscrom and Ypres are but even to this day I know only roughly where Wilkie is, all you need to know it is the Canadian Prairie in the middle of nowhere.

She was met not by the Canadian soldier in his uniform but by a man on a tractor.
. He said “welcome Antoinette, my wife” and she had learned some English along the journey and said. " my big cowboy".

Draft 1

this is my really really rough draft1

When Antoinette Marie Cornelius arrived in the port in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she still had a long journey ahead of her. Although sje would late tell me that she was sick the whole trip and she felt there was a boiled egg stuck in her chest and she wished she could bring it up and throw it up. But is just stayed there the whole trip.

She arrived with a big black steamer trunk with the words Ms. Bannister, CANADA. On it. The locks were strong, and

Contained her clothes, shoes and her Ediath Piaf records and show programs from the theatres in Paris.

She had left behind her Dad and his wife, and her sister and brother. She missed the most her Godmother MaMamme who she lived with as she worked in the bar in the small town of Ieper Belgium. This is the place she met James Edward a Canadian soldier that would become her husband,

She was 26 years old.

They married on April 5 1946, when the war had ended. And along with many other war brides she was making her way to Canada.

Antoinette and most of the  woman that disembarked in Halifax, had minimal education, only spoke the language of their own countries, and were in their early 20s. After they got off the ship –they all began journeys to various parts of Canada, leaving the friendships they had made on the boats, that would never be re,,,,.

Antoinette travelled by train to Saskatchewan, to a Prairie town called,,,,,, in the middle of Duckin nowhere. There she was met by James Edward and his family, all farmers who grew wheat. Jimmie as he was known to his friends had his Mom, and one brother living there and one brother that was missing at war.

Antoinette did not see the tall handsome, black mustached soldier she met in Belgium, as she was greeted by a farmer and his tractor.

Soon her only English words would be “My big cowboy”.

Things were fine on the farm but the “big cowboy” soon realized he had a wife and needed to get work, to support her.

Jobs were scarce but all of the big mining companies were recruiting for the mines and smelters. And so Jimmie took a job on the other side of the Rockies, jumping on the train with his Bride her large trunk and his small suitcase,,,,,,,,and travelling days to Trail BC……the city was full of new arrivals, mostly from Italy, but also from other parts of Europe. A job with Cominco=the biggest smelter in the world at the time.

Because of the long journey Antoinette was sure she was in another country. How could one country be so big?

Started his job, lived in a garage,  not much of a cook,

Used to European shopping and markets-pickle barrels,

Saved up bought a lot, built a house.

Kids born, garden baking, cooking…..

Never had a day with out cookies or a dessert—luckliy my dad was a meat and potatoes man.

Salad—torn iceberg lettuce from the garden and maybe a tomatoe cut up in it

Raw eggs,,,,



This is the beginning of my class project. I like to write by hand in my writing book.So these are the exercise drafts. Step 1. BOOM- I will work on the first draft from these notes.




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