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Warbride Cynthia England on the day she received her Canadian citizenship, 64 years after first arriving in Canada. (Kevin Spreitz/Kevin Spreitz)
Warbride Cynthia England on the day she received her Canadian citizenship, 64 years after first arriving in Canada. (Kevin Spreitz/Kevin Spreitz)

Immigration

'Oldest new Canadian' finally takes the oath Add to ...

For more than 64 years, British-born Cynthia England has called Canada home: She’s worked here, raised children, paid taxes and now collects a pension.

But thanks to a bureaucratic quirk, she was never a citizen.

The 92-year-old crossed the pond with her husband, a Canadian army officer, in 1947, but arrived a few days late to qualify for the automatic citizenship conferred on war brides.

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On Thursday, she finally went through that formality, in a special ceremony arranged by Citizenship and Immigration in the living room of her own home, on a quiet side street of this small Ontario town.

“I’m the oldest new Canadian,” she joked as an official arrived to administer the oath.

Ms. England’s story began in Barton-on-Sea, a small town on Britain’s south coast, during the Second World War. It was at a dance there that she met Graham England, a sergeant in a tank corps stationed nearby.

The young man went on to officer training at Sandhurst, the storied British military academy, then opted to stay on in Europe after the war to help close the army’s camps.

The couple married in Southampton in the late summer of 1945, shortly after the surrender of Japan. They honeymooned in London, where crowds of people danced in the streets to celebrate war’s end.

A year-and-a-half later, they set out for Mr. England’s hometown of Owen Sound. First, there was a stomach-churning week-long crossing of the Atlantic on the Aquitania. Next was a two-day train trip to Toronto. Disembarking at Union Station, they were greeted by a crowd as part of the last contingent of soldiers returning from Europe and their photograph ran on Page 5 of The Globe and Mail.

Her new in-laws accompanied the couple on the final leg of the journey, another train trip to the town where she would settle. Her first impressions of Canada were its vastness, the cold and the snow. It was also clearly a nation still growing up: The only place her husband could take her for a drink was a hotel bar.

“It was very mellow and family-like, I missed our old country pubs,” she remembered. “Canada was a young country.”

Her husband became colonel of the local reserve regiment and, at the armoury in town, she quickly made new friends. The couple had two children: daughter Jennifer and son Brent. Mr. England died at age 49, of a brain tumour.

For years, Ms. England believed she was a Canadian citizen. She obtained a social insurance number, a driver’s licence and even a passport. It wasn’t until she went to renew it at some point in the 1960s that someone in the government realized her unusual status and revoked the document.

She finally decided to get citizenship recently when it became difficult to cross the border into the United States. When she contacted Citizenship and Immigration, they told her she would have to go through the normal process. Family friend Jill Rodger helped out.

“I met lots of people who understood the situation and were willing to go the extra mile for Cynthia,” Ms. Rodger said.

That understanding was on display Thursday: Instead of obliging Ms. England to travel to a ceremony in another town, the government dispatched Karen Ceschia from the citizenship office in Barrie, Ont. to administer the oath in front of 20 of Ms. England’s friends and family.

After she completed the ceremony and thanked Ms. Ceschia with a pat on the cheek, her guests burst into applause. Later, she took a moment to reflect.

“I still love England, I suppose it always will be home,” she mused. “But where else are you going to have a better life than in Canada?”

 

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