By Judith van Berkom –
Kitchissippi’s George and Jean Spear recently celebrated a very special milestone: 72 years of marriage. Friends and family gathered in the garden of the west end home to celebrate and reminisce.
The couple – she is 91 and he is 94 – have made more than a lifetime of memories together. Jean was one of the 48,000 war brides who immigrated to Canada to be with their husbands, and their history together spans a world war and thousands of miles travelled before they built a home in Ottawa, one they’ve actually never left.
“It was a summer shack when we bought it. We were living in two rooms with a baby and needed a place to stay,” says Jean. George says he “built the house with her money.” She worked at Sears while he worked on the house. This was 1965, but their shared history goes back many years earlier.
The couple first met on the dance floor in Kingston-on-Thames. “I corralled her and never let her go,” jokes George.
George, a Canadian soldier stationed in London, England in 1942 during the Second World War, later fought in the Italian War and as a sergeant major involved in military intelligence. He made arrangements with the Red Cross to have his bride, Jean, brought to Canada.
Jean Spear was to be contacted by telephone with further instructions. One month later, she received the call. She was to have her bags packed in an hour and meet a woman who would get her on a ship to Canada. Because of the secretive nature of George’s work, Jean couldn’t disclose the details of her departure to Canada.
“I couldn’t tell my family, couldn’t tell anyone, but I told my father and grandfather,” explains Jean. “My dad was walking behind me when I met the woman [who helped her emigrate to Canada]. “I couldn’t say goodbye to my father; that was the hardest thing.”
Jean crossed the Atlantic in December 1942, surrounded by enemy ships and in a constant state of anxiety. They arrived in Canada two days before Christmas, after enduring seven days on the Atlantic.
In 1945, Jean lived with her in-laws while her husband continued to fight the war in Europe. While he was gone she founded one of the first war bride clubs in Canada.
“I went to the YWCA for company and met a lot of other war brides there,” says Jean. “The Y encouraged us to meet. I organized a club – England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. We were active with the British High Commission as our friends. [They helped] keep the group of war brides together and were a haven of support. I’m still in touch with them after all these years.”
After the war George worked as a surveyor and Jean became an instructor with Statistics Canada. Later she worked in the Minister’s office for Trade and Commerce, travelling with him wherever he went.
“We’ve got many stories to tell,” says Jean, “but the main one is we’re still here, still together.” Their secret for staying together is not really a secret, but something she soundly believes.
“I’ve taken a lot of time to consider it. I realized when we met that we were on to a good thing,” says Jean. “When we got married, we thought we were in heaven. Throughout our lives, the ups and downs, we know that together, we are a good thing. We recognize it and have never failed to acknowledge it.”