August 1949: Meanwhile, back at the the ranch..

While the newlyweds had their honeymoon, life went on among their friends and relations. Carol, the mother of the bride, had sent her choice of wedding photos to the groom’s family in Canada the week after the wedding. The Costains in Saskatoon made sure the news was spread, with quite a lot of biographical detail!

The Anglican Church at Chesterton, England, was the scene of a pretty wedding July 26 when Cynthia Hazell Ewing, daughter of Mrs. J. M. Ewing of Cambridge, England, became the bride of Lt.-Cmdr. Cecil Clifford Costain of Sutherland, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry H. Costain. A reception was held in the Dorothy Cafe at Cambridge, the young couple leaving later for a honeymoon in Paris and Cannes. They will reside at 37 Freville Avenue, Cambridge.

The groom is a distinguished graduate in physics from the University of Saskatchewan, winner of an Empire scholarship and is now attending the University of Cambridge, England. For three and a half years during the war he served in the British Navy with the rank of lieutenant-commander and was in command of the radar squad on The Indomitable, winning the Distinguished Service Cross.

The bride was born in the West Indies, of English parents, and spent most of her life in England, with a year in Toledo, Ohio, as an exchange teacher.

They will return to Canada early in 1950, afterwards going to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for further graduate studies.

Cyn’s close childhood friend Denis was preoccupied with his own wedding two weeks after hers, and none of those invited above were able to attend, Cec and Cyn being in France and Carol packing up for London. But wedding presents and photographs were exchanged.

Denis and Dorothy Sheedy

And a week after that, in Newcastle, Cyn’s other childhood friend, Nan, had her baby and sent an announcement.

Nan and Dick Heslop’s son was called Sandy.

Cynthia at School


by Cynthia Costain

When I was a little girl I lived in a city in the north of England called Newcastle-on-Tyne. The castle had been new when it was built by William the Conqueror in 1066, and the Tyne is a river. My mother and father and I lived in a brick house in a street of other houses much the same. Every house had gardens in back and in front, and in the front garden was an apple tree; the street was called Appletree Gardens.

Appletree Gardens

This was a new part of the city and a pleasant quiet place to live, but it was near an old industrialised area where the schools were big, old buildings with crowded classrooms. My father decided that this would not be a good place for me to start school, so 1 first went to a nearby private school. Then when I was 7 years old, I was sent to a school called St. Margaret’s School for Girls. I was bought a new school uniform which was very exciting: a navy blue gym tunic with a pale blue blouse, black stockings and black shoes, a thick navy blue winter coat and a black felt hat with a navy and pale blue ribbon around it, and a navy blue blazer with the school badge on it. I felt very smart.

The school was in quite a different part of the city and of course there were no school buses in those days. Every morning I left home before 8 o’clock and walked down my street and along another to the main road where the streetcars ran. I walked down the road until I came to a corner where I waited for a rather old green streetcar which turned onto a track which ran straight across the fields. I was often the only person on that streetcar except the driver and the conductor who took my fare of tuppence (two pence) for the ride. It took about half an hour to cross the fields and small straggly woods and reach streets with houses and shops again and it was a long lonely time. At last I got off at the Catholic Church, walked to the corner, crossed the main street, then turned into a road with big stone houses, two of which had been turned into the school.

I think my father or mother must have taken me on that journey a few times before I began school but I don’t remember that. What I DO remember is the first day. I was very scared. I didn’t know any of the girls, and some were very big girls. I didn’t know any of the teachers and the Principal was a very tall, terrifying, grey-haired lady. Not only that, but I was to stay at school all day and not get back home until 5 o’clock. At that time most families had their main meal in the middle of the day, so school was from 9 o’clock until 12 o’clock, and then a break of 2 hours for the girls to go home for dinner, starting again at 2 and going on until 4 o’clock. Our parents paid for those of us who lived too far away to go home, to have a hot cooked meal at school. Those school dinners were a great trial to me as there were many things I didn’t like, and at each end of the long table sat a teacher who frowned if you did not eat everything on your plate.

Afterward we went into a classroom for a while and could read or do homework and then were sent out into the playground and played with balls or skipped, rushed around and chased each other or played tag until school began again.

I can still remember how long that first day seemed. I had never been away from home before without my mother or father or someone I knew and the more I thought about it, the more dreadful things I imagined could be happening while I was away. At last the teacher noticed the big tears rolling down my cheeks. She came over and asked, “What is the matter, Cynthia?”

Choking back my sobs, I said, “It’s so long since I left home this morning perhaps our house has burnt down and there is nothing left.”

She persuaded me that she was sure that everything was all right and eventually the long day ended. I put on my coat and hat, walked back to the old green streetcar, drove across the fields, walked home, and there was the house, quite safe with my mother and father waiting to hear how I had liked my first day at school.

About a year later other parents began sending their daughters to the same school with me and we had quite a good time on our rides, chatting and trying to finish homework each morning. In the afternoon we would rush to the little corner store to spend our pocket money on long liquorice strips or packets of sherbet and snowballs. Big hard round candies called gob-stoppers were a favourite as they lasted so long and changed colour as we sucked, taking them out frequently to check each new colour.

There were holidays to look forward to: a month at Christmas; another month at Easter; and then six weeks in the summer. Both my parents were far from their homes so I grew up without any extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, but we had friends in the neighbourhood and I enjoyed visiting and playing with them.

There were treats to look forward to: the comic my father brought home for me on Tuesday evening; the Pantomime at Christmas; having my parents’ friends to tea on Sunday afternoons, with a visits to the patisserie the day before to help choose a selection of small fancy cakes. I always kept a close watch on the chocolate eclair as the plate was passed round. Going out to other grown-up tea parties where I sat quietly while the adults talked was not very interesting, but I soon found out that many of them had lovely story books, like the Pollyanna books and Tales from Japan which kept me happily occupied.

My parents enjoyed the theatre and if there was no baby sitter available I was taken along. Plays, concerts and even operas were sometimes exciting and sometimes dull, but they were all fun. One thing I was never taken to and that was a MOVIE. They were not considered suitable for children. No movies! No TV! What we had was wireless- radio to you- and if I got home early enough, I could listen to the Children’s Hour on the BBC.

New Year in Northumberland

Now that my mother’s stories are set in England, and deal with her own life as a child with Carol in her role as mother, it is time to introduce Cynthia’s first letter- not to her mother (although she is the person who preserved envelope and letter), but to Santa Claus! This is a bit strange in itself, since I would have thought an English child would have written to Father Christmas rather than Santa, but she did have an American influence- her Simmons cousins, Milly, Marguerite, and Mona, who had spent the war with her in St Vincent, at some time had joined their father in New York, and grew up on Long Island. This letter from an 8-or-9-year-old Cynthia is, I hope, legible enough not to need a transcription.


by Cynthia Costain

Children growing up in Northumberland had one big advantage over children in most of the rest of England. We celebrated an English Christmas and a Scottish New Year.

At Christmas, there was none of this grudging John Knox attitude. It was the season to be merry, with presents and Father Christmas; delicious secrets hidden in cupboards; expeditions to the country for holly and mistletoe to decorate each room. Noontime dinner on Christmas day was full of delectable smells and feasting a fat stuffed roast capon (as we were a small family) and the fun of blazing Christmas pudding with the suspense of seeing whether I would get the silver ring this year or the threepenny bit or horrors! the silver thimble. Tea at five o’clock brought friends to share the large iced Christmas cake and little warm mince pies. We younger ones ate and giggled, compared presents and began the task of eating as many mince pies as we could in between Christmas and New Year each one consumed counted as a happy month in the coming year.

New Year was quite different. No presents or special goodies, but the mystique of STAYING UP TO SEE THE NEW YEAR IN. This longed-for event was not achieved by being good or behaving well in church, it involved pleading each year, “Can’t I stay up? I’m seven eight- nine now,” until at last, parents tired of nagging would say, “All right, this year you can See In The New Year.”

The best family party was at the Sheedys’: an Irish father, an exuberant North Country mother, two sons of my age, and various young Irish uncles, as well as a selection of neighbouring families. The most important person in the whole ceremony was Grandfather. Mrs. Sheedy’s father was a fine impressive old gentlemen with white hair and a beautiful white beard a cross between Father Christmas and King Edward VII. We would all gather at the Sheedys’ house about eleven o’clock, the adults making polite conversation, and the children being as quiet as possible so that we could eavesdrop on our elders. As midnight drew nearer, Grandfather, already in his best black suit with white shirt, stiff collar, and black silk stock, would put on his overcoat with the velvet collar and his hard square topped hat, tuck his scarf around his neck, put on his gloves, and take his silver topped cane. In the meanwhile, Mrs. Sheedy would carefully slip into his pocket a piece of coal, a twist of paper holding salt and a small flask of whiskey.

We all gathered to see him march down the garden path, out the gate and down the dark road. No need in that shipbuilding city to watch the clock for midnight. As the minutes crept by we listened and then up and down the river for miles around the sirens howled and the ships’ hooters blew as Tyneside welcomed in the New Year. There would be a great knocking at the front door, and everyone would rush to see Grandfather enter the house as the First Foot over the doorstep to bring good luck to the house and all within. With the coal for warmth throughout the year, salt for food, and whiskey for drink he would call a Happy New Year to all and set out to kiss all the ladies. Traditionally the First Foot must be a dark man, and presumably Grandfather had once had dark hair, since he remained the perfect bringer of good luck.

Then what hugging and kissing and exchanging of good wishes, from husbands to wives, mothers to sons and adults to children! 1 can’t remember that we children kissed each other perhaps we did. Glasses were filled with port or sherry and each child had a wineglass of Stone’s Ginger Wine glowing ruby red, with a lovely hot sweet burny taste. Then the toasts and speeches and refilling of the glasses, until at last the piano would begin to play and everyone would gather round to sing. The favourite music was “The Student’s Songbook”, a fat compendium of songs from all over the world, from Annie Laurie to John Brown’s Body and on to Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. People would call for their favourites, from hymns to the local anthem, The Blaydon Races. I remember a dashing ditty about a railway journey which began “Riding down to Bangor on an eastern train” and ended with “a dainty little earring sparkled in that naughty student’s beard”.

After a while the ladies would retire to help Mrs. Sheedy bring in sandwiches and tea and the remains of the Christmas cake. This was the time for the children to collect their food supplies and fade away as much as possible under the piano, behind Grandfather’s chair, or in the entrance hall among the coats, while the singing continued and the laughter and chatter rose. This was our way of holding back as long as possible those dread words, “Well, it’s about time to go home… Where are those children?”



by Cynthia Costain

Before- Cynthia in St Vincent

A child’s world is very small and mine had shrunk. No grandmother, aunts and cousins- no warm tropical sunshine and kind black nurse. I arrived in England when I was four years old with my Mother to meet an unknown Father in a strange country and to live in a cold industrial city in Northumberland.

This was my new world: the small detached brick house with a small garden front and back enclosed by a hedge with a wooden garden gate. Too young for school and restricted by protective parents and bad weather I knew no other children until one afternoon there was a knock at the front door and when my mother answered it there was a small red-haired boy. “Can the little girl come out to play?”

Here was my first friend, Dennis Sheedy who lived up the street. Dennis had a younger brother Bobby, and with them I was allowed to play, first of all in our garden or in theirs and finally in the street. It was a small dead-end street and made a splendid playground for children as there was very little traffic- the milkman and the postman in the morning and then later the vegetable man and the baker both with horse drawn vans. On Thursdays the fisherwoman Lizzie would come on the electric train from Cullercoats on the sea with her heavy creel on her back, dressed in the traditional costume of thick navy blue skirt and striped petticoat and apron, her bonnet on her head and a black woolen shawl tied around her shoulders if it was cold. It was exciting to see Lizzie open the big wickerwork creel, the lid of which made a chopping board and watch her bring out her big knife and deftly fillet the fish which my Mother chose. While she drank a cup of tea I would listen to the conversation but I don’t think my Mother understood any more than I did what Lizzie was saying until she hoisted her burden and marched on to the next house, saying, “Weel it’s aff the noo- t’ra hinny!”

In England at this time the memory of the Great War was still pervasive. The father of my friend Nancy down the street had been killed and her mother was left to bring up her little girl and her delicate asthmatic son. As children we could not realize the whole tragic aftermath: the loss of a whole generation of young men, the wounded still in hospitals, the jobless, the disabled begging in the streets but these were the conditions around us. In Ireland, the fighting continued in what was called “the Troubles”. My father was born and brought up in County Antrim in the North of Ireland and was a Presbyterian. Dennis’s father was from Lisdoonvarna in Southern Ireland and they were Roman Catholics. My father was overseas during most of the wartime years and I never knew when Mr. Sheedy left Ireland and settled and married a northern English girl, but it was generally assumed that he had been with the Sinn Fein, the Irish Republicans fighting for free rule from Britain. Nevertheless the two men were good friends and neighbours and I never heard any dissension between them.

Across the road lived an older man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Price. They were a quiet couple with no children who “kept to themselves”. However, they must have been fond of children because when Dennis and Bobby and I were playing in the street Mr. and Mr. Price would sometimes invite us in for lemonade and a biscuit. Even better, in the summer they would take us into their garden and let us eat raspberries, which was a special treat. One evening at home I heard my father say to my mother that Mr. Price had been a Black and Tan. I thought that this was strange since he wasn’t black and I didn’t know the word Tan. Only when I was older I realized that the Black and Tans were the hated British Police in Ireland who fought a guerrilla war with the Sinn Fein for many years. Three men who left Ireland and enmity behind.

One day Mrs. Price gave me a gold bracelet as a present.

“Look what Mrs. Price gave me today, “I said as I ran home and showed the old-fashioned link bracelet of heavy gold. My father looked at it and feeling its weight said, “I think there must be some mistake. This is much too valuable a present for a little girl. I’d better take it back.” I did not really mind as it was something a grown up would wear, much too big for me, so my father went over to see Mrs. Price and I forgot about it. After a while he came back with it still in his hand.

“Mrs. Price wants you to keep it,’ he said. “I’ll put it away carefully and you shall have it when you are older.” Then he turned to my mother and said, “She wants Cynthia to have it- for friendship.”

After- Cynthia in England