Chasing the Comet
A Scottish-Canadian Life
Publication Year: 2002
“Dour Scot” is the wrong description for David Caldow, who leads readers on a romp from the early twentieth century to the present, from an insular Scottish village to modern-day, multicultural British Columbia, from boyhood to old age. Throughout the tour he shares decades of laughter, tears, fears, and growth.
In 1910, the certain path of David’s life in Scotland is disrupted by the visit of an awe-inspiring comet. This brilliant visitor inspires the boy to dream of circling the world, like the comet, even though his life’s goal is to become a farm manager, like his father. As a young man seeking to fulfill his dreams, he travels to Canada and works his way from Quebec to British Columbia, guided by the lessons of his father and his memories of Scotland.
During his travels he grows in his understanding of himself, of the nature of love, of the ways of the world and its peoples, and of the poetry of Robert Burns. As a worker for the Farmer’s Institute and as farm manager for Colony Farm and Tranquille, two extensive BC government-owned farms, David contributes to raising the standards of Canadian agriculture. At seventy years old, he broadens the scope of his world even further, accepting a two-year Canadian federal-government position teaching farming in Tanzania.
Chasing the Comet is a true story that reads like fiction. David’s candour and his Scottish humour help him survive and thrive. In the book’s epilogue, David ponders the meaning of all his years of living, addressing questions such as: What is love? What is success? And how does one achieve them?
David Caldow lived an active life in Surrey, British Columbia until his death at the age of ninety-six.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
Table of Contents
This book began with a request from one of my husband’s best friends, George Caldow, who asked me to write his father’s story, intending it to be a gift for his father’s ninetieth birthday. Because George had enjoyed and shared many of his father’s memories over the years, he wanted them recorded so they could ...
This book came to be with the help of many people. Thank you to the 1994 West Coast Women and Words Conference, and my first writing teacher, Susan Riley of the Ottawa Citizen, who gave me the confidence to continue writing. Thanks to my friend Debra Swain, my car-pool-captive audience ...
The early evening sky is divided by a trail of light covering two thirds of the distance from the horizon to directly overhead. The highest end of the light trail shines as brightly as the brightest of the twinkling stars surrounding it. Silent, unmoving, an awe-inspiring splendour.1 I’m with my brothers ...
My name is David Forteath Caldow. My family lived in Dundrennan, a little village near the big town of Kirkcudbright (we pronounced it “Kircoobrie”), the capital of the shire. Kirkcudbright wasn’t really a big town, but we thought it was big. We were proud of the fact it was known as the place where Robbie Burns ...
2. Beginning the Trail
Like Liverpool, my aunt impressed on first sight. She was unusually tall, over six feet, strong and confident. As a special treat, her family took us for dinner to one of the fanciest restaurants. I put on my best white shirt with stiff collar and tie, polished my shoes as best I could, yet I still felt out ...
Initially, in 1924 I lived with Mary, Tom, and Oliver in their Montreal duplex. My brother-in-law continued to be a devil, always finding ways to enjoy himself at my expense, just as he’d done at the train station. For example, he took me to dinner in a Chinese restaurant, then guffawed at my reaction when ...
4. A Detour through Hell
In the spring of 1927, I travelled north by passenger train through Ontario forests still piled with snow between the evergreens, yet on the sides of the tracks I could see green shoots poking through here and there. I was so optimistic, I discounted the fact my new direction was taking me off the path leading ...
Within four days of my return to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, I found myself paying the fifteen-dollar fare to board a train called the Harvest Excursion, travelling west to Winnipeg, Manitoba, looking for work. Along with me came Helen Ramsey’s brother Leonard, a fellow named Bob Hogg, and an Irishman whose name I don’t ...
6. The Okanagan Valley—Surviving Together
From Calgary I caught the train to the West to Kelowna, located in the Okanagan and Kalamalka Lake country. It was spring so Kelowna was all in bloom. Here, I lived with my sister Mary and Tom, during the considerable time I spent taking medical tests, searching for the cause of my severe bloating and pain. ...
7. Kamloops, BC
In 1933, I was lucky to find a summer job I really enjoyed, and I stayed with it for about three seasons. The British Columbia government and the Farmers’ Institute hired me to provide stallion services to mares, along a specific route through the rugged sagebrush terrain of the Kamloops area. The Farmers’ ...
8. Colony Farm
I started working at Coquitlam Colony Farm one month before Christmas, 1936, expecting this job to have much in common with my job at Macdonald College Farm, in Quebec. Though there were obvious similarities—the natural beauty of both settings, the raising of animals, the cultivation of fields—life and work ...
9. Of Love and War
I’d first met Peggy when I lived in Kelowna, around 1933 when I was about twenty-nine and Peggy was twenty-three. We both attended Scottish dances in Vernon. After our first meeting, over several years I’d built a talking acquaintance with her at ploughing matches, and enjoyed the company of her brother and father. ...
10. Fatherhood and a Different World
After a year in the army, I found the world of Colony Farm very different from the one I had left. Some of the changes related to my work and some were deeply personal, but most of them eventually proved to be for the better. In one short year, the depression had become just a haunting memory. Suddenly, more ...
When Pete introduced me to Mr. Houstoun, I was impressed with him, and not just because he was a fellow Scotsman. By reputation, I knew him to be a real gentleman who treated people with respect. Houstoun told me he’d welcome Peggy, Geordie, and Bobby coming to his farm. He explained he lived at the Vancouver ...
12. Return to Colony Farm—Herdsman
Our new house would seem small by today’s standards, but in 1944 it was an ample home, attractive with its white board siding. We were pretty much happy in it. Bobby continued his schooling and Geordie did the usual things that wee boys do. Peggy enjoyed decorating the house inside and out and was fussy ...
The day Peggy and I arrived, the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. Peggy was very impressed with the setting—fertile bench land on the north side of Kamloops Lake. Tranquille was BC’s largest sanatorium in the 1940s.1 Pete Moore met us and introduced us to the doctors and the rest of the staff. We learned ...
14. Colony Farm—The Final Years
In 1954, we began the new year at Colony Farm at Essondale— as the mental hospital was now commonly known. Both Peggy and Geordie settled in with few problems because returning to the same wee house—built for us when I was herdsman—had the feeling of returning home. However, my new job was not so ...
When we moved to Aldergrove, the first order of business was to get our new house changed and organized to Peggy’s liking. Our son Geordie and his wife Joan came out on weekends to help. Geordie told me he thought of his helping as making up for all the times I’d helped him, over the years. It was a great ...
At first, Tanzania was neither a happy nor a sad adventure. It was frustrating. Peggy and I wondered if we’d made a mistake in taking another job requiring us to deal with the stupidity of big government. The frustration started as soon as I made formal application to the federal government’s Canadian ...
Close to ninety years have passed since I was a young lad, running in the fields of Scotland, celebrating Halley’s Comet. These days, the vast fields of my labour are gone from my life. I now work in a small garden plot at the back of my seniors’ care home, yet even this bit of land is bountiful, adding ...