Former Campbell River resident Patricia Gaw just turned 90 and has had “a great life.” Photo contributed

Former Campbell River resident Patricia Gaw just turned 90 and has had “a great life.” Photo contributed

From India to Ireland to Canada: Three continents, one lifetime

By Sarah Fortin

Special to the Mirror

From a tea plantation in India to the towering timbers of Campbell River, Patricia Gaw is no stranger to travel. She has seen a lot of the world in her life, more than most people will get to experience.

Gaw was born and raised on a tea plantation in Assam, India. Her father managed the plantation while she lived there with her mother, two sisters and the servants.

“They were called ayahs, the caregivers who looked after my sisters and I,” Gaw said.

It’s clear she cared for the ayahs a lot; she told many stories about them.

“One of the ayahs took my younger sister and I on a walk one day. At one point, the ayah stopped and told me to get in the pram with my sister. I was confused, but I got in and she ran us home before explaining that she had seen a leopard in the grass!” Gaw exclaimed.

She spoke of her time in India fondly, and said she thinks of it often.

When Gaw was eight years old, her family packed up and took a ship from Bombay to Ireland. There, they bought a house in Northern Ireland, her father’s birthplace; Bangor, to be exact. Her oldest sister was attending boarding school in Belfast. Her sister then rejoined the family where they all attended school in Bangor.

At the start of the Second World War, Gaw was still in school. Gas masks were distributed to everyone, and they had to carry them everywhere they went. There were masking drills in the schools, where they would have to put them on quickly and correctly.

“We were pretty lucky during the war,” Gaw said. “A house on the street behind us was bombed and that whole family died, which was scary. People in London were getting shot in the street though, so we definitely had it better than most.”

Enemy planes would often try to bomb the shipyard near her house, but they missed every time. One day, when all the workers from the shipyard were heading home, they were gunned down.

“I thought that was just the most awful thing,” Gaw said, her voice growing quieter.

Her father used to work with air patrol, looking for enemy planes. She said she remembers crying and asking him not to go, but he told her he had to do his part to keep people safe.

After the war, Gaw headed to nursing school. Four years later she graduated and began working as a pediatric nurse. Wanting an adventure, she decided to move to Canada.

“I wanted to go for a year. Well, my year was up long ago!” Gaw laughed.

She has now lived in Canada for close to 70 years. In Toronto she met her future husband, and they soon moved to B.C. They raised four children who finished high school in Campbell River.

“I feel that I’ve had a great life,” Gaw said.

Today, Gaw lives in Sidney, B.C. She is 90 celebrating her birthday today, Feb. 15. She spends her days indoors, due to the pandemic, but keeps herself occupied with crossword puzzles, TV, and phone calls with loved ones.

Sarah Fortin is Gaw’s granddaughter and a Journalism student in first year at VIU, in Nanaimo.

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