Sitting next to his wife of sixty years, Bob Bell begins to tell his story.
“I was born in Manchester, England” Bob says, thinking back to his childhood.
“Some of my earliest recollections, of course, are of the bombing, Second World War bombing.”
At age nineteen, Bob signed up, but was rejected because of his eyesight.
Frustrated, and watching his friends go off to war, Bob left England for Vancouver.
“I was going to go to New Zealand, but they weren’t taking immigrants at that point in time. But they had one ship going to Canada.”
Gerry’s story begins with her grandfather, who left England for Saskatchewan with his five year old daughter. But he couldn’t find work.
“And so he abandoned his only child, my mother, on a farm.”
That young girl had a rough life. Her four children, including a two year old Gerry, were taken from her.
“I was in and out of the orphanage, group homes, foster homes, orphanage, back and forth, from the age of two until fifteen, when I was actually adopted by an older couple who had retired, and they brought me out to Vancouver.”
With that sad, tumultuous beginning, Gerry admitted that “I never really thought I would find someone who would love me for me.”
But fate stepped in.
“She was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen, and I thought, ‘I can’t talk to her, for heaven’s sake!'” says Bob, thinking back on when he first spotted Gerry.
Bob and Gerry married in 1957. And Bob, who’d started doing magic tricks as a kid, pitched to Gerry that they could earn a little extra money if she would become his assistant.
Gerry remembers with a laugh that “he wanted to saw me in half, and suspend me on swords, and banish me to cabinets, and put me into this tiny sexy outfit, well, that was quite something! Ha ha!. It was fun!”
Over the next five years, the Bells had four children, and Bob, with a grade nine education, and his wife’s strong, solid encouragement, went back to school.
“We lived way under poverty level” says Bob, “and we didn’t even know it.”
Gerry picks up the story there. “I went to Statistics [at the university] and asked them how much it would cost to feed a family of six for a year, and they said, ‘about $15,000 dollars.” We had done it on $4000!”
Their story, of raising a family while the “breadwinner” is at school became a cbc documentary!
Now retired in Victoria, and about to celebrate their sixtieth anniversary with their children, grandchildren and a great-grandchild, the Bells are grateful for everything Canada has given them and their family.
“I’d never have gotten an education – a higher education – if I’d stayed in England” says Bob.
Gerry adds “it’s the best country in the world, it really truly is.
“You look around the world at what’s going on today, and we’re really blessed to be Canadians.”