Contributed by Philomena & Patrick Hughes
To keep a promise to God and have an adventure for two years probably best describes why William Augustine Hughes and Eileen Mary White found themselves journeying as Frontier Apostles to Western Canada in 1957. Neither knew the other in Dublin, though they lived within a few miles of each other — Liam working at Dockrells in the carpet & linoleum department and Eileen in her brother’s bicycle shop. Both had vehicular accidents which changed the course of their lives. Both answered the call of Bishop Fergus O’Grady to come to Canada on a one-way ticket to work with First Nations People for $25 per month for two years.
“Don’t bring extra clothing as it won’t be suitable, and we will provide it for you when you get to Prince George” Liam was told by the recruiter Fr. Clenaghan. In June 1957, Liam boarded Aer Lingus with another volunteer. The final flight into Prince George was made with two hundred baby chicks in the front seats. In September Eileen travelled on a cruise ship by herself, dancing every night of the seven-day voyage. Upon arriving in Quebec City, Eileen took a seat on a train heading West and woke many hours later and was shocked to learn it was another five days to reach her destination. Bill received a leather jacket from his first Canadian friend Bob Goudreau, but the promised clothing never appeared.
In Prince George, both were eager to begin, but unfortunately the Frontier Apostle (FA) movement was not ready for them. They were told to find employment for themselves but were helped to find accommodations. They did teach Catechism and were members of the Legion of Mary. Both had a spirit of adventure but were not drawn to each other initially as they had just “left the old country”. Prince George was a small town of about 30,000 so they would often be at the same events and by 1959 they were married. The less formal Canadian lifestyle certainly appealed to both of them — from the casual attire to how they opened the doors of their home to strangers, sharing a meal and providing a place to stay for others starting out. Liam’s friend in Ireland, photographer Bobby Howe, really influenced him on how important it was to take photos of everyday life and family. So much so that he bought his own camera and began to document family life.
Eileen and Bill, as he was now known, started a family which made them the first Frontier Apostles to have children. Philomena, Patrick, Joan and Christopher were all born in Prince George, thus starting a new generation of Canadians. In time they became grandparents to six and great-grandparents to two more. Eileen’s mother would make trips to visit her daughter and growing family, but it wasn’t until fifteen years later in 1972 that they would travel to Ireland to meet the rest of their relations and by then many things had changed in Dublin.
After a number of short-term jobs Bill joined the Federal Government as an Unemployment Insurance Officer and did a two-year stint in Whitehorse, Yukon. In later years he worked in the Immigration Department. These were both circumstances he could well relate to. The trip up to Whitehorse was another adventure for both as Eileen flew up with the four children, the youngest being five weeks old, while Bill drove the family car and belongings up the 1,000 miles mostly on a non-paved road. The return trip was by car for all six.
The spirit of adventure never left them and upon retirement they travelled to dozens of countries and did volunteer work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in a Refugee Camp in Thailand teaching English for nine months to those who would be settling overseas. They left Prince George and settled in Chemainus, B.C. for twenty years. Bill passed away in 2010 and was given three celebrations of life in Chemainus, Prince George and finally in Dublin, where as luck would have it retired Fr. Clenaghan would say a few words at the service. Bill picked out the plot where he would rest in peace in Chemainus. Eileen will be interred there and be at Bill’s side again.
Their children all got their sense of adventure from their parents and travelled around to many parts of the world, including all of them spending time in Japan teaching English in the 1980s. Their eldest son still lives in Japan, married to a Japanese lady he met there, while the rest eventually returned to Canada to start their families. Eileen eventually left the Island to return to Prince George at age 84. She led an active life walking to Mass daily, playing the piano at Sacred Heart Church Sunday Services and volunteering at St. Vincent De Paul serving lunches to the needy until the pandemic put a stop to these activities for the older volunteers. Eileen, now in her 90s, continues to live with her eldest daughter’s family in Prince George. Eileen still speaks fondly of Bishop O’Grady and coming to Canada for just two years and “Meeting a flipping Irishman. Oh well, it was meant to be”.