A Pair of Steel-toe Boots

Michelle Huang


When Michelle Huang immigrated to Canada from China, her first job was at the Burnbrae egg farm.  Could this woman, trained as an engineer, wearing borrowed oversized steel-toed boots, be competent for this job?


I grew up in an engineering family. My father loves me and his job, very much so he persuaded me to follow in his footsteps and become a process engineer. I went to China University of Petroleum, and I got a job at the same company as my father. But after working at that company for ten years, I decided to immigrate to Canada. I was not suffering. I just wanted a change. 

I moved to Calgary in 2002. At the time, hundreds of engineers were laid off. It was impossible for a new immigrant without any local experience to find an engineering job. My savings account was small. I had to find a job as soon as possible.

One day, an ad in a newspaper caught my eye. Burnbrae Farms needed several workers. I called them right away and was interviewed at their egg plant. After a couple of simple questions about my name and my previous jobs, I was hired. 

To work in that plant, I needed to wear a pair of steel-toe boots. They were too expensive to buy, so I borrowed a pair. They were size 41. My size is 36. Obviously, they were too big, but I didn’t have a choice. 

The next day, I started my new job in these heavy, extra big boots.  One other lady and I were new. Each of us was supposed to take care of two production lines. Thousands of eggs were automatically sorted and put in egg cartons. The cartons sped towards us on conveyor belts. Our responsibility was to put these cartons into a metal crate. In a minute, my hands were scratched by the metal crate and bleeding, but I could not stop because the conveyor belts would not wait for me. I ran and ran between those two production lines. If you remember watching the “I Love Lucy’ show, “The Chocolate Factory,” that was me!

That morning, I successfully caught all the egg cartons. At lunchtime, I asked the other new lady how she was feeling. She said: “Exhausted!” After lunch, my steel-toe boots became heavier and heavier. But I could not slow down even a tiny bit. Each and every one of those egg cartons in the endless line needed me to rescue. “Oh no! One fell off.” I had to run faster and harder. Finally, the lines were stopped for the day. I felt like a prisoner who had just been released after years and years in jail. 

By the time I slowly walked out of the factory, it was dark. I felt lucky having my old Ford, so I didn’t have to walk all the way home in my extremely heavy boots. I could hardly keep my arms on the steering wheel. Then, I realized I was lost. I drove around and around with tears on my face. I asked myself. “Did I make the right decision to immigrate to Canada?” I had been asking myself this question a lot. The egg plant was not the change I had hoped for when I left China. 

When I arrived home, before I got out of the car, I wiped away my tears. My nine-year-old daughter gave me the sweetest kisses and the warmest hug. Then she put a delicious bowl of instant noodles in front of me. I was surrounded by love. I told myself I had to be a strong mom. 

One year later, I found my first engineer job.

To explore a new place and a new lifestyle, Michelle Huang immigrated to Canada in 2001. She has experienced different kinds of moments: sad, happy, hopeless, surprising, noisy, quiet, ugly, beautiful. All these experiences make her call Canada home.

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