IMG_1524 IMG_1534 IMG_1545 IMG_1547 DSC_3155 DSC_3148 DSC_3157 DSC_3160 DSC_3162 DSC_3164 IMG_3028We drove like crazy people yesterday, stopping in New Brunswick for an amazing and carbohydrate filled lunch at Potato World.  Honestly, we needed those spuds more than they needed us.

We’ve come to the conclusion at this point in the trip that Canada is truly astonishing.  It is more rural than we could’ve imagined.  More spread out and in need of good communication than we could have dreamed.  I mean, we know these things.  In many ways, it’s what makes us Canadian.  Perhaps that friendly spirit we are famous for is because of the desolation and loneliness?  I don’t know.  Okay, maybe not ALL of Canada is quite like that, but it seems like we drive and drive and then all of a sudden, oh look!  there is another pocket of civilization.  Quite a contrast form our recent trip to China!

We’ve found friendly people everywhere.  So many are openly encouraging of our little jaunt east and the fact that we’d bring our kids large and small on a trip like this.  Just when it feels like we might really have bitten off more than we should have, we get a little bright ray of sunshine from a fellow Canadian and it brings it all back into focus.

Today was a day like that.  It started with a trip to the walk in to have Faith checked out (it appears that her lymph nodes are swollen and not to worry), followed my some monkey business from a couple of the herd.  We recouped and headed to Timmy’s for a bite before our visit to the Harbour.  We all felt a bit wiped out.  We headed to the Maritime Museum first.  Took in the exhibits about the Halifax Explosion, shipwrecks and sailors lost at sea, a dying way of life, followed by an exhibit on the Titanic.  Honestly, it wasn’t the cheeriest time we’ve had.  We were doubly tired and I had wanted to head over to one more place, Pier 21.  Doggedly  we drove down the harbour front and walked into the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.  What we didn’t know, was that our day was about to change.

We paid a small admission and headed upstairs to the exhibit.  We were greeted by a young woman with a heavy eastern european accent.  She brought out legos for the kids to build with and got us ready for a tour starting in a few minutes.  We gathered as a group with others and  were unprepared for the amazing tales ahead.

Over 1,000,000 immigrants were processed through Pier 21.  Ships from all over the world with people hoping to be admitted as Landed Immigrants.  Initially Canada had a policy of allowing only those that could be easily assimilated into Canadian society (read, white, western europeans, folks from Newfoundland  during pre-confederation (!) and Americans).  Over time, others were welcomed and the policies changed.  Tragedies occurred in the meantime.  While we had heard of the Chinese Head Tax and the ship filled with hopeful refugees from India that were held at bay in Vancouver’s harbour, we hadn’t heard of Mackenzie King’s denial of some 900+ Jewish refugees just prior to World War 2.  They were sent back to Europe.  There are records that 254 were killed in concentration camps and the other roughly 700 suffered horrible atrocities.  This formed a bit of a wake up call to the immigration policies in Canada.  There was a protectionist feeling during the depression, but post WW2, the feeling of a global connectedness formed.

Another aspect that changed the face of immigration in Canada were the War Brides and Grooms (yes – grooms, who knew?). Of the 500,000 Canadians who were involved in active service in WW2, 1 in 10 married a foreign spouse.  48,000 wife of servicemen entered Canada in the years following the war and brought with them 22,000 children.  These new immigrants brought with them a new surge of immigration in their wake.  My maternal grandparents and my Mom entered Canada around that time.

We found out that 1951 was a huge spike of immigration from the Netherlands and while it was a popular thing at that time, it was not a guarantee of entry nor was it stress free upon arrival.  I found it fascinating as we have heard stories the hardships that they faced once here, but what their first days in Canada would have been like really filled in a puzzle piece for me.  While they would have been well cared for, the confusion and simply the chaotic mess of it all would have been overwhelming and utterly exhausting after an already stressful goodbye to loved ones at home and a long steam ship ride to Canada.  No matter the provisions offered, it would have been a lot to take in.  No Google or Skype.  No guarantee of a friendly face once being given that highly prized ‘Landed Immigrant’ stamp on their passports.  A long, gruelling, expensive train trip west to major cities (in my Mom’s case, Winnipeg).

We left that tour and headed to a meeting hall filled with flags from many countries around the world and a large Canadian flag, made of puzzle pieces ,hanging as the centrepiece.  The young woman from earlier joined us.  Her name was Natalya and she, too, was newly immigrated (2.5 years ago).  She is a teacher by profession, but was given the job at Pier 21 for 6 months as a training period to gain work experience in Canada. She loves her job there and the kids really enjoyed meeting her.  Grace in particular commented how she was also a new immigrant and drew the connection to herself.

A number of people in our tour group had immigrated through Pier 21 and the guides told other stories of people who had found relatives, or even belongings, on display that belonged to themselves or a family member, while visiting the museum.  This led us to heading to the research room.  A number of guides were there to lead individuals through the process of finding information (landing records) for themselves or a relative.  I was unable to look for my family’s records.  Somehow another guide allowed Stephen to find his Oma’s.  I am not sure how!  Perhaps he made a personal plea, but my guide had told me that due to privacy laws, we would need certain proofs of family  connection.  Interesting.  I had a wonderful time looking through their bookcases of material and huge collection of fiction and non-fiction works on immigration in Canada.  So many fascinating stories.  I may or may not have added to our van’s weight today.  Books are hard to pass up.

The kids spent at least an hour on building Boxopolis.  A city of their own creation out of boxes.  A dream exhibit for a kid!

We wrapped up our day on a bright note.  After stuffing ourselves silly (no really, Isaiah has a hollow leg), we were driving along out of the Harbour district and I grabbed Stephen’s arm, “You’ve got to stop!”  What was it I saw?  A game/comic book store (Monster Lounge Comics – highly recommend it!).  There just may or may not be a couple new additions to our family’s game hoarding collection when we get home.


Bookend vignettes from today:

Samuel loudly and with gusto told the tour guide at the beginning of our tour, “My family drove a LONG way to get here and we all hate it!”

A young docent at the end of our Boxopolis time let me know that all the staff in the museum were whispering about our family.  Apparently we were the highlight of their whole summer because working in a museum can be boring at times and the kids were so enthusiastic.


A few more tidbits:

One of the couple’s in our group had an interesting mix.  The wife had come into Canada in the 1960’s through Pier 21, and the husband?  His family was one of the original French settlers in the 1600’s!  They live in Nanaimo, BC now.

A couple of our guides were exceptionally fascinating.  An ex-olympic figure skater (not sure which one, sorry!) was there and brought in a pairs outfit to show another guide.  One of our tour guides was a young man in wheelchair who is affected by Cerebral Palsy – he asked the best questions and was extremely knowledgable about the material.  Our guide Natalya?  She’s been in Canada 2.5 years, said goodbye to her 65 year old Mom to come here. Her Mom is sick back in the Ukraine and Natalya does not think she will be able to get back to see her before she passes.  Her Mom told her to stay.  Canada is the land of her dreams.

It still is folks.  Let’s not forget it.



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