by Gerry Maffre in Ottawa
The head of the Canadian Museum of Immigration History at Pier 21 in Halifax was visiting Ottawa earlier this month and offered a glimpse into the future of the museum which is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in 2015.
Marie Chapman, the museum’s chief executive officer, delivered her remarks at the Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society (CIHS) in the nation’s capital. The society has a long-standing relationship with the museum located at Pier 21 where over one million immigrants, including post World War II ‘war brides’, first entered Canada between 1928 and 1971.
In her speech, Chapman spoke about the importance the museum attaches to gathering the stories of those who have made new lives in Canada and of the immigration staff who, over the years, have helped newcomers come to and settle in Canada.
“Each immigration story that Canadians have entrusted us with is a tremendous source of inspiration and learning. These stories are a reflection of the diversity of the Canadian immigration experience. Our collection is enriched by stories of immigrants from seven continents, who now call communities across Canada home,” she said.
One element of the forthcoming changes will be the Canadian Immigration Story gallery and its four themes: Journey; Arrival; Belonging; and Impact. One of the highlights in the ‘Belonging’ section will be a Canadian flag donated by the society and which was affixed to a hotel door of a Ugandan Asian family while they were being processed for evacuation to Canada in 1972. For that family, the flag was a symbol of safety and hope.
The expanded exhibitions will be complemented by educational and public programming aimed at developing empathy and understanding for the immigrant experience, as well as fostering a sense of Canadian identity. As well, digital technologies will encourage users to share their impressions and memories, and to collaborate via a social learning environment. The aim is to make the museum an inspiring national icon for Canadians. That goes for its website.
Michael Molloy, the society’s president, presented Chapman a collection of papers related to discussions that took place in Ottawa about the need for such a museum. For Chapman, the donation was further evidence of the importance the museum attaches to reflecting the role of immigration personnel in Canada’s on-going immigration story.
The society also welcomed Patti Harper, Head of Archives and Collections Services at Carleton University, who spoke about the school’s Uganda Archive to which CIHS was able to make significant contributions including a very large number of press clippings from Canadian and international newspapers about the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians and their move to Canada.
Gerry Maffre is a member of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society executive.