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The Volunteer Connection

At the very heart of the Museum are personal immigration stories. And I am always amazed by the connections that people—visitors, staff and our volunteers—share with us and develop with the Museum. Although I don’t have a personal immigration story, as I build relationships in my role as the Museum’s Volunteer Services Manager, I feel more and more connected to the spirit of immigration in our country.

The backgrounds and experiences of our volunteers—who enhance visitors’ experiences onsite and work tirelessly behind the scenes at the Museum—represent the diversity inherent in Canadian society. Working with this wonderful group, I often take for granted how deeply many members of our team are connected to the story of Canadian immigration—whether through personal experience, family connection or passion for our collective history.

With National Volunteer Week being celebrated across Canada from April 21-27, 2013, it seemed like the perfect time to share some of the stories, and amazing connections, of a few of the many dedicated individuals who lend their time and talents to the Museum.

A beautiful smiling woman is wearing a while pearl necklace.

Ira Buhot-Perry

Ira Buhot-Perry came to Canada as a young girl with her parents in 1953. They left behind a life as Latvian refugees in Germany. Among the uncertainty and confusion that she remembers feeling when they arrived at Pier 21, she recalls a volunteer at the immigration shed giving her a doll.

“You’ll never know how much that little cloth doll meant to me,” Ira says. “It was just something very soft and warm and comforting.”

As she approaches the 60th anniversary of her arrival in Canada, it is remarkable how similar Ira has become to the volunteer who showed her so much kindness all those years ago. She has spent 14 years embodying the same spirit of volunteerism and welcome as a volunteer at the Museum.

Marianne Ferguson, came through Pier 21 as a young immigrant from Danzig, a city under the authority of Germany and Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. When she talks about this time, she sometimes shares chilling stories about her life there during this period. When circumstances became unbearable for Marianne and her family, they received permission to come to Canada.

“We arrived at Pier 21 on a snowy, stormy day…We were met by (volunteer) Mrs. Sadie Fineberg, who was so welcoming and friendly and who introduced us to a number of other very kind people,” Marianne recalls.

After the war, Marianne herself became a volunteer, welcoming immigrants to Canada at Pier 21, which was still active as an immigration shed. Years later, Marianne continues to volunteer at the Museum.

“Coming to Pier 21 is one of the highlights of the month for me,” says Marianne, “and is just like coming home.”

Two women look towards the camera for a photo.

Margaret Therrien

As a second generation immigrant, Margaret Therrien also feels a strong connection to the immigration story. Her mother came to Canada as a war bride in 1944. Many years later, Margaret had the privilege, as an officer in the Canadian Navy, of escorting the first visiting group of War Brides into the Pier 21 Museum, on the day it opened in 1999.

“Listening to these ladies who both laughed and shed tears as they relived their experiences of arriving in Canada was very moving,” she remembers.

With many connections to Pier 21, volunteering at the Museum has been a natural choice for Margaret, and one that she has found extremely interesting and meaningful.

Though Sohrab Rassi is a more recent immigrant to Canada, he can certainly relate to those who have come before him. He came to Canada with his family in 2012 to escape the political unrest in Iran, and was compelled to volunteer at Pier 21 because of his experiences.

“I thought Pier 21 could be a place that I might understand the roots of the (Canadian) society that I should know,” he explains. “Being a volunteer gave me the chance to be a part of the society.”

Condon MacLeod, doesn’t have a direct connection to Pier 21 or the Canadian immigration story, but he too is a long-time volunteer at the Museum.

Condon visited the Pier 21 Museum with an international student who was boarding with him and was stunned by this wonderful institution in his “backyard.” They arrived late in the day, just before closing, and didn’t have time to see the whole Museum. However, what he did see left an impression and left him wanting more.

“I got involved with the emotion of the whole thing, listening to people’s stories,” he remembers.

Later, he met a Museum volunteer who encouraged him to join the team. Today, Condon feels a strong connection to the building and the stories within it.

“You hear about what people left behind, what they had to go through to get here… I will never complain about potholes again,” he laughs. “It has given me more than I have given. It has made my life so much richer.”

Volunteers lend their time and talents to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 for many reasons. They come from diverse backgrounds and contribute unique skills to our team. My hope is that when they leave, they can say, as I can, that they have developed a stronger connection to the story of immigration in our country—either by seeing their own story in the context of the national picture of immigration, or by hearing the stories of fellow volunteers and of our visitors.

We are so lucky to be able to share in their stories.

A group of people posing for a photograph.

A smiling group of Museum volunteers and staff.

Want to learn more about volunteering at the Museum? Check out our volunteer page.