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Episode 2 - Canada: Day 1

Episode Overview: The immigration experience is marked by firsts. The first day in a new country takes shape with an individual’s first steps, first impressions and first experiences. Canada: Day 1, our very first travelling exhibition, presented now until September 1, 2014 at Nanaimo Museum, in partnership with the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society, explores immigrants’ diverse personal Day 1 experiences, from Confederation to present day.

This episode focuses on first experiences in Canada and features clips from Monybany, Fredrick and Bernadete, interview participants from Canada: Day 1. We share selections from their oral histories that focus on what surprised them, what shocked them and what made the most lasting impression during their first few days in Canada.

Click below to listen to the podcast.

The Long Drawer’s theme song was composed by Ian Hayes.


Laura Sanchini (LS): Hello and welcome to “The Long Drawer,” the research podcast at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. I’m your host, Laura Sanchini. Today’s episode is going to focus entirely on first day experiences in Canada to coincide with our very first travelling exhibit “Canada: Day 1,” which will be opening in Nanaimo, B.C. in early June and travelling across Canada for the next few years, something that we are incredibly excited about. So to help me out in today’s episode, I have brought back, due to popular demand, one of our researchers, Lindsay Van Dyk. Hi Lindsay!

Lindsay Van Dyk (LV): Hello! Thanks for having me back.

LS: Well thanks for coming back! Can you tell me a little bit about the role of oral history and Canada: Day 1?

LV: Yah, so in preparation for this exhibit our team travelled across the country conducting interviews. They travelled to Fredericton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Red Deer, Vancouver, Victoria, so really, all across the country interviewing people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. There was nearly 30 participants and I’ve had a chance to listen to all of these interviews and hear some really incredible stories and I’m really excited to share these stories with you.

LS: And I think most of us in the research and oral history department at this point have gotten pretty familiar with the interviews and participants from Canada: Day 1 so we’re really happy to be able to share some selections from the interviews with listeners in the hopes that they will also be looking forward to our traveling exhibit. So what we thought we would do is feature some of the Canada: Day 1 participants and their stories relating to first experiences that aren’t found in the exhibit. So what shocked people when they first got to Canada, what surprised them and what made the most memorable impressions?

LV: Yah and I think that’s what’s really great about these oral histories, is it shows people’s diversity of experiences and people discuss both the memorable moments and the more everyday average experiences and you can really see that not every moment in that first day is momentous or life-altering but can still leave a lasting impression.

LS: Well let’s get started. What do you have for us today?

LV: So this first clips is from Monybany Minyang Dau. He was born in South Sudan and volunteered as a child soldier with the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. He was sent by the SPLA to study in Cuba and stayed there for 12 years, but when the economy of Cuba declined, he could no longer stay there so he came to Canada as a refugee in 1998. In this clip, he’s talking about encountering an automatic toilet for the first time at the Toronto airport.


Monybany Minyang Dau: And then I came here and I see the first automatic toilet in Canada. It was quite, to me—funny now but it was not funny at the time—I went to, you know, to use the facility, find some three gentlemen are standing so I stand beside them and you know and discharge myself and they all was leaving it and it was flushing itself. But I thought that they were pressing some button, I didn’t see it by myself where to press. So I stand there, fearing if I leave this thing without flushing people look at me as dumb, and what I’m going to do now because I cannot flush it you know. I stand there for quite a while for maybe over five minute or ten minute standing there.

LS: Well then, technology. I mean I think at this point so many of us here take it for granted and it’s kind of become part of, you know, our expected part of our everyday life. Though I can definitely remember the first time I encountered an automatic toilet and being perturbed by it.

LV: But we’ve gotten so used to it! I know that when I got to wash my hands now, I just expect the water to come on and sometimes it takes me a few moments to realize that “Hey, I have to turn the water on myself.” So we don’t always consider the fact that these technologies we take for granted could be shocking or surprising to a newcomer.

LS: Definitely. So I think for our next clip selection we have a French participant.

LV: Yes. We have Fredrick Wangabo Mwenengabo. He’s a human rights activist originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was persecuted for his work there so he fled to Uganda, but the persecution continued there so he came to Canada, immigrating to Fredericton, New Brunswick in 2009. In this clip, Fred remembers landing at the Toronto airport and reflects on the diversity that he saw there on his first day.

LS: Great! Let’s have a listen.


Fredrick Wangabo Mwenengabo: Mais à l’aéroport, c’était bon: je suis arrivé, ma première impression était très bonne. Je voyais le multiculturalisme. Quand je voyais tous ces gens-là qui travaillaient dans l’aéroport, euh, de—de différentes cultures, je me disais: « Wow, ça c’est bon! » Et puis je me disais: « Tous ces gens-là ils apportent une richesse quelconque parce qu’ils apportent ce qu’ils connaissent de leur culture, l’autre de sa culture, l’autre de sa culture et tout ça, ça forme une richesse. Et je me disais: « Est-ce que ce n’est pas la raison que l’aéroport est—cet aéroport est beau, euh, c’est grand. Euh, ce—ce—ce—» Je me disais: « Est-ce que ce n’est pas même la raison pour laquelle je vois il y a de grandes maisons, Toronto est grand, est-ce que ce n’est pas ça, même si je ne suis pas encore allé en ville? » Je me suis dit: « Hm, ça, c’est une ville qui accepte tout le monde quand même. » Et c’était comme ça; c’était mon impression à Toronto.

(Translation: But at the airport everything was fine: after landing my first impression was a good one. The multiculturalism was quite evident. When I saw all those people who worked in the airport, from different backgrounds and cultures, I thought, “Wow, this is great! All these people contribute something because they bring what they know of their own culture, this one contributes his culture, this one his, and all of that together becomes a source of wealth.” Then I told myself “Isn’t that the reason why the airport is – this airport is beautiful, it’s huge. Um, that, that, that…” I thought, “Is that not the same reason why the houses are big, Toronto is big, is that not the reason, even though I have yet to visit the city?” I also thought, “Hmm, this is a city that accepts everyone.” And that was my impression of Toronto.)

LS: So to summarize for the listeners for whom French might not be their first or second language, Fred was really impressed by how multicultural the airport workers in Toronto were and thought by bringing their cultural identities and their cultural backgrounds to the job, they made the job better and richer because of this multiplicity of backgrounds and worldviews, and you know, it’s kind of a metaphor for Canadian society in his eyes.

LV: Yah, and someone who had been persecuted, I think Fred is so much more aware of people from diverse backgrounds being able to live and work together, and seeing that at the airport must have been a really welcome sight for him.

LS: So I think we have one last participant to hear from.

LV: Yah, so this is Bernadete Gouveia. She is from the Portuguese island of Madeira. She came to Canada in 1969 to join her husband who had immigrated to Toronto three years earlier. In this clip, she’s describing what she remembers the most about that first day in Canada as she landed in Toronto and traveled to the new home her husband had set up for them.


Bernadete Gouveia: I loved the airport—it might sound silly, to you. But coming from an island, a very small airport, when you see something that's that big, it’s, Wow, this is beautiful. And, again, coming back home and see all the cars. Because in an island you don’t see too many cars and seeing all those cars it’s just—I can never forget. And it was night-time. Those lights and that go on the other direction. I even told my husband, “Is that—“ back home we have these villages festivals and, then, they have lots of lights. So I was asking my husband, “Is there a festival going on?” He said, “No, it’s the highway. The cars going to the other side.” Oh, my goodness. Do I sound silly? I did.

LV: So for those of us who grew up in cities, cars on the highway are probably a part of our everyday life and we don’t realize that something that ordinary could make a lasting impression, something that she remembers over 40 years later.

LS: Well thanks Lindsay for sharing those oral history selections with us and I really hope that we’ve piqued your interest and whetted your appetite for our travelling exhibit Canada: Day 1 which opens in Nanaimo, BC in June and will be travelling across Canada for the next few years. If you’re interested in finding out more, please check out our website and while you’re at it, I encourage you to look around, find out a bit about our oral history program and what we do in the research department. Well that’s all folks for today’s episode. This is Laura Sanchini signing off. Remember, there’s always more in “The Long Drawer.”

Click here to watch video interviews with more Canada: Day 1 oral history participants >

“The long drawer” was a term used by Russian writers to describe works that would never see the light of day—writings that would forever be stuck in the desk drawer. We want to air out the long drawer, so to speak, and share our research adventures with everyone. The Long Drawer podcast series, hosted by Laura Sanchini, our Oral History Researcher, will include glimpses into our Oral History Collection, as well as fascinating tidbits and tales from our researchers. If you have topic suggestions for future podcast episodes, please contact Laura at