Canada: Day 1 is our Canada 150 project, supported by RBC Foundation, that brings to life 150 years of immigrants’ “Day 1” experiences.
Welcome to Canada: Day 1. This exhibition looks at the very first day an immigrant experiences when they arrive in Canada. Your first day in a new country, it’s an official milestone, but it’s also a personal milestone and this show explores those first impressions, first thoughts, first feelings about Canada, from confederation right up to the present day. It’s a look at that very first day on your journey to being Canadian. Our exhibition Canada: Day 1 has travelled right across Canada, supported by RBC Foundation. It’s an interesting mix of first-person narratives from our oral history collection and powerful images and artwork.
In the Arrivals section of Canada: Day 1 we have this amazing photo mural of images of people’s first day in Canada. 150 years of first days in Canada of moments of jubilation, excitement, sadness, capturing different aspects of that first moment you arrive at the airport or at the seaport in Canada.
I’ll focus on two images. One is this image of a Canadian war bride and her three children arriving at Pier 21 in 1946. War brides, women who married Canadian servicemen overseas, were an important part of post war immigration and there were elaborate measures to set them up in their new homes in Canada. Here you can see a war bride being welcomed by nurses on her very first day Canada.
The contrary view is these sad folks in Quebec City in 1910. These are people who didn’t meet the admission requirements of the day because of money, age, or something about their background, and they are about to be deported. Their first day in Canada was their last day in Canada. It’s a reminder that not everybody’s first day in Canada is a positive one and our exhibit tries to maintain a bit of a critical sense about the experiences of your first day, sometimes it can be really happy and sometimes it can be very challenging.
Canada: Day 1 is full of first-person stories about arrival in Canada drawn from our oral history collection at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. We have a charming one from Maria Pagano all about a bag of beans. She remembers her arrival at Pier 21 from Italy, going through customs and having all her bags being checked. She had brought bags of beans from her own home. Many people bring bits of food from their home countries. As she walked through the Pier 21 terminal she noticed that there were beans all over the floor and she thought to herself, ‘everybody’s bringing beans to Canada,’ until she noticed the hole in her suitcase did she realize she was leaving a trail of beans all the way through the immigration terminal into Canada on the day she arrived.
The exhibition Canada: Day 1 uses a number of significant art pieces by artists who examine in creative ways that experience of arrival in Canada. One of our favourite pieces is by a Manitoba artist, Lin Xu. Her piece is called “Holder of Dreams” and it is a piece that looks at what people bring with them on that first day in Canada. She has created a suitcase that’s literally and figuratively full of dreams. It’s full of little ceramic pillows that, in many languages, have dreams. Things that people bring with them, hope to achieve in Canada, words like family and hope and beginnings, in different languages. The dreams that we have in our head but also the hopes we have for the future and we all bring those as kind of our figurative and emotional baggage when you arrive in a new country and Lin Xu’s piece is a wonderful evocation of that idea of what we bring, in many aspects, on that first day in Canada.