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The BMO Oral History Gallery

by Emily Burton, PhD, Oral Historian

Time 0:05:17


Welcome to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Today, we are in the BMO Oral History Gallery – where you can watch and listen to people’s personal immigration stories. The gallery is in Canada’s Immigration Hall, part of our new permanent exhibition space that reflects the Museum’s national mandate.

Recorded audio and video interviews in this gallery capture living memories and preserve them for future generations. Each story station in the gallery explores the same eleven themes through interview excerpts. Some of the themes are: Food, Religion, Language, and My Identity in Canada. The clips are half a minute to almost three minutes long, so you could spend as little as ten minutes in the gallery, or get lost for hours in people’s fascinating life vignettes. You can also choose your favourite clips!

Refugee Experiences is another theme explored in the gallery. Other parts of the Museum have oral history clips with people who came to Canada as refugees – from Europe after WWII as Displaced People, for instance, or from Uganda in the early 1970s. Since so many people have come to Canada as refugees – at different times, from many places, and for a myriad of reasons – we wanted to explore the theme in this gallery as well.

In the Refugee Experiences clips here in the gallery, people from Uruguay, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bhutan and the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina) talk about the dangers they faced in their countries of origin, the decision to leave, life in a refugee camp, the process of coming to Canada, and memories of arriving in Canada.

Madan, for instance, is one of the people who talks about his refugee experiences. He was born in Bhutan, and fled the country with his family in 1990.

Apart from citizenship cards and other documents, they left everything behind. They spent almost 16 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to Canada.

When they first arrived, conditions in the camp were very poor. There was an outbreak of malaria and many people died.

In the clip, Madan describes the improvement in conditions in the refugee camp in Nepal when the management was taken over by the UNHCR – United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The supply of food improved, washrooms were built, and a school was opened. He also received a scholarship through the UNHCR to finish high school in India, where he later returned to complete both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science.

Madan also taught in the school in the refugee camp, and also at a private school in Kathmandu.

Yella was born in Bosnia. She met her husband Mooshie at the University of Sarajevo, where she was studying Agricultural Science. They married in 1990, just before war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. They became stateless and put themselves on a refugee list. They came to Halifax in 1994 with their daughter after spending two years in Serbia following the outbreak of war. They were privately-sponsored refugees and arrived with two suitcases.

In the clip, Yella describes the warm welcome they received at the airport at two in the morning from their community sponsors – including a birthday cake because they arrived on Yella’s birthday! She also talks about how the house had been set-up for them – cooked meals, canned food, fruit and vegetables in the kitchen, closets full of clothes, and toys for their daughter.

Thank-you for pausing with me today to hear about them.

Please do come and visit our new permanent exhibitions at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 – and be sure to have a look and listen in the BMO Oral History Gallery!