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During the Second World War, Soviet authorities imprisoned and forcibly displaced thousands of Polish nationals to labour camps in Siberia. Upon their release, many civilian deportees included unaccompanied children who later found temporary security in Africa’s refugee camps. Upon hearing of their plight, the Archbishop of Montreal initiated a plan to sponsor the permanent resettlement of Polish orphans in Canada. In 1949, an initial group of 123 Polish orphans arrived in Canada through Pier 21.

The Canadian government’s exclusion of the passengers of MS St. Louis reveals the anti-Semitic public and official climate of Canada in the 1930s, and underscores the harsh restrictions of Canada’s Depression-era immigration policies.

Manager of Research Monica MacDonald suggests that current debates on immigration are best informed by the historical contexts of immigration as well as the contemporary experiences of newcomers.