Destination Canada: #WelcomeRefugees

June 20, 2017 | Nicole

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World Refugee Day is marked each year on June 20. This day encourages us to focus on the causes that displace people all over the world, to reflect on Canada's role in helping those seeking refuge, and to celebrate the contributions that refugees have made and continue to make to Canada. 

Destination Canada

On display now until July 30 in the Toronto Reference Library's TD Gallery, Destination Canada focuses on the stories of newcomers throughout our history who have come to Canada for many reasons. For some, leaving their country of origin was not a choice. They came seeking refuge from forces outside their control: war, famine, disaster or political persecution.  The exhibit is free and it is open during regular library hours.  

Here are just a few of the items in the exhibit that speak to the experiences of displaced peoples who sought refuge in Canada. 

Depopulation of Ireland 1851Depopulation of Ireland, Illustrated London News, May 10, 1851

In the 1850s, thousands of Irish emigrants departed for British North America each week. This image comes from an Illustrated London News article illustrating the journey from the emigration agent’s office, to the bustling quay at Cork to the cramped quarters on ships bound for New York, Boston and Quebec. Mass emigration from Ireland was fuelled by the devastating effects of the Great Famine. 

Hungarians settle across Canada, 1968photo of Hungarian settlers in Canada, 1968, unknown photographer, Toronto Star Photograph Archive

Between 1956 and 1957, more than 37,000 Hungarian refugees came to Canada after the collapse of the anti-Soviet uprising. In response to public pressure, the Canadian government offered free transport and each province established programs to assist with accommodating the refugees.

  Czech refugees, Jiri  Janojsek and son IvoCzech refugees Jiri  Janojsek and son Ivo arrive at Toronto International Airport in 1968, photo by Frank Lennon, Toronto Star Photograph Archive

Following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, 11,000 refugees were admitted to Canada between 1968 and 1969.

Chileans apply to come to Canada in 1974Chileans apply to come to Canada in 1974, photo by Rosemary Devitt, Toronto Star Photograph Archive

After the fall of the Allende government in Chile in 1973, the Canadian embassy in Santiago received 300 applications a day to immigrate to Canada.

  Dr Fidel Ezemenari and his sister Mary were reunited with his three children, Kene, Chinyere and Uzo following a five-year separationReunited after five years away, 1970 photo by Frank Lennon, Toronto Star Photograph Archive

Dr Fidel Ezemenari and his sister Mary were reunited with his three children, Kene, Chinyere and Uzo following a five-year separation. Canada’s first refugees from the Nigerian Civil War, the three siblings arrived from the Republic of Biafra in 1970. Since the 1970s, about half of all newcomers to Canada have come to be reunited with their families.

  Vietnamese refugees arrive at Dorval Airport in Montreal, 1978Vietnamese refugees arrive at Dorval Airport in Montreal, 1978, photo by Bob Olsen, Toronto Star Photograph Archive

After the end of the war in Vietnam in 1975, as many as one million refugees fled Vietnam and the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia. Many escaped in small, rickety fishing boats headed for refugee camps and became known as the “boat people.” 110,000 Vietnamese refugees had settled in Canada by 1985.

Historica Canada recently released a new Heritage Minute about the story of one family who fled persecution in Vietnam, travelling by boat to a Malaysian refugee camp before finding a new home in Montreal:


  Wall in Destination Canada exhibit with notes of welcome from visitors

When you visit the Destination Canada exhibit, be sure to leave a note of welcome for newcomers and refugees who have recently arrived!

   Notes of welcome in Destination Canada exhibit

What is your World Refugee Day Story?

Join in the conversation on social media today with #WRD2017 and #WelcomeRefugees or let us know in the comments below.