Destination Canada | Exhibit Digest

August 17, 2020 | Nicole

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Gallery interior with glass display cases and framed photographs on wall. Walls are dotted with brightly coloured circles with patterns and personal quotes.

This post reproduces text from the Destination Canada exhibit, which was on display in TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library from May 20 to July 30, 2017.

The exhibit explores our diverse experiences of migration, arrival and finding a place of belonging from early settlement to present day.

Each one of the exhibit's main panels is found below, word for word.

Find more items from the exhibit on our Digital Archive.



Stewards of Turtle Island

Indigenous Nations existed and thrived on Turtle Island (North America) long before the arrival of European settlers.

In the 500 years since the first Europeans arrived, immigration and settlement have challenged their relationship with the land. Treaties were signed to share land and resources. While the promises in those agreements have not always been honoured, all Canadians have rights and responsibilities given to us by treaties. Newcomers and settlers are all in treaty relationships with Indigenous peoples.

Toronto Public Library is situated on Indigenous land and Dish with One Spoon territory. This is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Wendat, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Toronto Public Library gratefully acknowledges these Indigenous nations for their guardianship of this land.

Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is home to many Indigenous people.


Destination Canada

Since Confederation in 1867, more than 17 million newcomers have made their home in Canada.

Destination Canada looks at experiences of migration through personal stories and individual circumstances. Why did they choose Canada? What were their first impressions and early experiences? What challenges did they face in starting a new life? What does it mean to become “Canadian”?

Discover the stories of newcomers throughout our history through posters, photographs, written accounts and other materials from Toronto Public Library’s Baldwin Collection of Canadiana and Chinese Canadian Archive. The exhibit also features personal mementos from storytellers with Passages Canada.

Passages Canada is a national storytelling program of Historica Canada that invites newcomers and established Canadians to share their personal experiences of identity, heritage, and immigration with groups of all ages.

More than 1,000 volunteers participate in this storytelling program that nurtures cross-cultural dialogue and strengthens our appreciation for one another in an open spirit that is genuinely Canadian.

A man in a suit with a yellow tie and matching turban stands next to a glass display case filled with archival documents.
Sukhjit Sing at the Destination Canada launch stands next to a display case featuring his story. Sukhjit came to Canada from India in 2009 with his wife and daughter. He kept a receipt as a reminder of the kindness of a porter at the airport who assisted them upon arrival.


What is home?

Where do you consider home? It could be the place you were born, where you live now, or the places where your family has roots.   

A woman in a floral dress places a small sticker on a large world map in the exhibit.
Interactive map in exhibit.


Choosing Canada

People have come to Canada for many reasons.

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, British and European settlers were enticed by promises of free and fertile land. To clear way for settlement, treaties were signed with Indigenous nations. Some territories were never ceded.   

Subsequent waves of immigrants came in search of work or education, a chance at a better life. Others came to be reunited with the ones they love.

For some, leaving home was not a choice. They came seeking refuge from forces outside their control: war, famine, disaster or political persecution. 

Not everyone who has wanted to come to Canada is allowed in. Canada’s immigration history has been defined by policies that determine who is welcomed and who is turned away.

A graphic asks visitors to place a round sticker to indicate the reasons they would leave home to start a new life in a different place. Options are: to seek a new adventure; to find new opportunities; to follow love or marriage; to reunite with family; to escape war or conflict.
Interactive station in exhibit.


The Journey

Until about 50 years ago, most newcomers to Canada traveled by ship across the Atlantic to ports on the east coast: Quebec City, Montreal and Halifax. Ships could be overcrowded and uncomfortable. The journey took a week or longer.

The journey often continued by rail after arriving at a port of entry. Between 1896 and 1914, millions of agricultural settlers from Europe traveled in tightly-packed colonist cars to new settlements in Western Canada.

Since the 1960s, immigrants and refugees from around the world have arrived by commercial air.

What kind of journey brought you, your parents or your ancestors here?

A collection of travel documents including a passenger identification tag from Trans-Canada Air Lines. Passenger name is handwritten. A small black and white photo of a mother and daughter appears at bottom.
Letter from Immigration inspector-in-charge, airline ticket and travel documents, Chinese Canadian Archive, Gift of Judy Fong Bates. In 1955, five-year-old Fong Mun Sin, along with her mother Fong York Line, boarded flight CP AL308 from Hong Kong to join her father, Fong Wah Yen, who was living and working at a hand laundry in Allandale, Ontario. Fong Mun Sin, now known as Judy Fong Bates, is an acclaimed author who has written about her parents' lives in small-town Ontario in her memoir The Year of Finding Memory (2010).


On Arrival

Between 1928 and 1971, over a million immigrants passed through Pier 21 in Halifax. Upwards of four thousand a day awaited processing.

At the port of entry, newcomers encountered immigration officials, interpreters, customs agents, medical examiners and settlement volunteers. Documents were checked. Luggage was inspected.  

For those who are welcomed, arrival in Canada can be hopeful experience. For others, it is a moment of uncertainty as they face being quarantined, detained or deported.


Two smiling parents embrace three young children. An airplane appears in the background.
Dr. Fidel Ezemenari greets his three children after they arrive in Toronto from Biafra, 1970. Frank Lennon/Toronto Star. From the 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.


Making Adjustments 

Settling in a new place can be an overwhelming experience. How will you find work? Where will your family live? What will you eat? Where do you turn for help? 

Newcomers have faced many obstacles as they begin new lives in Canada. There may be language and cultural barriers. Many have encountered intolerance and discrimination. Some have relatives, sponsors or community support to help guide them along the way. Others have had to start from scratch.

Wherever they have arrived from, newcomers have found ways to maintain connections with family and traditions from their home.

A head tax certificate with handwritten identifying details. A close up portrait of Chin Ng's face appears at bottom right.
Chin Ng paid a $500 Head Tax to join his father in Canada in 1918. The amount paid was sufficient to buy two houses at that time. 


Citizenship: Becoming Canadian

Canada’s first citizenship ceremony was held in 1947. Before that, people born in Canada and naturalized immigrants were considered British subjects.

Today, permanent residents can choose to apply for citizenship after about four years. There are a number of requirements, including passing a test about Canada’s history, values and institutions. The final step is a ceremony where new Canadians take an oath of citizenship. As of 2017, the citizenship oath is being revised to recognize and honour treaties with Indigenous nations.

For some, the citizenship ceremony is a symbol of belonging in Canada. What makes you feel like you belong?  

A woman looks at a wall of framed black and white photographs of people of all ages attending citizenship ceremonies.
Visitor looking at photos documenting the citizenship process.


Wherever you are from, you are welcome here  

Toronto Public Library is often one of the first stops for newcomers as they get started in Toronto and Canada. 

Through the Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP) program, we partner with Settlement Agencies to provide newcomers with information and programs.

Here you can leave a note of welcome for those who have recently arrived.

A close up image of handwritten tags left by visitors for recent newcomers. Messages include "Toronto love everyone" and "Peace and love be with you always as you settle into this great country. You are welcome here. Be free to be who you are here!"
Notes left by visitors for newcomers.