Canada’s Museum of Immigration would make a great trip out for the London District ‘Moving Stories’ team – were it not so far away in Halifax Nova Scotia, which is really the point. Although Halifax is the nearest mainland America deep water harbour to Europe it’s still a choppy 2,700 sea miles away. But because of its relative proximity, Halifax became the chief entry point in the early and middle years of the last century for thousands of immigrants from all over Europe seeking a better life in Canada.
The museum is based in the original dockside buildings that immigrants would have passed through and it tells their stories of push and pull – the pushes of poverty, persecution and land clearances that encouraged migration, and the pulls of wide open spaces, freedom and offers of employment or land. Individual stories are presented as examples and if you have a relative who was processed through the system, you can access the records that tell what happened next.
You can sit on the benches that waiting immigrants would have sat on waiting to show their papers, and learn about the comfort foods from home that were confiscated on arrival. Churches were very evident in providing volunteers to offer advice and guidance to the newcomers and also ran a crèche for the children.
Two aspects really stood out. Bang up to date, the museum tells the story of the people who now risk their lives in rubber boats to cross the Mediterranean, and reflects on the fact that the push and pull factors that earlier generations experienced are still very much alive and, in terms of push, sadly kicking. Closer to Canadian home were pictures and stories of migrants crossing the land border with the USA on foot, in response to the hostile environment developing below the 49th parallel.
The other sobering section described in unflinching detail how unaccompanied child migrants from the UK, some as young as four, were shipped out by organisations such as Barnardos and some religious orders, often to a life of hard toil, misery and in some cases abuse. Whether orphaned or removed from their families for whatever reason, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is surely right to devote time and energy to understanding what happened and why, and who might be found accountable.
This was a hard hitting and moving museum that did not shy away from graphic images nor calling out oppressive regimes. However it also provided a real sense of hope that something better can be achieved and for every heart breaking story there was another that showed that moving can be a real success, which benefits the individual, their community and wider society. ‘Moving Stories’ remains a vital part of our own District story as we call to mind those who have moved across the world as well as those who’ve just moved down the road, to be part of our serving and worshipping community.