What's Your Story
How an Edmonton neighbourhood in the '80s was home to a global community
If Beverly Dawn wrote a book of experiences as a young woman — a runaway surviving on the streets of Edmonton — the title would be "Refugees and Runaways."
Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians "What's your story?" Dawn, now based in Fountain Hills, Arizona, shares hers:
It was 1983. Edmonton. I was 15 years old approaching 16 and I had been kicked out of my group home.
Yes I had a smart mouth, but not the cursing kind. I was a high school dropout working at an ice cream shop. Another waitress told me about her apartment on 107th Avenue. My best friend from the group home, Cathy, a boy from work and I rented a unit.
We had no furniture, little money and barely any food, but we were excited to be on our own.
This is where I met my first boyfriend from another country. Manuel, a.k.a. Manolo, and his family lived downstairs. They were from El Salvador.
He told me stories about being at the neighborhood basketball park and having to be aware that at any moment the army/rebels could swoop down and round everyone up and make them fight as child soldiers.
Taking care of each other
Manolo introduced me to people from countries including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador. The culture was so fun — food, music, dancing and soccer games on Saturdays with families from many Latino countries gathered to enjoy the day.
All the refugees and immigrants I have met are a part of my story, a part of my life.
One of my neighbours brought me to Gino's cafe, a 24 hour coffee/pool/arcade shop. It was owned by a Canadian and an Ethiopian refugee and I met many Ethiopian people at that time — this was in 1983/1984 when the world was trying to help a war-torn, drought-stricken country. A time of "We Are the World."
One fellow I met was called "Boss" and he worked at Gino's. He had been arrested in Ethiopia and put in prison for a number of years. When he was finally released, he had to walk across a desert to escape the country and eventually he came to Canada as a refugee.
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Boss died a couple of years later of a brain tumour. He was Muslim and the funeral service was attended by many people from different backgrounds at the local high school gym. It was a sad time for all.
Shortly before he died, we lost our apartment and I was living by couch surfing. I stayed with an Ethiopian friend who was studying at college. He always had food available to eat — delicious injera was stocked in the fridge and eaten with a spicy stew.
Ethiopian refugees took care of me.
Across the street on the corner of 109th Street and 107th Avenue was another pool hall and refugees from Vietnam would congregate there. For a time, I stayed with "Ba" (Dad) who was an older Vietnamese refugee that the younger men looked up to — often a houseful of people would be there day and night, including other displaced Canadian girls.
We would all sit on the floor to eat, newspapers in the centre for a table, drinks passed around and music playing — sometimes Vietnamese, sometimes English pop music.
Vietnamese refugees took care of me.
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I met my eldest daughter Amanda's father Vinnie; he was of Chinese descent from Vietnam. He had come to Canada as a refugee via a boat to escape Vietnam. He and his brother Alan landed on an island with no fresh water, waiting to get to a safe place.
Vinnie took care of me; he was a refugee.
My second daughter Rebecca's father, Hung, was from Vietnam as well. When he was nine, his mother gave him to a young teen couple fleeing the country so he could have a better life. They fled via boat to safety and were sponsored as a family to Saskatoon.
My children's fathers were refugees.
The 107th Avenue community
I also met and heard stories from Bao Laos who swam across the Mekong River at the age of 15 from Laos to Thailand where he survived as a street kid until he was able to get refugee status and start anew in Canada. He was much admired in the 107th Avenue community.
Another refugee friend told me that he was working with the Catholic Church to sponsor his sister Anh to Canada. It was 1990 — she was 14 and had been living in a refugee camp in Hong Kong with family friends since she was 12. I was 22 at the time, a single mom of with two young daughters, and I took over the sponsorship.
A few months later she came to Canada. I sponsored a refugee. She really helped me and we became sisters, an extended family!
Later in my life I met refugees from Rwanda and Bosnia as well as immigrants from Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Hong Kong.
All the refugees and immigrants I have met are part of my story, part of my life, part of me.
We are Canadian, now a Global family.