New Brunswick

In a province 'that exists because of refugees,' a glimpse of newcomer experience

Resurgo Place's newest exhibit, Canada: Day 1, is filled with photos, mementos, art and personal stories from people who immigrated to Canada and New Brunswick to start new lives.

Canada: Day 1 exhibit in Moncton shows New Brunswick as a place to start a new life

Canada: Day 1 is an exhibit at Resurgo Place in Moncton that explores the experience of new immigrants to Canada. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Resurgo Place's newest exhibit, Canada: Day 1, is filled with photos, mementos, art and personal stories from people who immigrated to Canada and New Brunswick to start new lives.

James Upham, heritage development officer at the Moncton museum, said the exhibit, by the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, presents an interesting and important collection of items.

"Every day, whether we think of it or not, somebody is having their 'Canada day one,'" he said. 

"For a lot of people, that's their reality."

The museum's James Upham says the province's motto, Spem reduxit, or 'Hope restored,' is at the core of what New Brunswick is, 'a place where you can come and start over again and try to build something great.' (Tori Weldon/CBC)

He pointed out one installation with a poignant meaning. It's an empty display case.

"It's there to represent those who arrive here with nothing, because many people do," said Upham.

Onetime newcomer Daniela Fernandez was at the opening of the exhibit this week.

"I loved it, I found it really emotional, parts of it made me laugh, parts of it made me tear up," she said.

Fernandez, who moved to New Brunswick from Colombia 13 years ago, is now the public education liaison at the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area.

A child's toy is shown as an example of some of the difficult choices people have to make when they leave their homes to start a new life. This was brought by Kaarina Brooks, who arrived from Finland in 1951. She wrote it was one of the few possessions the family could bring along. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"I can relate to that experience of day one and what it felt like to be completely new in a different environment, in a different country, with a lot of hopes and dreams and fears and anxieties," she said. 

"I was really excited to see what the exhibit was all about."

After seeing it for herself, she recommended Canada: Day 1 to all people in the community, no matter how long they've lived here.

"It's helpful for more and more local residents in the community to understand and empathize with the anxieties and struggles of newcomers when they come here, having more people understand that in the community, would make our job a whole lot easier."

Upham said it's important for people to remember that nearly every family in the province has immigration in its past.

Daniela Fernandez, who moved to Canada from Colombia 13 years ago, found the exhibit 'really emotional' and hopes other people will take it in to better understand what it's like to move to New Brunswick from another place. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"The reality of it is, New Brunswick as a province exists because of refugees."

He pointed to the tens of thousands of refugees who fled the United States after the Revolutionary War, coming to what, in 1783, was considered part of Nova Scotia.

"By 1785, so many refugees had landed and settled at the mouth of the St.  John River that the king granted a charter to the new city of Saint John, the first incorporated city in Canada," according to the Province of New Brunswick.

"The provincial motto, 'Spem reduxit,' it means hope restored," said Upham.

"It's right at the core of what New Brunswick is — a place where you can come and start over again and try to build something great."    

One room of the exhibit shows different suitcases, brought to Canada from other countries in the hands of people coming to their new homes. Nearby are oversized luggage tags and markers, with an invitation for people to write out their own Canada, or Moncton  day one story.

One tag has already been filled out: "When I first arrived in Moncton, I did not know how to open my Tim Hortons coffee mug."

It's signed Natasha and says she arrived April 23, 2018.  

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