Seeing evidence of the old West in downtown Calgary was a heart-stopping experience for one immigrant to Alberta.
“I was horrified to see cowboys with guns strapped to their sides,” said the man who arrived to Canada from Germany in 1956.
He breathed easier when someone explained to him what the Calgary Stampede was all about.
These and other stories about the immigrant experience are related in Canada: Day 1, at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery. The travelling exhibition from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, is part museum display and part art display.
Questions about why newcomers came to this country, what they bring, and what they find are answered through direct quotations from Canadian immigrants, vintage photographs that go back a century, artifacts and art installations.
Canada’s ignoble immigration policies are touched on in the exhibit — including the head tax implemented to stem immigration from China early in the 1900s.
A quotation from a British immigrant who arrived on our shores during this period tells of cruel practices “that separated husbands from wives and children from parents.” Those deemed unfit for entry were put back on boats and returned to their homelands.
Monybany Minyang Dau, one of two Red Deer-based immigrants included in the exhibit, is a former child soldier from Sudan who resettled here after first being educated in Cuba. Dau recalled in his video statement how strange it felt to observe for the first time our quiet, reserved society, compared to boisterous, noisy Cuban culture.
Other immigrants quoted in the exhibit express relief upon arrival: A woman from Poland was comforted by the beauty of the autumnal landscape. An African immigrant, initially alarmed by an ambulance with sirens blaring going by with a fire engine and a police car, later marvelled that such a force would be deployed to save one human life.
Kim Verrier, the Red Deer museum’s co-ordinator of visitor experience, hopes the display will give a tantalizing glimpse into various aspects of the immigration experience. For the many Central Albertans who relocated to this country, she believes it will be a poignant reminder of what it was like to start over.
“I think it’s a powerful exhibit … a stepping stone to discovering the many stories in our community.”
It continues to Aug. 14.
Some special events are planned around the display: On Tuesday students will learn about refugee camps through various activities from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; On July 17 a Welcome to Red Deer western-themed party will be held from 1-4 p.m. with games, crafts, food and music; From July 5-Aug. 20 Arts and Culture Tuesdays will be held with creative projects for kids.
Starting next week, a community tree will be ‘grown’ as part of the exhibit, with visitors welcome to add a branch.
For more information, please call 403-309-8405.