By Stephen Weir
“The simple truth is this,” said Sam Cronk as he took the Caribbean Camera through a thought provoking new exhibition at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA). “No one wants to be a refugee. It is not something you strive to be. But yet for so many it just suddenly happens. And, I guess it could happen to any of us.”
Mr. Cronk is the Senior Curator of History at PAMA in downtown Brampton. Earlier this month, he worked with a Halifax museum to open Refuge Canada, a travelling exhibition in PAMA’s main space gallery. This multimedia exhibition (supported by the TD Bank) is showing at museums and galleries across Canada but you aren’t going to see it if you don’t make the drive to Brampton. The PAMA show of Refuge Canada is the only stop in Ontario.
“It is hard to believe that the world refugee crisis has impacted Peel,” he continued. “It is estimated that 75,000 refugees have settled in Peel County alone. We aren’t talking about new immigrants to the community – these are people who probably never heard about Brampton until suddenly they are here.”
Through images, soundscapes, first person accounts and artefacts the Refuge Canada exhibition brings awareness of the global crisis to Canadians. Moving through major waves of arrivals from the Second World War era to the present day, Refuge Canada does not shy away from portraying the dark side of modern history.
Hopeful stories of optimism and success are balanced by moving accounts of shattered lives, fear, and examples of Canada’s mixed record in welcoming refugees. The show takes visitors through five themes: Life Before, Fear, Displacement, Refuge and Life in Canada, with hands-on opportunities to get a real feel of the refugee experience.
Nimble gallery goers can crawl inside a UN supplied family refugee tent, look out a plane window as the shores of Canada approach and listen to refugees tell their stories throughout the exhibit. Refuge Canada challenged and inspire as it brings visitors on a journey from darkness to hope, always calling into question preconceptions about what it means to be a refugee.
While the gallery is warning visitors that the very subject matter of the show may be disturbing, it is important to note that this story of refuge does indeed have a happy ending – resettlement in Canada! “It is the job of a Museum to be a safe space for discussion and to present material that provokes meaningful conversations for all Canadians,” said Mr. Cronk. “We know that by presenting these stories of loss and triumph we learn about our history and collective contemporary realities in Peel, Canada and globally.”
Refuge Canada runs at PAMA until September 8th. As part of the exhibition the museum is holding a talk and book signing with award-winning author and Holocaust survivor, Max Eisen: Thursday, Sept. 5, 7 p.m.
Refuge Canada was created by the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. It is located in the national historic site at the Halifax seaport where nearly one million immigrants landed in Canada from 1928 to 1971.