It seems like hardly any time has passed since I first started here this summer, but that goes with the old saying about time flying when you’re… kept very engaged and interested in your work… having fun! Since my last blog post, I have continued to work on the museum’s oral history project, about displaced persons that came to settle in Canada and then in Oshawa following World War II.
In doing so, I have contacted several cultural organizations and clubs in Oshawa who may know of someone who arrived in Canada as a displaced person, as well as those individuals who were considered to be displaced themselves. I have also put together some of the collected stories and documents together into online exhibits at the website Oshawa Immigration Stories. It is a way to pull together many of the common experiences into narratives that can be shared with others. I am really enjoying this task, as I think that these stories are important to many different levels, beyond just individual families – for Oshawa history and for Canadian history as a whole.
One of the major things I’ve noticed about the documents that have been donated is how many of them were for purposes of identification, and just how many pieces of ID each person needed at different points in their journey – to get to Canada, as well as once they were here. As such, one of the documents that stood out to me the most was a document for travel “in lieu of a passport” for “stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality.” To me, this document puts into words the feeling of uncertainty that pervaded the immediate post-war era. I’ve also found this sentiment to be heavily apparent in newspapers at the time, some of which have also provided incredible insight for the project.
Hello everyone. I’m Mia, one of the summer students here at the Oshawa Museum. I have presently finished my second year at the University of Toronto, majoring in socio-cultural anthropology and history while minoring in French. Since learning about different cultures and eras of history has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember, I have naturally always gravitated toward museums. Being on the other side of the museum experience – helping to bring the history the museum offers to the wider public – is something I’m very glad to be able to do, not least because it is something I want to continue to pursue once I finish my studies.
In taking on the role of Oral History Project Coordinator, I have focused a lot of my time on familiarizing myself with the museum’s ongoing Displaced Persons project. The aim of the project is to collect and preserve the memories of individuals who immigrated to Canada and Oshawa after the Second World War – from those people themselves or from those that knew them. In continuing this research so far, I have compiled some of the stories and artifacts into online exhibits for a website I’ve created. In comparing the similar experiences of people’s accounts, I feel that I’m getting a better feel for this time period of history than I ever could otherwise. I am so pleased to be able to work on such an important and genuinely fulfilling project, as I am convinced that these are stories that need to be told and ones that will continue to resonate with so many people.
To continue to talk about my experience at the museum so far, I must point out the people – the staff who have been so welcoming, as well as the visitors that come in. It’s great to work with people who are so clearly passionate about what they do and, with the new faces that come in every day, there has certainly hardly been a dull moment. As such, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to tour people through the houses, including the children that come through! It was quite something to put on a Victorian dress and guide groups of kindergarten kids through Henry House. You never know who among them will grow up to be history lovers, too! Although I was initially just a bit apprehensive about what it would be like to lead a tour, I have since learned so much about what it is to engage people with history. The chance to give tours is now already one of my favourite things to do here at the museum.
Additionally, I have enjoyed learning about the history of Oshawa, since I didn’t know very much local history until now. I have a particular fondness for the First Nations exhibit in Robinson House, which tells of the communities who made their homes in Oshawa as early as the 15th century. This exhibit puts the scope of Oshawa’s history into perspective for me – enabling me to visualize the layers upon layers of history that can be uncovered. I also love touring people through this floor, as so many are just pleased as I am to see the way the exhibit is set up (with the interior of a longhouse!) and to learn more about this piece of Oshawa’s past.
Given that each day differs to the next, I am looking forward to what the rest of summer will bring.
This summer the Oshawa Museum is undertaking a new and very important, oral history project. The focus of the project is to collect the memories of those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Person after the Second World War.
The conclusion of World War II saw mass movements of people like the world had never seen before. Canada opened its borders to help find homes for those who had no home to go back to. Oshawa was considered an enticing place for many from the Ukraine and Poland as there was already a large, established community from these countries in the city. It is these stories, memories and experiences of those who arrived in Oshawa that we at the Museum are working to collect and share.
While Oshawa is known for its industrial past, it has a rich cultural history that should not be overlooked. The people who arrived in Oshawa after the Second World War helped to create the Oshawa of today. They brought with them traditions, celebrations and of course food that are have become a part of Oshawa.
The aim is to learn about what life was like in Oshawa for those who came as refugees of World War II. Where did they live before the war? How was the boat ride over? Why did they settle in Oshawa? What were their experiences once they arrived in Oshawa? The answers to these questions and more, will help us to learn more about Oshawa during this pivotal time in history and to learn about the impact of the war on a more personal level.
The information collected will become a part of the archival record and will be the basis of a museum exhibit. If you came to Oshawa as a refugee after World War II or you know someone who did, please consider taking part in this project. We have developed a workbook to collect the memories and it is available to download. If you don’t wish to download the booklet, please contact the Museum and we will happily send one out to you. Museum staff is more than willing to come out and speak to people or groups about the project and to work together to collect these important memories.