Here is the latest instalment in the blog series by our summer intern Isabelle. Last week she shared some of the stories from the past that will be featured in the immigration, migration and refugees outreach kit she’s been working on. This week’s theme is present-day histories. 

How do we tell history that is still ongoing?  Historians and museums have asked this throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, this summer I am also working on a project documenting the experiences of Francophone communities in BC during the pandemic. The Royal BC Museum, the BC Maritime Museum, the Museum of Vancouver and the BC Labour Heritage Centre are also running similar projects.

While it may seem like COVID-19 is the biggest story of the year, many other histories are unfolding around us. Immigrants, refugees and migrant workers are moving across seas and lands, finding new homes and building new lives. The last three stories in our outreach kit look at some ongoing stories from the last few decades. To protect the privacy of individuals and communities, we decided to tell these stories from the perspective of communities, rather than focusing on real individuals. Many people were hesitant to share their stories for fear of negative consequences about speaking out about their experiences with the Canadian government.

The three recent stories we are telling are:

Black-and-white photo of refugees.

Vietnamese refugees rest as crewmen aboard the guided missile cruiser USS FOX (CG-33) give them something to drink. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vietnamese Refugees: When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled their homes in small boats. Many spent months in refugee camps across Southeast Asia before being granted refugee status in other countries. Canada alone settled 120,000 Vietnamese refugees, due in large part to the introduction of private sponsorship for refugees. In Vancouver, Vietnamese-Canadians formed a thriving community centered around the “Little Saigon” neighbourhood of Kingsway.

Tamil Refugees: Tamils are an ethnic minority in Sri Lanka, a country wracked by civil war from 1983 to 2009. Tamil individuals and families have been fleeing violence, oppression and discrimination in Sri Lanka since the 1980s, and many have come to Canada. However, in 2010, a boat called MV Sun Sea, carrying hundreds of Tamil refugees, caused a huge controversy in Canada when the federal government accused the people on board of being terrorists. The refugee claimants faced detention, discrimination, drawn-out legal cases and deportation. This story challenges Canada’s reputation as a welcoming country for refugees in the 21st century.

Mexican Temporary Foreign Workers: Thousands of labourers from Mexico come to British Columbia every summer to work on farms as part of the federal government’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. These Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) face harsh working conditions, long hours, low pay and a constant fear of deportation. When their rights are violated, they have little legal recourse. This story, geared toward older high school students, explores the consequences of globalization, the functioning of the agricultural industry in BC, and the successes and failures of labour and immigration laws.

Photo of cranberries in a man-made pool

Cranberries are harvested by migrant workers. Photo credit: popejon2 from Paddington, Australia / CC BY (

All three stories involve people who are still living and struggling with the discrimination and uncertainty that stem from harmful government policies. Their histories and the impact of their journeys to Canada is yet to be fully realized, as they continue to shape the world we live in today.

The image at the top of this post is MV Sun Sea, Source: wongo888 / CC BY-SA (