Times Colonist: Plaque to honour immigrants detained at historic building

Times Colonist: Plaque to honour immigrants detained at historic building


Plaque to honour
immigrants detained at historic building

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, Victoria was the first port of call for books coming across the Pacific, and up from the United States such as from San Francisco.



I am sure that my great-grandfather
Ernest Lee would have had to stay here, as well as my grandfather Sonny
Mar, as they waited for the head tax papers and immigration papers had
to be signed.  Sometimes… hopeful immigrants would have to wait
not just days… but weeks before they were allowed to enter Canada.




This is an interesting story in the Victoria Times Colonist.
– Todd

 

Jeff Bell

Times Colonist


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

 

image

CREDIT: Darren Stone, Times Colonist

Carlos Gaete of the
Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, Joan Sandilands
of the Inter-Cultural Society of Greater Victoria and Victoria Coun. Charlayne
Thornton-Joe stand at the gate of the Breakwater
townhouse development on Dallas
Road . The townhouses are being built on the
site of the Victoria
Immigration
Building that was demolished in
1977. A plaque will commemorate the many immigrants who passed through
the gates.

Recounting
the history of the city's one-time immigration building tugged at the
emotions of Victoria Coun. Charlayne
Thornton-Joe.

In
a brief ceremony yesterday at the site of the now-demolished structure,
Thornton-Joe had to gather herself as she talked about the Chinese immigrants
who stayed there during the first part of the 20th century.

When
the stark, red-brick building at Dallas
Road and
Ontario Street opened its doors in
1907, it was largely Chinese people who were detained. Many were called upon
to pay the infamous Chinese Head Tax. At times, the building housed up to 200
people who slept in triple-decker bunk beds as they waited for their
immigration applications to be processed.

Thornton-Joe,
a Chinese-Canadian, was speaking at an event to mark the past function of the
property, which after years as an empty lot is being developed into a
townhouse complex called the Breakwater. Three Point Properties organized the
gathering to announce plans for a memorial plaque and to make $2,500
donations to a pair of community groups that help new Canadians of today —
the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and the Victoria Immigrant
and Refugee Centre Society.

Three
Point Properties also will preserve a large spruce tree planted by the first
immigration agent and the original concrete-and-wrought-iron fence around the
perimeter, said managing partner Ross Tennant. A monkey puzzle tree also
planted by the first agent is still standing nearby.

“While
the site was probably a place of uncertainty and sadness for a lot of those
who were detained here, it was also a place of new beginnings and new
opportunities,” Tennant said in explaining the different facets of its
past.

For
many years, the immigration building was the main point of entry for new
Canadians in the western part of the country. Through the decades, it was one
of the first sights for the Japanese, the Russians arriving at the time of
the 1917 revolution, the Dutch after the Second World War, and Italians,
Greeks and Hungarians in the 1950s. It was closed in 1958, and stood empty
until it was torn down in 1977.

Thornton-Joe
said that after she began to explore her heritage, she soon became aware her
ancestors may have come through the building.

“I
often went down to this property and wondered whether my grandfathers and my
great-grandfathers also stood there many, many years before.”

She
applauded the developer's preservation efforts and community donations.

“What
a great way to honour the past and celebrate the
future,” she said.

Joan
Sandilands, who appeared on behalf of the
inter-cultural association, said life in a new country can be daunting, and
must have been “terrifying” for those arriving in
Canada at the
beginning of the last century.

The
memorial plaque, to be displayed when the townhouse project is completed next
spring, will read in part that the immigration building “was a symbol of
hope, often a difficult hope, that one's life in a new land would be better
than the old.

“This
monument acts as a reminder of the enormous courage it took to set off on a
journey to unfamiliar lands.”

© Times
Colonist (Victoria) 2006



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