Sharing stories of Greek immigration to Canada

On May 24th, McGill University inaugurated the first phase of its new Center for the Study of Greek Immigration and Diaspora through the launch of a virtual museum

The 2016 Canadian census states that there are roughly 271,405 individuals of Greek ancestry living in Canada, with 66,395 residing in Montreal. Though Greek immigration was fairly slow during the 19th century, it increased significantly throughout the 20th century. To understand the movement and the stories of Greek immigrants on their journey to Canada and the modalities of ethnic diversity in Canadian society, McGill led an international educational consortium involving three other Canadian and Greek universities (University of Patras, York University and Simon Fraser University). At McGill, where a Modern Greek Studies option has been offered through the History and Classical Studies Department, the project was piloted by the Phrixos Papchristidis chair in Modern Greek and Greek-Canadian studies held by Professor Anastassios (Tassos) Anastassiadis.

The consortium developed an original interdisciplinary approach at the crossroads of digital humanities, public history, oral history, and linguistic analysis in order to fill this gap in Greek and Canadian history and provide a fully-fledged analysis of both the historical and sociolinguistic characteristics of the immigration phenomenon in Canada using the case study of Greek Canadian communities.

The project, IMMIGREC: Stories of Greek Immigration to Canada, unveiled its virtual museum on May 27 at the McCord Museum under the auspices of Principal S. Fortier. The next phase consists in developing a Center for the Study of Greek Immigration and Diaspora, which will expand both the scope of the project and the composition of the educational consortium in order to include other countries with a Greek diaspora and produce comparative results both between diverse ethnic communities in Canada and Greek diaspora communities around the world. 

IMMIGREC virtual museum

The Virtual Museum of Greek Immigration to Canada is the outcome of a 2-year research effort (2017-2018) supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, one of the world’s leading private, international philanthropic organizations, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare.

The teams conducted 431 interviews in cities across Canada from informants who migrated to Canada between 1945 and 1975. They also collected archival material from public and private sources. Greek-Canadian newspapers and other publications were digitized. All this material was stored in the project's database, to be used by researchers in the future, and mined for elements exhibited in the Virtual Museum.

In each one of the rooms of the Virtual Museum, you will be invited to listen to extracts of interviews by migrants narrating their story; you will be able to read newspaper articles or official documents of the period; you will see personal photos and objects provided by our informants. Stand in a waiting lounge and discover the experience of a migrant's 12-day trip to Canada; Stroll in a sewing room and hear the seamstresses narrate their working conditions in the Montreal garment industry; Take a look on individual and family portraits in a photograph's store.

“Historians know that the past has always been read in terms of the present. In an era where immigration and human mobility issues, in general, have become political 'hot potatoes', Immigrec thus comes as no surprise. Over the last fifty years, and even more today, Greece and Canada have regularly, if not systematically been confronted to these questions one way or another. But while these topics today are also often expedited in fleeting social media crossfire, it is thus important for humanities research not only to take the time to go beyond the ephemeral and stereotypical and to document solidly but also to embrace the digital turn in order to reach out to the public transforming it into an active participant in its process and not considering them as just a passive recipient of its findings. At Immigrec, thanks to the combination of the archival database and the Virtual Museum, we aim precisely at this interactivity,” said Professor Anastassios (Tassos) Anastassiadis.

To view the virtual museum, visit: https://virtual.immigrec.com/en