Pier 21: Emotion in 5″ x 5″

This is the third in a series of blog posts describing and documenting The Here & Elsewhere Bee, my project as the 2017 Artist-in-Residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. A list of posts related to the project can be found at the bottom of the blog post.


One of the visitors I encountered my first week was a visitor from Newfoundland. He entered my workspace at Pier 21 in an emotional state and his story emerged as he told me about the fabrics he chose for his bear paw block. His thoughts were simply put.

“This is about my Nan; she raised me. She loved her garden and her favourite colour is purple. I just found out within the last hour that my Nan arrived here at Pier 21 in 1946 with my aunt on a ship called The Scynthia. I just finished a long cry about what this place means to my family.”

The Scynthia was part of the first fleets of post-WWI boats built by the Cunard Line in Britain. She made many trips across the Atlantic to New York and Boston, and carried American tourists from New York to the Mediterranean. She evacuated sponsored children from Liverpool to escape German invasion and suffered a torpedo attack in 1942. After being repaired, she voyaged many Canadian and American war brides and their children to their new homes; one such trip took this gentleman’s grandmother to Pier 21 in early 1946. The Scynthia later took many more refugees from Europe to Canada.

This boat is a part of many family histories, saved lives, lost lives, new lives. To hear one very personal one through a small creative exercise really demonstrates the power of making.

Many people are reluctant at first to participate in The Here and Elsewhere Bee, until they hear that there is no sewing or cutting involved. “You only have to pick fabric!” I tell them. They don’t intend to tell their stories. They agree because it seems simple enough.

After they pick their bear paw fabric, we go over to the design wall to pick a solid background colour. I ask casually, “Can you tell me a bit about what you chose?” Sometimes they are short answers:

“These green clovers are for my Irish heritage,” they simply say.
“This looks like a field of crops,” says an Albertan of Ukrainian descent.
“I just like these colours.”

Sometimes, they let me know what’s weighing on their minds..

“I just found out my grandfather is dying. He immigrated through here, Pier 21, with his wife and son (my father) from Spain. He wanted a life of opportunity for his family. I wanted to connect with him today, because I can’t be with him in Ontario.”

She chose the blue windows because they looked like they were drawn on graph paper; her grandfather was an engineer. The vibrant teal represented the bright life they have led in Canada. As she left, I heard her say, “That made my day.”

Stories with emotion, in a 5” x 5” square.

Read the other posts:

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