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Episode 1 - Food for Thought

Episode Overview: For the podcast’s inaugural episode, researcher Lindsay Van Dyk drops by to chat about her work analyzing the Museum’s Oral History Collection. She talks about immigration experiences at Pier 21 and shares with us her most-loved interview excerpts that feature our favourite topic—food!

The Long Drawer’s theme song was composed by Ian Hayes.

Transcription:

Laura Sanchini: Hello everyone! Welcome to the first episode of the “The Long Drawer” broadcast from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. I’m your host Laura Sanchini. If you’re wondering why we call this podcast “The Long Drawer,” well here’s the reason. The name is taken from the work of Russian writer Viktor Shklovsky who coined the phrase “to write for the desk drawer,” referring to work that would never be published - that would be stuck in the desk drawer, so to speak. Here, we want to bring to light some of the interesting discoveries found by our researchers - research that might not find its way into an official exhibit or display.

Today I’m joined by one of our researchers Lindsay Van Dyk. She is currently doing some work with the museum’s oral history collection. Welcome Lindsay!

Lindsay Van Dyk: Hello! Thanks for having me.

Laura: As you may have guessed, today we are talking about oral history. For those unfamiliar with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, many people describe us as a museum of stories. But what does that really mean? For the research department, it means that some of our colleagues head into an archive to do research, while others of us head into the field to interview people who have immigrated or worked in immigration.

On that note, Lindsay, could you tell us a bit about your research?

Lindsay: Sure. So here at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, we have this great collection of oral histories from immigrants, refugees, displaced persons and immigration staff and volunteers. There are over 900 oral histories in our collection at the moment, so it really offers a wealth of information about the immigration experience, all from a personal perspective. So right now, I’m listening to a broad selection of these oral histories to identify any themes that emerge and then I’m using this information to support the development of our new exhibits, which will be opening in 2015.

Laura: I’m sure you come across a lot of interesting stories. Is there anything in particular that really struck you as you were listening to the oral histories?

Lindsay: Well, I could spend hours telling you about all the interesting stories I’ve discovered, but one thing in particular that I’ve noticed is that many individuals brought up stories about food when they shared their memories.

Laura: Oh food and memory! That is a great topic. Do you have any particular examples you’d like to share with us?

Lindsay: Yes! Now I wish I could share all of the stories with you, but I selected just a few of my favourite clips.

So this first one we have is from Klaus Beltzner. Klaus came to Canada from Germany in 1956 when he was 9 years old. Klaus was traveling by ship from Germany to Quebec City with his mother and younger brother - his father had immigrated ahead of the family so he was waiting for them in Quebec City. Now Klaus’ mother was quite seasick during the voyage, so Klaus and his younger brother were largely left to fend for themselves. In this clip, Klaus describes what can happen when you leave two hungry boys to their own devices.

CLIP:

Klaus Beltzner: And the next morning we went up for the dining room. My mother wasn't well so she stayed behind, and we'd sit at this big round table, and there would be people, waiters, with actual white coats and they'd ask us what we wanted. Like, we had never been to a restaurant, right, "So, what can we have? Does it cost anything?" Because we had no money, right. "Oh, you can have whatever you want and it doesn't cost you anything, it's part of your passage." "Oh, okay." So, we got the menu and we were able to read and that's why you go to school, right.

So, I had—okay, I had eggs. Eggs was a special—a special thing because eggs were very scarce. I think we had one a month, or so.

Always hard-boiled. So that's all I knew about eggs, that you could get a hard-boiled egg, so I said, "Could I have a hard-boiled egg?" And the waiter says, "Just one egg?" And I said, "Is that okay?" He said, "Well, if you want more, you can have more." "Well, how many could I have?" is what my brother then asked. And he said, "Well, as many as you want."

I said, "Well, if I can have as many as I want," I thought he was joking, right, "can I have a dozen?" "Sure." He came back with a bowl with dozen eggs, so my brother and I started getting into these eggs. Just didn't eat any bread, just kept on eating eggs, hard-boiled eggs. (Laughs)

Laura: That is an absolutely fantastic story, Lindsay. I can only imagine the stomach aches those boys must have had!

Lindsay: No kidding!

Laura: It must have been a really interesting transition for Klaus to live through the rationing of the Second World War and the post-war period and then encounter such an abundance of food on the ship.

Lindsay: Yeah, and his experience with food on the ship may have also been his first insight into how things might be different in Canada.

Laura: Imagine what it would be like to be 9 years old and be able to order anything you want and as much as you want. I mean, what would you have had?

Lindsay: Oh good question. I think I probably would have had bowls and bowls of ice cream with as many toppings as they could have given me.

Laura: That sounds about right. So what else did you bring to share with us?

Lindsay: So this next clip is from Juliana Doyle who emigrated from the former Czechoslovakia in 1938 when she was 8 years old. Juliana’s father had immigrated to Canada eight years before Juliana and her mother and sister, and when the family was eventually reunited, they settled in Brookmere, British Columbia. In this clip, we hear that one of Juliana’s first memories of Brookmere is closely associated with food.

CLIP:

Juliana Doyle: When we came to Brookmere, my first image of Brookmere was the next day after we moved in, a little Japanese boy next door came and gave me a Japanese orange. And I can remember looking at it and smelling it and wondering why he gave this to me.

And after that, every time I saw the Japanese oranges come into town I could smell them and I could — all I could do is smell it and remember the scene in Brookmere as he gave this to me, and it was so touching. I mean, I couldn't speak his language, he couldn't speak mine.

Laura: What a touching story. That’s a really powerful example of food being able to cross both linguistic and cultural boundaries. By offering Juliana that orange, the little boy seems to have welcomed her into the community, all without communicating in the traditional sense.

Lindsay: Absolutely. And what I think is amazing is that this memory stayed with her, triggered every time she saw those same oranges. I think food is an important part of how we remember things.

Laura: For sure. Food and memory are really closely tied. For me every time I see a box of Cornflakes, whether it’s at the grocery store or at someone’s house, I always think of my grandparents because the only box of cereal they had for years and years in their house was Cornflakes. And I don’t know if it’s because they came to Pier 21 and that would have been one of the first foods they were introduced to, one of the first Canadian foods, but yeah, Cornflakes for me, that’s always my grandparents that I think of.

Lindsay: Yeah, speaking of cereal, for me whenever I see those tiny little boxes of cereal that you take camping I think of staying over at my grandparent’s house. My grandma always had a few of those boxes for when we slept over and it was such a treat – we would wake up in the morning and we lay those little boxes flat on the table, cut open the front and pour the milk directly inside. Way more fun than using a bowl!

Laura: So Lindsay, you have one more story to share with us?

Lindsay: Yes and this is a favourite among many of my fellow researchers. In this clip we hear from Heather Wineberg who was a volunteer in the Pier 21 nursery. She was also an immigrant herself. She arrived in Nova Scotia from England in 1947 when she was a young girl. Now Heather primarily looked after the youngest immigrants while their parents were busy organizing luggage and filling out paperwork, but she was occasionally witness to some interesting incidents at Pier 21, as she relates in this clip.

CLIP:

Heather Wineberg: We had an incident where two of the customs men used to come out and have coffee and they said, “We just run into a terrible incident down there,” and we said, “What was it,” you know, and he said, “Well, there was—there was this blue box—painted wooden box, like a trunk, and there was terrible smell in the area, and they isolated it down to this box. It was just appalling.” And after they said, “Well, we have to open it,” and when they opened it, all they could see was these very beautiful sheets and pillow cases with thick lace. Beautiful stuff, but the smell was obviously coming out of the box. It was absolutely appalling, so they kept removing things and putting them down, putting them down, putting them down. And, when they got to the bottom, there was a baby pig. They had come from a village and they had roasted this baby pig and put it in the bottom of the box because they didn’t know if they were going to get food on the ship. And it had rotted.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Heather Wineberg: The whole — and it was appalling. And I kept thinking, “Oh, how dreadful. Will they be able to get the smell out of these?” I mean, I went down and saw the sheets. The sheets were gorgeous. How could they get the smell out of the sheets, you know.

Interviewer: I don’t think you ever would. Whoa.

Heather Wineberg: It was terrible.

Laura: I can’t even imagine what that would have smelled like!

Lindsay: I don’t want to think about it! It’s foreign to those of us born and raised here to think that people would be worried about the availability of food. But I guess in reality, there was so much uncertainty about the process of immigration – uncertainty about the voyage and general uncertainty about Canada. I think that little pig is a good reminder of that.

Laura: I agree. I also find it interesting that Heather seems to be more worried about the beautiful sheets being ruined than anything else. While the new immigrants were probably worried about meeting their basic nutritional needs, Heather was concerned about a non-essential item such as sheets because she already knew that food was quite abundant here.

Lindsay: Yeah, and I think what all these clips show is that food is really a lens that we can use to gain insight into the broader immigration experience.

Laura: Oh Definitely. I think in the examples you’ve chosen for us, food is used to express a lot of things - uncertainty, highlight transition, and even signal acceptance into Canadian society.

Well thanks for sharing those clips with us, Lindsay.

Lindsay: It was my pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity to shed some light on what we do here in the research department.

Laura: Well folks, thanks for joining us today on “The Long Drawer.” We look forward to sharing more exciting research from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Stay tuned for future episodes, including an installment en français. I’m Laura Sanchini – remember, from shore to shore, there’s always more in “The Long Drawer.”


“The long drawer” was a term used by Russian writers to describe works that would never see the light of day—writings that would forever be stuck in the desk drawer. We want to air out the long drawer, so to speak, and share our research adventures with everyone. The Long Drawer podcast series, hosted by Laura Sanchini, our Oral History Researcher, will include glimpses into our Oral History Collection, as well as fascinating tidbits and tales from our researchers. If you have topic suggestions for future podcast episodes, please contact Laura at lsanchini@pier21.ca