Well timed Galt Museum exhibit focuses on immigrants


It wasn’t planned that way but the Galt Museum’s new exhibit “Changing Places: Immigration and Diversity” is perfectly timed as it is all about immigrants and their contributions to the community. It is perfectly timed with the news of 25,000 refugees coming to Canada this year and 240 of them coming to Lethbridge by the end of 2016 according to Lethbridge Family Services including 125 by March 1.

Wendy Aitkens shows some of the visual aids used to help immigrants and refugees get acclimatized to life in Canada. Photo by Richard Amery
 It is far from the first time Lethbridge has welcomed immigrants.

“Changing Places: Immigration and Diversity” features first hand accounts of the stories of a diverse group of 20 immigrants conducted by curator Wendy Aitkens including videos accompanying the text of their stories.

 They came from all over the world including Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia There are six videos featuring groups of the subjects, three interactive modules, a reading corner. It also includes pieces about the support services available to help acclimatize the newcomers to Lethbridge and Canada.
The exhibit opened Oct. 31 and runs until Jan 17.

“We started this project two years ago, but it’s interesting now because of the Syrian crisis, which is the most serious situation we are facing for refugees,” said Aitkens.

“Our focus was on immigration starting after World War 2, right up to today,” she said, noting the exhibit covers post Second World War immigrants right up to the more recent  arrival of the Bhutanese community.

Churches like St. Patrick’s were a big part of helping immigrants to acclimatize immigrants. In the ’80s and ’90s, a group from the church helped 100 immigrants from Vietnam and Eastern Asia to settle in Lethbridge.


Jeanne Michna, who was part of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church’s program to help immigrants, noted the church acted because they didn’t feel like the government was acting fast enough. She noted some of the newcomers have since moved from Lethbridge.


“Some of them are in Surrey now,” she observed, reading one of the  stories on display about one of the people the group helped. She added the group considered it their responsibility to help out.

“We just thought we needed to do something to help,” she said
“There are a variety of people including church sponsored people, some skilled workers and some independent immigrants,” Aitkens said, adding the exhibit includes Europeans, Hondurans and Bhutanese people, to name a few.

 She said some of the immigrants have since left Lethbridge, but not before leaving their marks on the community.
“I heard some great stories including some fun stories, like their first experiences with winter here,” she said.

 She noted it is a lot of work to teach newcomers how to adapt to life in the west.
“A lot of them don’t speak English. So they have to be taught, for example the word hand, you have to show them a picture of a hand. They have to be taught how to catch a bus and what a bus schedule is. A lot of it is very natural to us, but  they have to learn the fundamentals. It is all new to them,” she said.
“We have to help people learn to fit in. They have to be taught about everything,” she said.

A version of this story appears in the Dec. 9, 2015 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor