10. Expanding Horizons — Pacific Gateway
Ever since British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871, Canada has had a presence on the Pacific Rim. Once the Canadian Pacific Railway had connected Vancouver with the lands east of the Rocky Mountains, immigration from Asia, and ocean trade with Pacific Rim countries grew steadily.

This exhibition takes a look at the important role Vancouver has played over the decades as a transportation hub and port of entry for new Canadians. Starting from the era of huge ocean liners such as Canadian Pacific's great Empress line – represented by a large builder's model of the Empress of Asia – the exhibition takes us up to the jet age, when "Winged Empresses", a Canadian Pacific fleet of aircraft, began to bring many travellers to and from Vancouver.

The exhibit is designed as a reproduction of a lounge in Vancouver International Airport in the late 1960s and uses some of the airport's actual fittings, such as two upholstered benches. Seated in the lounge, Museum visitors will be able to scan the Vancouver skyline, see virtual visitors traipse by, and admire period pieces that include a model of a DC-8 jet, a flight attendant's uniform and travel posters.

While harbours and airports represent physical gateways, and boats and airplanes the means of connecting them, the most compelling gateway stories are those that feature the groups and individuals who travelled through them. Examining the impact that Canada's new "points system" had on immigration after the late 1960s, Pacific Gateway focuses on the arrival of one group in particular, the Filipinos, that represents this new era in Canada's immigration history.

airport lounge    Vancouver International Airport lounge reproduction, circa 1960.
photo: Harry Foster, © Canadian Museum of Civilization

Canada's connection to the Pacific region can be traced back to the late 1700s, when the first sea-otter pelts from the coast of what would become British Columbia were conveyed across the Pacific to China to be traded. Following the extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Vancouver in 1887, Canada's trade with the nations of East Asia and other countries of the Pacific Rim expanded dramatically.

The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Panama Canal (1914) were two huge spurs to Vancouver's growth in population and trade. The city's deep natural harbour and tidewater location on the west coast of North America make this sheltered, ice-free port an ideal place through which to funnel huge quantities of freight and handle scores of cruise ships. This trend has accelerated with the rapid growth of Pacific Rim economies in recent decades, so much so that Canada — once primarily an Atlantic-oriented nation — now trades more with Pacific Rim countries than any other parts of the world.

The Empress of Asia steams through Vancouver's Harbour.
photo: Canadian Pacific Railway Archives Image, No. NS.21261
   ocean liner

A few kilometers south of the harbour, Vancouver International Airport is equally busy, moving airline passengers, mail and cargo to and from much of the world. By the 1960s, the airport had become modern Canada's most important Pacific gateway for passengers travelling to and from Asia.

Immigrants from the region — Chinese, Hawaiians, Japanese and others — first arrived in the late nineteenth century, and encountered little understanding and even outright hostility for many years. Despite these severe hurdles, this growing, diverse group of Canadians has contributed greatly to the evolving country.

With the introduction of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923, the flow of people from Asia to Canada was virtually halted. It was not until the 1960s that Canada began to liberalize its immigration laws and policies, and by the end of the decade, substantial numbers of immigrants, especially skilled workers, began arriving from countries like India, Hong Kong, Pakistan and the Philippines.

flight attendants    Canadian Pacific's first Chinese flight attendants prepare for the flight to Hong Kong on September 28, 1950.
photo: National Archives, C 62459
CP Air's inaugural flight to Peking (Beijing), China, August 1, 1972.
photo: National Archives, C 62483
   Peking flight

Arriving through the Pacific Gateway

The Filipinos formed one of the most significant new waves. Prior to the 1960s, there were fewer than 200 Filipino immigrants living in Canada. By 1973, the Philippines had become the seventh largest source country of immigration overall. Many of the Filipinos who immigrated to Canada during this period came as doctors and nurses, at a time when Canada needed trained medical personnel. Through personal artifacts on loan from Filipino Canadians, as well as firsthand accounts of their early lives in Canada, Pacific Gateway provides an insightful look at what it was like to become a new Canadian during the late sixties.

Close to 20 Filipino immigrants were interviewed for Pacific Gateway, and excerpts of their interviews are presented in audio and video recordings in the exhibit. Although their individual experiences were unique, their stories contain some common threads.

Choosing Canada
In the 1960s, Canada needed skilled medical personnel, and many of Canada's Filipino immigrants during the period were doctors and nurses. The need for their professional skills was an important reason for their choosing to come to Canada. Others came because they already had family members in Canada, or because they feared the political instability in the Philippines under the Marcos regime, or because they were seeking a better life. Unlike many other immigrant groups, among the Filipino newcomers the vast majority were women.

Significant Objects
What would you take with you if leaving for a far-away country? Pacific Gateway includes a very diverse array of objects that were significant to the Filipino Canadians who brought them from their home country. There were items of traditional clothing, personal keepsakes, and the tools of their trade, such as nursing uniforms and medical instruments. Many objects reflected the traditional crafts or materials of their country, from an ornate wooden shield of the aboriginal Igorot tribe, to handiwork made of sea shells and mother of pearl. One newcomer brought a piece of folk art that depicts a "jeepney". These disused military jeeps were employed as buses and continue to be a familiar sight in the Philippines.

Filipino objects    Significant objects from Filipino immigrants.
photo: Harry Foster, © Canadian Museum of Civilization

Coming to Canada
First impressions of a new country tend to remain vivid. Many of the Filipino immigrants interviewed for Pacific Gateway had never flown before leaving for Canada, and many spoke of the combination of excitement and dread with which they crossed the ocean. The transpacific crossing might already hold novel experiences, like being served corn flakes. One person remembered being awed by the tall stature of the first Canadians she saw. Others were struck by how big and modern Vancouver International Airport was, or experienced the shock of seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time. Seeing snow for the first time was an unforgettable moment.

Living in Canada
One of the greatest challenges for any immigrant is adapting to daily life in the new country. They must deal with an unfamiliar climate and customs, and sometimes face discrimination. As they adapted, an experience that was both joyful and sometimes painful, many also became concerned with keeping their own cultural traditions alive. One small group founded a traditional dance troupe, while another individual created a Filipino heritage school. Others became involved in Filipino associations, and churches were an important gathering place for worship and social events. The interviews in Pacific Gateway make clear the liveliness and warmth of the cultural traditions that have been preserved by Filipino Canadians.

Opened: July 2003
Curators: Alan Elder, Dr. Dan Gallacher, Chris Kitzan