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Scattered across the world, the Boat People shaped unknown and alien places, into their new homes. Hear their stories of adjusting to their new surroundings.

Arriving In Canada

Story by Vi Nguyen.

Audio Transcript [English]

[Huong Hoang] How did you think Canada was different? Did you find it cold?

[Vi Nguyen] No actually! We were so excited and happy it didn’t seem cold. Though, it also wasn’t a cold year.

[Huong] What day did you arrive here?

[Vi] We arrived January 18th, 1980. Well, we left on January 18th, and arrived on January 18th [because of Time Zone differences.] When we came, we arrived in [Montreal’s] Mirabel Airport. And you know, we were supposed to take a plane from Montreal to Ottawa to meet your grandfather, but he told whoever was in charge [of the sponsorship] that he would pick us up. So he made his way up to Montreal, and he had to take a bus because it wasn’t like he had a car. He found some winter jackets for us, and maybe some shoes I can’t remember, and he and your uncle Thiep came up to pick us up. We all took the bus home together. When we got on the bus, your Grandfather told the people on the bus that he hadn’t seen his family for five years, and so they let us all sit together.

We were lucky that year, it wasn’t too cold and there wasn’t too much snow. When we first arrived, all we did was sleep because we were so tired. Grandpa had already bought the house that you know now, but we couldn’t move in until March. Grandpa’s place was close by though; he was renting out the top floor of a walk-up. There were three bedrooms: your Grandpa and Grandma got one, and then the five sisters fit into another. It was pretty incredible how we fit in there, there was a bunk bed, a double, and another small bed. We even fit a desk and a set of drawers in that cramped bedroom! It was pretty funny to see, it was hard to walk around because there was so little space. The walls were old and not too nice, but your Grandpa had put pictures on them to cover them up. He was worried and he told us just to live with it for now. But to us, it wasn’t cramped, it was so new, and so great, we were very happy.

It wasn’t until a couple days later that problems started becoming apparent. The cramped bedroom was fine, but we realized that there was only one bathroom to ten people! In the morning, sometimes you had to go down to the kitchen to brush your teeth. And the kitchen was so small! When ten people sat down for dinner, there was no space. But still, we were happy.

In March we moved to the new house. We were lucky because it was so close, because it was very cold and we were bringing everything over by hand. Your aunt Tram [the youngest sister] reminded me yesterday that it was that cold, and she was the one that had to stand outside and watch all of our stuff! She was afraid people would take our things while we moved them down to the street. It was maybe -17 [celsius], much colder than when we arrived.