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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.

Air Canada Airlift: Denise Pemberton

Air Canada Vancouver-based crews were assigned to airlift Vietnamese refugees from various points in South-East Asia to major Canadian cities in 1979-1980. This refugee resettlement program would become one of Canada’s largest and most ambitious, bringing over 50,000 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ to our shores and throughout the country. 

It certainly was an amazing time for me, I did many of the flights and will go into a box of papers I've kept to see what I can find in there. I do remember a young boy, maybe 17 years old on one flight and for a while we communicated by mail from his new home in Ontario where he was placed with a pastor and his family. On the flight, his sister was there, a bit younger and I was shocked to hear they would be placed in different provinces. They had suffered so much already and now more heartache.

His name was Trang. I've talked to so many people when I'm in Canada and they tell me his name could not be "Trang" but Tran. They are all Vietnamese and have been trying to help me find him. He would be in his fifties now and told me he was a mechanic. He wanted me to adopt him and his sister right there while we were talking in the galley, sitting on the tray units, of course! I had noticed him in my cabin because all the lights were off and the cabin in darkness, with all passengers fast asleep....except him. His reading light was on for his window seat and when I asked him what he was doing, he showed me his efforts at our alphabet. I told him to come to the galley and we could talk. He told me his father was Vietnamese Army, so he was probably executed. He and his sister were the only ones to escape from his family.

Below are letters sent to Denise from Trang and David Lin - another refugee she met while on the flights.

Dear Denise,

I have just arrived LongPoint, an army base at Guam Oct 11 we have to stay there for a couple of days. After that we are going to definitive destination.

Since I have your address, the first Canadian friends one, I write to you at once I would like to say that we are healthy and very moved because the kindness of the Canadian people.

Don’t forget to send me the photos we took on board. My New address in earliest possible date.

I miss you very much.



NOV. 19. 79.

Dear Denise,

I settle down in Ontario and this is my address. Don’t forget to send me the 2 photos we took on board. I miss you very much.



Dear Denise,

Sorry I haven’t written for so long, but I lost your address. Van and I doing well. She is going to school (grade nine). I am working at the plywood mill and I moved from Gibbons to the Duilio Hotel 7 months ago. Remember you, Van, and I took a picture together in Japan?

Well, I would like to have it if it is possible. I have a girlfriend now.

I would like to hear from you again. Until then, Merry Christmas, and all the best wishes in the new year.



Sussex, 25 NOV. 1979

Dear Mrs Pemberton,

I am very sorry that I could not write you any letter until now, because I was very busy after we arrived in Sussex, New Brunswick.

My two sisters, a niece, a nephew and I have been sponsored by the United Church at Sussex, N.B, three days after we arrived in Edmonton, we left there for Sussex on 3rd Oct.. We were arranged to live in a large house with four bedrooms and many furnitures. The residences in town gave us all the things we needed, A week after that my niece, a & year old, was sent to elementary school near our house. She is studying grade one and I have begun to work Brunswick Lab, a furniture plant, since beginning of this month. We enjoy our new life very much, especially we like all the Canadians in town, because they are as friendly as you are.

On behalf of 243 refugees on the flight Oct ‘79 from Kuala Lumpur for Edmonton, thank all the stewardesses given us warmest regards. Please send them our best wishes.

Yours Sincerely,
David Lin

P/S. Would you mind to send me the photo that you took for John and me on the plane! Thank You!

Sussex, 6 JAN. 1980

Dear Mr + Mrs. Pemberton,

Thank you very much for your Christmas card and the photographs that you sent to John and me. I forwarded him one night after I got.

The photograph is not too bad! Especially, it reminds me the flight that led me to the peaceful and free country which I have dreamed to settle in.

We got many Christmas Cards and gifts during the Christmas season. Some of them came from our friends in many different countries oversea, and many of them were sent from the residents of Sussex town. Christmas day at Sussex is very quiet, most of the people were staying at home to join their families and so were we! But we were very sad that our mother, brother, and two sisters could not come to join us because of her sickness, so that she has been waiting for the treatment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They would come to Canada in late January or in February.

Enclosed with this letter is a story about us and the Vietnamese boat people settling at Sussex that we were interviewed by the reporter of The Kings Country Record (newspaper). I wish you would like to read + with best wishes to you!

Sincerely Yours,

David Lin.


Story by Denise Pemberton, from Phoenix, Arizona.