Wednesday, July 2, 2008

New York Tenement Museum

In May, I had the good fortune of being in New York for a few days. While there, I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The museum features restored apartments that depict the lives of newly arrived immigrants — people who travelled by ship to New York's Ellis Island from Europe in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. In the room I visited, a family of 10 people had squeezed together in a tiny two-room apartment, sleeping on the floor, chairs and a shared bed. I was struck by by the tenacity of this family and the hardship they must have endured, leaving the familiarity of their home country and coming to America to build a new life in a new land. 

Canada has its own version of Ellis Island, called Pier 21, located in Halifax. Today, it is a museum that honours the lives and experiences of newcomers to Canada. I visited both Pier 21 and Ellis Island to help me get a sense of what it must have been like for the many thousands of people who emigrated to North America over the last century. The museums were inspirational in the writing of my book, The Kids Book of Canadian Immigration. I plan to return to the Tenement Museum (soon, I hope) to further explore what life was like for the brave families who lived there.

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