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Sharing the History of Greek Immigrants to Canada

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The Rialto Theatre on Park Avenue in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood. 

An international research project is exploring the experiences of Greek immigrants to Canada and will create a virtual museum to tell their stories, thanks to funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

by Vanessa Bonneau

This May, at a public event hosted by the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, two hundred primary- and secondary-aged student researchers are presenting the oral histories they’ve collected from their grandparents about immigrating to Canada from Greece.

It’s just one initiative of Immigrec, a multifaceted Greek immigration project being led by McGill with support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

“The idea is to connect the university and its research to the public, and to the immediate community surrounding us in Montreal, including the younger generations,” says Anastassios Anastassiadis, the Phrixos B. Papachristidis Chair in Modern Greek and Greek-Canadian Studies at McGill, and one of Immigrec’s two principal investigators.

To interview their grandparents, these junior oral historians used a simplified version of the Immigrec questionnaire used by researchers across Canada to interview Greek immigrants whose stories will ultimately be shared in a virtual museum online.

“The students get to see what research is about,” says Anastassiadis. “It’s exciting. These kids have this background, but they hadn’t necessarily connected with it before. Greek-Canadian history is also their personal history. History is not just big figures and dates; their story is part of it.”

Immigrec is an international collaboration between McGill and the University of Patras, and also includes York University and Simon Fraser University.

“The project is about documenting the lives of immigrants from the moment their trip started in their village in Greece all the way to today,” says Anastassiadis. It focuses on the way ethnic languages evolve in a different linguistic environment as well as on the social history of the immigration process between 1949 and 1979.

Archival material is essential to the project. As an undergraduate research assistant, Alexander Grasic, BA’18, helped catalogue data and digitize documents. His work is mostly concerned with a YMCA social work project in Montreal’s Mile End, which ultimately reached more than 2,000 Greek-immigrant families. He also helped build a digital map of Greek immigrant addresses in Montreal that will be included in the virtual museum.

This research allowed him to deepen his connection to his own Montreal family history.

“I knew my grandparents had moved here from Greece in the late 1950s, but I had never really imagined what that would have been like,” he says. “They really overcame a lot. I gained a new understanding of what it meant that my grandmother had been a seamstress in Mile End who did piece work. I knew it as a fact, but I hadn’t put it in context.”

He and his grandmother will have a lot to discuss when he visits her this summer on the Greek island of Chios, where she moved back in the 1980s.

Sept. 8, 2018

Source : McGill.CA

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