I didn't want to write this article. I wanted to write something fluffy like "5 Places to Visit in Canada in the Winter" or something interesting like "7 Lesser Known Religions". I wanted to write an article that would take people's minds away from the shootings and bombings in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. I wanted to talk about something other than the long failed "War on Terror" and the Syrian refugee crisis. Out of everything I had planned to write this week, I didn't want to write this.
But I had to.
The world is reeling from the attacks around the globe, and people are pointing fingers at the Syrian refugees that are making their way through Europe via the Schengen Area. The attacks in Paris were committed by Daesh (frequently called Islamic State), a radical extremist group born in the lawless void of Syria and Iraq. It is this barbaric group of 7th Century ideology that is sending millions fleeing into Turkey, filtering through the Balkans and into the Schengen. Because many of the Syrians are Muslim, and the perpetrators were Islamic extremists, many around the world are afraid that there could be terrorists inside the refugees looking to feed off the kindness of other countries and commit more attacks.
And they're probably right.
The fact is, we don't know who these people are, and we don't know their religion, we can't pronounce their names, we can't say their words and we can't believe they are all innocent, especially after Paris.
So what do we do? We look back at history.
This year is the 71st anniversary of World War II. This war sent Jewish refugees fleeing throughout Europe looking for safety. Jews were the Muslims of the 20th Century. They were "different" than their Christian counterparts, with strange clothing, strange words, and pre-Catholic beliefs. They were untrusted and rejected by most of society. Western Jews had tried to integrate into society while Eastern Jews tried to form their own identity. Both ultimately failed. By the end of 1945, over 6 million Jews had been exterminated by the Germans in hellish concentration camps via gas chambers, furnaces, scientific experiments, execution lines and mass live burials.
In 1939 a German Ocean liner, the St. Louis, fled war torn Germany carrying with it 937 Jewish refugees. The ocean liner was headed to Cuba in hopes of finding safety. Once arriving at Havana however, they were not allowed to dock. Cuba had changed their refugee and immigrant laws and the visas the passengers had purchased were no longer valid. 22 were able to enter Cuba with their US visas, 2 were Spanish citizens and could enter, and another 2 had Cuban citizenship. One more was allowed to enter after attempting suicide and had to be hospitalized. The remaining 908 were turned away and sent back.
The ship then attempted to dock in Florida, and at one point was so close passengers could see the lights of Miami. However, the United States refused them and, as some conflicting reports have said, fired a warning shot to keep them away. Being only two days away from Halifax, Canada, they then pleaded to the Canadian government for their help. Instead of being sympathetic however, the government refused to open their doors.
In fact, Canada welcomed the lowest number of Jewish refugees from the war, by only accepting a measly 5,000 with the United States welcoming over 200,000. When asked how many Jews Canada would be willing to take, Frederick Blair, the director of the Government of Canada's Immigration Branch responded: "None is too many."
The ship's infamous journey, now known as "The Voyage of the Damned", returned to Europe after which the refugees were divided and sent to several countries for hopes of safety. Within a year all but the United Kingdom had been invaded and almost a third of all the refugees had been killed.
This, however, is sadly only one of the thousands of stories of the Jewish people attempting to flee at the hands of the Nazis, with another being the heart-wrenching story of Anne Frank that touched people's hearts around the world.
After the war, Germans were expelled from countries such as Czechoslovakia and Hungary and were sent to back to the remains of Germany. Other Germans that fled west away from the Red Army were forced east by the Allies. Millions of refugees were dumped into Germany. In the words of Winston Churchill: "There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble… a clean sweep will be made". 12 to 14 million Germans were relocated back to Germany after the war, 550,000 of them in July, 1945 alone.
When it was all over, the world made a promise to itself: never again would we let racism divide our nations, never again would we let the mass executions of millions occur, and never again would we turn our backs on those who need our help.
After World War II we have had hundreds of thousands of refugees coming to Canada. We've had Estonians, Hungarian, Vietnamese, Czechoslovakian, Tibetan, Ugandan, Chilean, Sikh, Kosovan and over 50,000 South-East Asian refugees arriving to our country. Since our embarrassment in World War II, we have gone out of our way to help refugees, wherever in the world they are.
Beyond those listed above, Canada has also welcomed freed African slaves, fleeing British Loyalists, American draft-dodgers, and refugees from Scotland, Ireland, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Palestine, China, Bangladesh, Iran, Bosnia, Bhutan and Burma.
In total, Canada has offered safety for refugees in over 140 countries around the world, the majority after the shameful voyage of the St. Louis.
Did some of these refugees bring violent actions and dark hearts with them? Of course they did. We accept real people into our country, not angels. We accept the fact that not everybody who is fleeing Daesh wants to be here, and they will probably resent the way they are treated here. When they arrive they will face racism, fear and hatred – something they didn't have to face back home, and something they didn't expect here. There will be reports of them being assaulted in the streets, and possibly public marches against having them here, as there was against the Ukrainians and Chileans.
But all that doesn't matter. What matters is that we help them. It isn't just Canada's responsibility to help these people, but the world's responsibility. We have gawked at the Syrian civil war since the Arab Spring and did nothing, and actively campaigned in bombing and destabilizing Iraq for the past twenty years. This crisis, this war, the attacks on Paris, the bombings of airplanes, the shootings in Parliament, all of it, is because we refused to act when we needed. Instead of acknowledging the devastation we were causing, we ignored it until it came knocking at doors asking for help. We have a responsibility this time, much like we did 71 years ago, and we are faced with the same dilemma.
"Have you ever been to Medicine Hat?" Abby Czibere from the Visitor Centre asks. I feel bad when I tell her no, unless you count stopping to fill up and grab fast food. In short order, I realize that's a big mistake as there's a vibrant food and arts scene and beautiful riverside parks to explore in this city of 65,000 people.
The Hat (the city's nickname; its residents are Hatters) has experienced a renaissance in recent years thanks to innovative entrepreneurs. Trendy eateries, indie coffee shops, and craft breweries have opened, attracting like-minded businesses, while enticing young people to stick around after college. Even the museums add to the up and coming feeling with their unique exhibits and events. Smell the smells of war at Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre, or attend a concert in a massive kiln at MedAlta Potteries (Tongue on the Post Music Festival).
Love poutine, Justin Trudeau and just about everything Québécois? G Adventures had the right idea including Montréal in two of their Canadian tours, but Montréal isn't the only noteworthy place to visit in Québec. Now, this tour doesn't give Québec the justice it deserves either, but hopefully it inspires you to take your time to explore the wonders it has to offer. Québec is a beautiful province with a long history, stretching back over four centuries, so this tour is dedicated to the incredible history and culture of French Canada.
Our fictional tour starts in Montréal. If you've read my Five Historic Canadian Cities article last week, you already know Montréal is one of Canada's most lively cities. Packed with some of Canada's most impressive scientific museums, Montréal is also home to an archeological and historical museum, Pointe-à-Callière. Inside one of the most unique buildings in Old Montréal, this museum ventures deep into the history of the city and explores its foundation, its struggles and its changes. With 375 years of history, to uncover this museum starts off with the discovery of Hochelaga and showcases various sections of the original sewer system. The museum also has several illustrations showing the plagues and fires that once decimated the early city. The museum also has an interactive section about the pirates that once terrorized the St. Lawrence River. This museum is one of my absolute favorites, so if you love museums as much as I, you'll want to check it out.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.