A Brief History of the Hearts of Freedom Project

On April 22nd, 2015, Dau-Thi Huynh, Treasurer of the Vietnamese Canadian Federation, and Minh Nguyen, an artist and volunteer in the Vietnamese community, arranged to meet Colleen Lundy, professor emeritus of social work at Carleton University, at a Bridgehead Café in Ottawa. The idea to approach the School of Social Work was approved and supported by Dr. Tri Hoang and Tuyet Lam, former President and Vice-President of VCF. Since Dr. Hoang and Tuyet are both living in Alberta, they were not able to join the meeting.

Minh Nguyen had envisioned a community/university/museum led research effort and titled it the Hearts of Freedom project. The Federation had developed a website to store information on the immigration of the Vietnamese refugees to Canada and to gather other information from the public. They had obtained several supporting letters from different government offices, met with political leaders, and experts at the important museums in Ottawa in hopes of establishing a museum. They were seeking a partner who could join in their goal to secure funding for a project to gather the experiences of former refugees and those involved in their settlement in Canada. At this initial meeting, the three agreed to continue meeting to pursue the goal of a Canadian museum.

Shortly after Peter Duschinsky and Mike Molloy attended one of the meetings and joined the project. They both were members of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society and came with on the ground experience of the exodus of refugees. Peter is a retired immigration foreign service officer and Immigration Canada’s former director of international liaison. Mike Molloy was senior coordinator of the Indochinese Refugee Task Force from 1979 to 1980. The scope was broadened to include the Cambodian and Laotian communities who were part of the refugee movement coming from the former Indochina during the 70’s and 80’s. It was also decided to shift the focus to interviewing former refugees and those involved in their settlement to ensure that their experiences will be preserved for generations to come and become part of Canada’s historical narrative.

Not long after Allan Moscovitch, professor emeritus of social work at Carleton University and Stephanie Stobbe, Associate Professor at Menno Simons College at the University of Winnipeg also joined the project. We now had the expertise and resources to go forward. It was agreed that to begin, every effort would be made to preserve the life of experiences of a representative sample of refugees through videotaped interviews with them. Colleen and Allan began work on an application for funding for the Canadian South East Asia Refugee Historical Project: Hearts of Freedom. An initial application was submitted to the Canada History Fund at Heritage Canada but in 2017 it was caught up with applications to the Ministry for Canada 150 projects. A resubmission was made later in 2017 and this time our proposal was accepted in the spring of 2018.

Since that time, we have formed a Management Committee for the project which has within it the active participation of all three communities. We also have the involvement of the Canada History Museum and the Museum at Pier 21 as well as members of the Canadian Immigration History Association. We rely on their wisdom and experience to guide us as we move forward in this exciting endeavor.

We have also now hired an Executive Director (Ginette Thomas) and a Digital Director (Mondy Lim) to assist us in creating a website to access the interviews and other materials we collect, three community coordinators whose task it is to talk with former refugees about telling their stories on video, and three teams consisting of an interviewer and a camera operator to carry out the interviews. The first set of interviews are taking place in the winter of 2019 in the Ottawa and Gatineau areas. Later this year we will be conducting interviews in the Montreal area and in the Toronto area. We are also seeking additional funds to undertake interviews in Western Canada.

In addition to the completion of 90 interviews with women and men who came to Canada between 1975 and 1985 from the former Indochina, we are also seeking interviews with 20 sponsors and administrators who were involved during that period. We expect to carry out interviews with those who came from Vietnam, Cambodia and from Laos. Using the interviews and other materials we intend to put together a book on the experiences of refugees who came to Canada, and a documentary film.