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Stories of Migration and Belonging

Every immigrant has a unique story to share of their migration and of finding a sense of belonging in a new place. The stories often include personal memories of both inclusion and exclusion, experiences which not only shape individuals, families and communities but the city as a whole.

This exhibition provides insight into peoples’ journeys to Hamilton through video storytelling. These stories showcase the diversity of contemporary immigration while at the same time underscoring the common humanity that binds us all.

Throughout its history, Hamilton has become home to hundreds of thousands of newcomers, displaced persons and refugees. The city we live in today is shaped by their community-building efforts.

The Head of the Lake, the area known as Hamilton today, has been the traditional territory of Indigenous Peoples for millennia. Long before the incorporation of Hamilton as a city on June 9, 1846, immigrants settled here in large numbers. In fact, at the time of the 1851 census, only 9% of Hamilton’s population was born in Canada. Most residents had come from England, Scotland, Ireland and, to a lesser extent, in the United States.

The beginnings of heavy industry in Hamilton at the turn of the 20th century acted as a driver for labour migration, diversifying the population by attracting non-English speakers from continental Europe, many of whom were labourers seeking employment in iron and steel plants.

More recently, immigrants come to Hamilton from around the world for a variety of reasons, to seek opportunities for themselves and their families, pursue education, reunite with family and even flee oppression and persecution

Moments of Inclusion / Exclusion in Hamilton’s Immigration History

Show/Hide Transcript
[Background piano music playing]

Immigrant stories: Hamilton edition

[Image, left]

A road sign that reads, Welcome to Hamilton: The Ambitious City

[Image, right]

A vintage streetscape photo of downtown Hamilton.

Let’s look back at a few moments of Inclusion and exclusion in Hamilton’s immigration history…

Inclusion, 1800s

Immigration from the British Isles, the United States and western Europe dominated Hamilton's early days.

At the time of the 1851 census, only 9% of Hamilton’s population was born in Canada.


Possibly a lithograph on newsprint of a bustling downtown Hamilton in 1846. Policemen, gentlemen in top hats, workers pushing wheelbarrows, and ladies in hoop skirts carrying parasols comprise the scene.

Exclusion, 1800s

Yet... racist federal policies restricted immigration from specific ethnic groups to Canada.

Such as the "Head Tax" on Chinese immigrants, 1885-1923

[Image, left]

Chinese Immigration Act certificate for $500 head tax payment belonging to Lee Don and dated August 2, 1918.

[Image, right]

Editorial cartoon showing a closed gate labelled “oriental exclusion” and an open gate labelled “white immigration” published in Vancouver’s Saturday Sunset newspaper in 1907.

Inclusion, 1840s

By the 1840s, a community of Black freeborn and formerly enslaved people had formed on Concession Street in Hamilton.

Known as "Little Africa," the inhabitants were landowners and entrepreneurs.


Photo of the Berry family with seven adults and two children.

They established Canada’s oldest Black congregation.

[Image, left]

Photo of the Stewart Memorial Church choir from July 17, 1962. One person plays the while four other members stand beside her.

[Image, right]

View from the entrance of the Stewart Memorial Church building looking up to the church’s signage.

Exclusion, 1900s

Yet, the Klu Klux Klan paraded openly on James Street North.


Members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) ride horses on James Street North circa 1930.

Exclusion, 1900s

Hostility to foreigners was also evident in local policies and public opinion.

Restrictive real estate covenants were commonplace. In Westdale, deeds contained this clause...


Photo of the north side of the traffic circle in Westdale from the 1930s with the “Westdale Theatre” entrance on the left.

"None of the lands shall be used or occupied by Negroes, Asiatics, Bulgarians, Austrians, Russians, Serbs, Rumanians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Greeks or Jews"

From Westdale Properties Limited, deed from 1928

Inclusion, 1900s

The beginning of heavy industry was a magnet for labour migration…


Video of gears and belts in motion at an unidentified industrial space.

...especially from continental Europe.


Page from a publication featuring three Stelco male workers from noting where they immigrated from: Luxembourg, Armenia and Latvia.

Many workers concentrated in the Barton Street East neighbourhoods.

[Image, left]

An aerial view of an industrial complex in Hamilton.

[Image, centre]

Man welding a steel plate.

[Image, right]

Woman works making nails in front of heavy machinery.

Exclusion, 1900s

During the wartime eras, Japanese, German and Italian Canadians faced mistreatment, discrimination and unjustified internment.

People deemed as "enemy aliens" were rounded up and sent to internment after Italy's declaration of war on June 10, 1940.


Scene with a group of men rounded up and boarding a train at the TH&B. Railway Station.

Exclusion, 1970s

The Immigration Act of 1976 introduced private sponsorships, allowing organizations and informal groups to bring refugees to Canada.

Hamiltonians created the "Mountain Fund to Save the Boat People" in response to the Vietnam War’s refugee crisis of 1979.

[Image, left]

35 Vietnamese refugees on a fishing boat at sea wait to be rescued and taken aboard the USS Blue Ridge.

[Image, right]

A group of 162 persons arrived on a small boat which sank a few meters from the Malaysian shore.

The fund assisted over 3000 refugees in its 15 years of operations.

Most recent refugee arrivals continue to reflect various crises around the world.


Afghans and supporters rally in front of Hamilton City Hall on August 29, 2021 over the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

Hamilton is home to many newcomers, displaced persons, refugees and generations of their descendants. The city we live in today is shaped by their community-building efforts.
Awareness is growing of the systemic inequalities present in our community, both past and present.

Including the need for reconciliation with Indigenous communities.


Bianca Millar performs a dance in front of the "Eagles Among Us" monument in Battlefield Park during a vigil honouring the 215 Indigenous children found buried at a residential school near Kamloops, B.C.

Inclusion and exclusion have been part of building Hamilton.


Background collage of images previously shown in the video.

There is still work to do.

Moments of in/exclusion in Hamilton’s immigration history

Image credits:

  • McMaster University School of Labour Studies Collection
  • Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives
  • Vancouver Public Library, 39046 & 30625
  • The Berry Family
  • John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator
  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • Kaspar Gaugler/UNHCR
  • Dan Taekema/CBC
  • Barry Gray/The Hamilton Spectator
Resources: Series One

“City of Immigration: Inclusion and Exclusion”

  • Wayland, S. (2020)
  • In Reclaiming Hamilton: Essays from the New Ambitious City, ed. Weinberg, P., Hamilton: Wolsak and Wynn
  • Find it at a library near you on WorldCat

Craft Capitalism: Craftworkers and Early Industrialization in Hamilton, Ontario, 1840-1872

  • Kristofferson, R. B. (2007), Toronto: University of Toronto Press
  • Find it at a library near you on WorldCat

Hamilton: An Illustrated History

  • Weaver, J. C. (1982), Toronto: J. Lorimer
  • Find it at a library near you on WorldCat

Land of Triumph and Tragedy: Voices of the Italian Fallen Workers

  • Breda, P., & Toppan, M. (2019), Toronto: Verità
  • Find it at a library near you on WorldCat

Lunch-bucket Lives: Remaking the Workers' City

  • Heron, C. (2015), Toronto: Between the Lines
  • Find it at a library near you on WorldCat

The Italian Presence in Hamilton: A Social History 1870-2000

  • Carlson, C. E. T. (2000), Toronto: The author
  • Find it at a library near you on WorldCat

Working in Steel: The Early Years in Canada, 1883-1935

  • Heron, C. (2008), Toronto: McClelland and Stewart
  • Find it at a library near you on WorldCat


Resources: Series Two

Banerji, R. (2022). Time to Change Focus? A Review of Immigrant Labour Market Barriers, Outcomes and the Role of Employers in Canada.  

Caring for Kids New to Canada. (n.d). Adaptation and Acculturation. A Guide to Health Professionals Working with Immigrant and Refugee Children and Youth.  tps://

Government of Canada. (2019). IRCC Minister Transition Binder 2019: Immigrant Outcomes. 

Government of Canada. (January 23, 2023). Canada Meets Its Francophone Immigration Target in 2022.

Government of Canada. (n.d). Ukraine Immigration Measures: Key Figures.

Government of Canada. (n.d.) Immigration Matters Philanthropy. 

Nazish, Petrovskaya, Ol. & Salami, B. (2021). The mental health of immigrant and refugee children in Canada: A scoping review. International Health Trends and Perspectives.

Shields, J. & Lujan, O. (2018. Immigrant Youth in Canada: A Literature Review of Migrant Youth Settlement and Service Issues Knowledge Synthesis Report.

Statistics Canada. (2019). Ethnicity, Language and Immigration Thematic Series Educational and labour market outcomes of children with an immigrant background by their region of origin.

Statistics Canada. (2022a). Census 2021 Community Profiles.,2,3&STATISTIClist=1,4&DGUIDlist=2021A00033525&HEADERlist=2,,28,24,22,27,23,29,25,26&SearchText=hamilton

Statistics Canada. (2022b). Immigrants make up the largest share of the population in over 150 years and continue to shape who we are as Canadians.

Statistics Canada. (2022c). Immigrants make up the largest share of the population in over 150 years and continue to shape who we are as Canadians.

Statistics Canada. (2022d). Socioeconomic outcomes of immigrants admitted to Canada as children,

Sutter, A., & Esses, V. (2021). Discrimination Experienced by Immigrants and Visible Minorities in Hamilton. Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council.

UNHCR. (n.d.) Global Trends.,most%20since%20World%20War%20II

Weinberg, P. (2020). Reclaiming Hamilton: Essays from the New Ambitious City. Wolsak and Wynn. 

Yang, W. (2018). Addressing Cultural Identity Confusion within Multi-Generation Chinese Canadian Families through an Educational Lens.



This virtual exhibition launched in 2021 as part of Hamilton 175, a digital commemoration of the 175th anniversary of Hamilton’s incorporation as a city. We would like to thank the Hamilton 175 Advisory Group, Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council (HIPC) and the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to the exhibition development:

  • Brydie Huffman
  • Kelly Dixon
  • Mohammad Araf
  • Narges Hameidi
  • Natasha Hernandez
  • Sam Holdridge and the Hamilton Rising team
  • Sarah Wayland

The exhibition team is grateful to all the participants who shared their stories of migration:

  • Joyce, Jolie Phuong, Neekee, Israel, Ebun, and Fadi for series one
  • Alyna, Betty, Lanciné, Len, Safaa and Yudara for series two

Thank you to the team at the Cotton Factory for providing us space to film and  to the artists Vivian Rosas and Vesna Asanovic who created the Gateway mural on James St. South, which we’re displaying on this exhibition. 

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