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Stories of Migration and Belonging

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Stories of migration belonging is the culmination of work over three years by Hamilton Civic Museums, Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council, and individuals from the community who generously shared their own immigration stories and helped us to explore stories of migration from Hamilton's history.

Through video storytelling, this exhibition explores the diversity of immigration journeys, while at the same time highlighting the emotions and experiences of making a home in Hamilton that we all hold in common.

The land that we now call Hamilton has been the traditional territory of Indigenous people since time immemorial.

And long before Hamilton's incorporation as a city on June ninth eighteen forty six, people journeyed to and made a home here.

One such migrant was Enerals Griffin, who formerly enslaved in the United States, journeyed to Canada, eventually settling here in Ancaster.

In eighteen thirty four, Griffin purchased a large plot of land, Part of which is now Griffin House National Historic site.

Here, Griffin operated a large and prosperous farm and became an important member of the community.

According to the eighteen fifty one census, only nine percent of Hamilton's population was born in Canada. As that time, most of the city's residents had come from England, Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. This included James McFarlane, chief engineer of the Hamilton Waterworks, now, the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology.

In addition to operating the Waterworks and keeping the city's residents safe from waterborne diseases like cholera, McFarlane hired and supported other immigrants, who, like himself made the journey to Hamilton in search of work and new opportunities.

An industrial boom at turn of the twentieth century, acted as a driver for labor migration, bringing workers from central and eastern Europe to the city in search of employment in Hamilton's iron and steel industries.

Many of these non English speaking migrants settled the areas around industrial plants, bringing with them the cultures and traditions from their homeland. This in turn transformed Hamilton into a more diverse city with distinctive communities and neighborhood.

One such group came from Hungary. In order to serve this growing population, the Bishop of Hamilton called upon the Sisters of Social Service, an order of nuns who had originally come from Hungary to the Canadian West in the nineteen twenties to come here to Hamilton.

Shortly upon their arrival from Hungary via Stockholm Saskatchewan, the sisters took up residence and worked out of Auchmar Manor House, where the order remained until the nineteen nineties. Here, the sisters employed their professional training in social work, evangelization, women's movements, and social justice support the local community.

Since the Second World War, thousands of people have journeyed to Hamilton, their motivations are varied from fleeing war and conflict, persecution and oppression, to seeking out new opportunities, pursuing education, and even reuniting with family.

But each and every one of these individuals has made a home in and contributed to Hamilton in their own diverse ways. We invite you to explore the breadth and depth of these experiences, through the twelve contemporary stories migration and belonging featured in this exhibition.

Each of our interviewees share their personal stories of struggle of perseverance at strength, picking up where Enerals and Priscilla Griffin, James McFarlane, and the Sisters of Social Service left off, highlighting the ways in which each of these individual threads, comes together to tell the multifaceted story of Hamilton.

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

Additional 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

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 as part of this exhibition. 

The historical immigration stories - Enerals & Pricilla Griffin, James McFarlane and the Sisters of Social Service - were made possible through the generous contributions of many individuals and organizations. Thank you to:

  • Dr. Richard Douglass-Chin, Griffin House Committee
  • Julia Horton, Griffin House Committee
  • Aileen Duncan and the team at Stewart Memorial Church
  • Pat Gallagher, Cemetery Chronicles
  • Kevin Puddister and the team at Dundas Museum
  • Hamilton Municipal Cemeteries
  • Dominy Williams, Director, Library and Archives, Diocese of Hamilton and the team at the Bishop Farrell Library and Archives
  • The Diocese of Hamilton
  • The Sisters of Social Service in Canada

Thank you to all of the Hamilton Civic Museums staff who supported this initiative and to the team at Hamilton Rising and Hometown Hub for producing all of the video for the Stories of Migration and Belonging project.


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