Photography, Memory, and Refugee Identity
The Voyage of the SS Walnut, 1948
On 13 December 1948, a ship carrying 347 Estonian refugees fleeing Soviet rule arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax. Tired, weary, and anxious, the refugees received a warm general welcome, and journalists praised them as the type of immigrants Canada both wanted and needed -- white, northern, and anti-Communist. Although the passengers of the SS Walnut appeared to experience little prejudice as they adjusted to life in Canada, their self-identification as refugees and their traumatic memories were no less fraught than others who had experienced forced migration.
In Photography, Memory, and Refugee Identity, anthropologist Lynda Mannik analyzes the refugee experience through the photographic record of those who made that harrowing voyage more than sixty years ago. Drawing on a collection of photographs taken during the voyage and at Pier 21, Mannik asks surviving passengers to describe their migration, their reception in Canada, and their feelings about the terms refugee and boat person. She explores to what extent the photos reflect the refugees’ experiences as they remember them and how those experiences compare with representations of refugees in news media, in government rhetoric, and at the Pier 21 Museum in Halifax. Ultimately, Mannik demonstrates that the photographs in the Walnut collection bear witness to the refugee experience even as the meanings attached to them have changed over time and in shifting contexts.
“An excellent resource for students and researchers who work with historical collections of images, Lynda Mannik’s book enhances our understanding of the complexity of visual histories and the creation of Canadian identities through photography. Rich in ethnographic detail and critical methodology, this book does a superb job of revealing the tension that resides at the intersection of public and private viewings of images and the consequent implications for the production of identity.”
1 Passengers’ Perspectives: The Voyage and Detention, 1948-49
2 Arrival by Boat and the Media, 1948
3 Still Photos Come to Life at the Pier 21 Museum in 1999
4 Memories and Stories Sixty Years Later
5 Nationalism and Identity in Retrospect
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