Art Tells Stories of Refugees in British Columbia

Dao Tran, a member for more than 30 years of Living Hope CRC in Abbotsford, B.C., had the opportunity to be immortalized in art this past spring as a local high school embarked on an art project telling stories of newcomers to Canada who arrived as refugees. Launched as a way to celebrate Canada’s 150th commemoration of confederation, the project was also a fundraiser for the creation of a scholarship fund.

Tran and one of his brothers came to Canada in 1985, leaving a Hong Kong refugee camp where they had lived for five years after escaping communism in Vietnam. Tran was 21. This past spring, the Art Activism teacher at Robert Bateman Secondary School in Abbotsford approached the city, seeking former refugees to share their stories with student artists. Tran’s friend, a city counselor, suggested they ask him. Tran said he loved participating because “I’m thankful for the country of Canada and for freedom.”

As part of the project, four or five students came to interview Tran at his place of work, The Bike Shop in Abbotsford. They took photos and later created paintings based on inspiration from his story. Student artists Madison North and Ella Coesel also wrote an article to display with their artwork that tells of Tran’s voyage to Canada and his new life. “He was sponsored by the Living Hope Christian Reform[ed] Church in Abbotsford,” the story reads. “When he arrived, he lived with Mr. and Mrs. Hank and Mary Voss, who, he says became, “his adopted parents.” Dao joyfully said that they “still see each other for thanksgiving, birthdays, and for Christmas. We always come together like a family.”

Tran is now a Canadian citizen; he is married and has four children from 13 to 30. His brother who immigrated with him now lives in Toronto. He has two sisters in California and two sisters and two brothers living in Vietnam.

Following the completion of the artwork, Tran was invited to a showing the class mounted at a local museum, where he was able to see the work and meet some of the other volunteers. “They had quite a few people that came from different places,” Tran said. “When I was there, I also saw a lot of customers I’ve met in the shop because I’ve been working here for almost 32 years, and I know so many people around.”

The paintings inspired by Tran, along with all the other student works, were sold to raise money for a $15,000 scholarship to be awarded to a student recently arrived in Canada from a refugee situation. 

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is a news editor at The Banner.

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