Vietnamese Boat People Memorial Monument project
in Mississauga, Canada: Completion after 5 years of hard work
Phan Dam, P.Eng.
So many wars have been recorded in the history of Vietnam. Take my generation as an example. I was born during the Second World War when Vietnam was a colony of France. The French was defeated by the Japanese not long after I was born. In 1945, the Japanese was defeated by the Allied Forces. Then the French came back in 1946 trying to colonize Vietnam again. The coalition among Vietnamese nationalist and Vietnamese communist forces was fighting against the French troops to regain independence for Vietnam starting in 1946.
The French troops were finally defeated and kicked out of Vietnam in 1954. Vietnam was divided into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (a communist/socialist regime) in the North and the Republic of Vietnam (a member of the free world) in the South, according to the Geneva Convention of July 20, 1954. My whole family was among the one million North Vietnamese refugees who fled to South Vietnam in order to escape the communist regime in the North.
North Vietnam started sending its troops to fight against South Vietnam early in the 1960s. While North Vietnam kept receiving heavy military aid from Russia and Red China until the end of the war, South Vietnam’s armed forces became much weaker and vulnerable, because its multinational alliances drastically reduced their military assistance. As expected, South Vietnam eventually had to surrender to the communist aggressors from the North.
The end result: South Vietnam was lost to North Vietnam on April 30, 1975. Some 130,000 South Vietnamese were evacuated during this period.
Thousands of Vietnamese started escaping South Vietnam afterward by the sea resulting to a big exodus of Vietnamese Boat People in 1979 and in the early 1980s. According to the 2016 Canadian census, there are 240,615 Canadians of Vietnamese ancestry, many of whom were Boat People refugees.
Vietnamese Boat People: What does it mean to you?
Just imagine: you and your family had been living in a country at war started by your neighboring country. Unfortunately, your country lost the war. Many children in your country are not allowed to attend school anymore, many bread winners in your country are put in jail by the so called “victors.” Children are not allowed to attend school just because their fathers had been fighting against the new regime. The new rulers confiscated people’s houses and sent the owners to the new economic zone… The new government changes the currency and people are only allowed to keep a small amount of their own money while the new government keeps the rest of people’s money. There is no food for your family, you are much poorer and you are kicked out of your own home! There is no future, no hope for you and your family… In their own propaganda, Vietnamese communists promise an equal society but in reality they create a new upper class for their own party members!
Thousands of Vietnamese became so desperate that they were looking for ways to escape from their own country, risking their lives on the open sea… Sad stories of Vietnamese Boat People can be heard from some 158 Vietnamese Canadians who were Vietnamese Boat People in a series of video tapes created by Carleton University in the following link:
Following is a typical real life story of Vietnamese Boat People Bui Duc Tinh from Vancouver, BC:
In 2017, I met Mike Molloy who is one of the 4 authors of “Running on Empty.” There are chapters on Vietnamese Boat People who were interviewed by him and other Canadian Immigration Officers in the refugee camps in South East Asia in the 1980s. The authors are kind enough to send me some typical articles about Vietnamese Boat People.
While I was teaching Engineering Technology at Centennial College in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I met quite a number of Vietnamese Boat People in Toronto and many mature students who were Vietnamese Boat People refugees at the College. I was shocked and dismayed by what I heard from their stories about their escapes from Vietnam after the communists took over South Vietnam in 1975.
On reflection, when I write this story more than 40 years later, many Vietnamese Canadians and Vietnamese graduates of Centennial College have been thriving in their new lives, new professional careers and living in comfortable homes. Some even have their own businesses!
Vietnamese Boat People Memorial Monuments around the world
Traditionally, Vietnamese have sayings such as “When you eat a fruit, just remember those who planted that fruit tree” (ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây) and “When you drink the water, remember where it comes from” (uống nước nhớ nguồn). As such, Vietnamese expatriates all over the world have built memorial monuments in many cities to commemorate the sunken boat people and the fallen Vietnamese and allied soldiers who had fought against the communist Vietnamese troops. The monuments are built to show gratitude from Vietnamese expatriates as a proper way to say “Thank You” to the western countries that had accepted thousands of hopeless and helpless Vietnamese refugees on their Journey to Freedom.
In Canada, there is a Vietnamese Boat People Monument in Little Saigon in the Vancouver downtown, built in 2017.
In Mississauga, the Vietnamese Boat People Memorial Monument was just inaugurated in 2019, after 5 years of looking for a proper landsite followed by fundraising and construction activities.
Vietnamese Canadians in Calgary are in the process of building their Vietnamese Boat People Memorial Monument in the downtown area of Calgary.
SEARCHING FOR THE LAND SITE FOR THE MONUMENT IN MISSISSAUGA
Late in the summer of 2014, learning from our failed landsite acquisition in Niagara Falls, our 13-member Advocacy Team decided to focus on landsite possibilities in the city of Mississauga instead.
Many volunteer members have had years of volunteer community experience in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). They could easily get strong support from Vietnamese Canadian organizations, not only in the GTA alone but also from other organizations/associations across Canada. They are ready to get themselves fully committed to the good cause of looking for the landsite and then planning for the construction phase of the Vietnamese Boat People Memorial Monument once the landsite is officially approved.
Just one week before the Ontario municipal election in October 2014, I met Mayor candidate Bonnie Crombie at a function organized by the Elderly Vietnamese Association of Mississauga. I asked her for a favour on behalf of our Advocacy Committee: we needed her support for the landsite approval. With a big smile, she reminded me to send her an email about this project if she became the new Mayor of Mississauga. In return, my wife and I joined force with her group of supporters to actively canvass for her.
Good news! Bonnie Crombie became the new Mayor of Mississauga. I wrote her an email right away to congratulate her as well as to remind her about the land site for the Vietnamese memorial monument.
At least Mayor Bonnie Crombie was aware of our Vietnamese Community’s plan to build the Vietnamese Boat People Memorial monument as a gift to the city of Mississauga and as a note of “Thank You” to Canada and Canadians in the spirit of “settling into a new country and succeeding, then giving back.”
We were introduced to councilor Ron Starr to lend us a hand. Early in 2015, our 13 committed members met with him one day at a Pho restaurant in Mississauga. Thanks to his advice, Phan Dam became the contact person between the city and the Advocacy Team representing the Vietnamese Community in the GTA.
Subsequently, the Advocacy team submitted to councilor Ron Starr a document package to seek for the city support and approval for a landsite in order to build the VBPM Monument as a donation to the city of Mississauga.
This monument serves many purposes:
1. To show gratitude and appreciation from the Vietnamese Canadian community to Canada and Canadians for accepting thousands of Vietnamese Boat People refugees.
2. To enrich the diversity of Canada’s Multiculturalism.
3. To enhance the beauty and quality of life in the city of Mississauga and Canada.
4. To remind future Vietnamese Canadian generations of the true value of freedom for which their Vietnamese ancestors had to pay.
Councilor Ron Starr was kind enough to arrange with the appropriate channels at the city for a meeting with Phan Dam and Kiet Cao representing the Advocacy Team.
A meeting was scheduled early in the fall of 2015. Contact person Phan Dam and his associate Kiet Cao attended a meeting with the City Team consisting of the Commissioner of Community Services, the Director of Cultures Division, the City Planner & Long Term Planning, the Director of Parks and Forestry Division, the Coordinator of Public Art, the Manager of Culture and Heritage planning. The meeting went well and City staff was very friendly and supportive.
There were a number of locations that attracted our Advocacy Team: Jack Darling Memorial, Riverwood Park, Erindale Park… While anxiously waiting for the City’s decisions, in the Fall of 2015 and early in January of 2016, I went out to take pictures and video clips of various parks in Mississauga then made the following youtubes that I submitted to the City so that we all could have a better idea about the selected location.
AN AUTUMN WALK IN RIVERWOOD PARK, MISSISSAUGA, CANADA – VIDEO by PHAN DAM
AN AUTUMN MID-MORNING WALK IN JACK DARLING MEMORIAL PARK, MISSISSAUGA
VBPMM PROJECT – PROPOSED SITE LOCATION IN ERINDALE PARK
GOOD NEWS: LAND SITE IDENTIFIED AND MUTUALLY AGREED UPON.
On February 9, 2016, Kiet Cao and Phan Dam were invited to meet with the City Team.
Firstly, there was bad news for the two of us: all the 3 locations that we had applied for were not feasible due to City’s construction rules and regulations.
However, the three locations that the City recommended were seriously considered by the two of us.
We both were so pleased, and excited about the landsite located at 3650 Dixie Road due to:
1. Mississauga Bus Routes
– Bus route No. 5: Dixie North & South bound
– Bus route No. 26: Burnhamthorpe East (East & West bound)
The bus stops are just right in front of the offered location
2. Location in front of the Burnhamthorpe Library: Good exposure to the public particularly for library users with good accessibility and plenty of parking lots.
3. Good choice in term of Vietnamese population density in the neighborhood of Dixie and Bloor in Mississauga
4. Good place for Vietnamese Canadians to organize functions in the spirit of Bill-219, the Journey to Freedom Act
5. Good location for bus tours loaded with guests visiting Mississauga in the future. This will greatly help Mississauga and Canada tourism over the years.
THE VIETNAMESE BOAT PEOPLE ASSOCIATION (VBPMA)
While the Vietnamese Community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was very pleased with the approved landsite, it was now the time for all of us in our Vietnamese community to seriously plan for what to do next.
Since this monument will be completed by the Vietnamese community in the GTA as a donation to the City of Mississauga, it is imperative that the Vietnamese Canadian community should have to raise funds, design then build this monument project ourselves.
Financial transparency should be a must. How to raise the money? How to design and build the project? How could the Vietnamese Canadian community deal with all of that?
The Vietnamese Canadian community in the GTA and some vicinity cities called for a general meeting to form special association with 9 elected board members to be in charge of fund-raising events and the construction aspects of the monument. A professional engineer or a licensed architect should be hired to look after the technical aspects…
Subsequently, the Vietnamese Boat People Memorial Association was founded on July 16, 2016 in the meeting room of the Vietnamese Association at 3585 Keele St #13, North York, ON M3J 3H5. Attendants consisted of members of various Vietnamese organizations, Vietnamese Canadian Citizens…
More information on VBPMA can be found in the following link:
VBPMA’s ACTIVITIES IN 2016, 2017, 2018
1. Service of the retained Professional Engineer
After a short time search for the professional engineer, the VBPMA BODs were pleased to retain the service of Mr. Mike Hung Quan Nguyen, P.Eng., principal of HQ System Engineering Services. He was in charge of the design and supervision of the construction of project. He also became the chief technical advisor to the Board of Directors … He himself was a Vietnamese Boat person refugee. He was a graduate engineer from South Vietnam who came to Canada early in the 1980s, and went back to University of Toronto for his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. He started his own engineering company in the late-1980s. He generously donated his time and services to VBPMA as a token to pay back to his new country of Canada and Canadians that had accepted him in as a refugee.
2. VBPMA’S Business Report
Early in 2017, secretary Phan Dam, P.Eng., was commissioned by the VBPMA Board of Directors to draft a Business Report of which pertinent data/information were provided by Mike Nguyen, P.Eng., and Board members including 17 letters of support from Vietnamese Canadian Organizations / Associations across Canada:
3. Entering the Agreement in Principle
Once the Business Report was approved by the VBPMA Board of Directors, it was submitted to the City’s Culture Division on November 13, 2017 for the City’s further considerations.
On December 13, 2017 the City Council met: VBPMA’s application to enter the Agreement in Principle was approved by the City Council (with 100% vote “Yes”)
4.0 Photo Journal of VBPMA’s Design & Construction Phases
4.1 Design Drawings: Professional Engineer Mike Nguyen, P.Eng., started his designing works & proposals early in 2017 so that Secretary Phan Dam could include some of Nguyen’s works in the draft copy of the report.
Since the VBPMA was founded by the Vietnamese Canadian Community in the GTA to look after the construction of the whole project, it is in understood that VBPMA was totally responsible for the fund-raising activities, design and construction aspects on behalf of the Vietnamese Canadian community. This was a big task. Fortunately, VBPMA was strongly supported by a countless number of volunteers and many organizations / associations not only locally but also throughout Canada.
4.1 Publicity-and-Fund-raising-activities-VBPMA’s web link was created in June 2017 to reach out to Vietnamese expatriates all over the world with articles written in Vietnamese and/or English. It has been well subscribed. All the fund-raising activities with information such as posters, ticket selling, cultural dinner shows… are uploaded onto this link, interlinks, through TV interviews and the 3 local Vietnamese language newspapers.
Details of all revenues and expenditures are reported on the local newspapers and VBPMA web link, typically:
FINANCIAL REPORT – FUND-RAISING NIGHT – JULY 15, 2017 – TƯỜNG TRÌNH VỀ CHI THU CỦA ĐÊM GÂY QUỸ ĐỢT 1- NGÀY ĐĂNG TIN / REPORTED ON AUG.1, 2017
4.2 Monument Design & Construction Organization Chart
Since the monument was to be constructed by the VBPMA, the design phase and the construction phase were to be thoroughly looked after. The construction inspection component was the responsibility of the City. With this in mind, it was decided that the VBPMA Board of Directors take its full responsibilities in both the design and construction phases. The line of duties:
5.3 Design Drawings:
Some typical drawings in the following link:
6.0 GROUND BREAKING CEREMONY
The VBPMA team and organizing committee members worked closely with City staff to prepare for this special occasion on June 11, 2019 with a big crowd of guests:
7.0 CONSTRUCTION PHASE
All construction activities were photographed and videotaped then presented through the links:
7.1 Sculpture Bronze casting and install:
7.1.1 MST Contracting
MST Bronze Limited
7.2 Granite Work
Terrazzo Mosaic & Tile Co, Ltd
7.2.1 Five Faces and cover plate in granite for the statue pedestal
7.2.2 Engraving company & installing
7.3 General Contractor
LHB General Construction Ltd
7.4 Getting all construction insurance papers covered
7.4.1 Construction delay
7.5 Construction got started quite late:
7.6 Great feelings: 5 granite faces precisely installed on November 2, 2019
7.7 Most exciting news: VBPMA statue Installed on November 5, 2020
8. Last but not Least: Successful and Exciting Unveiling Ceremony on Non.9, 2019
8.1 First Spring time (May 2020) at the VBPM monument with Sakura blooms:
9. CONCLUSION: Vietnamese Canadians showing gratitude and successful integration:
Phan Dam, Professor Emeritus
Sept 04, 2020