Countless Journeys & D’innombrables Voyages are original shows created by the Canadian Museum of Immigration located at Pier 21 in Halifax, the site of arrival for nearly a million immigrants. Connect to the human side of immigration through stories that warm the heart, build empathy and highlight the contributions made by newcomers. Dive into our shared history and honour those who now call Canada home as our guests share the challenges, joy and unexpected humour they’ve experienced along the way. This is Countless Journeys.
Escape to Freedom - Luben Boykov & Elena Popova
Gander, Newfoundland was made famous internationally with the hit Broadway musical Come From Away. The Tony Award-winning blockbuster centered around how the town handled the massive influx of stranded airline passengers impacted by the grounding of flights after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that Gander was able to handle that crisis in part because of its experience as the site of defections of tens of thousands of refugees from Eastern Bloc countries during the Soviet era. Some days more than 300 people would claim refugee status in Gander. More than 3000 Bulgarian refugees defected while they were en route through the Gander International Airport. And among them were artists Luben Boykov and Elena Popova.
In 1990 the young couple was just starting a family in Sophia, Bulgaria when they made the life-changing decision to board a plane for Cuba under the guise of going there to a holiday. But their real plan was to defect once the plane landed in Gander to refuel.
In this final episode of season three of Countless Journeys, Luben and Elena share their harrowing tale of fighting their way off that flight, uncertain of what lay ahead. “The plane started descending,” says Luben Boykov. “We had no idea where we were. Because no information was given, no PA announcements, nothing.” “I was choking. I had tears in my eyes. I couldn't breathe,” recalls Elena Popova. “I was trying desperately to take a breath of air and I did, and it was minus 20. I could feel the cold air, but it was the freshest breath of air I ever took.”
The couple would go on to make Newfoundland their home for close to thirty years, where they raised their daughters and created art that is among gallery and private collections throughout the world.
Do You See What I See? – Visual Artists Rey Tatad & Leya Evelyn
Rey Tatad moved from the Philippines to Tisdale, Saskatchewan when he was 16 years old. Growing up, he loved illustration, and when it came time to decide on what to major in at University, Rey knew that art was what he wanted to pursue as his life’s work.
In 2021 he graduated from the University of Regina with a degree in Fine Arts, picking up a national award for best emerging artist along the way. Rey Tatad’s art explores themes of colonization and identity, and the overlaps between the culture that he came from, and the culture he is contributing to now here in Canada.
“I am definitely on a, on a journey on learning both of the histories and the cultures of the two countries - their differences, their similarities,” Rey says. “But the more that I learn, the more convoluted it gets. As an immigrant, you're neither really authentically Filipino nor authentically Canadian anymore. You're kind of in between.” Rey Tatad shares more of his ideas around identity, and his plans and dreams for his future.
Leya Evelyn’s career as an abstract expressionist painter has spanned six decades, throughout which she has witnessed the acceptance of the art form as the dominant form of painting, placing New York City at the epicenter of the modern art world.
Leya spent more than twenty years in New York City, and moved to Nova Scotia in the mid-nineteen-eighties where her art and teaching careers flourished.
Now, at 85, Leya looks back at her influences and approach to painting.
Sean Kennedy, professor of English at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, describes her painting as controlled explosions of colour and light. He says Leya’s paintings matter as much for what they do as what they refuse to do. “I was just born to paint. It's like, I don't feel like it's a choice. You know, it's one of those things that you just, I'm so glad that I found it early enough,” Leya says. “But once I found how much I loved painting, there was no question ever. I have never questioned it.”
Determined Dancers - Ida Beltran Lucila & Jojo Lucila
The desire to give children a better life. That’s one of the big, enduring themes in stories about why people leave everything they know behind, to immigrate to another country.
And it’s what inspired Ida Beltran Lucila and Jojo Lucila to leave thriving careers in the dance world in the Philippines to start over in Canada. The two met at Ballet Philippines in the early 1980s, where Ida would go on to become a principal ballerina. Jojo’s career as a dancer would end with an injury in his early twenties, but he continued as a choreographer for the Filipino military, whose musical productions routinely involved many hundreds of dancers.
But widespread corruption and a political scandal that brought down a president left the couple despairing for the kind of futures their three children faced in a country where patronage seemed to rule the day.
“We wanted to raise our children in a society of meritocracy so that they grew up knowing that the work that they invested in would yield something other than patronage,” says Ida Beltran Lucilla.
But the sacrifices would be huge along the way.
Settling in Edmonton, it was tough going at first, as the couple realized that their lack of contacts in the dance world in a new country would challenge their ability to make a living doing what they not only loved, but excelled at back home.
“So in the early years I worked in the call centre for Pizza Hut and my husband was working at Sobey's. I think at that time I sort of lost my identity. Because my identity was so tied with my artistic achievements and not being able to do that here. I know now I can say that I sort of lost myself.”
Listen as Ida and Jojo share their inspiring story of rebuilding their lives in Canada, creating opportunities for themselves and others in the Filipino community in Edmonton along the way.
The Mariachi Ghost – Jorge Requena Ramos & Rafael Reyes
The search for justice in an unjust world is a theme that never gets old. And it’s the search for justice that inspires Jorge Requena Ramos and Rafael Reyes in the music they create, along with their bandmates, in The Mariachi Ghost. “The Mariachi Ghost is a man who does not know if he's dead or alive,” explains Ramos. “A rider that comes in the night and finds people who are unjust, who are unfair, who are criminals, who are sinners.”
The band mixes the sounds of traditional Mexican music with searing rock and four-part harmonies inspired by Mennonite choirs. In this conversation with Countless Journeys host Paolo Pietropaolo, Ramos, who was born in Mexico, and Reyes, who was born in El Salvador, talk with host Paolo Pietropaolo about their experiences as newcomers to Canada, trying to navigate a music industry that often routinely pigeon-holes non-white artists. “The Mariachi Ghost is an entirely Canadian experiment. We were able to create something that was multicultural, a reflection of the city that we live in with influences from Mennonite four-part choir singing to Chicha and Francophone songwriter influences, and Jamaica influences all happening in one place in one band in the basement, in a minus 48 winter day in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the suburbs,” says Ramos. “It's a very, very Canadian experience and we're very proud about that.”
Visionaries Past & Present – Yousuf Karsh & Dinuk Wijeratne
Season 3 of Countless Journeys from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 celebrates the contributions of Canadian immigrants to the performing and visual arts. We begin with a celebration of the life and work of legendary photographer Yousuf Karsh.
Karsh was 13 years old when his family fled the Armenian Genocide, escaping to Syria. Two years later, his family sent Karsh, alone, to Halifax, where he was met by an uncle who brought him to his home in Sherbrooke Quebec. Karsh’s life story, from refugee to world-class photographer, unfolds, along with more than 100 of his portraits, in a wonderful exhibit featured at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, The World of Yousuf Karsh: A Private Essence. We speak with Dr. Hilliard Goldfarb, who is senior curator emeritus with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the lead curator of the exhibit. “By the time of his closing the studio in Ottawa in 1993, he had literally photographed most of the famous people in the world: Churchill, Castro, Trudeau, Khrushchev, Jacqueline and John Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, Einstein, Picasso,” says Goldfarb.
And Dinuk Wijeratne is a Juno award winning composer and performer whose music blurs boundaries and shakes up traditional approaches to classical music. Born in Sri Lanka, raised in Dubai, Dinuk came to Canada in 2004 after landing a job with Symphony Nova Scotia. Dinuk has performed on the biggest stages, like Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Centre and the Opera Bastille, alongside musical luminaries like Yo Yo Ma and Zakir Hussain. Dinuk Wijeratne speaks with host Paolo Pietropaolo about his life and musical journey, and his devotion to eliminating barriers in the world of classical music. “Classical music has a very traditional past, it has a very centralised past, but I firmly believe that it should be accessible to everyone. I think that everyone, every single artist who says they engage with classical music should feel totally free to express and explore their own identity.”
Season 3 Trailer
Devoting your life to making art takes guts. Many newcomers have, and Canada as a country is richer for it.
Join host Paolo Pietropaolo and many incredibly talented artists in the creative and performing arts who also happen to be immigrants to Canada in Season 3 of Countless Journeys. People like The Mariachi Ghost band lead singer Jorge Requina Ramos born in Mexico City but has called Winnipeg home for more than twenty years, famed photographer and Armenian refugee Yousuf Karsh and dancer Ida Beltran Lucilla, former principal ballerina with Ballet Philippines.
This is Countless Journeys. Listen now on your preferred podcast streaming platform.