At the corner of Somerset and Preston streets in Ottawa, you will find a life-size statue, the work of Toronto sculptor Pham The Trung, portraying a bare-footed Vietnamese mother clutching her child and fleeing. The monument, which stands in front of the Plant Bath building, was erected in 1995 with substantial support from Canada’s Vietnamese community to memorialize the bravery of Vietnamese refugees. After the fall of Saigon to the communist North Vietnam government on April 30, 1975, many fled the country and settled as refugees in Canada.
With the wave of refugees from Vietnam that were welcomed to Canada in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Canada pioneered its program for the private sponsorship of refugees. Ottawa embraced the program, with the city’s mayor Marion Dewar leading an effort known as Project 4000. This project had Ottawa residents combine to sponsor 4,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. (More recently, Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program was applied to the settlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees in the country.) To recognize this unprecedented mobilization of private effort, the people of Canada were awarded the United Nations Nansen Medal, an honor bestowed for outstanding service to the cause of refugees. In total, Canada accepted around 60,000 refugees from Indochina in 1979 and 1980.
When the Vietnamese Commemorative Monument was unveiled in 1995, the Vietnamese government registered a diplomatic protest. Regardless, the dedication ceremony was attended by Ottawa’s mayor Jackie Holzman. Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time, and Bob Rae, the Premier of Ontario, sent congratulatory messages to Ottawa’s Vietnamese-Canadian community. As Canada’s Vietnamese community has grown, the monument stands as stark reminder of the events that forced them from Vietnam and to their bravery in starting anew in Canada.