The Immigrants from my childhood memories were not strangers, they were family who left to go abroad and who sent money back home to their impoverished relatives during the difficult post-war times of Greece.
However, I was also able to meet a younger generation of migrants through my marriage to the son of an immigrant. And, as I came here to the blessed land of Montreal, I encountered thousands of working hands whose hard labor helped many families in Greece but also built a bright future for themselves and their children here in Canada.
I admired these immigrants, I admired them for their achievements, for their churches and their schools and for their educated offspring who have nothing to be jealous of their native Quebecers or fellow Anglo-Canadians.
They came here to Montreal, a city foreign not only in terms of language, but also in terms of weather. Regardless, neither the endless snowy winters nor the unbearable cold nor the two foreign tongues could keep them from developing their skills and abilities and creating the "Greek miracle" of Montreal.
When the discussion of a sculpture that the Greek community would donate to the Municipality of Montreal for its 375th birthday came up, there was no doubt in my mind that the project had to be dedicated to the Greek immigrant. Mother, Father, child, suitcases, that's what all of us of the Lyceum of Greek Women of Montreal decided should be depicted.
And, thus, began the adventure of the statue which, today, takes its place in the history of Montreal and in our hearts. Once the idea was born, because time was pressing, we turned to the well-known sculptor and professor at Athens’ School of Fine Arts, Giorgos Houliaras, who came up with an initial clay model within two days.
"The father, the mother, the child, the suitcases with "Hellas” emblazoned on them, the compact Greek family, the gate symbolizing their coming to the new world," wrote the sculptor. When we presented the design to our committee which was comprised of Mary Deros, the municipal councillor for Park-Extension, Nicholas Pagonis, the President of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, John Theodossopoulos, the President of the Hellenic Congress of Quebec, Nicolas Sigalas, the Consul-General of Greece to Montreal and Dr. Georgia Vriniotis and Niki Anastasopoulos of the Lyceum of Greek Women’s Montreal chapter, the excitement skyrocketed.
Mr. Pagonis, with the backing of his Community’s organizational infrastructure, was immediately impassioned with the project and joined in the goal of raising the necessary funds for its realization. The effort, although very low key, enabled us to amass a very significant sum in a very short period of time. The sculptor offered his work to the Greeks of Montreal free of charge and dedicated the work to his own childhood memories that marked him as he witnessed his fellow countrymen departing for foreign lands seeking a better life.
Indeed, the statue as created by Giorgos Houliaras is fascinatingly true to the facts. It depicts the faces, the expressions, the body language of the Greek post-war generation that left to go abroad full of fear and anxiety but also with dreams of a brighter future.
The man in the hat holds his wife from the waist while she stands silently but firmly supportive of their big adventure. This depiction of Greek gender equality at the time is a lesson for our own generation as both sexes stand strong, together in their fight for a better tomorrow. The little girl, leaning on her parents, is carefree and hopeful, lost in the fascinating images about to frame her new life.
The statue was realized thanks to the generous contributions of many Montrealers of Greek origin and is the result of their desire to see the footprint of Hellenism permanently embedded on the history of the city.
Last Friday, June 30th, the unveiling of the “Statue of the Greek Immigrant” took place at the corner of Park Avenue and Jean-Talon Street, in the presence of Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal, and many other dignitaries from Quebec, Montreal and the surrounding area. On a rainy day, the Greek immigrants came out to commemorate this most emotional historic moment under their umbrellas and with tears in their eyes.
It is a great work that was offered to the metropolis on the 375th anniversary of its founding and was a co-ordinated effort by three Greek organizations: The Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, the Lyceum of Greek Women of Montreal and the Hellenic Congress of Quebec.
All the members of the Lyceum of Greek Women of Montreal contributed their hard work towards this project but special mention must go out to Niki Anastasopoulos and Dr. Georgia Vriniotis. The logistical details were overseen by the General Manager of the Hellenic Community, Pelagia Adamidis, and by Katerina Bakoyannis, from the Community’s accounting office, whose assistance was paramount.
The municipal councillor, Mary Deros, was the instigator of the whole project and was instrumental in selecting the emplacement of the statue in her district of Villeray-Saint Michel-Park Extension. Mayor Denis Coderre accepted the gift with gratitude and invited the donors for a reception at City Hall where the sculptor, Giorgos Houliaras, was called upon to sign the city’s golden book.
Happy 375th Montreal!