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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 13, 2020
Canadian Museum of Immigration welcomes Teddy Marshall
Sixty-six years ago, Teddy Marshall made a pit stop at Pier 21; today, he’s visiting the former immigration shed as part of an exhibit.
A stuffed animal, Teddy belongs to 75-year-old Patricia Marshall, who immigrated to Canada in 1954 at the age of nine. She and her parents didn’t immigrate through the pier; after making a stop at the site, they went on with the RMS Samaria to New York. It was there they disembarked before travelling on to Ontario.
A few years ago, Marshall reached out to the museum to share her immigration story, and last year, after going through a few keepsakes, she reached out again to see if they were interested in displaying them.
Dan Conlin, Pier 21’s curator, says Teddy was exactly what they look for: an item that not only is reminiscent of the immigrant experience but also shows it in a unique way.
“We have really powerful memories of ourselves as children because we remember what the world was like through a child’s eyes,” says Conlin. “I think toys really remind us of that and that’s what makes it significant.”
For Marshall, Teddy is more than just a childhood reminder or toy, he’s family.
“I was an only child. He was like my brother,” she says.
Teddy’s journey started when Marshall was four years old and she noticed her cousins were kicking something around the room.
That something turned out to be Teddy.
“He had no eyes, hardly any fur and I started to cry and said, ‘stop it; don’t hurt him,’” says Marshall, whose aunt helped rescue the bear from her cousins.
“The joy of that moment, when she gave me the teddy, was an amazing (kind of) joy; I could look after him and nurse him back to health.”
And she did, with help from her parents. Her mother took some of Marshall’s shoe buttons and gave him new eyes, while her father fixed his growler box - a button inside him that made a growling sound when he was squeezed.
From the moment she rescued him, Teddy was a constant companion. Marshall would laugh and cry with him and told him everything, including about the big journey they were taking to Canada.
Teddy has also been on several other adventures with Marshall over the years. As a young adult, she joined a convent to become a nun. During her a visit with her parents, her mother handed her a bag. It was Teddy. Marshall kept him in her trunk for about a year before returning him to her parent’s care.
Marshall, who eventually left the convent and got married, says her family knows how precious the toy is to her. In 2004, Teddy was brought to Marshall by her daughter during a hospital stay.
“I was probably the only 60-year-old in the hospital with a teddy bear,” she says, laughing.
Teddy was originally supposed to make his museum debut during March Break. However, due to COVID-19, the museum was shut down. It reopened on July 7 with Teddy as part of an exhibit that features items immigrants brought with them to Canada. Other items range from curtains to wedding dresses belonging to war brides.
“They are really powerful objects that people related to,” says Conlin.
He also hopes Teddy acts as a source of inspiration during COVID-19, showing how resilient people can be.
“He’s a really worn bear; one of his eyes is pulled and he doesn’t really have any fur,” he says. “I think the much loved, much played with look will show this bear got the Marshall family through (some tough times), so it’s going to help us overcome the challenges of returning to the new normal.”
As for Marshall, she hopes Teddy brings as much joy to others as he brought to her.
“It’s only an object, I know that,” she says. “But you invested into it so much love, so many emotions, so many memories; it’s almost a life principle you put into this object, with his little shoe button eyes.”