‘Queen’s Refuge’ exhibition running through November

Exhibit tells the stories of refugees connected to Queen’s and Kingston

Team member is excited for others to hear the exhibitions’ stories.
Supplied by Megan Zelle

Queen’s Refuge: Refugees and the University is now on display at the W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections library until Nov. 26. 

This unique exhibition examines the complex history of refugees at Queen’s across four themes: directions, transit, relief, and arrival. Each object and image on display symbolizes the story of a refugee with ties to the community. 

The Journal spoke with Megan Zelle, ArtSci ’23, about her involvement with the research team that has worked passionately to bring Queen’s Refuge’s stories forward. 

“[The exhibit] focuses on individual biographies for specific refugee events in history that have been connected to Queen’s and the Kingston community,” Zelle said. 

The project's goal is to have viewers think about the relationship between Kingston and refugees in terms broader than just a point of destination.

“We really want people to see Kingston and Queen’s specifically as not as an arrival [spot], but also as a transit point, as a point of relief.”

Zelle and the team had to cover a vast amount of history with Queen’s Refuge to accomplish their goal.   

“We have refugees in our exhibition from when Queen’s was first founded in the 1800s, but we also have refugees who are students today at Queen’s,” Zelle explained. “I think it’s very important that people understand the different ways people seek Queen’s as a refuge.”

The team behind the exhibition was formed in 2019 and is led by historian Swen Steinberg.

Zelle has spent her time working primarily as a researcher, and three of the life stories she has chronicled are featured in the exhibition. One of the refugees she researched was Samuel Eshoo, whose life journey took him back and forth between Queen’s and Persia. 

“[Eshoo] fled to Canada in 1902 and ended up getting his medical degree from Queen’s, then returned to Persia to serve as a medical missionary,” she said.

“Again, he was exiled and sought refuge. He was taken in by a prince in Persia who hid him for six months until he could get back to Kingston. When he was in Persia, he connected with The Journal to let them know what was going on and facilitate donations.” 

Queen’s Refuge is full of exciting stories like that of Eshoo’s, with connections to the university and Kingston coming in various forms.

The exhibition also touches on the history of forced settlement that predicated the foundation of Queen's University. 

“Queen’s itself was an issue of forced settlement,” said Zelle. “We start our exhibition by talking about the original Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee people who lived on this land.”

Those interested in Queen’s Refuge are encouraged to see it in person. The exhibition and its stories are also available online

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