“Merrickville is a small town and everyone knows each other in the community,” said Fae MacKay during her ‘We Are Neighbours’ interview back in July. Vivianne, Project Coordinator of the Immigration Partnership got to experience this first hand.
Vivianne explains that, “After wrapping up my interviews with the MacKay kids, their mother, Diana MacKay, bumped into some friends walking across the street on their way to lunch. She introduced me to Heddy and Gary, and I shared with them a bit about the ‘We Are Neighbours’ Campaign… the next thing I know we are sitting down the street at Cha Tea House. Over lunch, Heddy and Gary shared their stories of how they came to live in the small, beautiful and dynamic village of Merrickville-Wolford.”
First, let’s meet Heddy!
Howaida Sorour (everyone calls her Heddy) was born in Cairo, Egypt and came to Canada in 1986. When asked ‘what brought you to Canada’ she said it was “by a series of accidents, quite literally”. As a young girl, one of her friend’s father worked for the Canadian embassy in Cairo, so she spent quite a bit of time around the embassy. One day, she was hanging around and one of the drivers recognized her and told her that the Canadian embassy was accepting applications from people wanting to move to Canada. Next thing she knew was inside the embassy filling out paperwork. “It was totally unplanned and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t really remember filling out the paperwork and sort of forgot about it,” she said.
A few weeks later Heddy received a letter from the Canadian embassy asking her to come in for an interview. She attended the interview and “I guess it went well,” she laughed. Three weeks later Heddy received a letter at home stating she had been granted immigrant status. Heddy’s decision to come to Canada was on impulse, “I wasn’t really thinking, I just saw the word visa” she said. At the time, it was quite difficult to get a visa to leave Egypt, “it was a lengthy process, you would have to apply 6 months ahead of time” she said. Having travelled quite a bit as a child, Heddy was ready to take on a new adventure. “I guess you could say I had the travel bug” she said, “I thought it was going to just be another adventure…31 years later, and I’m still here!” she said laughing.
When asked what advice she would give to a newcomer moving to Canada, she said there are two big things that a newcomer may have to adapt to. The first being, distances. When Heddy first arrived in Canada, she settled in Toronto, “I was shocked by how far Vancouver really was” she said. She gave an example for some perspective, “if you drive six hours outside of Cairo, you’d be at the border, if you drive two days you would be all the way through another country,” she said. From Merrickville, depending on what direction you are going you aren’t even through Ontario or just entering Quebec!
Heddy also mentioned that if you are a newcomer coming from a warm climate, getting used to winter and the weather will be another challenge to adjust to. “In Cairo, there is no such thing as a weather” she joked. For fun, Heddy pulled up the weather in Cairo on her phone…sure enough, 30 degrees, bright sun, 7 days in a row! “No one can ever prepare you for Canadian winter” said Heddy. When asked if 30 years later she had adapted, she laughed and replied “no”.
In her spare time, Heddy volunteers with numerous community groups including, the Smith Falls Rotary Club, the Smith Falls Hospital, and acts as an Arabic translator for the Rideau Bridge to Canada refugee group.
Gary Roberts was born in Quebec City. As a young boy, Gary moved around a lot. “My father was an electrician so we moved around a lot for his work. We I lived in Bay St. James, Thetford Mines, we also lived in Bermuda for a year,” he said. By the age of 6, Gary’s family settled down on the south shore of Montreal, where he lived until he was 18.
Gary lived in the Ottawa area for most of his adult life, but he says there is something unique and special about living in a small village. “In the 8 years I’ve lived in Merrickville, I’ve met and am good friends with more people than I did all those years in Ottawa” he said. “I grew up in a small town, so I am familiar with it. I like how you can walk down the street and recognize your neighbours,” he said.
Some interesting facts about Gary – he is a drummer, a martial arts instructor, he has a 5th degree black belt and he runs a weekly ‘open mic night’ in town.
What brought you to Kemptville?
Ciony, originally from the Philippines, and her husband have always had a bit of the ‘travel bug’. Meeting in Laos, where they were both working in the 1960’s, they eventually made their way to Kemptville in 1981 after Ciony’s husband’s job brought him to Eastern Ontario. Always adventurers, they moved to Kemptville without ever seeing their new town or house! Overseas travel and work continued for them, but Kemptville remained their home base; Ciony and her husband returned in the late 1980’s and have lived in the same home ever since.
What was the best thing about moving to Kemptville?
As someone from the Philippines, a country that places enormous value on friends and family, Ciony loved (and continues to love) the small-town feel of Kemptville. She got to know many people by offering her Filipina hospitality to neighbours. Introducing herself with a loaf of banana bread under her arm and invitations to join her for coffee enabled her to meet many people in the area. Ciony continues to welcome people to her home by regularly hosting 60+ people for International Friendship Club potlucks.
What was the hardest thing about moving to Kemptville?
Finding work and making professional connections came as a challenge to Ciony when she arrived to Kemptville in the 1980’s. The town lacked employment agencies and so as much as she could, Ciony took the initiative to attend events and open houses of local organizations. She used these events to introduced herself, learn more about each organization and after much hard-work, eventually secured full time work with a local social services agency.
What advice would you give to a newcomer moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
‘Don’t just stay home and vegetate. Go to the library, read the newspaper for things to do – go out and meet people. People are just waiting for you to smile to show your friendliness.’
My name is Alice Yao Wang. I was born in China.
In 1991, I came to Canada as a visiting scholar. Upon my arrival, I was so excited and curious to discover new things that were different from my home country. I was inspired by the natural scenery and enjoyed the freedom of thoughts and speech, the courtesies of the nation, as well as being respected no matter who you are and where you are from.
Everything seemed so gorgeous, until I studied Business Administration at Wilfred Laurier University - the education system is so different. In China, if you review your textbooks, attend class and do the homework, you can surely comprehend requested information. However, without Canadian cultural background, I could hardly grasp the main ideas of the content, although I thought I understood every single word. For instances, the professor mentioned Johnson & Johnson and the Easton Centre as a case study, technically I understood the theory of management concepts, but in reality, I was totally lost, not knowing who is Johnson and what happened at the Eaton Centre. In Canada, students are trained and encouraged to do their own research, whereas in China, everything is taught in class or is in the textbook.
After I immigrated to Canada, I realized life was not easy! My skills and diploma were not being recognized here. I had to start from scratch. I felt uncertain, distressed and lost confidence in myself. This issue lasted for years until I started my own business.
Through opening a restaurant business, I gradually gained my confidence. I felt useful and helpful in the society by providing employment opportunities to local people and new immigrants. Through participating in community activities and inviting Chinese immigrants to join local events, I no longer feel deserted, on the contrary, I have become an enthusiast in the community.
Looking back on my past experiences, I would like to give some advice to newcomers: the best way to settle in a new environment is to move into a community where there is someone you know well, such as a friend or a relative. It will help you release emotional stress to a great extent, and you will get the desired assistance you need.
Last, but not least, I would like to share with you is, I love Canada, not only for its natural beauty with four distinguished seasons, but more importantly for the people that make you feel welcome! Canada opens its arms to embrace people of different cultures - that has made Canada the greatest country in the world! I cherish Brockville, a small city full of vitality and friendship. It's my second hometown and I would love to live here for the rest of my life!
Takouhi Dimirdjian-Petro was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon in an Armenian Family. She found her way into Canada via the Vermont-Quebec border on August 21, 1986. The Canadian Government had given permission to Lebanese citizens to enter Canada to find refuge and call it home.
Q: When you left Beirut, what possessions did you take with you? What important things, if any, did you leave behind?
A: When I left Lebanon, at the end of August 1983; I took nothing but a suitcase full of personal items; my poetry notebook (which I still have to this day), and my Bible, which was a gift from my mother, and I left behind many family members.
Q: Where did you live before you immigrated to Canada?
A: My Parents sent me to Los Angeles, as Canada was never in the plans. The Airport in Beirut, Lebanon was closed, as the fighting was intense around that area. My mother hired a cab with two other travelers and took me to Damascus, Syria, and sent me to Los Angeles, via Paris, France so that I could live with my eldest sister in L.A. and finish my high school. Our family was not rich and we were not even considered middle-class, but individuals from a small church in the Los Angeles area helped my eldest sister to get us flights and get us out of Lebanon one by one. After the U.S. Embassy refused to issue visa for six or seven times, I obtained a tourist visa to enter the U.S. in 1983. Therefore, I arrived and lived in L.A. from September 1983 to August 1986. My three-month visa turned into a three-year stay, illegally. I attended an Armenian private school by the grace of scholarships that individuals helped me with. So, Los Angeles became the hub before arriving Canada.
Q: What had you heard about Canada before you came? What stereotypes/expectations did you have?
A: I do not recall knowing much about Canada. In June of 1986 my two sisters who were still in Beirut, and attempting to get to L.A. to join us, heard that the Canadian Government had opened its doors for Lebanese citizens to come and call Canada, home – “Projet du Liban”, but they needed paperwork to get on the plane to cross the ocean. These papers came at a whopping cost of $5,000.00 U.S. which someone provided for them to be able to get out of Lebanon. They arrived at Mirabel Airport and obtained a Minister’s Permit, which was the beginning of calling Canada home. After which, Ruth, one of the sisters who had arrived here, asked me if I would like to come to Canada and live a “legal life” and belong to a country that took care of its people. Next thing I know, by August 21, 1986, my mother, my two sisters, and I had completed our entrance to Canada and started to call Canada Home – The place where we belonged and beloved.
Q: Can you share a memorable experience with us about what it was like, how you were feeling when you first arrived to Canada?
A: When I first arrived in Canada, I felt sad and lonely at times. Our first Winter was the hardest thing to handle. We lived in a one bedroom apartment in “Park Extension” of Montreal (Boulevard de l'Acadie & Rue Saint Roch), where the closest bus route was five blocks away. In the winter those five block walks seemed like an eternity.
I had worked as a cashier, under the table, in L.A. and never knew the life of a 9-5 manufacturing employment. Everywhere we went to look for a job we were asked if we had the Canadian experience (I wanted to tell the people, give me the job so that I can get the Canadian Experience – but I did not). Other times we were asked if we were bilingual. Yes, we spoke other languages besides English, but they were not the right ones. We needed to learn French, English, Armenian and Arabic were not enough.
At last we found work at a company that received clothing for Eaton, Sears and The Bay from China. We were to open the packages, hang the clothes on hangers and put them through the dry-cleaning machine.
The prerequisite to get a work permit was to find a job first. The situation was more tricky than one would think. So, after a few weeks of working, the employer gave a letter with our check stubs as proof that we have a job. This letter was hand-written on a cardboard that came out of a shirt packaging. I remember to this day that the immigration officer was stunned to see such a letter of employment. I wish I had a picture of it….
But through all these hardships the Armenian Evangelical Churches and other individuals kept on helping us and making us feel welcome. We were within walking distance from two Armenian Evangelical Churches and they both embraced us. On the other hand, a lady that attended the Armenian Apostolic Church had heard of our family and connected us with a Catholic Church in Ville St. Laurent who gave us furniture to fill our one-bedroom apartment and have a “normal” life. We could barely communicate with the priest, as he only spoke French, but their hospitality and love made all communication obstacle disappear.
If it was not for all the ecumenical help, both physical and emotional, that came to us from left and right, we would not know how we would have survived.
Did you experience “culture shock”? Was it hard to adapt? If so, what was challenging?
I think it was helpful that I was 19 years of age when I arrived in Canada and I really did not have any major culture shock. It also helped that I lived in L.A. for three years prior to Canada. There were still things that I had to learn and adapt to – such as having a life that was safe – as safe as a life can be. There were no longer bombs falling around us. As a young girl, education beyond high school was unheard of, but Canada helped me to accomplish something beyond my imagination.
I know my education and vocation came by quite late, in 2004, I had married a wonderful man, Gary Petro, on September 3, 2000. With his full support, I accepted the call of ministry and started theological courses at Concordia University on January 5, 2005 and began the journey to become the very first Armenian woman ordained minister into the United Church of Canada – maybe even in all of Canada. This was a culture shock , because women are not accepted to go into ordained ministry in the Armenian Culture and the Middle East. Therefore, the entire journey of arriving in Canada and attaining three degrees to become an ordained minister is truly a “culture shock” in itself.
Are there any specific cultural traditions that you’ve brought with you? Can you tell me about one of them or why/how you celebrate it? Why is it important to you?
One of the traditions that I honor to this day is celebrating Armenian Christmas on January 6 (Epiphany). In other words, it is the Orthodox Christmas which I hold dear to my heart but I celebrate December 25 as well. Throughout my childhood, we have celebrated Christmas on January 6, and December 25th was always referred to as the Roman Catholic Christmas (Now I know better 😊). I do cook traditional dishes and desserts as time allows to carry on these traditions.
Every tradition that we have is connected to our roots, our families, but January 6th is more than just an Armenian tradition. On January 1, 1980, my father fell into a coma as he could not breathe. He was a heavy smoker and this got him into this situation. However, after being in a coma for six days, on Sunday, January 6, 1980, on Armenian Christmas Day, my father came out of his coma, got back to his regular life, without having a one puff of a cigarette again, or being able to breathe any second-hand smoke. He passed away on December 13, 1984, while I was living in Los Angeles. Therefore, January 6, has become a multi-layered gift for me that will not be forgotten that easily.
What advice would you give to a newcomer moving from another country to Canada [or to Leeds Grenville more specifically]?
When I first arrived in Montreal, Quebec and I met other Lebanese Armenians who had arrived in Canada 5- 10 years prior to us, I used to think, “When will I be able to say, ‘I have been here for 5 years or so’?” I also used to think that our hardships will never end and we will never be able to own a car, or a house – all the goodness that people around me had.
Today, in August 2017, I am grateful to say, “This year marks the 31st anniversary of my entry to Canada”. What a gift – what an accomplishment – I am grateful to God, to the Canadian Government and to all who helped us start a life here – the Land of Milk and Honey.
Therefore, my advice to newcomers would be, “Be patient, this too shall pass and all the hard work you put in to settling in this country is worthwhile”. I have lived in Los Angeles for three years, with all its glamour and glory but I still prefer this little town of Portland, where I live now - Canada is truly the Promised Land for me, for us, for all.
What do you love about Leeds Grenville?
The beauty of nature that surrounds us and the small communities that embrace one another – There is a presence of Peace beyond my understanding. When someone is in need, the entire community stands up to offer love and care.
My mother called Canada, “The Promised Land” – the land of milk and honey – she enjoyed this land for eight short years before she passed away at the age of 64 – August 22, 1994. Today, I recognize and understand what she meant beyond what words can explain. Where I live in the Rideau Lakes Townships I am literally surrounded with milk and honey, indeed. So many bee keepers, so many dairy farms, that reminds me of my mother’s words daily and make me grateful for this land called Canada.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
There are many things I like to do in my spare time. When I am truly exhausted, I just watch television and rest – watch mindless television shows, as my vocation is demanding and draining at times. From weddings to baptisms and funerals, a minister has a big balancing act to carry on. However, there are a few things that I love to do whenever I am able to create time to do them: Scrapbooking, jigsaw puzzles, reading, writing, go for walks outdoors and indoors on a treadmill, take pictures. In August of 2016, my very first book of poetry, prayers and photography was published, it is titled: “The True Gift Lives on: Christmas Poetry, Prayers and Blessings”. All the photos in the book are taken in the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
I am grateful to my husband’s help and support in every way and by God’s grace I am looking forward to the publication of my memoirs, in the Spring of 2019.
As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you, while you are busy making other plans”. My Journey to Canada was a big surprise – but it is a gift that I will ALWAYS be grateful for.
After the Second World War, a large number of Dutch citizens immigrated to Canada through Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in search of work, asylum and a better life. From 1928 – 1971 the Dutch were the fifth largest ethnic group to come to Canadian shores. Prescott resident and a Dutch native, Rene Schoemaker, shared with the Immigration Partnership staff his own experience coming to Canada in 1952.
“I was born in The Hague (Den Haag), the Netherlands. My father was Dutch and my mother was a German. She became a Dutch citizen in the 1930s, and married my father in 1945. My family immigrated to Canada mainly due to the aftermath of the Second World War and the German occupation in Holland.
During the war, my father and uncle had been collected by the Nazi’s – they were sent off to a work camp in Germany for one year. They worked on a machine gun line. There were many different people at these camps, Polish, Austrians etc. My father did not like to talk about the one year he spent there. After his return back to Holland my father joined the Dutch Underground, they would do nightly raids, steal gas… disrupting everything. My mother would hide my father under the floor boards in their home.
After the war, my parents wanted to start a new life elsewhere. They had experienced so much trauma – everyone was so hungry. They were deciding between Australia and Canada, but ultimately chose Canada, because they had heard of an airplane crash on route to Australia, so they decided to go by boat (to Canada).
My family arrived to Canada in July 1952 – I was 7 years old at the time. We travelled by boat, it took 8 days. I remember the main hallway had paper bags taped up with band aids, in case the passengers got seasick. I also remember them serving us potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes! We arrived in Halifax at Pier 21, and then transported to Brockville. My parents came over with a small fortune of $130 CAN, and we had 3 or 4 crates with our belongings, that would arrive by rail a few months later. The first few months we lived out of our suitcases in an assigned cottage with many other Dutch immigrants across from what is now ‘Green Things Landscaping’ near Sharp’s Lane. Our sponsor was our family neighbour from Holland who had immigrated to Canada the year before. He was a barber in Brockville and we lived with him and his family for 3 months during the winter of 1953.
In the spring of 1953, we moved to the Barbara Heck House, located near the Blue Church in Maitland, where we lived until 1959. We were 4 families living in the house at the time. There was one bathroom/tub, and each family had their own day to use it – ours was Tuesday.
We had a garden outside of the house where we grew root vegetables. In the basement my mother would bury the vegetables in bins with sand to keep them dry. I remember my mother would paint the turnips with candle wax to preserve them. On Sundays we would take the bus for 25 cents to attend the Dutch-Reform Church in Brockville. When the DuPont Company bought the property on which the Heck house was sitting, we moved and lived above the Blue Lantern restaurant until the 70s.
My parents were brave. They gave everything up to come to the unknown to start fresh. That’s what war does to people.
Today, I live in Prescott with my wife, who was born and raised in here. We have been married for 45 years, have two daughters, and three beautiful grand-children. I have always had many hobbies, including doing taxidermy for 14 years. I was also on the national skit shooting team for 20 years. I enjoy fishing, deer and moose hunting, as well as reading history books. I love to travel, we often go back to Holland to visit cousins, aunts and uncles, but also love to discover other destinations such Spain, Portugal and North Africa.”
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in California, USA but my family moved to the Highlands of Scotland when I was 2. I grew up in the North of Scotland in a small town called Invergordon – it played an important role in WW1 and WW2 because of the naturally deep harbor area. I have deep ties to Scotland, its history, landscape and culture however, I have always had an overwhelming sense of being home since the first step on Canadian soil over 12 years ago now.
How did you come to live in Leeds Grenville?
I moved to Brockville 8 years ago after I graduated from St Andrews University in Scotland. A week after I graduated, I moved to Brockville and began my journey in this beautiful part of the world. Originally I came to Brockville because my husband – a recent Kingston St Lawrence College graduate – gained his first career job with a local employer. While he has since moved on from that employer, I have made deep roots here with the Employment + Education Centre and do not plan on going anywhere soon!
Do you have any personal/cultural traditions that you love to celebrate?
I love Scottish music – a band called the Red Hot Chili Pipers can often be heard blaring from my car as I find the music really energizing. I have also been known to enjoy a good Scottish Whiskey from time to time. Yes, we do eat Haggis and yes, it is actually really good!!
What advice would you give to somebody moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
Get involved with community organizations, groups etc. There are some really amazing people in this community – you just have to look for them. Volunteering and getting connected with community organizations allows you maximum exposure to so many different people – it’s a fantastic way to meet people and grow your networks.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I like to spend time with family and friends – I am very much a homebody and like to spend time at home in the house or yard. Because all of my family live in Scotland, we spend a lot of time on Skype over the weekends – thank goodness for technology! We also love to take our daughter down to the water front to play in the parks – there is nothing better than watching the joy in a toddler’s face when they go down a slide!
When Ben Mukherjee was in 3rd grade he knew he wanted to be a chef. Originally from Varanasi, India, Ben went to high school in Delhi, where he graduated with a specialization in Hotel Management.
In 1994, at the age of 18, Ben moved to the United States to further his culinary education. “I definitely experienced culture shock – at that time, people in the US where not that open-minded,” said Ben. Ben shared with us one of his first memories, “I was asked by a teacher to stand up and introduce myself in front of a room of 2000 students. I said my first legal and traditional name… there was 13 seconds of silence afterwards. I think people had a hard time digesting it. It was quite embarrassing,” said Ben. Ben’s legal and traditional name is Shoubendou, pronounced, Shou-ben-dou. After that experience, Ben decided to keep the name Ben and drop the rest to make it easier for others. “I believe in not getting caught up in the small details of pronouncing my name”.
With over 25 years of experience in the hotel and restaurant industry, and having lived in numerous cities across the United States, Ben has many stories to tell. He was a regional manager for various corporations in the United States and Canada including India's Best "Taj" Group of Hotels, Hyatt hotels, Ritz Carlton Hotel, Yum! Brands and many more elite institutions including the White House in Washington, DC.
In 2013, Ben moved from Virginia to Kingston when he took a new job. “The first 3 months I absolutely hated it – it was the snow! People told me that Kingston had one of the worst winters that year,” said Ben. When asked what he had heard about Canadians before moving to Kingston, Ben responded, “I had heard that Canadians were a lot more reasonable, and that their level of tolerance was much higher. For example, in Kingston you never hear a honk – in NYC there is no tolerance towards traffic or people. That is a strength of Canadians, they have tolerance towards everything – traffic, humans, and even ignorant people. Life can wait for three seconds to let someone cross the street.”
Not long after he started his new position in Kingston, he was asked by his employer to transfer to Alberta. After declining this relocation opportunity, Ben left the firm and decided to go out on his own. In 2014, Ben established himself in Gananoque when he opened his own take out and catering business specializing in fine Indian cuisine, called 1000 Island Take-Out & Catering.
Today Ben lives in Kingston with his wife and daughter, but continues to operate his business in Gananoque 6 days a week. Ben currently acts as a mentor to a Syrian refugee who would like to start his own catering business. “The language barrier is quite challenging, but I do my best by communicating through sign language and drawing sketches. My wife and I try to give them rides whenever we can,” said Ben.
Ben’s advice to an immigrant moving to a new country? “If you live in the moment you’ll be a happy person. If you live in the past you will never be happy.”
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Brockville at the Brockville General Hospital. I was raised in a neighbourhood close to Westminster school and then my family moved down to King Street. I live in a very Syrian and multicultural household that is rich in culture. My parents love to share their culture and help others better understand their Syrian roots by sharing their food and language.
This summer you are selling Syrian baked goods and food at the Brockville Farmers Market through the Summer Company program delivered locally by the Leeds Grenville Small Enterprise Centre. Tell us, why did you decide to participate in the program and start your own business?
It was kind of shock factor, I realized going into grade 11 and I still didn’t know much about business, or much about my parents culture and their food, because my mom mostly made the food when I was growing up. I wanted to pass on my culture to other people I know and I also wanted to experience Summer Company. It’s a really good program for an individual to grow, meet new people and learn about business.
Do you have any personal or cultural traditions that you love to celebrate?
We have a celebration called Eid al-Fitr. I call it the “big Eid”, because we have two Eids, the "big" and the "small" Eid. The “big Eid” is right after the month of Ramadan, we all get dressed up, we get presents, we have a big party, and it’s a huge celebration. If I have school that day I get to miss school and I get to hang out with friends from the Muslim community. My mom and I make desserts, Syrian cookies and baklava. It’s a great day and you feel so embodied in your culture that it makes you feel at home, but you are at home – if that makes sense.
Why is it important for you to celebrate Eid?
I feel like in my day to day life I get so caught up in community events, going to school, homework, sports, extracurriculars, my part time job. Celebrating Eid helps me remember where my parents came from, who I am, and it also helps me remember how lucky I am to live in an amazing place like Canada. Canada is a blessing and everyday I’m thankful for living here, because my life could have turned out very differently if I had not lived here.
What advice would you give to a newcomer moving to Brockville/Canada?
It will be a learning experience, but you will have an amazing support system to help you and answer your questions. Be ready to work hard but also enjoy the culture and the amazing kindness and respect that Canadians show to newcomers and to visitors.
What do you love about Brockville?
Everything! The waterfront in particular is spectacular and beautiful. I also love all of the small businesses downtown. Now having participated in the Summer Company program, I can truly appreciate how hard they have to work to keep their businesses open and to make them as amazing as they are.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like to read or bring my younger sister to Hardy Park, she is practicing to ride her bike right now. Hardy Park is great because there is so much to do, the volleyball nets, the gazebo, the play structure, and all by the water, so if my sister wants to go swimming we can do that too!
A few weeks ago we met Fae MacKay from Merrickville, this week, meet one of her younger brothers, Hal!
Hal is nine years old and lives in Merrickville with his family. Like his sister, he has helped out with the village’s local refugee settlement group, Rideau Bridge to Canada. When asked what advice he would give to a newcomer moving to Merrickville he said “they should live on or just outside of Main Street, that way if they don’t have a car they can walk to all of the restaurants and stores”. That is some good advice Hal!
Frank Onasanya, originally from Nigeria, recently sat down with the Immigration Partnership staff and shared with us his story of how he came to live in North Grenville. Frank spoke openly about his childhood, the challenges he faced and overcame as an immigrant, and how these experiences have shaped him into the person he is today.
Tell us about your childhood growing up in Nigeria.
Growing up in western Nigeria, Frank learned the value of money at a young age. He remembers ‘street trading’, “I was allowed to go 6 or 8 streets in my neighbourhood and sell whatever my parents had,” he said. Frank shared that it is not uncommon for young children in Nigeria even at the age of five or six, to know how to manage money, prepare food, and even how to take care of their younger siblings. “Here (or even in England) that’s called child abuse, over there [Nigeria] that’s the way it is. Once you get to that age you need to know how to take care of yourself, what happens if mom and dad don't come home? You have to know how to survive,” he said. Frank said he is glad to have had lived those experiences.
How did you come to live in North Grenville?
Frank left Nigeria in his mid-twenties and immigrated to England, where he pursued his post-secondary studies. These studies eventually led him to play semi-professional soccer in Cambridge. Thirteen years later Frank moved to Toronto, through a transfer with the company he worked for in England. As a District Manager of a chain of restaurants, Frank travelled and moved a lot within the Greater Toronto Area.
In 2000, Frank was transferred again through his employment to Ottawa. After living the fast-paced city lifestyle for many years, Frank and his wife, having young children at the time, decided they wanted to live a more rural life and made the move to North Grenville. “I wanted to be able to go to work and come home and hear the birds sing,” said Frank.
Today, Frank works for the federal Department of National Defense and commutes to Ottawa for work. Frank continues to be involved in his community through coaching soccer, volunteering, and in 2014, he made history when he was elected the first black councillor of North Grenville.
What is one of the most challenging things about moving to a new country?
“So much of the unknown is challenging,” said Frank. When Frank first moved to England, he didn't know much about the country. “What I learned in school was the history [of the country], how people lived and how people did things was different, you can’t learn that from a textbook,” said Frank. “The way people expressed themselves, their tone and body language was different than what I was used to,” he said. Frank had to learn to adapt and not take things as insulting or demeaning, “I just had to understand that people express themselves differently,” he said.
What advice would you give to other newcomers moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
“Perseverance and determination are important as is really listening to people to understand where they are coming from,” said Frank. He said to be respectful, listen to others and acknowledge what they are saying. Often, disagreements and even racism and prejudice come from a lack of understanding.