Presenting to the House of Commons on October 20, 2011, Canada’s Minister of Immigration said, “..last year Ipsos Reid did a global poll, from which they estimated that at least two billion people around the world would like to emigrate to Canada right now….” We were in that queue once and having arrived in March 1996, are glad to be a part of the multi-racial, accepting and compassionate community that is Canada.
Today, internet and Aunt Google provide would-be immigrants resources to better prepare for the migration journey as they look up “mentoring and networking”, “job search” or “newcomer settlement services” etc. These facilities were not available twenty years ago. However, with unbridled enthusiasm and naiveté bordering on stupidity I sallied forth to take my chances in Canada.
My earlier blogs have touched on how newfound friends in Canada helped us in more ways than I can recount. We readily accepted our new lifestyle and while the kids went off to school, my wife and I learned to adapt to my being home all day. In the nearly 1 year it took me to find work, our individual and collective frustrations often spilled over – most of the time as “the silent treatment” but occasionally through more visible mannerisms. All through this settling down period, the children and my wife remained rock solid in their support, especially when the family head and provider was doing everything but! My returning alone to work in Bahrain leaving the family here to secure the coveted Canadian passports was never an option! Friends and family from around the world and especially my wife’s uncle and aunt in the US provided strong moral support that kept us going.
It is difficult to condense two decades in 1,000 words or less, but here are some vignettes of my Canadian experiences:
One morning early in the summer of 1996, I was rushing to play a round of golf. As I drove under the highway underpass, a pigeon hit the car windscreen and fluttering, fell to the side of the road, to all appearances dead. I picked it up and returning home, gave it water. Our daughter called the Humane Society and their representative arrived within 15 minutes. She took away the bird, assuring us that it was just dazed and would be right as rain in no time. We are blessed to reside in a country that values every living being.
I started my first Canadian job in February 1997. Early one Saturday morning in May, the telephone rang. “Is that Pank?” inquired the caller, “did I wake you up?” I said no and asked who I was speaking to. “It’s C”. I could not place the caller and asked, “C who?” “C, from your office, you dumb …!” I spluttered, “How did you get my number, C?” He retorted, “I don’t know about where you come from, but in this country, we have something called a telephone directory” adding, “what are you and your missus doing for dinner today? My wife J and I would like to invite you for a barbecue; do you know what that is?” I assured C that we enjoyed barbecuing and he said, “Good, join us around 3.30 pm.” I looked quizzically at my wife as if to say “Dinner at 3.30 pm?” On inquiring what we might bring over, he said, “Your appetite!” The four of us sat by C and J’s poolside, sipping and chatting well past midnight; we remain one family.
Another colleague R and his wife J invited us to our first ever Canada Day barbecue on July 1, 1997. R remains to this day a mentor who introduced me to Canadian mannerisms, helped improve my communication skills and enlightened me through our frequent inter-faith dialogues, even inviting me once to speak to his fellow parishioners.
A particularly severe icy winter in 2013-14 brought out the best in Canadians, who invited strangers home out of the cold after power outages caused havoc, just before Christmas. Last year when fires raged across Alberta, Sikh truckers drove some 4,000 kms from Brampton to Fort McMurray in a convoy with provisions to serve those in need. While waiting to be resettled themselves, newly arrived Syrian Refugee families were raising funds and doing their bit to help those who were displaced by the fires!
In 2013, 44% of Canadians volunteered a total of 1.96 billion hours in not-for-profit organizations, “equivalent to about 1 million full-time jobs”; 82% of Canadians 15 years and older, donated a total of $12.8 billion to charitable or non-profit organizations.
In the Metro Morning program on CBC radio Matt Galloway recently interviewed a young lady Mardi Daley, who had just graduated from the University of Toronto with Distinction. This remarkable 23-year-old has been in and out of shelters and transitional housing since she was seven years old. Mardi said that even though she frequently had no option but to couchsurf, she stayed focused because “School was my exit ticket, it was the only way that I could get out and break the cycle that I found myself in.”
For our family, it’s never been about “browns” and “whites.” Admittedly, not everything is always positive, sugar and honey stuff and just like anywhere else there are many disparities, inequities and unresolved issues. However, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures that each of us has a voice that is heard and it is up to us to make it count. It is incumbent on us as we continue to evolve, to further enhance all those things that make Canada the envy of the world.
Back in 1975-76, it was at Delhi’s first discotheque The Cellar that I first heard and then constantly requested the DJ to reprise the works of two iconic Canadian artists. Today, lounging in my favourite deck chair with a double-double from Timmy’s in hand, I go back in time with Neil Young and Leonard Cohen to celebrate Canada’s 150th special day.
What a journey, eh?
I have used this version over better ones, because Leonard Cohen’s rarely heard opening remarks exemplify, I think, Canadian attitude: