Driving a cab while receiving an MA in Urban Planning and Sociology!

My parents returned to Canada when I was two and my brother was about a month old. They overworked to provide us with a good life, always putting emphasis on school, sports and music. I went to a French immersion public school and did well.  I was a good athlete, engaged in school clubs and also lucky to make friends with a few other kids whom my folks approved of.  Socializing with them in my home, on road trips, hockey and soccer games, movies and summer cottaging became part of the formative experiences of my early life. Our families also got to know one another while driving us from game to game or to school events.

My relationship with these friends have strengthened over the years and solidified in university. Each one of us is from a different country and a different ethnic background. We have all supported each other through life experiences and challenges, visited each other’s country of origin, and have supported one another in our careers. We know each others’ families well and have extended a hand when there was a need. I currently work abroad with 4 of my friends and often get together with the entire group. Our parents were privy to everyone’s growing pains and taken each under their wing as their own. I am grateful to a fantastic school system that provided me with such invaluable gift.

- Foad M.

This is what home is like

blessed and proud to be here 

Free Education, Free Health Care and Peace!

Canada, my home, Greece, my heritage

The Canada 150 Project 

i have always felt that canada is my home 

When my two sisters and I got off the plane in March, there was a snowstorm in Toronto.  My Father called the city, the Freezer.  We were Chinese but coming from Jamaica.  My siblings and I started making snow angels, got used to snowball fights and sliding on pieces of plastic on the park hill.  My parents headed to Chinatown to work in a restaurant.  They came home every night very late and tired.  My mother’s hands were so calloused that when she touched my face for a goodnight kiss, I would feel a tickle. It sounds funny now but, it didn’t then.

Now, I am a middle school teacher, married and have a son.  My two sisters are partners in law firms.  My parents have both passed away and didn’t fully experience the fruit of their love and hard work.  All three of us give back to our communities as much as we can and feel truly Canadian. 

- Delores K.

Hard work, resilience and success!

My marriage had many problems for too long. My husband was a controlling and abusive man.   He was obsessed with controlling me and our daughters.  He had developed spreadsheets for me to enter daily expenses for food per person per day on the budget of $8.50 per person/day.  He used to get very angry when we had fun, laughed or got involved with any leisure activities.  This was all happening in front of my daughters and I didn’t want them to grow up thinking this behaviour was normal.

When I separated from my husband, I sat down with my daughters and explained to them that their father had an ill mind and he violated our safety and wellbeing. I was surprised to learn how relieved my daughters felt after my decision.

My path to freedom and my new life with two young daughters presented many challenges.  We all had to learn the new ropes and navigate our life through different paths. I learned how I could be helped in different ways – from financial support to housing, to access to upgrades and education.  We started family therapy, and I worked with a transitional worker who helped me with preparation and advanced planning. Life wasn’t perfect but, there was peace and no abuse.

I enrolled at a course at George Brown College while I volunteered at a local senior’s home and a legal clinic.  I really enjoyed working with seniors; they would tell me their life stories, play the piano, and invite me to their sing-alongs. Soon after, my older daughter also started volunteering at the centre.  Our hardship brought us closer to each other and made us more resilient.

I continued with my courses at the college and geared them more towards working with seniors.  After four years, I graduated from George Brown with a diploma in Gerontology.  I am a department manager at the same senior’s centre that volunteered at for years. My daughters are doing well and pursuing their education and building their own lives. I have secured our personal space and respect by living a productive life and giving back to the city that has been so benevolent to us. 

- Soreena B. 

I moved with my family to Canada a long time ago as an independent landed immigrant. It was a turbulent time back home in the former Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 90s.  The country had the worst episode of hyperinflation in history and we were on the verge of civil war. Skilled and educated professionals left to live around the world, my family among them.

If we stayed, my son would have been among the first to be sent to war. Fractions of the political system in the country started separating people and declaring independent states. Fighting each other became a daily exercise, soldiers were needed for all sides and boys were preferred.  We decided to leave for the unknown since what we were experiencing was extremely frightening.

Canada was a promising option to explore. Within months our application was accepted. Emigrating meant that my husband and I lost our successful and prosperous professional careers. Our son's water polo ranking which was the first in Europe; his chance at the Olympics was compromised. For five years after we landed, we couldn’t find jobs in our fields. My husband accepted a security guard position, working the night shifts, and I became a daycare provider to 4 children at the neighbourhood school. We worked hard and long hours, earning very little. I missed my family and my social status.  Every dollar we earned was judiciously accounted for and stretched; every top or a pair of pants went beyond lasted for as long as possible. Although there was comfort in feeling safe, grief became part of my identity. Our life possessions and memories from the past had to fit in a few shoe boxes and a couple of albums.  

My son’s school principal was our guiding light to resources that we would never be even aware of otherwise.  With his support, my son was enrolled in all sorts of school clubs and extracurricular activities. My son excelled in school and thrived in sports. Before we even realized, he was off to university of his choice.  

A glimpse of inspiration and hope was around our son and how he was moving forward with his education.  Our routines remained very much intact –  working, saving money where we could and “keeping our eyes on the ball” as our Canadian friends would say.  “The ball,” for us, was our son’s future.  On April 2017, at my son’s graduation, exactly at 5:34 pm when his name was called and he walked to the podium, I broke down crying with happiness. My son, Dr Olek. 

- Georgina V. 

Canada became my home when I became at peace with my identity.  I came to Canada when I was 6 years old. I always felt I was different because of the way I dressed, because of my Hijab. I always excluded as visibly Muslim women. For years, I struggled with my identity and who I am but the day I felt comfortable in my skin, I felt at home in Canada. My Hijab does not define me as human. I am included because of who I am and not because of how I dress. Canada could have been home for many years but my own struggles had stopped me from finding peace.

I am home now.

Both my wife and I were banking executives in Brazil but were frequently got caught in nasty social unrests.  We wanted to raise our children in a peaceful environment.   When we arrived in Canada as landed immigrants, the employment realities hit us hard.  No one was interested in knowing who we used to be and what kind of credentials we possessed.  We started going to employment agencies and were offered collection agency jobs.  We held several banking agency jobs –low paid, temporary, part-time and without any benefits. We were optimistic that the circumstances were temporary and sooner or later we would be landing with one of the major Canadian banks.  While holding onto the lowest ranks at a bank, we achieved the high productivity goals set by our management team which was often higher than those employees whose pictures were hanging on the wall.

We came to Canada as senior department bank advisors with master’s degree in economics. Ten years passed before we were hired full time to become banking software specialists.  My wife and I decided to put ourselves through yet another schooling engagement and took Canada Securities Course.   We became licensed mutual fund dealers. Our banking career in Canada was okay, but never thriving.  We were always in survival mode.  We continued saving at any given opportunity.  I took an evening job at a meat packing outlet and my all my earnings went into a savings account.

In the meantime, we rented a townhouse in an Italian neighbourhood.  We became friends with our elderly neighbour who owned a small tile and stone business.  I enjoyed hanging out with him. Two years later he offered to sell his business to us as he was planning to retire. My wife and I said yes.

Ten years later, we have been running this small and very prosperous business.  Our kids are grown and we are now lucky grandparents.  We continue to work hard but feel blessed for every minute of it. Would we have gone on the same life journey again? We say YES with certainty! 

- Alberto S.  

Overcoming Stigma!

At 19 years old, married and a mother of an 8-months old, my husband and I decided to come to Canada as refugees. On route in Spain, my husband was jailed at the airport for a fake passport. My son and I passed through and came to Canada. When I arrived at the airport, I was alone, scared, had nowhere to go and struggled to communicate. I was referred to a welcome centre where I was given few pieces of clothing for my son and taken to shelter. It took a year for my husband to be released from jail and make his way to come to Canada. We were welcomed by a few families who offered help and we started a new life. After a few years, I had a daughter and not long after I separated from my husband. Life became hectic again and I was faced with many challenges. Despite the hardships, I finished my education in Cosmetic and Beauty field and started my own business. I have always felt that Canada was my home.

My son is a 30-year old businessman now and my daughter is becoming a lawyer. It’s hard to survive in Canada, but it is not impossible. I love Canada, and I am thankful to be here. 

Successful motherhood and a fulfilling life

i have found my happy place 

I have suffered from bipolar disorder as long as I remember. I was married for thirty years, and always loved and cherished the presence of my three children in my life. I was frequently hospitalized and sometimes through self-referral.  It wasn’t until I turned 45, that I decided to ask my husband to share my illness with family and close friends to stop making excuses for my frequent absence. He was furious.  He accused me of attention seeking, overlooking my common sense and sharing my dirty laundry. I was so hurt and shocked.

I continued with my struggle and dealt with the challenges in my family, in the community and at work. The aura of secrecy surrounding my illness haunted me so. On a November weekend, I had a breakdown and was hospitalized for 10 days. The staff psychiatrist asked me if I wanted him to convene a conversation with my husband and children about my illness.  I agreed. My husband reluctantly attended and shortly after accused me of having an affair with the doctor. My marriage didn’t survive and after 31 years I was divorced.

I started volunteering at the hospital and attended support groups for people with mental illness. I had to change medication seven times before I landed on the proper treatment.  My psychiatrist became my guardian angel. Shortly after I was invited to a public consultation about mental illness by the hospital and later by the government. I started exploring the mental health field and made a professional transition to providing support services to people affected by mental illness.

I joined an organization at its management level and have become an advocate for raising awareness and establishing funding and services for people with mental illness.  My children and I take pride in how effective I have become in influencing protective policies, restoring funding, and creating forums and platforms to overcome stigma.  I have joined masses to defeat stigma and pave a path for people with mental illness to live fulfilling lives and achieve their full potential.

- Carolynn L.  

My Canadian Brothers

I was fortunate enough to be born in Canada, to live here my whole life, and to experience what it feels like to live in one of the greatest countries in the world.  My parents came to this country at a young age to start a life together. Canada may not be many people’s first but, it is a place where people feel safe and welcomed. Achieve your goals may be a challenge, but Canada makes you want to dream big and work hard for it. It is this essence that makes Canada one of the best countries.

- Anonymous

I have a wonderful partner of 40 years, 3 children and 4 grandkids.  I also have a successful catering business.  I am Greek Orthodox but, my volunteer work for years has been supporting a mosque and mentoring young Muslim men who are interested in pursuing their own business.  Many of them struggle with English and some have intergenerational issues with their parents and others experience difficulties with integration. 

I have a lot of empathy for people who are born in one culture and have to make serious adjustments to live in another one.  My wife and I came to this country to avoid civil and religious war and for economic prosperity with our first child.  I worked on an assembly line of a steel factory in a small town and we lived by the rail track because the rent was cheaper there.

When I got laid off in the mid-80s, the economy in Ontario was dire. By then, we had two more children, no savings and no marketable skills. My wife and I decided to move to Toronto and rented my cousin’s basement apartment.  Every week we stuffed thousands of grape leaves and made many trays of baklavas, took the bus downtown and sold them to a hotel chain.  That exercise went on for three hard years until we could add other items to our menu and eventually, 5 years later, rented a small place for a restaurant.  The rest is history.  I live in a diverse neighbourhood, I go to my church, I still work at least 50 hours a week but we are happy.  My grandchildren go to Greek Heritage Language school.  How lucky we are - O’Canada.

- Nikos D.

Success for my son!

It was a warm spring day. My first spring in Canada. My sister had a bike she had barely used so I decided to start biking again. We used to ride our bikes after school and all summer in Tehran but, when we grew older, it was impossible for us as older girls to bike anymore.

After years off a bike, I slowly regained my skills and started my first adventure. I biked from home, taking the park towards Don Valley Bike Trail. The leaves had just turned green. I could smell spring in the air. I was biking quite fast and could feel the cool breeze in my hair through my helmet. The park was beautiful, welcoming, and kind. I would have never imagined I would be able to bike in such a beautiful place so free, so happy. At first, I kept telling myself ‘I am dreaming. This can’t be true’.

 But then I knew. This is what home is like. I am home! 

Personal respect!

I have lived in Toronto for 18 years.  I am a single mother and care for my two children, 12- and 6-year-old, and my mother. I work in IT and make a decent living. Every morning, when I prepare the kids for school, I remind them to look at all the trees on their route and enjoy them. I take my mom to different medical appointments and I don’t have to worry about how we can afford the care for her.  My younger child enjoyed all-day kindergarten and with the savings, I was able to send my family on a 10-day holiday in Cuba.

I love the ravines and the lake in Toronto.  We often take the TTC and go to Scarborough Bluffs for a summer picnic or a winter hike.  My kids enjoy their school and all the after-school activities.  My older child is enrolled in an anti-bullying leadership program; he is so proud of it.  My younger child has a learning disability and he gets support for it at his local school.  I am always busy at special education meetings but I don’t regret or resent them.  I am being assisted by people who weren’t at fault for my circumstance but are helping me to successfully cope.

I am grateful for all the opportunities for me and my family.  For those who tell me that I am a bit over my head, I would say, I belong, I enjoy, I navigate and I land on support.  This is home.

- Elizabeth M.  

A Safe and Welcoming Place 

On my street of twenty homes, people come from eleven different countries. For the past 10 years, the Lucky Residents Association, as we like to call ourselves, have held a Christmas party with three generations of residents.  We rent the basement of the local church, decorate and listen to music with global flavours, exchange gifts, and have a world-class feast –  all costs equally shared.

Each household has come have from somewhere else with the exception of a few neighbours with generational roots in Canada. Canada was the country we put all our hopes into. We were all grateful to be accepted as humans in need. Canada has been the place where we equally have been safe, found jobs, bought our houses, struggled with economic hardships of 80’s, raised our children with all of its particular challenges, experienced divorce, remarriage and death of loved ones.  We exchanged clothing, passed cooked meals, strollers and furniture to each other. We watched each other’s homes while the homeowners were on vacation, gave the local kids part-time jobs cutting grass, babysitting or shovelling snow. We watched as our kids went off to college and held graduation, engagement and wedding celebrations. We were there for each other the summer of the blackout and there and the ice storm that left us without heat or electricity for 10 days.

Some of us have been neighbours for over 35 years – knowing each other for longer than our blood relatives. We celebrate our neighbourhood in all its simplicity and sophistication. Our story is a Canadian story and we take joy and pride in telling it.  

- Ardy M. 

We are Chinese. My sister and I live with our parents and my maternal grandparents. My parents moved here when we were infants. Our home on the second floor of the variety store is always crowded and noisy.  You can often hear three or four kinds of music coming from different rooms and radio stations.  My grandparents are always unhappy; complaining about the weather and being lonely.  They speak no English and criticize me and my sister for our Chinese.  My parents are too busy at the variety store they own and operate. The hours are long and the money hardly enough.

My parents are hardworking resilient people. Everyone in our household pitches in to make it work. My grandmother is in charge of cooking the meals.  My grandpa is the contributes the least and is the biggest complainer but he does a bit of gardening and sometimes buys the grocery. 

I am pursuing a degree in Human Resources and my sister is still in high school. I am just about to finish my third year and will be travelling with a charity for two months during the summer. I have told my parents that the moment I can afford to live on my own, I will move out.  My mother is okay with that but my father’s dream is to continue living together in a bigger house. My best friend of high school and university is from the Middle East and she also lives in a crowded house.  Our plan is to explore the world after we graduate and share an apartment when we return. Both of us have learned the value of hard work from our families and the support that we need to succeed in our own life. 

When I think of Canada, I look at my parents’ life as an example of a successful settlement with integrity.  I also see that because of their hard work and diligence their children; my sister and I will be living a much more successful life with far more opportunities.

- Mary C. 

I felt at home few weeks after I arrived in Canada, but I don't remember why I felt that way. I know I am so blessed and proud to be here.

A friend of my sister once said, "Canada is like a step-mother who raised me and my home country is a mother who left me." 

I am grateful for this wonderful step-mother, who gave me what my mother couldn't. 

Having my own thriving business!

I got married at 20 and had my two children into the first two years of my marriage.   There wasn’t a romantic love between myself and my husband but some commitments to fulfil the expectations of a married life. 

At a young age, my parents sensed I had an illness that couldn’t be cured by prayers to our gods. At 25 we moved to Canada and a year later, I had a terrible mental breakdown and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The turbulent emotions started to kick in and I was in and out of the hospital more than I bargained for.  My husband decided to take our children to his parents in India and he cut all communications with me.  Twice I travelled to India but I was unable to find my children. I was miserable and desperate. 

One of my children’s teacher connected me to an agency and shortly after I was working with a lawyer. It took another 4 years and the goodwill of many people, strangers but kind and generous human beings, to reunite me with my children. During these 4 years, I worked hard with a psychiatrist, a counsellor and a mentor to seek medical help and gather the courage to enrol in school.  I was constantly reminded that the key to reclaiming my kids was to prove to them that I have competencies to take care of them.  I am grateful to so many people for supporting me and landing me on a decent path.

Now, in my thirties, I am an accountant and live in a comfortable townhouse with my two beautiful kids. I am trying hard to stay on track and not take anything for granted. Devils or gods did not make me ill or cure. I know that too well. I have a chronic illness that I have to manage, and a life filled with love and hope that I have to live to its fullest.  With my past experience, I am able to mentor young women and advocate on behalf of women facing abuse or mental illness. 

 - Nishantha K.

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There's more to come! 

We'll be updating our Canada 150 Project with new series throughout the year

There is a saying: “Home is not where you were born. Home is where your attempts to escape come to an end.”

I am a Jordanian/Palestinian. I have a Jordanian passport but I was never considered a true Jordanian. I went to Palestine once and, while it felt priceless to visit a place I truly love, it didn’t feel like home because I had no memories or friends there.

I lived for a while in the US, where my dad was on a work visa. The US was only a transit stop along my journey. 

My husband and I applied to come to Canada as skilled workers. When we got approval, I felt that Canada could be the place that valued me as a person. Not knowing how I look like or what I believed in, Canada saw that successful part of me as an educated skilled individual, welcoming me to become a part of its society.

The feeling of being able to make a dream come true is what makes Canada feel like home. Canada is where I have unpacked my suitcases. My journey ends here.

home is not where you were born

I got divorced, raised three children on my own, drove a cab, and received a Master’s degree.  An impossible task accomplished only in Canada.

I moved to Canada with my wife and three boys during an economic downturn.  Jobs were hard to find, especially in my profession and without Canadian experience. I volunteered at my kids’ school, at the local hospital and a botanical garden.  It took my wife and me two years, hundreds of resumes, very few interviews, several jobs finding clubs, co-op education with placement, and specialized computer and language courses before I realised I am not going to be going to find a job even remotely close to my field. Through a neighbour, I joined a taxi company. I landed my first job as a cab driver and my wife detested me for it. 

My wife refused to ride with me in the cab, but my boys seemed to be okay with it.  Our three boys continued their education and were very successful at school. The two older ones made it to the Provincial Soccer team and I was very proud. Our younger son, however, was not athletic or social.

After 5 years of driving a cab, I decided to take part-time university courses online.  My wife grew unhappier and eventually decided that she wanted to go back home. Our kids refused to accompany her. I tried to convince her to stay but she missed her mother and didn’t feel she belonged in Canada.  A year and a half later she left the country and us permanently.

I had to cut my working hours and spend more time at home but I never gave up taking my courses. We all went through a very difficult time for the next couple of years.  My two older sons went to college out of town. This period was helpful for me to bond with my younger son.  I continued to work hard at my job and persevered with my school. We both started volunteering at a local health club.  He ended up having a part-time job at the club and experimented with some leadership courses.  This experience was a turning point in his life and gave him confidence.

After many years of online and offline courses at three different campuses, at the age of 62, I graduated with honours and received my MA degree.  My three boys attended my convocation. That was a very proud moment for me.  I may never be an urban planner but the knowledge I will cherish the knowledge I have gained.  Over the years, I have always enjoyed speaking with and learning from people from all walks of life – especially the passengers in my cab.

- Iqbal Z.   

We came to Canada from India in 1994 through family sponsorship. The first four years was a constant struggle for us. My brother who had sponsored us could barely make ends meet. He would go to university at nights and drive a cab during the day. He had a lot of debt on his visa card.

Being sponsored by my brother, we were not eligible for Ontario Work. We started to take survival jobs. I was working as a cashier and worked long hours. My life was limited to going to work and coming back home to sleep at nights. I had little knowledge of the resources available. Those years were tough.

In 1998, my brother’s debts were paid off, I got my driver’s license, started college, got engaged and became a citizen. It was the year Canada felt like home and it has remained a home ever since.

I feel happy, safe and secure here. We have free healthcare and can consider a future. My children have many opportunities.  I have found my happy place.

A mini U.N. on our Toronto Street!

i am home now

This country has my name on it

Canada today is a garden of diverse people and cultures

A series of free-form stories from Canadians, about Canadians. 

The first time I heard of racism, I was in grade two.  A boy had joined the class halfway through the year and he came from an African country. I Loved my teacher, a young man full of energy and a great soccer player.  He always encouraged us to exercise empathy; often we would hear, “put your feet in someone else’s shoes.” I didn’t really understand what it meant, though knew that it must be a hard and a good thing.

Emmanuel was the new boy’s name and I wanted to take him home for a playdate. My mom was OK with the idea, but as soon as he was dropped off at my door, she seemed horrified. We played for much shorter than I hoped for and that was the last time Emmanuel got invited to my house. That is until much later.

We went through elementary and junior high together and kept in touch in the high school. We ended up at the same university. By then had developed a strong bond but never talked about that one playdate experience. 

Fast forward 25 years, I am a dentist, the father of two beautiful daughters and volunteer at their school.  It brightens my heart and soul to see children of all ethnic backgrounds live and go to the same school. Parents don’t fall short in exchanging pleasantries and pick up each other’s kids for play. 

Can you guess who my partner is at my clinic? Of course, Dr. Emmanuel M.

- Alan D.