When does a new country begin to feel like home? Is it when you become a citizen, learn a new language, vote in your first election or something more personal? The Globe asked readers who weren’t born in Canada but live here now to share their “welcome to Canada” story – the moment they felt like they belonged.
Uwe Walter, 51, Calgary
Arrived from Germany in 2009
“A few months after my husband and I became Canadian citizens in 2015, there was a federal election. I went early in the morning to the community center in Jasper, Alta., where we lived at the time, and stood in front of the nice lady checking my voting card. I teared up because I was so happy. She came around and asked me what’s up and when I explained to her that this was my first election as a Canadian, she gave me a big hug. Later I posted a picture on social media, and our small local community newspaper The Fitzhugh picked it up.”
Akshay Aurora, 27, Toronto
Arrived from India in 2018
“In 2019, I had the opportunity to march in Toronto’s Pride parade with the queer affinity group at my law school at York University. I was closeted until 2018, and as a queer person from a country where living an out and proud lifestyle wasn’t an option, this felt like a liberating step. The reception from the crowd was heartwarming. When I walked in the parade, I saw a bunch of happy faces and they were all cheering. I have previously been subject to homophobia and this was quite the change. My ‘welcome to Canada moment’ was being able to truly experience what Canada stands for: diversity and tolerance.”
Mirriam Mweemba, 35, Dartmouth, N.S.
Arrived from Zambia in 2021
“My husband and I were married in my home country of Zambia in November, 2020, during the pandemic, so it was only possible for me to travel to Canada for the first time in May, 2021. We were under quarantine on arrival, and friends of my husband showed up outside the balcony of our condo with a large “Welcome to Nova Scotia Mirriam!” sign. They also brought fresh-cooked lobster and sparkling wine from the Annapolis Valley for us to enjoy while we waited for the end of our 14-day lockdown. My application of permanent residency was approved in September, and in May, I gave birth to our first child in Halifax, one year and three days after first arriving.”
Tunde Omotoye, 36, Ajax, Ont.
Arrived from Nigeria in 2015
“In 2015, I had just arrived from Nigeria and was studying at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont. I was dealing with a lot of culture shocks, from the winter to the transportation system to the education system. One evening, I unknowingly lost my wallet, which had all my IDs, cash, debit card and credit card. I was getting ready to have dinner when a roommate mentioned that someone was looking for me. I was surprised when an elderly man said he saw my wallet at the Fairview Mall in Kitchener and decided to look for me. He drove all the way to bring it to me. That single moment convinced me I was in the right place.”
Angelina Murashka, 26, Toronto
Arrived from Ukraine in 2016
“Even though English doesn’t feel like my second language anymore, I still love switching to my mother tongues of Russian and Ukrainian every now and then. As my friend and I were strolling in downtown Toronto and having a ‘debate’ in Runglish, an elderly woman walking towards us stopped and smiled in the most charming way. What she said next made me realize how lucky and grateful I was for moving to Canada. She said: ‘When you hear people around you say a few words in English and a few words in their first language, you know you’re in Canada. That’s the beauty of this country.’ And that’s exactly what makes it so special. People from all over the world live in one place and in peace, are tolerant towards each other and are genuinely interested in your background when you say ‘I’m a new Canadian.’ ”
Manuela Steffan, 62, North Vancouver
Arrived from Germany in 1993
“On my first trip to Canada in 1990, visiting relatives in Vancouver, I walked through the airport towards customs when I heard this voice in my head whispering, ‘You have arrived. This is where you belong.’ I chalk it up to being overly excited and I went on with my vacation. But what I experienced during that time was an environment that felt like home: the ethnic diversity, the natural beauty and the many friendly people. Growing up in Germany was fantastic, but for me it came with a heavy emotional burden of its history: My life took place inside a glass dome, and I felt to be on the outside looking in. When I returned to Germany after my first trip, I announced to my family, friends and co-workers that I would leave for Canada. In 1993, I immigrated, living first in Ottawa and then Toronto. But my heart was in Vancouver and when I finally arrived in B.C. in 1995, I kept thinking how amazing it was to never have to leave. In Vancouver it felt like I had arrived, I was being noticed, I belonged. I was inside that glass dome.”
Margarida Roncon, 54, Burlington, Ont.
Arrived from Portugal in 1975
“As an eight-year-old when I came to Toronto, I didn’t speak a lick of English. I felt completely lost. My teacher talked to the principal and they decided to give me extra help. Every day at lunch time, a teacher volunteered to do extra reading and vocabulary with me so I could get caught up. After a couple of months, I could communicate fairly well and in six months I was fluent. I bought her a little diary to write in as a thank-you gift, and she said, ‘I love it, this is what I’ve always wanted.’ That made me happy because I was so grateful to her for helping me through such a tumultuous time. What was mind-blowing to me is that in Portugal at the time, there was so much civil unrest that nobody would ever think of volunteering to help anyone. Then we came to Canada, where everyone was trying so hard to help us for nothing in return but to see us succeed.”
Camilo Acosta, 34, Montreal
Arrived from Colombia in 2021
“My wife and I arrived on December 31. It felt special because it was our last day of our previous life in Colombia and the opportunity to start a new life with a new year ahead. We were 31 weeks pregnant at the time, so it was challenging. Imagine just one person, who comes from a country without seasons, carrying four bags weighing 23 kilograms in the middle of the Montreal winter. The moment that I realized this was my new home was during our child’s birth on Feb. 21, 2022, at the Jewish General Hospital. All the staff was very nice and spoke English with us. I dream of seeing my son speaking three languages, visiting with my family in other provinces and buying our dream house.”
Michael Hung, 49, Toronto
Arrived from Hong Kong in 1989
“It was my first visit to the SkyDome (a.k.a. the Rogers Centre) with my high-school classmates, watching real baseball the first time. My baseball knowledge at the time was limited to the Japanese manga Touch. The Skydome had just opened. When I was younger in Hong Kong I would listen to soccer matches on radio. But it was only after I came to Canada that I started watching my own city’s teams live and on TV. It started with the Leafs, then the Jays, sometimes the Argos and then the Raptors in 1996 – again in the SkyDome way up so high I could hardly see anything.”
Jacob Masliyah, 79, Toronto
Arrived from England in 1964
“I was born in Baghdad and I came to Canada by ship from Liverpool in 1964. I was 22 and a graduate student at the University of New Brunswick. I didn’t know anyone in New Brunswick and only one or two people across the country. It was a lonely time. A colleague took me for a drive in the countryside to show me around. It was fall, and we stopped in a wooden area with a lot of golden yellow maple leaves falling from the trees. I walked through a foot of leaves. You could see the sun shining. I said to myself, ‘With a beauty like this, the people here must also be nice. I’ll be fine here. I’ll be all right.’ In 2008 I was inducted into the Order of Canada. Once you leave your place of birth, it can be hard to be accepted, but Canada is a very welcoming place. I feel very fortunate.”
Interviews have been edited for clarity and style.
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