People from many different backgrounds came together Saturday to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday and embrace the country’s cultural diversity.
“It put a big smile on my face to see so many people,” said Sandra Cocco, executive director of Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington. “It really shows the fellowship of food and friends.”
The Canada 150 Party and Open House event was held in part as a delayed grand opening for the new Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington office at 104 Dawson Road.
“We moved into this location last May and we took on more space this year,” said Cocco. “We thought this was kind of a nice tie in with Canada’s birthday.”
The centre offers a variety of services that help immigrants from around the world settle in the area.
“We helped 2,500 people last year and more than 1,000 were refugees from countries such as Syria and Eritrea,” said Cocco. “Guelph is a hotspot for immigration. We have a large immigrant community here and that creates a good situation for others.”
Many come here in search of a better life for their families.
“They are attracted to the cultural and economic diversity of Guelph,” said Cocco. “We have a good partnership with local businesses who are hiring many of the newcomers.”
To get a good job immigrants need language skills and to help with that the centre offers TIPS, the translation and interpretation program. They provide translation of legal and medical documents and assist with interpretation between potential employers, landlords and other people they may need to communicate with verbally.
“We act as a communication bridge,” said Cocco. “We have the only language assessment centre in Guelph. All new immigrants have to be tested before they can move on to the ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at St. Georges.”
While much of the daily work of Immigrant Services is to introduce newcomers to Canadian language and culture, the event Saturday gave immigrants a chance to share their culture with Canadians.
There was an international barbecue, performances of cultural music and dance and a games room where people could try their luck at international board games.
Volunteers Robert Brandstetter and Deedee So-Kew had fun teaching Guelph MPP Liz Sandals how to play the African board game Mancala.
“I had never seen that game before,” said Sandals. “I almost had it figured out by the time we were done.”
MP Lloyd Longfield and Mayor Cam Guthrie also dropped by to tour the offices and welcome new citizens to the city. The event was open to the public and dozens of people from various ethnic backgrounds showed up to celebrate Canada’s birthday.
“It was really packed,” said Anu Saxena, vice president of the Multicultural Festival Guelph-Wellington and board member of Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington. “We are really happy with the turnout.”
There was a long list of events for the kids that included bubble blowing, henna and face painting, a bouncy castle, a photo booth, chalk drawing, a scavenger hunt and a maker space.
There was even a visit by Einstein the Great Horned Owl and Chinook the Peregrine Falcon courtesy of Wild Ontario.
“I really love seeing all the children,” said Cocco. “It is a profound reminder of what we do. They are the next generation and we want them to feel welcome.”