Without a doubt, it was the happiest place in Red Deer on Wednesday.
Broad smiles, tears of joy, a Mountie, a judge and a bagpiper — what more could you ask for on such a warm, beautiful end-of-summer day.
The top floor of the Pidherney Curling Centre in Red Deer was jam-packed as 50 people living in Central Alberta, representing 22 different countries, became Canadians during a special citizenship ceremony. Also attending were friends, family, officials, and the inevitable dignitaries.
Immigrants come here with their brave hearts full of apprehension, maybe even a bit of fear. Most of them have no real idea what winter is. Some say they love the snow. They just haven’t shovelled enough of it yet.
Others talk about discovering the complete unjoy of cold weather. I’m with them. If only they could have brought along some of those warm climates they left behind.
They are from the Philippines, Haiti, Fiji, Columbia, Guatemala, Iran, Pakistan, India, Mexico, China, Israel, and elsewhere — even a few from Germany and England. It is multiculturalism before one’s very eyes.
Before the actual ceremony there are round table discussions, where the soon-to-be Canadians chat with other members of the community, already Canadian. After this, each table has a representative who gets the microphone and speaks a little to everyone.
It is when Eddy Brice gets up to speak that the sense of this moment in time hits home.
From Haiti, the 42-year-old starts to talk about becoming a Canadian, and then overwhelmed, he starts to cry, and a room full of noisy exuberant children, is suddenly quiet, listening.
When I talk to him later after the swearing in, with his born-in-Canada fiance Deanna Westgard, 33, he is a happy camper as we native Canadians like to say.
Eddy came to Canada as a refugee in 2007, with just $50 in his pocket, ending up first in Hamilton, Ont. He eventually arrived in Red Deer in 2012, now working out at Nova Chemicals for Quinn Construction. Soon he expects to achieve the journeyman level as a scaffolder.
Seven years in the country, he has a family that also includes a stepson, a house, a vehicle, a full-time job. He is proud, grateful and all smiles.
New Canadians come so full of verve. Here are a few of their observations about their new country.
“People here are very kind and very polite. That’s a very good thing,” says one.
An observant young man noted: “There are a lot of liquor stores, especially in Red Deer. One on every corner.”
“Credit card purchases will be followed by a bill,” he also notes. Someone needs to tell him he has a good chance at becoming Canada’s number one export to the U.S. — comediennes.
“Space!” another person says. “You’ve got lots of space here!”
“Everyone comes here for the opportunity,” says another.
And to some applause, a young woman declares: I love cold. I love snow. I love winter.”
A young man says that when he arrived he had only $1,200. He jokes, “Now I’m not going to tell you how much I have because I have to pay taxes.”
Kashan Khan, 35, and his wife Ambreen Asif, 29, are from Pakistan. Their son Ma’arij is four and was born in Canada.
They came to Red Deer nine months ago, via Toronto and then Sudbury.
Kashan is a computer guy, works in Information Technology for IFR Workwear, a company in Red Deer that specializes in fire-resistant clothing used in the oilpatch. Ambreen is a math tutor.
They decided they wanted to come to Canada after Kashan went to school in the U.S., and found that after he returned to Pakistan it was hard to settle into the way of life there again.
“For us there were very limited options back home,” says Kashan.
Since they have no family in Canada, they considered themselves “free radicals”, so they could move anywhere, he said.
And so a job brought them here.
Being a Canadian now allows them more freedom to travel, instead of having to get visas, something especially important to Ambreen so she can more easily visit her aunt in England for example.
On Wednesday afternoon another 75 new Canadians went through the citizenship ceremony in Red Deer.
“You are now part of the greatest country on Earth,” Citizenship Judge Joseph Woodard told the new Canadians.
Indeed. Except of course for the cold.