Ola Zeinalabdin came to Canada eight years ago as a Syrian refugee.
On Saturday, she and her family were among the many who were recognized as official Canadian citizens.
The Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership hosted a ceremony during Red Deer’s Canada Day celebration at Bower Ponds to honour the people who became official citizens of Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zeinalabdin became a citizen this past March, alongside her mother, father and brother. Her sister is expected to become an official citizen soon too.
“Being a Canadian citizen means a lot. There are a lot of responsibilities that come with that and there are also a lot of rights. I made a good choice coming to Canada,” Zeinalabdin said.
“In my experience, I have always seen good people being welcoming and giving you warm words. I am really happy and I want to give back to this community by working, volunteering, doing my responsibilities, and raising my voice against things that are wrong and racism.”
Zeinalabdin is currently a settlement youth worker with Care for Newcomers.
“I want everybody to reach out to their neighbours, no matter where they’re, not matter how they look, no matter what race. Reach out to them, say welcome and show them the real Canada. It’s a beautiful country and very diverse. We want everybody to see the sweetness of maple syrup before they taste it,” she said.
Dieulita Datus Hall, Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership program manager, said Canada Day was the “perfect occasion” to officially welcome the new citizens.
The names of the new citizens were read in front of the hundreds who attended Saturday’s Canada Day ceremony – everyone then sang the national anthem together.
“For them to have the ability to sing O Canada for the first time as a citizen is the most Canadian thing you could do on Canada Day,” Datus Hall said, adding RDLIP is hoping to have an even bigger and better citizenship ceremony next year.
In addition to Saturday’s citizenship ceremony, Red Deer’s Canada Day celebration, hosted by the Red Deer Cultural Heritage Society, also featured live entertainment, food vendors, information booths and more.
Delores Coghill, Red Deer Cultural Heritage Society manager, said it was an exciting day.
“The weather has held up and it’s been wonderful. We noticed there are less people here, which is probably because it’s a long weekend,” Coghill explained.
“We want to celebrate the people who are here today. We’re all multicultural and honouring Indigenous culture.”
Fireworks are scheduled to happen at 11 p.m., weather permitting. Last year’s fireworks were cancelled due to stormy weather.