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HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA! Welcoming Diversity

July 1, 2009

Today we’re 142 years old and looking not too shabby. Yes, there’s always room for improvement, but Canada can still hold its head up high as a country that is tolerant, welcomes diversity and speaks up when it sees the repression of peoples’ rights in other countries. We’re a country of immigrants. But our demographic face has changed dramatically. In contrast to the heavy preponderance of immigrants from Europe and the United Kingdom for decades, Canada (like America) receives peoples increasingly from China, India, South Korea, Vietnam, Sri lanka, West Africa, and the list goes on. Toronto is now said to be the most racially diverse city in the world, where the percentage of visible minorities is about to become the majority. Of course, the distribution of newcomers to Canada (as with America) is lopsided. The Atlantic Provinces (where I lived for almost 30 years) is still heavily Caucasian, drawing a disproportionately small share of immigrants; the Prairie provinces are in a similar state. Regardless of where immigrants originate, we need to value what they bring Canada (and America) and to put in perspective the history of our two countries. Here’s my story, but one day – 30 years from now – a now 24 year old first generation Iranian-Canadian will be able to tell his or her story. And they’ll be proud to tell it.

Although I was born in Winnipeg (growing up in Montreal) my dad was born in Glasgow. Emigrating to Canada from Scotland at the age of three in 1920, my Dad moved to Winnipeg where his father worked as a supervisor in the Canadian National Railways shops in Transcona. After graduating from high school my dad worked as a machinist apprentice in the shops. When World War II broke out my dad wanted to join the Canadian navy; however, his father told him that he first had to complete his apprenticeship. In 1942, my dad joined the navy (which was for some strange reason a common occurrence among Praire boys), and served on two frigates on the Atlantic Ocean, escorting naval and merchant marine convoys. He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, which is the non-commissioned officer in charge of the engine room (a good fit with his CNR apprenticeship).

After ‘D’ Day my dad, like thousands of other Canadian Armed Forces personnel, immediately went to Vancouver to ready themselves for combat with the Japanese. The rest is history. After the War, many of those who served went to university. My dad earned a mechanical engineering degree and continued working for Canadian National. During the next four decades my dad worked in locomotives and rail systems for CNR, the Canadian Transport Commission and, finally, as a consultant. At his funeral in Fenruary 2006, one of his former bosses came up to me to extend his sympathy, and as he put it to me:” Your dad sure knew locomotives.” Indeed he did. Along the way, my dad worked in Zambia, Egypt, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, not to mention working all over North America. In fact, I first attended school in Battle Creek, Michegan when my dad was on an assignment with the Grand Trunk Railway.

This is just the story of one Canadian immigrant who served his country with distinction. There are hundreds of thousands of other stories. And as Canada’s (and America’s) demographic face changes, we need to put aside our prejudices and remember what has made our two countries so proud and so special. I personally look forward to hearing these new stories from now young immigrants when I’m in my eighties.

Happy Birthday, Canada; and a Happy Birthday to my American friends and relatives on July 4 when you celebrate your 233rd birthday.

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