The cultural fabric of Canada: Celebrating the legacy and future of newcomers

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Canada is an ever-growing cultural tapestry, weaving together vibrant histories and experiences from people across the world for more than 150 years. Newcomers have helped build a thriving cultural mosaic across the country.

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Canada is an ever-growing cultural tapestry, weaving together vibrant histories and experiences from people across the world for more than 150 years. Newcomers have helped build a thriving cultural mosaic across the country.

Brandon is a community that has grown through the arrival and support of new Canadians, many of whom are eager to share their stories in celebration of Canada Day.

In pursuit of the Canadian dream

Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun Sagree Mudaly and her family moved from South Africa to Brandon in December 2017.

Sagree Mudaly and her family moved from South Africa to Brandon in December 2017, looking to pursue the Canadian dream. They initially settled in Virden for 10 months before moving to the Wheat City.

“It’s a perfect size. We just said ‘This is it, we will live in Brandon,’” Mudaly said. “We wanted a part of that, to be a part of this community where we can have peace and safety and quiet. We really love it here.”

They appreciated what Brandon had to offer for their children in terms of extracurricular activities and education. Mudaly said she heard stories of parents walking their children to school and other intimate experiences made possible in the rural Manitoba town.

Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun Jerome Jimeno moved to Brandon from the Philippines and hopes to bring his family to the city soon.

Brandon has proven to be the ideal home for her husband Shashen and children Aayushan and Sahaana.

The family hails from the third-largest city in South Africa, located next to the ocean. She described it as a city that never sleeps, but there was often a feeling of isolation.

When they arrived in Brandon, her family was immediately struck by the slower pace and how quickly they could make friends in a community that strived to make them feel included.

Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun Sagar Jethva, left, Jalpa Vaja and Vainavi Jethva, 3, visit the North Hill playground Tuesday. The couple moved from India to Brandon but their daughter was born in Canada.

“They opened their hearts and they opened their homes to us. Being so far away from your extended families, it feels good to have that,” Mudaly said.

Mudaly and her family were motivated to attain their citizenship, she said, because they want to start new lives in Canada.

“We want to embrace Canada as our home and this is part of that journey.”

Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun Kerselin Fumier moved from Mauritius to Brandon in 2008.

Mudaly recently completed her citizenship exam. She and her husband diligently studied a 68-page workbook in preparation for the test, knowing they had to get at least 15 of the 20 questions correct.

They passed their tests with flying colours.

“It was a very enriching learning experience. I feel that I learned so much about the history of Canada, the geography of Canada, and Canadian governance. I wouldn’t even have imagined some of the stuff in there,” Mudaly said. “We’re looking forward to becoming Canadian citizens, it’s so exciting.”

Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun Sunday Frangi moved from Sudan to Brandon in 2004 and became a Canadian citizen in 2011.

Around 75 per cent of Canada’s population growth is rooted in immigration, according to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada. It is anticipated by 2036, immigrants will represent up to 30 per cent of the country’s population.

The Canadian Real Estate Association reported international immigration added 4,589 people to Manitoba’s population in the first quarter of 2022 — an increase of 18.2 per cent in comparison to the same period in 2021.

And, according to Statista, there were more than eight million immigrants with permanent residents living in Canada as of 2021, accounting for about 21.5 per cent of the total Canadian population.

In search of a better future, Jerome Jimeno made the life-changing decision to move from the Philippines to Brandon to work at the Maple Leaf Foods plant. He arrived in Manitoba three months ago.

It is hard work being a meat cutter, Jimeno said, but he appreciates the money he earns and saves because it directly benefits his family’s future in Canada. He looks forward to bringing his wife Rochelle and children Alaine Jewel, 11, and Juliana Chloe Jimeno, 8, to Brandon so they can begin building memories together. Their ultimate goal is to one day become citizens of Canada.

It can be challenging to get ahead and build a future in the Philippines because in his experience, opportunities are limited and life is expensive. He described it as a life of living paycheque to paycheque.

“Living like that is not living,” Jimeno said.

He is enjoying life in Brandon, even though it is not what he expected. He researched the city before his arrival to get an idea of the culture, Jimeno said, but nothing beats exploring the city on his motorized longboard to learn more about it.

“I love it,” Jimeno said. “There are friendly neighbourhoods, people are always greeting and friendly.”

There is a strong and friendly Filipino community in Brandon and this has helped him settle, Jimeno said.

“They helped me a lot, because when you’re new in a place you don’t know anything, and [when] it’s not your first language, it’s hard to communicate.”

Jimeno recently launched the YouTube channel Brandon Boy (youtube.com/c/BrandonBoyPH) to help promote the city while helping his fellow newcomers navigate life in Canada. He hopes to inspire others to move to Brandon so they can call it home as well.

“Now that I’m here I don’t want to go back.”

Laying a foundation for the future

Coming to Canada proved to be a life-saving decision for Sagar Jethva and Jalpa Vaja’s three-year-old daughter Vainavi Jethva.

Vainavi was born in Canada in May 2019. She was almost immediately diagnosed with cystic fibrosis because the province screens for the degenerative disease.

“In India, nobody knows about cystic fibrosis,” Vaja said. “Now, I’m an expert.”

It was a scary time, Vaja said, but they were overwhelmed with the support and care the doctors provided. They cried many times in the early days of her diagnosis, Jethva added, but slowly they grew more confident through the incredible aid they received from Canadian health-care professionals.

Being a Canadian means Vainavi is more likely to have a positive health outcome because she was diagnosed early on and received robust treatment for the illness, Jethva said.

It would be a different story if they still lived in India, where the cost of treating the disease would have been nearly unattainable for the family.

“It was the destiny,” Jethva said. “Canada chose me to come here and now we are happy because she doesn’t have many issues and her body is checked up every two months.”

At 22 years old, Jethva arrived in Canada on a student visa to pursue an education in animation and digital arts in 2013. He moved to Brandon in 2016 and began working full-time to gain permanent residency, which he achieved in 2020.

He has only returned to India once since coming to Canada, to marry Vaja in 2017. Vaja joined him in Brandon eight months later in August 2018.

The family plans on staying in Brandon because it is the perfect place to raise a family, Vaja said. It is a safe environment that gives Vainavi a better quality of life.

“Brandon is home,” Vaja said.

Jethva said he appreciates the small East Indian community and the support they have provided to help the family feel settled and welcomed in the Wheat City.

Jethva and Vaja are eligible for citizenship and will soon apply, he said.

“I’m happy that we are in Canada,” Jethva said.

Gemma Bashford lives in Inglis, the first town she ever visited in Manitoba. Her parents moved from England to Canada in pursuit of a “better farming life” in 2013. Bashford followed in 2015.

“People like farmers better in Canada — people are passionate about Canadian farming,” Bashford said with a laugh. “It’s a respected lifestyle, business choice, while in England we were the strange ones because we lived on a farm.”

Bashford initially had no intention of following her parents to Canada. She came for a three-month vacation to visit and see the country and never went back to England. As she spent more time with her parents, Bashford began to see Manitoba as home.

“I think I genuinely probably would have gone back to England in February when I had my flight booked back if it wasn’t for working at Asessippi Ski Resort — it made winter fun,” Bashford said.

It was always a major goal for the family to become Canadian citizens, Bashford said.

Bashford received her citizenship in April 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an interesting situation, she added, as her family received their citizenship before her when in-person ceremonies were still possible.

“I went through the ceremony and all the excitement with them for theirs and mine was very different because it was right in the middle of COVID,” Bashford said.

Her family had a beautiful outdoor ceremony on a warm day in Wasagaming, surrounded by other new Canadians from across the world.

Bashford had a more low-key event over Zoom while sitting alone in her office at work. She described it as a typical Zoom meeting — she could see everyone on the computer screen and they were dressed in their best regalia to honour the moment.

Bashford had a special memento with her for the ceremony — a candle from the Inglis Grain Elevators she purchased during one of the family’s journeys to Manitoba.

“It felt full circle that I visited Inglis in Manitoba so many years ago when I was much younger and I’m doing the citizenship ceremony in the same town.”

Leaving a legacy

When choosing Brandon as his permanent home, Kerselin Fumier was driven to give back to the community that supported him when he was a newcomer.

Fumier moved to Brandon in June 2008. He originally hails from the island of Mauritius and felt connected to Canada because both countries are members of the Commonwealth.

He viewed his journey to Brandon as an adventure. He had never flown anywhere or been outside his home country. He took a chance and applied to work at the Maple Leaf Foods plant.

“We were the first group of Mauritians that landed in Brandon,” Fumier said. “So, when we moved here in Brandon, the first day was bitter and sour because we did not know anything.”

He arrived in the province with a group of 40 skilled workers in March. Fumier knew none of his co-workers but they quickly became friends.

The beds in their apartment were all they had, he said, and at first, it was difficult to settle and make the space feel like home. It was hard and only heightened his feelings of homesickness.

This all changed after the St. Augustine of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church community rallied to help bring all the essentials one could need for a home.

“When we get off work at 4 o’clock we came back to the apartment [and] it was full of everything: furniture, TV, cutlery, pots, pans, blankets, everything,” Fumier said. “That’s when we decided to stay. When we get that help — we said ‘Hey, we can do this.’”

In 2009 Fumier helped create the Mauritius Culture Association of Brandon Manitoba. In 2010 they began participating in the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival, now known as the Westman Multi-Cultural Festival Society.

The multi-cultural festival is essential because it serves as a taste of different Canadians’ experiences and cultures while showcasing those who make up the cultural mosaic of Brandon, Fumier said.

He received his Canadian citizenship in 2015. Between his Canadian and Mauritian passports, Fumier can travel almost anywhere without a visa.

He has made a point to be active in the community helping committees and fundraising in any way. He is currently vice-chair of Westman Multi-Cultural Festival, vice-president of Mauritius Culture Association, a member of the Knights of Columbus and more.

The goal is to help the community as much as he can because of the aid he has received.

“My adventure turned out to be my whole life,” Fumier said. “I’m not going anywhere. This is my town. This is my home.”

Sunday Frangi initially moved to Canada as a refugee fleeing civil war in Sudan.

“Being an immigrant, it’s not by choice. It’s not by choice at all, it’s by force … it’s not always a happy moment when you have to leave behind everything that is you — your culture, your childhood friends, your home where you grew up. Everything,” Frangi said. “But, I feel like I’m exactly where I wanted to be, where I need to be to help.”

He first arrived in Winnipeg on Feb. 12, 2004. He later moved to Brandon in January 2017 with a focus on embracing small-town life.

“Growing up in a Third World country, people always look for better opportunities. Sudan had a civil war that lasted over 30 years,” Frangi said. “During that time when the civil war started, life was not easy. Life was tough.”

When Frangi arrived in Canada, he spoke Arabic but no English. Learning to communicate was one of the biggest adversities he faced, he said, but he was persistent and committed to learning English so he could integrate into the community.

“If I wanted to be part of this community then I had to learn,” Frangi said. “Every year I saw progress.”

He has had many proud moments and milestones on his path to becoming and serving as a Canadian citizen — including getting his Canadian high school diploma and graduating from the University of Manitoba with a degree in political science.

“From my arrival, I just wanted to do better and better and one day gives back to this community.”

He became a Canadian citizen in 2011.

His citizenship ceremony was a day of incredible joy that marked a new beginning as a Canadian citizen. He described it as empowering because he knew his voice would be heard in the community, including at all levels of government.

He first wet his toes in the political sphere in 2014 in Winnipeg as a volunteer door-knocker for the Liberal party.

“That not the way politics is back home — people don’t go door-knocking. Politicians don’t waste time talking to people,” Frangi said. “Here politicians have to be out there talking to people telling them this is what they have to offer. People have a voice in this country.”

After moving to Brandon, Frangi ran as a provincial Liberal party candidate for Brandon West in 2019.

That didn’t pan out, so he ran for city council and became the first Black councillor in Brandon’s history after securing the Meadows-Waverley ward in the 2021 byelection.

Frangi wanted to be at the decision-making table to talk about the community and help fix the issues Brandon faces, he said. One of his major goals was to bring inclusivity and diversity to the city council.

“If you want to have a voice in your community you have to be involved.”

Frangi also serves as the case manager team lead with Western Immigrant Services. He views it as an opportunity to give back to a community that has supported him and offer a helping hand to those new to the area.

He described being Canadian as a “gift” and he is thankful he can call it home.

“It’s a sharing of culture and celebrating who we are as diverse people, people that accept each other,” Frangi said. “That’s the strength of who we are — everyone celebrating every culture. That makes me proud to be Canadian.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

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