As Cana­dian as they come

Is­lan­ders from all walks of life celebrate Canada’s 148th birth­day

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - THE GUARDIAN

Is­lan­ders from all walks of life cel­e­brated Canada’s 148th birth­day in a num­ber of colour­ful ways.

And none were more proud of the red maple leaf than Stratford res­i­dent Thi­lak Ten­nekone.

Orig­i­nally from Sri Lanka, Ten­nekone has spent the past 22 years pro­mot­ing di­ver­sity and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism on P.E.I.

Those ded­i­cated years of mak­ing P.E.I. a wel­com­ing home to new­com­ers re­sulted in Ten­nekone be­ing pre­sented as one of the RBC Top 25 Cana­dian Im­mi­grant Awards last week.

He said he wanted to share the award with fel­low Is­lan­ders and those who sup­ported him since mov­ing to Canada.

“Canada is my home and pro­mot­ing the cul­tural learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and re­spect of dif­fer­ent cul­tures, that’s some­thing I’m very proud of,” said Ten­nekone, who was the only Is­lan­der to re­ceive the award.

Ten­nekone spent much of his Wed­nes­day help­ing with the mul­ti­cul­tural as­pect of Stratford’s cel­e­bra­tions, an ini­tia­tive he’s sup­ported for the past five years.

The cel­e­bra­tion was one of many held across the province, with the ma­jor fes­tiv­i­ties be­ing held in Char­lot­te­town, North Rus­tico, Mon­tague and Summerside.

Mean­while, Josh Coles, owner of P.E.I. Pedi­cab, spent most of the day pro­vid­ing trans­porta­tion be­tween down­town Char­lot­te­town and Vic­to­ria Park.

“It’s one of the most ex­cit­ing days,” said Coles, who usu­ally pro­vides longer tours around the birthplace of Con­fed­er­a­tion.

“Last year, I think (Canada Day) was one of the busiest days I had.”

The park was a ma­jor hotspot with en­ter­tain­ment, chil­dren’s games and food.

The mas­sive fire­works dis­play was put on hold for a day af­ter winds in­creased just be­fore the show.

The ex­plo­sive show was the high­light Char­lot­te­town res­i­dent Tina Wang and six-year-old daugh­ter Lo­tus Chan were look­ing to­wards.

The two were cel­e­brat­ing Canada Day with Wang’s mother Yuzhen Xu, a Chi­nese citizen on va­ca­tion in P.E.I.

“She thinks it’s re­ally nice and beau­ti­ful in Canada,” said Wang.

“She likes the out­side bet­ter, the fresh air and lob­ster.”

Wang came to Canada as an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent in 1999 and stud­ied in On­tario and Nova Sco­tia be­fore set­tling in P.E.I. with her hus­band and daugh­ter.

“She (daugh­ter) was born in Canada so she’s our first Cana­dian,” said Wang, who is also now a Cana­dian citizen.

The tran­si­tion for a new­comer ar­riv­ing in P.E.I. was very dif­fer­ent when Ten­nekone’s fam­ily ar­rived as the first Sri Lankans in the province in 1993.

“We had no com­mu­nity to speak our own lan­guage with or in­volve in re­li­gious Bud­dhist rit­u­als,” he said.

“Now we have more and more peo­ple com­ing from dif­fer­ent coun­tries.”

Some of that growth, both in the Sri Lankan com­mu­nity and other eth­nic­i­ties, has come from Ten­nekone’s di­rect ef­forts to make the province more in­clu­sive.

One of his most vis­ual and long-run­ning ini­tia­tives is the In­ter­na­tional Tea House, which uses food, dance and other cul­tural as­pects to pro­mote di­ver­sity amongst both new­com­ers and Is­lan­ders.

“My con­tri­bu­tion was mostly play­ing a key role and iden­ti­fy­ing the great need for com­mu­ni­ties, not only im­mi­grants but also our main­stream com­mu­ni­ties,” he said.

The re­sult has been a province that re­flects the mul­ti­cul­tural mo­saic seen through­out the rest of Canada.

It’s also one of his proud­est achieve­ments.

“We learn from each other. We learn from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and be­gin fam­i­lies with other cul­tures,” said Ten­nekone.

“It’s been great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

MITCH MAC­DON­ALD/THE GUARDIAN

Stratford res­i­dent Thi­lak Ten­nekone holds his award for be­ing one of the RBC Top 25 Cana­dian Im­mi­grants se­lected in 2015 shortly be­fore leav­ing for Stratford’s Canada Day cel­e­bra­tions on Wed­nes­day. Ten­nekone has de­voted much of his life in Canada to­wards pro­mot­ing di­ver­sity and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism as a way to make P.E.I. more wel­com­ing to new­com­ers.

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