As Canadian as they come
Islanders from all walks of life celebrate Canada’s 148th birthday
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.”
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.