Con­nect­ing with Canada

Com­mu­nity pro­ject helps new­com­ers to Canada un­der­stand their adopted coun­try.

Canada's History - - CURRENTS - by Mar­i­anne Helm

When Bashir Khan em­i­grated from Pak­istan to Canada, the then eleven-year-old wanted to learn ev­ery­thing he could about his new home. “I wanted to learn for my­self why Canada is the best coun­try in the world — what events and per­son­al­i­ties of the past have made the Canada of to­day what it is: a mul­ti­cul­tural, tol­er­ant, sec­u­lar so­ci­ety with in­di­vid­ual and group rights for all,” he said.

Khan dis­cov­ered that Canada — even though it was a rel­a­tively young coun­try — had an in­ter­est­ing and rich his­tory. As an adult, he de­cided to help other new­com­ers learn Canada’s his­tory.

In 2015 — dur­ing the bi­cen­ten­nial of the birth of Sir John A. Macdon­ald — Khan, now a Win­nipeg im­mi­gra­tion lawyer, be­gan to de­velop an ed­u­ca­tion out­reach pro­ject for re­cent im­mi­grants and refugees in Man­i­toba. Since then, with the help of vol­un­teers and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, Khan has held sev­eral free his­tory-themed ed­u­ca­tional events.

“The pur­pose of the pro­ject was for par­tic­i­pants to feel proud of the myr­iad achieve­ments of this great coun­try,” said Khan. “There is a gen­uine in­ter­est in the hearts of newly ar­rived peo­ple in Canada [to learn] about this coun­try.”

Refugees, im­mi­grants, and new­com­ers from a host of coun­tries, in­clud­ing Bu­rundi, Zim­babwe, Eritrea, Ethio­pea, Al­ba­nia, Afghanistan, Burma, Pak­istan, Sri Lanka, In­dia, Ghana, and Nige­ria, have at­tended his events. Top­ics have in­cluded an ex­plo­ration of the sig­nif­i­cance of the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge; a dis­cus­sion of the life and achieve­ments of Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Vin­cent Massey; and a look at the many strug­gles women had to over­come to win the vote in Man­i­toba in 1916. Khan has also in­vited lo­cal mil­i­tary veterans to share their ex­pe­ri­ences with new­com­ers.

Some events saw as many as ninety peo­ple in at­ten­dance, and all at­ten­dees “de­vel­oped a greater sense of ap­pre­ci­a­tion” for the his­tory of their new home, Khan said.

One par­tic­i­pant told him the events helped her to pass the Cana­dian ci­ti­zen­ship exam, be­cause she came away from them with a fuller un­der­stand­ing of key Cana­dian events and mile­stones.

Thanks to his ef­forts, Khan was nom­i­nated as a 2017 fi­nal­ist for the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s His­tory Award for Ex­cel­lence in Com­mu­nity Pro­gram­ming. He plans to con­tinue hold­ing his­tory events. “The mem­ory of past glo­ries and achieve­ments of Canada would sim­ply pass away ... if we do not ac­tively make the ef­fort to re­mem­ber them,” he added.

Clock­wise from top left: Suf­frag­ists in Win­nipeg pose with pe­ti­tions de­mand­ing the vote for women, circa 1914; Bashir Khan reads a speech at a war ceno­taph in Win­nipeg; A crowd lis­tens in­tently dur­ing one of Khan’s pre­sen­ta­tions on Cana­dian his­tory.

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