Connecting with Canada
Community project helps newcomers to Canada understand their adopted country.
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.