Newcomer Day 2019. Photo by Ramón Vasconcelos / New Horizons Media Inc.
Every year the number of newcomers entering Canada rises. Toronto welcomes the majority of them. According to Statistic Canada, “In 2016, Canada had 1,212,075 new immigrants who had permanently settled in Canada from 2011 to 2016.” Of that number, the city of Toronto received 29.4 percent.
From now through 2021 more than one million new immigrants are expected to enter the country. The City of Toronto, which has been offering settlement services since 1974, relies on community partners to help immigrants get established. It is the intimate and close-knit communities that have taken extra steps to truly make newcomers feel at home.
In 2013, The Toronto Newcomer Office was opened at City Hall. Since then it has worked with community partners to establish services to help newcomers’ transition into the city and encourage Torontonians to celebrate and embrace immigrants. One of those initiatives is Toronto Newcomer Day. On May 16, Toronto celebrated the fifth Newcomer Day.
Toronto joins other cities, including Hamilton and Brampton, in a celebration of newcomers and their contributions to the community. Each municipality has recognized that to succeed, newcomers need support and a sense of belonging.
Vera Dodic, manager of the Toronto Newcomer Office, says that newcomers often get lost in the shuffle because of their lack of knowledge when referring to support services. “Before Newcomer Day, we had workshops for settlement services to familiarize themselves about city services, but not many other formal events,” she said.
“It is the responsibility of the city to do what is in their power to help all the newcomers we are accepting.”
And she wants other cities to do the same.
“Every year I hope I find the time to work with my colleagues across Canada to encourage them to have a newcomer day.” From her own experience, Dodic remembers arriving in Canada and not knowing what settlement services were or even where to start.
“Many newcomers rely on informal networks and often receive incorrect information,” says Dodic. “An event like this is making a huge impact on how we build communities. Each year there are more events related to newcomer day leading up to the main event including, nine city museums offering free entry, higher attendance, and, most importantly, Newcomer Day is celebrating newcomers and all the ways that embracing immigrants can benefit the country.”
So, what more can we do for newcomers? Dodic believes that educating them from the ground up is one way to integrate them smoothly. Toronto Newcomer Office will be renewing their strategy guide this year to better accommodate the growing needs of newcomers. However, Dodic wants more people to understand the importance of newcomer integration, and that Toronto is their city, too. “Newcomer Day is a community building event. I hope newcomers understand they are a part of our city. They are welcomed. I hope Torontonians are able to see the value in events like this and the importance of welcoming newcomers.”