I came into the office recently at 7:30 in the morning, and about 10 members or so were lined up at the counter to register to take a scaffolding class. As I walked by and said “Hi, how are you?” to a number of them, I noticed that many had various accents.
I asked some members where they were from and what brought them here today. I learned that they were from four different countries, and they were all training for new careers here in Canada. One member from Asia spoke of his history growing up in poverty, his immigration struggles, and how he came to arrive at the CLAC Training counter that particular day.
All of us have unique histories, established over generations. This past summer, my wife and I spent a few weeks in Montreal and Boston tracing back parts of our family history.
Fifty years ago this summer, my wife and her family left England on a ship to take a three-week journey to a new home in Canada. They docked at a pier in old Montreal—which my wife and I were able to find—and walked from the ship to the train station. Then they caught a train for the cross-country trip to Vancouver, and that’s where they began their new lives.
My wife and I then traveled to Boston to discover some of my roots, going back to 1638 when my great, great, great . . . grandfather immigrated to the new world. We visited the Bent family cookie factory founded in 1801, the Wayside Inn founded in 1758, and the surrounding small towns where my family settled so many years ago.
It was a great experience, but also a bit humbling when we talked about the struggles and hardships our relatives faced so long ago. Tracing our roots made me more keenly interested in people’s history and the struggles today’s newcomers face. I find myself asking questions like what country are you from? How is life different for you in Canada? What brought you here today?
We live in a country that is made up of such a diverse group of people. Immigrants and refugees from around the world make their way to our shores and settle in Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and other places across Canada. They all come to us with their own unique history, both the personal history of their current lives and the accumulated history of generations past.
As we get to know them, asking them to tell their stories and their history, we will be able to understand them better, come alongside them, and support them. And in turn, our lives will be enriched by intersecting with their history. It’s only in getting to know someone that we can truly understand their needs and care about them.