– By Aarti Sharma – 

Residents of SJT share their experiences of Canada  

I call Canada the cold land of warm “thank you” and “sorry”!

I am Aarti Sharma, mother of an active 7-year-old boy. I believe that within 3 days of arriving in Canada, I had exceeded my annual quota of hearing “thank you” and “sorry”. I vividly remember the day when I landed at the Toronto airport for the first time and heard the friendly “Welcome to Canada.” People with genuine smiles, which I had not been expecting, made me feel so welcome to this new land where I had decided to immigrate for a better quality of life.

The equation for a better quality of life is so subjective. For me, the overriding factor in this math was work-life balance which I define as not having to stay at work frequently for extended, unpaid hours. Many of my friends living in North America had effortlessly achieved this equilibrium for their families and this prompted me to move here as a permanent resident (PR).  

It was only after coming here that many other unplanned yet purposeful factors overturned my equation for quality of life, and in a way changed me for the better. My journey in Canada began in the largest high-rise community of this country, our very own multi-racial St. James Town (SJT), where many people identify as immigrants. 

Each day when I stepped out in this neighbourhood, it felt like coming to an international event. It was riveting to come across people from different countries and cultures every day and surprisingly it does not take long to make friends here. So multicultural friends got added to my equation and undeniably this eased my settling-in phase.

One more pivotal factor that alleviated my perturbed mind as a new immigrant was the umpteen number of service provider organizations that cater to the diverse needs of immigrants; from learning English, finding a job, mental health and more.

Another SJT resident, Deepa Manjunath, who has been in Canada for a little over one year, agrees with me. After spending many years in the USA, Deepa considers herself lucky to have landed in this neighbourhood of Toronto. Deepa recalls, “When I had only been in SJT for a few days, I stumbled upon The Corner for free printouts, only to become a frequent visitor for my assorted needs. The Corner has assisted me with tax filing, child benefit application, family doctor reference and getting in touch with employment agencies. I believe initiatives, organizations and services like this add up to make Canada the most immigrant friendly country.” 

Deepa and her daughter at The Corner, enjoying their first Christmas in Canada.

Canada’s affordable healthcare system has also relieved a lot of stress for Deepa’s husband.  

Deepa and I also agree that community centers in Canada, offering multi-purpose facilities along with many free recreational and social activities, make us feel like the taxes we pay are being put to a good use. In fact, going to The Corner has set in motion some new hobbies for my child and me. It delights me that my son has developed the hobbies of swimming, soccer, Lego building and karate through these programs. 

Shamso, another SJT resident, who moved to Canada in 2008 to escape the civil war in Somalia, says, “I came to Canada with a PR and expected to have a good job and a good life. However, not having Canadian experience has been a big barrier in my job-hunting process. That being said, I just completed my graduation this year and it was possible only with the financial aid offered by OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program). Now I am all set to land a good job.”

Sharing a similar concern around job hunting, Deepa states, “I think you have to fight for a quality job. For newcomers the salaries can also be below expectations.” 

Of course, there are some struggles for new immigrants, but there is a lot that Canada and its culture has to offer to help people unwind. As for me, walking has become my new favourite activity solely because I am in awe with the green spaces that can be found close to busy and commercial areas. I am smitten with camping too and my son is in love with splash pads, parks, skate parks and pools. 

While many other immigrants and I continue to explore what Canada has to offer, I am positive that they all fall in love with this country and its people; the people with their warm  “thank you” and “sorry”, have inspired me with their actions to be a kinder person.

Aarti Sharma, a former resident of SJT. (Photo: Krishna Sharma)