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Syrian refugees: New Canadians, new entrepreneurs

Posted on 07 July 2016 by admin

For nearly a decade, Mona Bassaj and her husband Ihsan Agha owned and operated a small sewing factory in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, where they designed and made uniforms, dresses and other garments for various companies and clients.

Ms. Bassaj and Mr. Agha lost their business in Syria’s civil war. They fled to Lebanon with their two sons and lived there for a few years, until arriving in Calgary in January, privately sponsored by Ms. Bassaj’s sister.

Now living in the basement of Ms. Bassaj’s sister’s house, it hasn’t taken long for the couple to return to entrepreneurship.

In April, Ms. Bassaj’s niece, Nancy Ferris, helped her start a Facebook page for the couple’s new business specializing in tailoring and alterations, Designs by Mona. After advertising to friends, family and an organization supporting Syrian refugees, orders started rolling in.

Canada has welcomed 27,580 Syrians, who arrived between November 2015 and May 2016. The influx of newcomers are now looking for work, leading some Syrian refugees to start small businesses in their new communities.

“The odd jobs, the casual work, that’s always there. But in terms of getting full-time jobs, that’s a little harder,” says Saima Jamal, co-founder of the Syrian Refugee Support Group, a citizen-led assistance organization in Calgary. “Sometimes starting a business is the way forward.”

Speaking through a translator, Ms. Bassaj says she opened her own business “to support myself and get on my feet and start moving forward.”

Ms. Bassaj and her husband’s factory in Syria had 20 pieces of equipment and numerous employees; they’re now working out of the basement where they live, using three machines.

“I am starting small, just doing alterations and dressmaking and such, but my dream and my hope is this will grow to a bigger business where I can do drapery and home designs,” she says.

Some Syrian refugees, like Ms. Bassaj, are trying to rebuild businesses they lost in the war. Others, like the Alhishan family in Fredericton, N.B., are new to entrepreneurship.

In Syria, where the family lived outside of Damascus, Eid Alhishan worked in a government office, while his wife, Suphieh, was a stay-at-home mom to three sons.

The family arrived in Canada in January as government-assisted refugees. In May, they started selling food on Saturdays at Fredericton’s Cultural Market, under the name Suphieh’s Taste of Syria.

Ms. Alhishan starts cooking early Saturday mornings, around 3 a.m., to ensure her dishes are as fresh as can be. Her husband and her oldest son, Fawaz, 21, help set up the food stall and take orders, practicing their English with customers, while Ms. Alhishan serves the food.

“I like that all our customers are happy when they get the food. They all smile,” says Eid Alhishan, speaking through a translator.

Already, the family is thinking beyond the once-a-week food stall. “We’re trying to see what people like from the dishes and what’s popular,” says Fawaz Alhishan. “We would like to grow the business, and hope one day to open a restaurant.”

Alex LeBlanc, managing director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council Inc., which has overseen the province’s resettlement efforts of government-assisted refugees, says new business ventures are launching across New Brunswick.

“We’re seeing individuals who are really eager to give back, to deliver value for the communities they’re living in now,” Mr. LeBlanc says.

In Saint John, efforts are underway to help more than a dozen Syrian men who worked as barbers get licenses in Canada. In Moncton, the Syrian Women’s Association of Greater Moncton plans to help Syrian women start and manage small business initiatives, such as selling products at farmers’ markets.

Such businesses are possible because of community support, Mr. LeBlanc says. “There’s paperwork and formal processes that you have to go through to set up a business, but we’re seeing volunteers and community organizations step up and support that,” he says. “Where there are challenges, there are people there willing and eager to help.”

That’s been true of Rita Khanchat’s experience, starting a catering company in Calgary. Syrian Cuisine Made with Love recently filled its biggest order yet, for 250 people.

Ms. Khanchat was a broadcast engineer in Aleppo, Syria; her husband was a lawyer. The couple and their five-year-old son were privately sponsored by a friend of a friend, and arrived in Calgary in December.

Knowing it would take time and money to retrain as a broadcast engineer in Canada, Ms. Khanchat looked for other work. She was encouraged to start her own company after cooking traditional Syrian food for visitors, including Ms. Jamal, of the Syrian Refugee Support Group.

“Right away after I tasted her food, I said, ‘This is amazing. You should start cooking and taking orders,’” Ms. Jamal says.

Volunteers with the Syrian Refugee Support Group helped Ms. Khanchat make a menu, set prices, and start a Facebook page featuring photos of her dishes.

The group has also encouraged and helped other Syrians start businesses, Ms. Jamal says. While she believes newcomers should be focused on learning English right now, she has also met many privately sponsored refugees desperate to find work. Private sponsors are expected to cover their refugees’ costs for a year, but in some instances, that doesn’t happen.

After local media reported on the new business run out of Ms. Khanchat’s basement apartment, staff with the City of Calgary reached out to help her get a business license and meet health regulations. Meanwhile, a local business owner offered Ms. Khanchat use of his commercial kitchen.

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11 Canada Day Celebrations That Take You Off The Beaten Path

Posted on 29 June 2016 by admin

Canada Day is coming up, and while it’s always fun to head to a huge celebration in a big city, it can also be a good time to get off the beaten (and crowded) path for a more relaxed and local experience. If you’re craving a more laid-back Canada Day experience there are many options all over the country. Here are’s picks for celebrations in smaller towns that are alternatives to joining the crush and chaos in the big cities.

 Blue Mountain, Ontario

Just 90 minutes northwest of Toronto, you’ll find Blue Mountain Village, a sprawling resort offering year-round activities ranging from skiing and snowboarding in winter, to waterslides, mountain biking, golf and zip lining in summer.

 Richmond, British Columbia

If you don’t want to celebrate Canada Day right in the heart of Vancouver, you can drive 20 minutes south to Richmond. Head here to check out the annual Steveston Salmon Festival, dubbed “Canada’s Biggest Little Birthday Party.”

 Beaumont, Alberta

Rather than Edmonton, spend Canada Day in Beaumont, Alberta, located just 30 minutes to the south.

 Muskoka, Ontario

Muskoka is home to a wide range of Canada Day celebrations, and the destination itself is one of the best to visit in the summertime thanks to numerous outdoor activities, beaches and laid-back vibe. Driving time from Toronto is around two-and-a-half hours and, once you arrive, you can take your pick of celebrations and fireworks displays taking place throughout the Muskoka region in larger centres like Gravenhurst, Huntsville and Bracebridge.

 Souris, Prince Edward Island

The pretty town of Souris, just over an hour from Charlottetown, is a worthwhile stop on any PEI itinerary thanks to the abundance of white sand beaches.

 Saint Andrews, New Brunswick

Charming St. Andrews is Canada’s oldest seaside resort town and most visitors are smitten as soon as they arrive. Not far from Saint John or Fredericton, St. Andrews is filled with things to see and do, from white sand beaches and boat tours to galleries, gardens and museums.

 Kanata, Ontario

Canada Day in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, is understandably a big deal. But just outside of Ottawa you’ll find Kanata, which hosts its own Canada Day celebrations with something for everyone including many family-oriented activities.

 Coquitlam, British Columbia

Coquitlam, just 45 minutes from Vancouver, was designated a Cultural Capital of Canada in 2009 and is home to more than 70 parks and nature areas.

 Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

For a particularly scenic Canada Day, head about an hour and 15 minutes southwest of Halifax to Lunenburg. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic District is known as one of the prettiest towns on Canada’s east coast.

 Laval, Quebec

Just 40 minutes outside of busy Montreal you’ll find Laval, a good option if you’re on the hunt for an alternative to a big city Canada Day celebration.

 Port Hope, Ontario

Less than 90 minutes from Toronto puts you on the shores of Lake Ontario in pretty Port Hope, where there’s a Canada Day celebration happening throughout the day on July 1. The fun includes an antique car show, a parade beginning at 11 a.m., live local entertainment all day, as well as food booths and a beer garden in case you feel like imbibing.

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History of Canada Day

Posted on 26 June 2015 by admin


Canada’s national holiday is celebrated on July 1.

Canadians across the country and around the world show their pride in their history, culture and achievements. It’s been a day of celebration, where many festivities are held across the country, since 1868.

The Creation of Canada Day

July 1, 1867: The British North America Act (today known as the Constitution Act, 1867) created Canada.

June 20, 1868: Governor General Lord Monck signs a proclamation that requests all Her Majesty’s subjects across Canada to celebrate July 1.

1879: A federal law makes July 1 a statutory holiday as the “anniversary of Confederation,” which is later called “Dominion Day.”

October 27, 1982: July 1, “Dominion Day” officially becomes Canada Day.

The Celebrations Start

July 1, 1917: The 50th anniversary of Confederation. The Parliament buildings, under construction, are dedicated to the Fathers of Confederation and to the courage of Canadians who fought in Europe during the First World War.

July 1, 1927: The 60th anniversary of Confederation. The Peace Tower Carillon is inaugurated. The Governor General at the time, Viscount Willingdon, lays the cornerstone of the Confederation Building on Wellington Street.

From 1958 to 1968: The government organizes celebrations for Canada’s national holiday every year. The Secretary of State of Canada is responsible for coordinating these activities. A typical format includes a flag ceremony in the afternoon on the lawns of Parliament Hill and a sunset ceremony in the evenings, followed by a concert of military music and fireworks.

July 1, 1967: The 100th anniversary of Confederation. Parliament Hill is the backdrop for a high-profile ceremony, which includes the participation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

From 1968 to 1979 (with the exception of 1976): A large multicultural celebration is presented on Parliament Hill. This concert is broadcast on television across the country. The main celebrations (called “Festival Canada”) are held in the National Capital Region throughout the month of July. These celebrations include many cultural, artistic and sport activities and involve the participation of various municipalities and volunteer associations.

From 1980 to 1983: A new format is developed. In addition to the festivities on Parliament Hill, the national committee (the group tasked by the federal government to plan the festivities for Canada’s national holiday) starts to encourage and financially support the establishment of local celebrations across Canada. Start-up funding is provided to support popular activities and performances organized by volunteer groups in hundreds of communities. Interested organizations can make a request to the Celebrate Canada program.

1981: Fireworks light up the sky in 15 major Canadian cities, a tradition that continues today.

1984: The National Capital Commission (NCC) is given the mandate to organize Canada Day festivities in the capital.

2010: Festivities on Parliament Hill receive a royal treatment when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh join the festivities to celebrate Canada’s 143rd anniversary.

2011: Their Royal Highnesses Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, participate in Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill on the occasion of Canada’s 144th anniversary.

2014: Canadian Heritage organizes the 147th Canada Day celebrations. As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, the government has given the Department the mandate to organize Canada Day festivities in the capital.

Official Symbols of Canada

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Do You Celebrate Canada Day?

Posted on 27 June 2013 by admin

Kanwal Rafiq


Majority of Canadian citizens have emigrated from different parts of the world to come live in North America’s largest country. They carry a dual identity, allowing them to experience both the western culture and that of their homeland.

However, everyone’s views on nationalism varies. So as Canada day approaches, I asked some people of South Asian heritage what being a Canadian means to them, and how important celebrating Canada day is.

Gurpreet Pannu:

“I am at heart both Indian and Canadian, so to be able to take pride in both my cultures makes me a really proud person. Celebrating Canada day is important to me because it is one day in the year me and my family can come together and be thankful for the great country we live in.”

Komal Javed:

“I’m initially Pakistani but I was born and raised in Canada. So being a Canadian actually means a lot to me because it’s part of my identity. I have this hybrid identity where I not only belong to the Pakistani culture but am also a Canadian citizen. This plays a big role in shaping who I am as an individual.

Yes, I do celebrate Canada day because it is a day that signifies the birth of our country, the day we became a nation. And it is important to recognize the amount of struggle it took for this to happen. Simply by disregarding Canada day is a sign of ungratefulness, it shows disrespect for what this nation has to offer and some of our mother countries do not.”

Harsimrat Hehar:

It is important to celebrate Canada day if you want to mix in with the society that we live in. But I usually don’t find traditions like these important.

Ovais Ahmed:

Being Canadian is something I take pride in, for Canada is a place I can undoubtedly call my home. It has provided my family with the utmost educational and work-related opportunities. Canada has been so welcoming to not only my family but to all other families who originate from different parts of the world.

Celebrating Canada to me means celebrating diversity and celebrating multiculturalism in a place that I call my home. So celebrating Canada day is very important to my family and me.”

Hareem Naveed:

“I definitely identify as 100 per cent Canadian, so being a Canadian is very important. Though we don’t really do a lot on Canada day, nor did we ever do anything for Pakistan Day. It’s a nice long weekend, maybe we’ll go see fireworks and have a barbeque.”

Ishveer Malhi:

“I would say being a Canadian is important. It gives me pride in knowing that our country shares the same values as many others and me. But events like Canada day aren’t too important to me, especially because you don’t only need one day to appreciate Canada. That’s why I find it an event that just brings people together and that’s about it.”

Haseeb Abid:

“Canada is made up of a wide variety of people, who bring a wide variety of cultures, beliefs, and values with them. All of these people live in peace with each other, and I couldn’t imagine how my life would be if my parents didn’t choose to immigrate here. So I believe that celebrating Canada day is important because it’s the day this beautiful country of peace and freedom was born.”

Canada day is celebrated every year on July 1st to remember the Constitution Act of 1867, which granted most of Canada independence from the British. Enjoyable fireworks, barbeques, carnivals and all sorts of entertainment are held in several locations throughout the country.

This year will mark Canada’s 146th birthday.

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Canada Day: Let’s Celebrate diverse Cultures

Posted on 27 June 2013 by admin

Tom Mulcair


Canada Day is an opportunity for all Canadians to celebrate the many diverse cultures and traditions that have come together to build this great country we call home. We are privileged that so many have chosen to call Canada home and we are all the better for it.

Canadians of South Asian descent have been a part of this country’s fabric since the late 1800s and have become leaders in business, academia and culture.

New Democrats and the South Asian community have enjoyed a close relationship for many years. Jack Layton and the NDP stood in solidarity with members of the community against discriminatory legislation and always supported calls for justice. Just this past year, our party launched the largest consultation with members of the Punjabi and South Asian community in our history. GTA Caucus Chair and NDP MP Andrew Cash as a result introduced a Private Members Bill for the establishment of every April as Punjabi Heritage Month while our party continues to fight for an official apology for Komagata Maru tragedy.

We are working hard every day to ensure that Canadians of all backgrounds have the tools they need to succeed. Our NDP team of hard-working MPs like Jinny Jogindera Sims and Jasbir Sandhu are committed to giving you a voice.

We are fighting for an immigration system that focuses on family reunification; gives skilled workers and graduates opportunities to use their skills; is fair and efficient, with a transparent appeals process; and provides new Canadians with settlement programs to help them succeed.

Since becoming Official Opposition leader, I have made it my priority to visit communities in every province. No leader can proclaim to represent Canadians without meeting them in their communities, listening to their hopes and understanding their challenges.

Whether you live in Vancouver, Edmonton or Toronto, our fate as Canadians is interconnected. Shared values of prosperity through honest, hard work; the importance of community and family; respect, diversity and tolerance are what unite us. Regardless of our backgrounds, we all want the opportunity to earn an honest living and provide for our families in a safe environment.

These values are in danger however, because Stephen Harper’s Conservatives do not see immigration as part of our identity and part of our strength. Instead, they view immigration as an economic tool that provides businesses with workers who will accept low wages.

Families that have waited for years to be reunited with loved ones are taking a back seat to industries that need cheap labour. Since Mr. Harper came to power, the backlog for family class immigration applications has grown by nearly 70 percent. Instead of fixing the problem, Mr. Harper’s government announced last year that no new family class applications for parents and grandparents will be accepted until November, 2013.

The NDP believes that new Canadians are vital to building our communities for generations to come. We will continue to propose practical solutions that put you and your family first. We’re building a better Canada and honouring our responsibility to leave more for the generations that follow us. You are a part of the multicultural fabric that makes Canada the envy of the world. Together we can fight for a fairer, greener, more prosperous Canada for all.

There is far more that unites us than divides us and, for that, we can all be very proud. On behalf of my family, my team and New Democrats across this country, I wish you and your family a happy Canada Day!

Tom Mulcair is Leader of Canada’s Official Opposition. 

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Happy Canada Day!

Posted on 27 June 2012 by admin

Canada Day is a great chance to remember our history, and come together for an even brighter future for ourselves, our elders and our children, here in Ontario — the greatest province in the best country in the world.


Happy Canada Day! I hope you take some time to discover Ontario’s beautiful outdoors, spend time with family and take advantage of the many great long-weekend events across the province. Canada Day is a great chance to remember our history, and come together for an even brighter future for ourselves, our elders and our children, here in Ontario — the greatest province in the best country in the world.


In the last election, we ran on our vision for that future—to balance the budget as we weather a global financial storm, while protecting the gains we’ve made together in services families rely on most: education and health care.Those include North America’s first full-day kindergarten program, and the lowest wait times in Canada. We also know that Ontario families expect us to do our part to make our minority government work. And that’s what we’ve done, while delivering on our key campaign promises.


One of the first things we did was introduce the Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit. To help seniors stay in their homes longer, we proposed a credit of up to $1,500 per year to make renovations such as installing stair lifts, or accessibility ramps. This is good news for seniors and their families, good news for contractors in the renovations sector and good news for our health care system because it costs less when care is provided at home rather than in a long-term care facility.


Many families choose Ontario for our schools — now ranked among the best in the world. Our schools are exciting places to learn and develop, and with our Accepting Schools Act they’re now more inclusive. We’re taking tough action against bullying in all its forms. Bullying a child because of their faith, race, colour, language or sexual orientation is not acceptable. The Act sends a strong message that our public schools are welcoming places and provide equal opportunity to all students.


And we know that in the new knowledge-based economy, postsecondary education is more important than ever. That’s why we launched the 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant. So far, 200,000 students have received money back to help lower their costs.


As we demonstrated during the recent budget negotiations, we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and help ensure this minority parliament delivers what Ontarians expect: jobs, fiscal responsibility and reliable healthcare and education. Together we’ve come a long way, but there is always more to do. Have a great summer!

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South Asian Canada Day 2012

Posted on 27 June 2012 by admin

By Shivani Sharma

The South Asian Canada Day is an annual event that started in the year 2009. I was lucky to witness South Asian Canada Day on June 24th, 2012 from 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the Celebration Square.

 Though there was a thunderstorm expected during the day, but we had a beautiful weather with sun peeping in between just to make it perfect for everyone. This year’s program included a top singer all the way from Pakistan Farooq Mehmood, a female singer from lndia, local English band, ‘Crossroads’ of Charlene Flower.A variety of stalls displaying South Asian food, clothing to jewellery, business promotions and many more were visible in the heart of Downtown Mississauga.

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