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Jobs, peace and love among reasons for moving to Canada
Thousands of people enjoy Heritage Festival at Hawrelak Park in Edmonton on July 30, 2011.
Thousands of people enjoy Heritage Festival at Hawrelak Park in Edmonton on July 30, 2011.

Edmonton Journal
Friday, August 03, 2012

For Ali Abdi, coming to Canada meant staying alive, but even after 20 years abroad, he still loves and misses his homeland of Somalia.

Abdi is one of nearly 100 immigrants who shared their stories as part the Journal’s Heritage Project as we celebrate the Servus Heritage Festival this weekend.

Abdi left Somalia because of the 1991 civil war, which has lasted more than two decades and led to more than 500,000 deaths.

“It really was very rough,” said Abdi, 47. “When the central government collapsed, there was no law and order. Everybody wanted to survive, there were guns flying everywhere, looting everywhere. Civil war, once it happens, it’s uncontrollable.”

Two of Abdi’s uncles were shot dead, one outside a mosque, another on the street. His mother, father and 11 siblings hid, sticking together at first, before eventually separating to increase their chances of survival.

“They didn’t want to die in one house, the whole family,” he said.

Abdi caught a break. He was able to move to Canada as a refugee in March 1993.

He arrived in Montreal before heading to Edmonton a few months later.

Here, he got married and had three sons.

“It’s a big difference because Canada really is a free country. It’s multicultural, all different types of people live here.”
Abdi works as a handyman and is always on the go. He’s happy with life here, but thoughts about his family, who are split between Somalia, the United Arab Emirates and Kenya, haunt him.

“It’s very painful because … you can’t see where you grew up and people you grew up with,” he said, adding he wants to visit his elderly parents before they die.

“It’s something you remember when you get up and when you go to bed. It’s there.”

Edmonton’s Heritage Festival is an important reminder of what makes this city so welcoming— the thousands of people from around the world building their lives here.

The Journal’s Heritage Project
aimed to find out why they have chosen to do so.
Part of the draw is Canada’s international reputation for embracing immigrants, said Jasmine Thomas, a PhD student at the University of Alberta who researches settlement.

“A lot of immigrants probably come here because it’s a peaceful country and there is access to educational opportunities, there are broad social services and health care,” she said.

In 2011, there were 30,965 new permanent residents slated to arrive in Alberta, Citizenship and Immigration Canada says.
The majority — 67 per cent — were considered economic immigrants, including skilled workers and people nominated by the province to fill employment gaps, as well as their families. About 2,640 were refugees.

Laxmi Gurung, 38, of Nepal followed her husband to Edmonton in 2002 because of a post-doctoral fellowship he landed at the U of A. She started out as a housewife, caring for the couple’s two children, but achieved an important goal, becoming a licensed practical nurse.

“People really want to know how I did that. Of course, there’s a lot at stake when you study again and you have a family.
“It was a childhood dream of my father, so my dream came true.”

Gurung has also learned English here.

“There are lots of opportunities. You can learn more, you can start from the beginning.”

Ann Bibby moved here for love.

Bibby, 48, was living in Ohio when she met Rob online through a grief support group for spouses in December 2006. Her husband had died of a genetic disorder and Rob’s wife of melanoma. 

After exchanging a couple of jokes, the two began emailing each other daily and talking on the phone.
“It was mostly just to have somebody to talk to. When you’ve been married happily you kind of miss that,” Bibby said.
By late January, their relationship started to shift.

“I got an email from him saying ‘I think my feelings for you are changing and would you be interested in pursuing a romance?’ I was taken aback a little bit but I thought, ‘Yeah. I would be.’”

After visiting with each other over the next couple of months, they decided to get married. 

Rob proposed on St. Patrick’s Day, just before a vacation to Arkansas.

“He said, ‘I can’t bring myself to ask you the question but I want you to wear the ring,’ ” said Bibby. A few days later, he was feeling brave enough.

“He said, ‘Will you marry me?’ ”

Bibby quit her job, sold her home and moved to Alberta with her four-year-old daughter in June 2007. She married Rob in Jasper late in the month. The couple recently celebrated their fifth anniversary, and “things are awesome,” she said.


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