Irish community in Canada has changed a lot in five years

Irish Canadian Immigration Centre has helped new arrivals all over the country since opening in Toronto in 2012

 

It was 11.30pm December 21st 2011 when Eamonn O’Loghlin, the chair of the newly established Irish Canadian Immigration Centre, called to offer me the position of the centre’s first executive director. That phone call was a Christmas present I will never forget. We opened just two weeks later, with a formal opening following on St Patrick’s Day in 2012.

Over the past five years, I have met an array of new Irish here. Many have come out of necessity; all have come seeking employment.

Dubliner Dean Farrelly landed at Toronto’s Pearson airport the spring of 2012. His clearance at customs was routine, but Dean was not looking to be awestruck. He was not a tourist heading for the sites of Niagara; he was a worker, and he needed a job.

He came alone, knew no one, and at 18, was the youngest client to pass through our doors since the centre first opened in 2011. A carpenter, he has not been out of work since the day he arrived.

It was Dean’s intention to settle in Canada as a permanent resident (PR), and as I write he may already have done so. Since 2009, the number of Irish becoming permanent residents has more than quintupled.

I’ve also seen many return to Ireland, including Galway’s Caroline Fahy, the first new arrivals’ representative to the Immigration Centre’s board of directors. Caroline and her spouse returned by choice, both accomplished in their fields in Toronto, both returning to positions back home.

Since January 2015 when Canada made its PR process more competitive, there are many Irish leaving against their will, however. Even so, in 2015, Irish nationals were ranked fourth in world amongst all nationalities invited to apply under Express Entry, Canada’s permanent residency processing system.

Corkonian Stephen O’Keefe is one of these, a client who surprised with the gift of reciprocity. After accessing the centre’s resources, Stephen employed his DJ skills to host a fundraiser with all proceeds benefitting the centre. Volunteers such as this make our work possible.

Volunteers like Gerry O’Connor. Gerry arrived to Toronto long before we commenced operations. Like many immigrants, he had no friends or family to whom he could turn in his new country, and carried just $100 in his pocket. Forty years later, he paid homage to that moment, emailing me just one week after we opened, communicating his desire to mentor the hundreds flooding in. His employment preparation seminars have now been running five years; and he’s committed to a sixth. When he (rarely) cannot make it, human resources manager Gemma Griffin from Limerick pinch-hits.

National scope

The centre has a national scope, pointing to our greatest challenge: As the second biggest country in the world (by area) and with Irish arriving from our Atlantic to Pacific coasts, there is much ground to cover (the province of Ontario alone is more than 15 times bigger than Ireland). Our work could not be carried out without a multi-channel digital and social media strategy.

Yet, face to face is still most critical in terms of outreach; “high-tech/high-touch” is the approach we strive for. Travel across Canada, therefore, is a fundamental aspect of our operations.

Outside Toronto, it is to the west we have mostly gone, summoned by Irish families settling under the frigid, bright skies of Saskatchewan; tradespeople on the remote oil sands projects of Fort McMurray; Fort Mc spouses residing in Edmonton; and those chasing Vancouver’s beach-to-mountain lifestyle.

We have witnessed serious changes since the oil crash of 2014. Many lost their jobs in Fort McMurray and Calgary, which was a boom-town and huge draw for Irish workers in disparate sectors. Following the Fort McMurray fires of 2016, however, there are predictions of economic growth as the rebuilding begins.

Typical day

A typical day at the centre includes dealing queries regarding work permits, permanent residency, and citizenship. I will likely witness an Irish passport application, perhaps for a Canadian infant born to Irish parents (the child a citizen by birth; her parents yet to become PRs). I’ll take a call from an advocacy group pushing for the vote for Irish abroad. There may be an incident at Alberta’s southern border. An email will come in from an employer in Thunder Bay in north-western Ontario looking for skilled workers and another from an individual on a working holiday permit with plans to start her own business in Montreal.

Someone will pop in simply wanting to chat; a favourite frequent visitor shares his tips on museums I should see when next in Dublin, and the galleries in Toronto he feels most warrant a visit.

Our administrative assistant, Clondalkin-born Aisling D’Arcy, will greet each visitor with warmth, a welcome informed by her personal experience of emigration. The work is as varied as the individuals who seek our guidance.

Our 2014 research project In a Crisis: Pathways to Care was a significant point of growth for the centre, illustrating the need for information regarding isolation, loneliness, and addiction for new arrivals. This work is ongoing.

n 2017, as Canada turns 150, The Eamonn O’Loghlin Irish Canadian Immigration Centre turns five. As the centre approaches its anniversary, I’ve been thinking about our opening day back in 2012. The then tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was on hand to cut the ribbon, alongside Canada’s minister for citizenship and immigration, Jason Kenney, and Irish ambassador Ray Bassett, the latter an exceptional friend to the centre throughout his term in Ottawa.

Our first anniversary of operations was dimmed by Eamonn O’Loghlin’s sudden death. Many individuals gave their sweat to establish the centre: the four founding partners (Canadian GAA, Ireland Fund of Canada, Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce-Toronto, Irish Cultural Society of Toronto) were crucial supporters, but Eamonn brought it all to fruition. The story of his involvement is so compelling that upon his passing we became The Eamonn O’Loghlin Irish Canadian Immigration Centre.

Four and a half million Canadians (about 14 per cent of the population) claim Irish heritage. Significantly, Canada’s coat of arms includes shamrocks in the Compartment and, in the third quarter of the Escutcheon, the Irish harp of Tara. The breadth of individuals who built the Irish community here have made lasting contributions to both Canadian culture and Ireland’s diaspora legacy.

Dean, Stephen, Aisling, Gemma, Caroline, Gerry, pharmacist and soprano Ailis from Ballycastle Antrim, our newest board member Tipperary-born hair-stylist Laura O’Gorman, naturalized Irish citizen certified accountant Rejoice Dube, my husband who set out from Waterford in his 40s, my granddad who sailed here from Laois - alone - at 15 years of age in 1929 on the Canadian Pacific Liner Melita, Eamonn... all have experienced the myriad complexities of emigration.

Our centre is known to the new arrivals as I/CAN; Eamonn knew they could. The name Eamonn O’Loghlin continues to inspire, providing a bridge for all those who have followed his journey of immigration from Ireland to Canada.

The Irish Canadian Immigration Centre is celebrating its fifth anniversary with an open house event on Thusday 19th January from 3-7pm, at 44 Victoria Street Suite 1620, Toronto. All are welcome. See irishcanadianimmigrationcentre.org

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