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November 24, 2005

Celebrating Diversity

Those of you who are familiar with this website and know a little more about me know that I have had a profound interest in people from other cultures for a long time. Learning different languages naturally went hand in hand with this cultural curiosity.

Ever since I was a child I have tried to make a connection with people from other places, and my arrival in Toronto just over 19 years ago was one of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had, simply because all of a sudden I was dropped into this most multicultural of cities. Suddenly I was surrounded by people from all over the world - what an amazing change from my experience growing up in my ethnically homogeneous little country town in Austria.

Throughout the last 19 years in Toronto I have truly come to enjoy and embrace diversity, and in my full-time business, www.textronics.com, a language and translation services company, I have the opportunity to work with people from all over the world.

On November 18, 2005 Textronics organized a breakfast event which was themed “New Canadians – The Essential Business Asset”. We held this event jointly with Skills for Change, a well-known Toronto immigrant settlement organization that helps New Canadians find jobs and adjust to the Canadian workplace. This joint event was intended to recognize the great collaboration between Textronics and Skills for Change which has successfully placed a number of SfC-trained New Canadians with Textronics. The Toronto Board of Trade actually facilitated this connection when they put me at the same table at a networking luncheon last year with David Hughes, Administration Manager at Skills for Change, which gave me a chance to learn about this wonderful organization.

We also celebrated the fact that Textronics has been in business for 15 years, and the contribution of Textronics’ team members, most of whom are New Canadians and came to us through Skills for Change. Our team at Textronics today includes individuals from China, Russia, Pakistan, Mexico, Ethiopia and Austria, and our multi-lingual, multi-cultural workplace experience has become one of our key success factors.

Our multi-cultural team with Bruce Bell (4th from left)

After David's welcome, our breakfast event was kicked off by a humorous ice-breaking session presented by “Dr. Giggles”, Nelson Briceno from Skills for Change, who made us stretch, practice laughing and taught us some basic salsa moves. A nice way of waking people up on a cold November morning....

With an appropriately warmed up crowd, Jane Cullingworth from Skills for Change gave us an overview of SfC services, and Michael Small, co-founder of the IBM Visible Minority Council, emphasized the importance of integrating New Canadians into our workplaces. In light of recent events in Europe (i.e. the riots all over France) many of us realize the critical importance of successful immigrant integration.

Last but not least, the entire team at Textronics had a chance to speak about their immigrant experiences. Starting with myself, who came to Toronto from Europe more than 19 years ago, we continued with 4 other team members, Munira, Olga, Vanessa and Khurram, who have all been in Canada for a relatively short time. They all talked about the difficulties that immigrants generally face when they come to Toronto and want to enter the workforce. The importance of Skills for Change as an organization who makes this transition much smoother became plainly obvious in the light of these real-life experiences of these New Canadians.

The event was well attended by people from organizations such as the Royal Bank, IBM Canada, the City of Toronto, the Toronto Board of Trade, Rogers Communications, Alliance Atlantis Communications, CGA Ontario and many more. Telelatino, a local Latin television station, recorded the event and will feature it later this month. The positive feedback has encouraged us to look into additional ways of promoting newcomer talent and diversity in Toronto.

In addition to the economic and business-related contributions that my multi-cultural team makes to my company, just working with people from all different corners of the world has truly been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. We tell one another stories about our customs and traditions, we bring in foods from our home countries, we watch movies from one another's cultures, and I think all of us have learned a great deal from one another and we actually enjoy one another's company.

As you can imagine, this special breakfast event was an exciting experience for us, and I'll frankly admit it that all of us were quite nervous leading up to the event. The breakfast was a real success and these immigrant stories really touched the audience. So after all went well, last Saturday was a day for more celebrations. Our entire team got together and we went on a guided tour of the St. Lawrence Market with Bruce Bell, the famous Toronto historian. I had earlier gone on his tour and raved about it, and now my team members had a chance to experience the tour first hand.

Toronto's St. Lawrence Market

Bruce is a regular contributor on this website and his tours are always special since Bruce conveys not just Toronto's political past, but also its social and human history in a very entertaining manner, combining his profound knowledge of history with his knack for comedy and the performing arts.

We started with the St. Lawrence Market and learned about its history and got to sample some delicious treats from the food vendors. St. Lawrence Hall was next on the program, and we later visited Toronto's first Post Office, one of the few buildings still left over from before Toronto's Great Fire of 1849. Our final stop was the famous St. James Cathedral where we actually bumped into the Anglican Bishop of Toronto.

We then capped off our outing with a driving tour of downtown, covering places like Old and New City Hall, Osgoode Hall, University Avenue, the Provincial Government Buildings at Queens Park, the University of Toronto Campus, Chinatown, Queen Street West, the Polish area on Roncesvalles, over to High Park, and then back along the Lakeshore to Toronto's Eastern Beaches.

Most of my team members have only been in Toronto for a relatively short period of time (in some cases less than a year), and I got the impression that they really enjoyed this outing, to learn more about their new home town. We will follow this discovery up with more tours next year where we all will get to explore our city and the local surrounding areas.

What we really learned from Bruce was that it's only been in the last 30 years or so that Toronto has developed into the open-minded, tolerant and cosmopolitan metropolis that it is today. The greater part of Toronto's history was characterized by strict societal divisions that separated people by class, religion, ethnic and economic background, even gender.

Last week was great, we got to celebrate 15 years in business, and a great collaboration with Skills for Change, an organization that makes such a difference in helping new immigrants integrate successfully, an organization so recognized for its expertise that it has received delegations from Sweden and Germany, to provide insight into its model of immigrant integration.

And to cap off this special week we got to celebrate Toronto and its history, and we all appreciated how lucky we are that we live in this day and age where we can all enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that surround us here in this special place.

Useful books about Toronto:


Related Articles:
Why I love Toronto....
Toronto - viewed through the eyes of European visitors
Toronto - A Pretty Hip Place
The St. Lawrence Market Tour with Bruce Bell
Exploring Toronto this summer with my European visitors
Visit our Canuck Corner for more Canuck stories and articles

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