Contractor Kishan Bacchus migrates to Canada
Stabroek News
July 3, 2004

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(Toronto Star) Earlier this week 49-year-old Kishan Bacchus drove his family car from their new home in Pickering to the Ajax Municipal Building 20 minutes down the road.

Not to pay a parking ticket or get a fishing licence - Bacchus just wanted to be sure he knew how to get there on Canada Day, when he and his family would all become Canadian citizens.

"You don't want to go searching about for these things at the last minute," Bacchus said, retracing the route on Tuesday morning.

Pulling into the parking lot, he added, "I like to scope a place out first."

It's the sort of dry run that eased his family's transition from Georgetown, Guyana, to the GTA six years ago.

In 1998, after taking vacations here for years, Bacchus, his wife Fazia, and their daughters Nafeeza and Alicia, applied for permanent residency and moved into a house on Charnwood Cres.

On Tuesday they joined 26 recent arrivals from South America, Europe, Asia and Africa at a Canada Day citizenship ceremony in the Ajax council chamber.

Thousands more took part in similar events across the country.

Citizenship Judge Peter Vecchiarelli, himself the son of Italian immigrants, called them all part of the fabric in a "great quilt knit together across the country."

But like driving on the right, Bacchus and his family said being Canadian would take some getting used to.

A general contractor, Bacchus was born and raised in Wakenaam, a small island off mainland Guyana.

"It means `still waiting for a name,'" he explained.

Bacchus is the second youngest of five brothers and sisters. Today, his father and the rest of the family are all Canadians, each having left Guyana as far back as 1970.

"My brother went to school in Scarborough. He's the one that got us all over here," Bacchus said, adding that he was also drawn by the opportunity to build and grow in Canada.

In Guyana, Bacchus's firm built airports, hospitals and other large-scale projects.

"But each time I came here I saw lots of development. There's so many prospects here. It's really a place moving forward," he said.

His wife Fazia wasn't so convinced. She was just 16 when her aunt hosted a prayer meeting in Georgetown. "That's where we met," said Fazia, 47.

Looking back, she said she would never have imagined living anywhere but home.

"I didn't expect this. We didn't rush into it, but now it seems to be happening so fast," she said.

Fazia said her children could get a good education and better jobs in Canada. Nafeeza and Alicia attended a private school in Georgetown. They now find it "sort of weird" that it was run by Canadians.

Still, they had bigger worries.

Nafeeza, 23, a financial services student at Centennial College who recently married her Guyanese boyfriend, remembers thinking she'd never make new friends.

"It hurts. It's like starting a life all over again. You have to build from nothing," Nafeeza said.

"I can't believe that I'm changing from one country to another. It's a strange feeling. There's really no going back," she said.

Alicia, her 17-year-old sister, said, "In a way you're shocked. You lose all your friends. Everything is new." She's a Grade 11 student at Dunbarton High School and keeps in touch with old friends by e-mail.

The family's second house, on nearby Oakburn Rd., was built just three months ago.

In the large dirt yard left by the work crew, the family plans to plant tree saplings given out as part of Tuesday's ceremony.

"Let them grow as you grow in Canada as citizens," Vecchiarelli said before leading the oath of citizenship.

Evelyn Smith, executive director of Durham's community development council and the event's co-ordinator, said it was an emotional day. She watched videos of past ceremonies to "get the tears out of the way."

"Some of these people have been through so much to get here today," she said.

Those struggles give new arrivals strengths that "make this a stronger country," said Colleen Jordan, regional councillor for Ajax.

When it was over, Fazia said pledging her allegiance to another country was a "very strange feeling."

"But we have built a foundation, a home and a life in this country. I feel very good today," she said.

Bacchus agreed. "It's so strange. I was becoming a different citizen of a different country, but I was feeling really good, too."

He promised to take the family fishing in the afternoon. "We'll bring along a little stove and cook the fish right there. There's good fishing around here," he said, calling it a hobby left over from island life.

That's after popping the champagne. "This is also our very first Canada Day".