Immigration and immigrants are in the news these days, often in ways that are negative and divisive. But We Are Neighbours allows us to get to know immigrants as individuals, with their own unique stories. It reminds us that immigrants are also emigrants, who arrive here to become part of our communities, part of our society: we are neighbours. The latest immigrant profiled by the St. Lawrence – Rideau Immigration Partnership is a resident of North Grenville.
From Ireland to Kemptville
I arrived in Canada from Ireland in June, 1982, with a young family (youngest was only 19 days old) with plans to spend two years here doing graduate work at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I’m still here, 36 years later, because I found opportunities here for study and work, and a life for my children that they might not have had in Ireland. The first years were not easy, living as a foreign student and trying to get by, but, by the time I finished my Doctorate, we were Landed Immigrants and going through the process of becoming citizens. Adapting to a new land and culture is never easy. At first, I found it a pleasant experience, learning to use different words, discovering a new culture and traditions, and getting to know the unique Canadian perspective on life. But it was also difficult to leave behind as much of Ireland as I had to. I found that my Irish way of thinking and talking was not always understood here, and homesickness is a real issue. Immigrants are also emigrants, and that is a hard road to walk at times. We leave behind so much in order to gain so much ahead. It takes time, and, perhaps, it’s a process that never really ends.
But Canada has given me a life, a career as an historian and writer, that I know I would not have had as a working class young man in Ireland. I have been able to grow older and more productive here over the past four decades in ways I would not have imagined possible before. My wife and I came to Leeds & Grenville in 1993 because we wanted to live outside a big city and the work we did made that possible. We got involved in the community of Oxford Mills, working with the Community Association, and decided to start a monthly newsletter in 2005 to publicise local arts and culture activities in North Grenville, but it quickly expanded into a general community newsletter, covering social, political, as well as cultural issues. I found that people love reading about their neighbours and neigh- bourhood, and providing a forum where people could talk to each other and share their concerns, debate their differences, and learn about what was happening in their locality.
I was president of the Oxford Mills Community Association for a few years, and also joined the North Grenville Historical Society, writing regular articles on local history in our newsletter. These were popular, as, once again, people wanted to know about their community’s history and the people who had laid the foundations for the society in which they live today. In fact, these articles led to a published book, and the monthly newsletter became a weekly newspaper, the North Grenville Times, which has been publishing for over five years now. One of the worries I had when I started writing on local history was that I would run out of interesting stories. That was almost fifteen years ago, and there’s still new stories to tell. In this age of failing newspapers and increasing cynicism, it is encouraging to see that community papers are still thriving and people are still making great communities work. North Grenville has a wonderful core of voluntary and service organisations, working to make life better for their friends and neigh- bours, and I am really proud to be part of that. While not everything is positive, and the newspaper has to comment on that side of things too, there is such a strong sense of com- munity here, as people work to preserve what makes the municipality different from the big city that looms on its border to the north.
North Grenville is changing quickly, as the population increases and the issues facing the community become more complex. But the foundation is there and, I believe, the Times has facilitated public awareness and discussion of the promise and the threat posed by that growth. My Irish background, with a very different approach to journalism and public involvement, has given me a perspective that allows the Times to provide a different kind of service, one that encourages discussion and the airing of differing views. I think that is my contribution to this community, coming from a different culture.
It is not always an easy fit in rural Ontario, but this country has become as great as it is by incorporating different cultures with their different approaches to issues, and that continues to this day. I am very glad I came here, very happy to be a Canadian, and very grateful for the opportunities and life Canada has given me over nearly forty years