Mississauga Hosts Third Annual Welcome Day to Guide New Residents

Mississauga has always been an incredibly diverse city—an identity it appears to be committed to as it welcomes even more newcomers.

In case you were unaware, October 14 was #WelcomeDay in Mississauga.

In a well-polished Civic Centre, representatives for city services and other local groups ranging from the Mississauga Library system and Mississauga Fire & Emergency Services to Peel Region and Dixie Bloor Settlement Services were welcoming newcomers to the City of Mississauga.

The day is part of Citizenship Week in Canada.

City of Mississauga Brand Manager David Ferreira says one goal this year was to make the Welcome Day event more family-oriented. While this year featured child-focused activities, balloons and a clown, it appealed to newcomers of all ages.

While at last count, Mississauga's population growth rate is slower than its neighbours, at 1.1 per cent, with 8,156 new arrivals from 2011 to 2016, this didn't stop a larger crowd than last year from showing up to celebrate their new home. This time around, 150 guests arrived.

Ferreira says the way newcomers are welcomed has evolved since the city was founded.

"As we've seen the city become much more diverse, [we've realized] that all our service areas have to be able to respond to a much more multicultural community," Ferreira said.

The key destination for those adjusting to the city may surprise you.

"Libraries [have] become a focus for newcomers. [They're] one of the first places people go," Ferreira said.

Laura, a spokesperson for Mississauga's libraries, says for newcomers the library provides far more than a place to rent and read books. Three days each week, a settlement worker comes into different library branches throughout the city to help guide new arrivals through the process of settling in Mississauga, with everything from simple advice to getting documents notarized.

"We're here for everybody," she says.

Newcomers were serenaded with a poem by Mississsauga's own 2017 poet laureate, 23-year-old Wali Shah, a first-generation Canadian whose parents immigrated from Pakistan when he was three years old.

"Ever since I was a little boy, I remember seeing so much diversity…[I'm] really thankful to be a part of [Mississauga]," he said, urging new residents to be active in their communities as he was when he took his first job, coaching basketball at a community centre.

"Meet different people, experience different peoples' cultures. Take the opportunity."

Several newcomers at the event said they were drawn to Mississauga by employment opportunities and its value of diversity.

City councillors gave newcomers a crash course in governance. The message echoed what all Canadians hear over and over: "Get involved!"

Councillors outlined the services available for new residents, from library programs to ActiveAssist, which helps low-income households afford to participate in recreational programs. A full list of these services is available on the City of Mississauga web site.

Ward 10 Councillor Sue McFadden, who chairs the city's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, stressed the importance of getting informed about city services in order to know where to go with different questions.

A spokesperson for Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre's Settlement Services, which offers a range of services including counselling, special needs support for youth and support for job-seeking newcomers, says the ongoing refugee crisis has increased demand for these services, but they are keeping up with it.

"Month 13", has been a concern for Syrian refugees throughout the country. It's the first month after responsibility to support new Syrian refugees shifts from the federal government to provinces and municipalities.

According to a 2016 report, Mississauga had 415 recent immigrants with a Syrian place of birth, placing it third behind Toronto with 540 and Montreal with 915.

Toronto's COSTI Immigration Services confirmed 1,845 government-assisted refugees (GARs) were temporarily housed in Toronto between November 4, 2015 and March 1, 2016. Forty per cent of them had settled in Peel as of April 2016.

While Syrian refugees have been a major focus of government policy at all levels, newcomers from as close by as North York to as far as Pakistan showed up to learn about Mississauga.

Canada 150 is a major theme for all of them. Banners celebrating the milestone remain up around the city, and the signs of that celebration were everywhere at the Civic Centre.

Later in the day, some newcomers climbed aboard for a city-wide bus tour, though Ferreira said this year's tour is more focused on key areas, rather than a panorama, in response to feedback from last year.

Despite the number of groups and the diversity on display, Peel Region spokesperson Urz Heer sums up the key message: There's more to Mississauga and its partners in Peel Region than can fit into fliers on a table. For those new to Mississauga, this is just the beginning.

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