People from many diverse cultures celebrated their new community at the “Welcome Neighbour” event at the Port Hawkesbury Community Park on Sept. 15.

PORT HAWKESBURY: An important event was held to make newcomers to the region feel more welcome.

YReach Immigration Settlement, supported by the Town of Port Hawkesbury, hosted a welcome event on Sept. 15 at the Port Hawkesbury Community Park.

Held during YMCA Welcoming Week, the “Welcome Neighbour” featured music, food, the children’s playground and splash pad, and a trail hike, that all celebrated the region’s diverse culture.

“Some of my clients were actually doing some of the volunteering and helping out,” YMCA Immigration Settlement Officer for Cape Breton, Trina Samson said. “One of our local newcomers from the Philippines was the videographer for the event. One of the newcomers from the Philippines was doing music mixing; we had music throughout the night. We had locals and newcomers gathered to do the barbecuing.”

Other partners in the event included Centre La Picasse and 101.5 The Hawk, along with assistance from the Mawita’nej Multicultural Festival group, Raising the Villages, the Cape Breton Welcome Network, the Strait Area Filipino Society, the Port Hawkesbury Rotary Club and the NSCC Strait Area Campus. Local businesses like the Fleur de Lis Tea Room & Dining Room, Maple Signs & Engraving, and Tim Hortons made donations.

Samson said town staff and councillors provided an “amazing” amount of support for the event.

“To see all the people come out, the local people as well as the newcomers, it wasn’t just newcomers,” Samson said. “It’s nice to see that they want to help each other. It’s very heartwarming.”

Along with NSCC students who helped with the trail walk, Samson said the new Port Hawkesbury Welcome Network committee was there to sign-up volunteers.

Samson said twice a year they host a multicultural potluck for newcomers and the community, but that’s been impossible during the pandemic.

“We haven’t been able to have those events to welcome those people in, to introduce them to other people in the community, and find out what there is and what’s going on, and become involved,” she said.

Back in July, Samson started speaking with Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton to plan for an outdoor event involving newcomers from across Cape Breton and the greater area. By the beginning of August, she said those plans started taking shape.

Chisholm-Beaton was at the event and said it was encouraging to see the community rally around newcomers and give them a first class welcome. She said it was great to see Richmond MLA Trevor Boudreau and Cape Breton-Canso NDP candidate Janna Reddick at the event.

“It’s nice that the idea behind welcoming newcomers is really transcending local government levels,” she noted. “I feel like other leaders in our province and our federal government also see the importance of that. It’s also nice to see various service organizations helping out as well.”

The mayor said she spoke with newcomers who were students, part of families already here, or new to the country or the region, and all expressed a willingness to help with future events.

“Even as one of the organizers, I had the opportunity to meet newcomers here to the Strait which was absolutely awesome,” she noted. “Not only was it a really successful event, but it was kind of an event that built a lot of momentum around continuing to build a welcoming community. Certainly everybody that attended Wednesday night was willing to roll up their sleeves and help, whether they were citizens attending, or whether they were newcomers attending.”

While the event was a success, and residents have been open to new residents, Samson said more can be done. In her remarks, she asked that those in attendance introduce themselves to five people they never met before.

“There’s a difference between being friendly and being welcoming. Being friendly is driving down the street, and waving, or just passing by someone and saying, ‘hello.’ But being welcoming is actually helping support and offer information, and maybe a cup of tea, and conversation, with newcomers,” she said.

Chisholm-Beaton agreed that residents and officials can do more to reach out and be more inclusive. She said other ways to be successful in attracting and retaining new residents are through a well-defined strategy and an action plan.

“I think we’re a really friendly culture and a really friendly island, however, sometimes we have such deep roots; generations upon generations of families that lived here, sometimes we have to make that extra effort to be welcoming, to make sure that newcomers to our area, and newcomers to Port Hawkesbury, allow them to be able to plant roots here, so that they feel like they’re part of the community,” she said. “That could mean including them in various activities, that we’re helping, and answering questions.”

Because her job is to help newcomers become part of the community over the long-term, Samson said they need support from the community, which includes employers and schools, among others. To facilitate an open community, she noted that education is needed about the economic and social benefits of new residents.

“If we don’t do this together, they’re not going to stay,” she noted. “It’s a huge community collaboration in order to make them feel like they want the Strait area be their forever home. We all have a job to do in it.”

Samson added hopes the immigrant settlement office will be able to hold another welcome event in the near future.