Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Out of Africa, into your homes

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We are all immigrants. Some of us just took a little longer to get here.

Free Press columnist Colleen Simard's Cree ancestors arrived here for good sometime after the great glacier covering the province finally started to recede -- between 12,000 and 10,000 BC.

The Goodhands steamed here from Scotland in the late 1890s. (My maternal grandparents from Scandinavia arrived in 1904.)

And exactly 14 days ago, one tired family of three flew in from the Congo, their worldly belongings stuffed into four suitcases.

We were all newcomers, once.

Sometimes it seems we've forgotten that fact.

"Bravo Jason Kenney! Keep cutting the numbers," one online commenter wrote recently, on a story that the federal government was cutting back on refugee sponsorships to clear out a massive backlog in the system. "We are being played. Canadians are taking back our country!"

What does that mean, we're "taking back our country?" Who has earned the right to close the door? The Cree? The Scots? The family from Congo?

If it weren't for immigrants -- Manitoba welcomed more than 15,000 last year alone -- this province and its economy would be shrinking. More than a decade ago, faced with an aging workforce and dwindling population, the province developed an immigration strategy that has become the most aggressive and successful in the country.

The Free Press newsroom is about to embark on an interesting editorial project, exploring Winnipeg and Manitoba's roots.

We think 2012 is the right year to do this.

It was two centuries ago, in 1812, that the first European immigrants, the Selkirk Settlers, arrived at the Red River Colony in what is now known as Winnipeg.

One century ago, Winnipeg was the fastest-growing city in Canada, with a flood of immigrants flowing into the province as the railway opened up the West.

And 50 years ago (Jan. 19, 1962), Tory immigration minister Ellen Fairclough, the first woman to serve as a federal cabinet minister, tabled regulations in the House of Commons that would end racial discrimination in Canada's immigration policy and open this nation's doors to the world.

Over the next year, in a series of FYI sections, we will look at many of the immigrants who now call Winnipeg home -- why they came, why they stayed, what they contribute to our community.

But we're going to begin in a very big way with a very big place. We're going to begin with an Africa-themed edition of the Free Press. Why? Because Winnipeg sponsors more refugees than any other community in Canada, and Africans are the newest and fastest-growing group of refugees. Because Africa is such a vast and complex area. Because Winnipeg's ties to the continent are unique.

A number of powerful NGOs -- the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, Mennonite Central Committee -- are headquartered in Winnipeg, and have been making a difference in Africa for decades. Our French community has been rejuvenated in recent years by an influx of francophones from Africa.

This type of themed editorial issue hasn't been done before, but that hasn't stopped us before either. We were the first metropolitan paper in North America to put out the themed paper on breast cancer, and we expect to make this issue worth your while.

Our Africa project was inspired by Winnipeg music producer Darcy Ataman, who is working with child soldiers in Congo.

We want to show how the 30,000-plus African community in Manitoba is reshaping our community and how it will continue to change the province.

We want to celebrate African businesses -- and find out where and how and if our newcomers are finding jobs.

We want the Arts section to reflect our many arts and cultural connections, and the sports section to follow the athletes.

The possibilities are endless. I'm getting the word out now on this special edition so we can hear back from you. We know you will probably have many ideas we haven't even considered. Please contact me or Deputy Editor Julie Carl ( with your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you.

Publication date? January 2012.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2011 A16

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