6 things newcomers to Canada need

We can all play a part helping people feel at home.

Imagine trying to do your weekly grocery shop, but the store is totally unfamiliar: you’ve never seen some of these vegetables before, you’re not sure where to find the prices on anything and your favourite brand of, well, everything is nowhere to be found. Moving to a new country has a way of turning even the most everyday tasks into struggles.

Whether it’s social customs, navigating the health-care system, finding a place to live or buying groceries, the people who come here to start new lives face the daunting task of adjusting to Canadian society quickly. (And the nearly 40,000 refugees who sought asylum here in 2016 are likely to face even bigger challenges.) But the six most common things new Canadians struggle with are far less intimidating when neighbours lend a hand. Here’s how to help.

  1. Finding community

One of the hardest parts of immigrating to a new home is leaving behind friends and loved ones. Newcomers often feel isolated because of language barriers, and building new social circles takes time. Connecting people from the same ethnic group or faith is a good path to new friends and support. Keep your eyes out for welcome events at your local community centre or consider organizing one yourself. Or volunteer with United Way partner organizations like Welcome Place (Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Inc.), which has a plethora of settlement programs for newcomers and refugees, including one that matches refugee families with established Winnipeggers for friendship and social support.

  1. Navigating the grocery store

Grocery stores in North America can be overwhelming, but you can help a newly arrived family out by playing host on their next trip to the store. Products and food labels can be confusing to someone new to Canada, not to mention foods that are typically Canadian, such as maple syrup on pancakes. As a volunteer connected with a refugee and newcomer-serving agency (see bottom of article for a full list) you could hold an impromptu cooking class to show your new friends how unfamiliar foods are cooked and enjoyed—and ask for lessons on their food cultures in return.

  1. Learning the language

Anyone who has tried to learn a new language knows it’s a hard-won skill. But newcomers have the added challenge of needing communication skills quickly to find work and do everyday tasks like ride the bus. Connecting with people who speak the language they are trying to learn, and getting that experienced of being immersed in a new language, is a huge help.

If English or French is your first language, contact settlement agencies to volunteer as a conversation coach. Many community centres offer spaces to practice speaking skills. Added bonus: you could end up learning a new language too!

  1. Preparing for winter

Canadian snowstorms can be brutal for many newcomers who don’t have the right cold-weather clothes. Most newcomer and refugee-serving agencies have programs to outfit newly arrived families with proper gear, while United Way’s Koats for Kids program distributes winter gear through schools, daycares, and child-serving agencies throughout Winnipeg, including those that serve newcomers and refugees. Donating your new or gently-used coats, mitts, hats, scarves, boots and snow pants helps ensure youngsters stay safe.

  1. Accessing community resources

Applying for a social insurance number, opening a bank account and even getting their first library cards can be difficult for newcomers who don’t yet speak fluent English or French. Offer to help fill out the correct forms or, even better, accompany your new neighbours to the bank or Service Canada Centre.

  1. Having a hobby

Once newcomers are somewhat settled in their new home, figuring out what to do for fun becomes a higher priority on their list. “The thing they say most is ‘We don’t know what to do on the weekends,’ or ‘We have kids and we don’t know where to go,’” says a volunteer who works with newcomers. Neighbours can help by throwing a block party, or introducing newcomers to zoos, parks, museums and art galleries. And be sure to ask what newcomers used to enjoy doing for fun in their last home. You may even find a common interest to enjoy together.

The Government of Canada website offers an extensive list of newcomer service agencies in every province, with contact information and languages served.

Check with these United Way Winnipeg partner agencies for further information about services and programs supporting newcomers and refugees and help with integration and bridging the gap between the migrant experience and Canadian society: