For Toronto Newcomer Day, a South African man recalls his Canadian citizenship ceremony

After immigrating here as a boy, Russ Wener faced big challenges. Today, he’s happily married with two young children.

Wednesday, May 25, marks the eighth annual Toronto Newcomer Day, which welcomes recent transplants to the city and is open to all. Festivities run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Nathan Phillips Square and will feature a range of fun and informative activities, including a citizenship ceremony, tours of City Hall, origami, henna art, miniature tipi-making and a mock voting exercise to prepare for the upcoming elections.

The event’s goal is to make newcomers feel at home and included in Toronto’s diverse community, as well as to inform them of resources that exist to support them in their new life.

Russ Wener, photographed by the Star with his brother Daniel in 1986,remembers boarding a plane from South Africa to Canada as a small child. His parents then buckled him into his seat and told him, “The journey begins now to our new life!”

Wener was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where he lived until he was about four. “I remember little bits and pieces,” he says. “Cape Town is a beautiful city, with some of the most beautiful beaches and amazing coastlines in the world.” But when Wener landed in Canada and was handed a little Maple Leaf flag, he thought to himself, “This is really neat! This is Toronto. This is Canada. This is my home now.”

Three years later, Wener and his brother Daniel received their Canadian citizenship papers from Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander. Wener remembers Alexander as “a really nice man” and the ceremony’s venue, Casa Loma, as a very special place. “I was fascinated with the building itself and the history it held.”

In the years between arriving in Canada and becoming a citizen, Wenerhad enrolled in school and fully acclimatised to his new country. “Taking the oath,” he says, “was the icing on the cake.”

However, Weneradmits that fitting in wasn’t always easy, especially during his teen years, when he often felt like an outsider. It wasn’t until he was 40 that he was diagnosed with autism. “I had no idea I had (it),” he says, “I just knew I was different.”

“When you are an outcast, in junior high and high school, you are not part of a group, so you don’t have a sense of belonging,” he says, adding that he was teased and bullied. “People need to smarten up, to start accepting people, even if they are different.”

Today, Russ is happily married with two young children. His message to newcomers or anyone who feels like they don’t belong: “Hang in there, things will get better. Know you have a good heart, a good spirit. Some people try to break it, but you can’t let them.

“When you are in the pitch dark,” he adds, “it is up to you to find the courage to strike a match.”

-TheStar

Join the 8th annual Toronto Newcomer Day

Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Location: Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. W.

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