Ahlan Canada helps newcomers build relationships

By Gayatri Kumar

A warm “Ahlan” from the ICC : Family-friendly tours connect Syrian newcomers to Canadian culture

At the Art Gallery of Ontario, a group of Syrian newcomers are studying the bold colours in Norval Morrisseau’s 1977 masterpiece Man Changing into Thunderbird. As they discuss Morriseau’s depiction of a young man embarking on a spiritual transformation, they draw parallels between the artist’s journey and their personal transformations over the past year of learning and adapting to a new Canadian cultural context.

This group of Syrian refugees, some of whom have only been in Canada for a few months, are touring the AGO as part of our Ahlan Canada program, created in response to the arrival of Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. Working closely with Ahlan Canada founding partners the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and other arts and cultural partners from our Cultural Access Pass©® program, we developed family-friendly tours of Canadian cultural attractions to welcome this group of newcomers and connect them to our shared culture.

Since its inception in April 2016, Ahlan Canada has welcomed Syrian newcomers at several iconic Canadian cultural institutions. Ahlan events have taken place at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Each Ahlan event is supported by wonderful volunteers from our Cultural Access Pass program, who translate the tours for our newcomer families, and share their own stories of becoming Canadian.

The response to Ahlan has been heartening, and the connections it has created– between the members of participating families, between newcomers and volunteers, between our new friends and Canadian culture— speak to the success of the program. Two different families who were friends but had been settled in different locations were reunited at the Ahlan event at the Museum of Anthropology; at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), newcomers recreated the paintings of Emily Carr, learning about colour and line and shading with the help of the VAG staff. At every Ahlan event, an Arabic-speaking volunteer from our Cultural Access Pass program shares their story about coming to Canada, enumerating the challenges and triumphs of their journey to Canadian citizenship.

This fall, we will continue to welcome our new Syrian friends and connect them to more iconic Canadian cultural institutions in Montreal, Saskatoon, and Edmonton.

 Ahlan Canada events taking place this fall

  • Heritage Park , Calgary – October 2
  • Western Development Museum, Saskatoon – October 11
  • Aga Khan Museum, Toronto – October 24
  • McCord Museum, Montreal – November 6
  • Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto – November 13
  • Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton – November 20
  • Aga Khan Museum, Toronto – November 27
  • Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto – December 3
  •  The Art Gallery of Hamilton – December 11