Ottawa’s One World Choir and other new Canadians get a glimpse of life in Almonte

Jennifer Noxon

Time and again, food and music prove to be a great way to build bridges and foster friendships between people of diverse backgrounds. Saturday, November 25th was no exception. The continued partnership between World Folk Music Ottawa (WOFOMO) and Almonte-based Rhythm & Song community choir brought together a hundred people, including sixty guests of all ages, who represented a dozen different nationalities. The goal was to introduce the newcomers to Almonte, giving them the opportunity to learn about living in a small town outside of Ottawa.

The half-day visit started with an on-off bus tour of Almonte which included stops at Augusta Park, the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum (MVTM), and a walk that continued down Mill St. and along the Riverwalk. Mississippi Mills Town Councillor Amanda Pulker-Mok, and Jeff Mills, Coordinator of Community Development at Mississippi Mills Community Support were on had to give the guests information about schools, housing, health services, and community projects in Mississippi Mills. Questions arose around the availability of public transportation, employment/entrepreneurship opportunities, and housing.

The group also stopped at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum where Jill Moxley, long-time MVTM volunteer and board member, gave the guests an overview of the area’s history of immigration and the important role of the textile industry.

Eventually the group ended up at the Almonte United Church hall, greeted by Rhythm & Song singers who volunteered as ‘buddies’ for the guests. As the late afternoon unfolded, Francine Desjardins and Lorrie Potvin, members of the Algonquin First Nations, gave a Thanksgiving Address and Welcoming of the Ancestors. Nour El Tarsha spoke briefly about her experience as a sponsored refugee in Almonte, and about the Syrian catering business she owns with her husband Hodor.

Rhythm & Song singers from McDonald’s Corners and Almonte put on a delicious potluck feast. Following the meal, The Main St. Market Band, an Ottawa-based world music band got people up dancing before the choirs closed the evening by singing several songs together. Over the course of the evening, people shared personal stories, laughter and even tears.

“Many newcomers to Canada are from small towns in their country of origin but, because of convenience, they end up settling in larger urban centres. Public transportation, employment and language training are definitely some of the key barriers to living in smaller communities. Given that diversity builds richer communities, if we become more aware of what newcomers need to settle in our small communities, we can, in turn, get better at attracting them,” says Jennifer Noxon, leader of Almonte’s Rhythm & Song Community Choir. “Strange as it may sound, newcomers to Canada don’t always get an extended opportunity to connect with others who were born here, and vice versa. Our guests were very enthusiastic about Almonte.” Alicia Borisonik, Executive Director of WOFOMO added, “A seventy year old man from Iraq told me that this trip to Almonte was one of the highlights for him since his arrival in Canada.”

WOFOMO’s group visited Smith Falls earlier in November.  The project was made possible in part by the Carolyn Taylor Community Music Fund, a Ontario Trillium Foundation seed grant, Heritage Canada Inter-Action grant, and the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.