CBC: Giving newcomers a warm welcome, literally

Fortunately, there are programs and events to help newcomers adapt and prepare for long winters.

The season can be brutal in Alberta.

Looking through immigration welcome packages created by the Canadian government, however, there’s a lack of information about those temperatures and how to prepare.

According to that package, “Temperatures drop below zero degrees.”

Though correct, it fails to mention that most places in Canada often experience much more extreme temperatures.

‘I was freezing to death’

A 2016 survey of 600 Muslims living in Canada by Environics Institute for Survey Research, shows that 31 percent said that the cold weather was their least favourite thing about the country.

Armando Ouano moved here from the Philippines and says he felt like he was “in a big fridge” during his first winter.

Ouano’s biggest struggle was not knowing what to wear.

“I thought just wearing double [clothing] would protect me from the cold,” he said.

Centre for Newcomers’ settlement project manager, Bukurie Mino, also struggled with the cold when she first moved to Canada.

“I remember coming myself, from Albania, from plus 30, plus 37, and when I came here I was freezing to death and this I try to inspire to newcomers; that you get used to it.”

Cost of a coat

Mino points out how difficult it is, especially for families migrating from warm climates, to adapt to the harsh prairie winters.

A few months after Ouano arrived, he asked his wife: “Why haven’t you bought me a coat yet?”

Like many newcomers, they couldn’t afford one.

“Although it is a gift, it means a lot me and my family. It not only protects us from the cold but wearing the jacket also makes me feel like a Canadian.” – Armando Ouan

According to Statistics Canada, more than 200,000 newcomers arrive in Canada each year. Around half of these newcomers will identify as being “in need,” likely meaning they can’t afford proper winter clothing.

Ouano attends business classes at the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, where Mino works. The centre also hosts classes to make sure their students are prepared and adjusted for the cold.

“If you know how to dress for winter and know how thick your jacket needs to be, you will be fine,” says Mino.

Winter wear for newcomers

In December last year, The Centre for Newcomers hosted an event that saw immigrants and refugees learning just that.

The event was sponsored by Quaker Oats, which gave out free winter jackets and clothing to newcomers in need. The event is called Warm Welcome and has taken place in cities across Canada.

Mangal D’sa, the senior director of marketing for Quaker, helped develop the event. She said the idea behind for the campaign partly came from her family’s experience coming to Canada.

“I remember talking to my mom and dad about how they heard about the winter in Canada and how cold it was. But they never really understood what that actually meant until they got here,” she said.

“Having a warm coat is something that we take for granted.”

‘Makes me feel like a Canadian’

D’sa says a winter coat can give people the “chance to have a good start.”

Ouano shares the sentiment and was excited to receive a new jacket at the event.

“I did not expect to get a new coat and for my kids too … they were walking to school in just a sweater and I knew they were cold.”

The jacket was more than just a way to keep warm.

“Although it is a gift, it means a lot me and my family. It not only protects us from the cold but wearing the jacket also makes me feel like a Canadian,” he said.

“The generosity of the donated items really has a deeper meaning for me. It is not only about the items, but also showing that great spirit that Canadians have, that warm welcoming and caring.”

Ricardo-Andres Garcia and Nathan Woolridge · for CBC News ·