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My family and I (parents and 1 older brother) immigrated to Canada in October 1991 from Siberia, Russia. We didn’t know the language and came with nothing other than the essentials – clothes, blankets and a few pots and pans. My father’s aunt and uncle who we never met sponsored us. My dad’s brother’s family and his sister’s family also moved here a couple months before us. We moved to a small town in Ontario called Virgil in the Niagara region.

On our first day in Canada, my brother and I went to school and my parents went to work on a local farm making $6/hr. When I arrived to school, I didn’t know what my name was in English so the school secretary said that “for now we will call you Helen, until we know what your legal name is”. The students and teachers at our school were very kind to me and my 5 cousins. We attended ESL classes together and learned the English language quickly. The students in my class would always ask me “Helen, are you happy?” until a few months later when I actually understood what they were asking, I said “yes!” and from then on, they called me “Happy Helen”.

Initially we, along with the other 2 families lived in a small bungalow (that’s 12 people – 6 adults and 6 kids). Although we had a humble beginning, we all have very fond memories of our first year in Canada. We went to a German Mennonite Church which embraced us warmly and made sure that our first Christmas was unforgettable – they donated more toys to our house then we have ever seen.

Fast forward 26 years later and my family along with the other 2 families still live in Virgil and attend the Mennonite church. We feel so blessed to have been welcomed with open arms from not only our family living here, but what felt like the whole country!

Today, we all are proudly Canadian.

Elena B – Triovest

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