From India to Airdrie

Story and Photos by Carl Patzel

Spring 2024

Immigrants searching for a better life, or just following a dream, can face a daunting task at the best of times. Include some adversarial rocky seas, and friendly guidance can become a welcoming life-preserver.

Smoothing the transition from life on the crowded streets of India to the open plains and more modest metropolises of southern Alberta, the Indian Society of Airdrie is helping immigrants traverse the winding roads of Canadian culture, economic pitfalls and daily life struggles in a new environment.

Guided by personal experience, Maulik Shah founded the Society as a small group in 2022, attracting only five members in its infancy. Since then, the Society has well surpassed its social media goals, eclipsing 1,000 members in 2023 on Facebook and other outlets and continuing to grow with each passing week.

“Basically, I founded this group by thinking about the future,” says Shah. “When we started this group, we wanted to unite the community and serve the community.

“We know that (immigration) number is rising in the future, so now (the Society) is helping the community in finding employment and gives a platform for members to make social relationships and help (their) businesses.”

For most settling in Canada, whether on their own or with families, Shah says Airdrie’s open-door policy provides opportunity and a welcoming feeling to the community.

“Airdrie is very beautiful, people are nice here and very accommodating and inviting,” says Shah. “In that respect, there’s a lot of peace of mind.”

Airdrie’s population was estimated at just over 86,000 by the end of 2023. Visible minorities make up 19.5 per cent (as of 2022). In 2021 (before COVID-19), the Statistics Canada Census Population Profile had more than 12,000 immigrants calling Airdrie home, making up about 16 per cent of the city’s population.

“We love Airdrie and actually a lot of people are moving from India to Airdrie nowadays and they are easily getting help from the community groups. It’s working,” says Shah.

Ethnocultural diversity has been front-and-centre in Canada since the mid 1980s. Inclusion was addressed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and the Multicultural Act passed in 1987, making Canada recognized as an arms-open welcoming oasis to immigrants.

With record-breaking immigration numbers tallied in 2022, local and provincial immigration percentages matched those across Canada, with almost a quarter of the national population being landed immigrants or permanent residents.

It’s not surprising that Canada is known as a land of immigrants, says Shah: “It’s a multicultural country made up of immigrants, so people respect each other’s versatility. We have the same mindset; we are here to contribute from our side to this country, as well as enjoy the rights and privileges we get from here,” adds Shah, who came to Canada as a student in 2005.

“Canada is a loved country. A lot of families are moving from India to Canada already and they give good feedback about the people. It’s a land of opportunity. We can have a quality of life here without the struggle and competition back (in India).”

In Airdrie, the Society strives to make connections with every aspect of the North American lifestyle, helping link newcomers to established business sectors, employment and immigration legal assistance, as well as connecting with fellow newcomers.

The Society works to unite Airdrie’s Indian community through social media and a handful of cultural events throughout the year, including the colourful Diwali Festival. Known as the land of festivals, India has many diverse historical customs, yet the populace adjusts easily to new lifestyles, Shah says, making the transition to Canadian life easier, albeit with support.

“We always adapt to other cultures very easily,” adds Shah. “India has every religion there and Indians were ruled by British before and other invaders, as well. In that case, we’ve experienced the world already there.

“So now, when we come to this country, we open our hands and embrace the culture, mix into the culture and, as you see, Indians are getting prosperous in this country,” says Shah, who praised local community groups and City programs designed to assist immigrants.