“The story about newcomers coming to Canada is all about their skills not being recognized,” said Peter Dorfman of Toronto Public Health yesterday. “In a small way, what this campaign does is it recognizes that one of the strengths that newcomers bring is their cycling skills and their transit-friendly skills.”
The campaign Dorfman is referring to, From Back Home to Our New Home, a collaboration between CultureLink Settlement Services and the Toronto Cyclists Union, celebrated it’s launch yesterday at CultureLink’s brand new facility at Dundas and Bloor. The project aims to promote cycling among newcomers through participatory workshops, inter-cultural events, and educational materials translated into the top 15 languages spoken in Toronto. While cycling has the potential to help newcomers deal with economic challenges and engage in their new communities, a benefit for Toronto is what we can learn from the cycling cultures newcomers bring with them.
“New Canadians often bring a lot of really great skills to our country and one of the skills that many of the newcomers to Canada are bringing is a lifetime of cycling; they come from cultures where cycling is part of their mainstream transportation and it would be a real shame for us to lose that,” said Chris Cavacuiti, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, co-chair of the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee, and board member of Share the Road Coalition. The keynote speaker at yesterday’s launch, Cavacuiti’s presentation focused on how cycling addresses some of the biggest challenges currently facing our planet. Unfortunately the “North American dream” doesn’t necessarily include a bicycle. “Currently part of the stereotype about having become integrated as a Canadian is you get your house in the suburbs and you get a car.”
This stereotype is further facilitated by our lacking cycling infrastructure. Yu Li, originally from Beijing, where he depended on his bicycle as a primary mode of transportation, noted, “Toronto cycling infrastructure lags far behind many many cities around the world. This gap is especially challenging for newcomers, coming from the places with strong cycling culture. It’s very difficult to adjust to Toronto’s autocentric street.”
While the campaign is a step in the right direction – introducing newcomers to transit alternatives and spreading awareness about safe cycling in Toronto – progress will also have to be made in terms of better and more geographically diverse cycling infrastructure that services the neighbourhoods most populated by newcomer groups.
Photo by Keith Marshall