“Our First 7 Years in Canada” An Interview with Hong Nguyen

Our family came to Jane and Finch in 1993. There were four of us, my husband and I, and our daughter and son. My husband and daughter arrived as refugees in 1989.  My husband worked at Panasonic and he sponsored me and our son in 1991.  After two months of searching for a job, I started work at W. M. Shoe Manufacturing Ltd. in Etobicoke. In Vietnam, my background was in accounting so I had never before worked in a factory.  After the shoe factory closed down in 1993, I was out of work.  My husband was laid off too, so we applied to live in government housing.  We moved from Etobicoke to an apartment on Dune Grassway in Downsview in 1993,. I remember that our son borrowed books from a bookmobile that parked on Firgrove every Wednesday.

Both my husband and I found work here and there, but there was a language barrier. I wanted to take a Computerized Accounting Program offered by MicroSkills, but I had to improve my English. I took LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) classes, where I learned about Toronto and the pioneers who lived over one hundred years ago.  Our teachers took us to Black Creek Pioneer Village, I think that any newcomer should visit it!  During that time I was also pregnant with my third child (a son). I took the TTC from Downsview to Davenport every day up until my baby was due.  My teachers were worried when the weather was bad.

When I was ready to apply to the Accounting Program, I was also about to give birth. My case worker told me I had a hard choice to make. I could stay at home and take care of three kids, or start the program one month after giving birth. Because this was my best chance to go back to school, after my son was born, I started the Accounting Program in May 1994. The next years were tough. My husband and daughter took turns babysitting when I was at school. After finishing in 1995, I volunteered at North York Community House, helping newcomers and translating flyers about local events.

Finally, in 1995 I got a job in data entry at Watts Distribution Ltd., and I stayed there for more than 11 years. I learned new things on the job, and was promoted to Database Administrator. Working at Watts improved my English. I learned from the customer service reps, and later from talking with customers. My husband learned CNC technology and worked at Eagletronic.  In 1998, seven years  after our family arrived in Canada, we bought a house near Driftwood and have lived there ever since.

Our neighbourhood has changed a lot over time. My husband and I used to travel downtown to buy rice and Asian food. Today, there are supermarkets in the area like Kien Hung Supermarket, and great Vietnamese restaurants. You can  go to church in Vietnamese at St. Jane Frances Church. My neighbours come from Africa, Europe, and Asia, and we always greet each other with a smile. My son still enjoys playing Ping-Pong at the Driftwood Community Centre. 

When I look back on our first years in Canada, I feel grateful that there were programs to support my family. My children have had many opportunities: our daughter is an MBA and our son became an Engineer.  Thank you Canada!  Actually, we are selling our house this year. I am moving with my children to Vaughan after more than 20 years in this house. If it were only up to me, I would stay in Downsview

*This interview was conducted in Vietnamese and translated in to English by Michael Vu. It has been edited for length and clarity.

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