On June 17, the seventh annual Welcoming Ottawa Week was launched at a special breakfast event at City Hall co-hosted by Mayor Jim Watson and OLIP.

The event set the stage for this year’s WOW as a uniquely Ottawa celebration that showcased the national capital region as a world leader in welcoming, settling and integrating newcomers.

The Master of Ceremonies for the event, Alan Neal, host of CBC Radio’s All in a Day welcomed close to 200 attendees, with his unique blend of charm and humour. CBC Ottawa has been a generous partner in WOW since 2015.

City Councillors, diplomats, officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), business executives, community members and representatives of some of the 50 organizations hosting more than 100 WOW events were in attendance.

Laura Dudas, Deputy Mayor and the Councillor for the Innes Ward, represented Mayor Watson and spoke of how Ottawa has recently grown to be world leader in the successful integration and retention of newcomers and the pivotal role played by the OLIP partnership in this regard. She also highlighted how immigrants have played a major part in the city’s economic growth and vitality. Ottawa’s population recently reached the one million mark and much of this growth can be attributed to immigration.

“The annual WOW activities, sponsored by a large number of local organizations and community members reflect the warmth and tone of our welcome,” said Alex Munter, Chair of the OLIP Council and President and CEO of CHEO and the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre. “Together they tell a unique subtle story of Ottawa’s stage of development, the public consciousness of the moment and solutions and ideas in course to ensure successful integration of newcomers. In a city of festivals, WOW has grown to be Ottawa’s immigration and diversity festival.”

A key highlight of the WOW launch is the presentation of the Welcoming Ottawa Ambassador awards. Established in 2014, these awards recognize the importance of welcoming attitudes by Ottawa residents  toward newcomers and the critical role social connections plays in newcomers’ settlement and integration. This year’s 10 Welcoming Ottawa Ambassadors received their awards from Deputy Mayor Dudas and Sarah Onyango, Chair of WOW. Their photos, stories and videos appear on the WOW website.

Umit Kiziltan, Director General and Head of Research and Evaluation at IRCC, spoke about the importance of local communities and civil society in welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees. He highlighted IRCC’s successful formula for building welcoming communities that includes engaged local communities and civil society; public servants that leverage, support, and guide the efforts and successes of communities and influences effective policies; and research and knowledge that articulates the contribution of immigrants and counters the rise of anti-immigration populism and fake news.

A display on IRCC’s Immigration Matters campaign was featured at the event.  This campaign shows how Canada is stronger when welcoming immigrants into its communities.

WOW included new features and partnerships this year. The 2019 International Metropolis Conference was hosted by Canada this year in Ottawa and Gatineau. It was the largest annual international gathering of world experts from academia, governments and civil society in the fields of migration, integration and diversity. WOW partnered with the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival to curate and communicate opportunities for newcomers and the international delegates to enjoy free concerts this summer. A partnership was also launched with Apt613 to create an access window that connected newcomers to what is happening in the city.

Hindia Mohamoud wrapped up the event by thanking the attendees and especially the event hosts whose contribution has made this year’s WOW the most successful ever.

By Suzanne Charest