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Who was that stranger on the cold, dark night?

On a cold, seriously cold, dark winter evening my sons and I stood on the sidewalk in downtown Toronto with our bags while my husband went in to the lobby of the hotel we were hoping to find rooms in.

It was our first evening in Canada and we were in this unenviable position because the travel agent in Dubai had booked us into a hotel that turned out to be less than decent.
We had walked in, looked around and decided this is not where we wanted to start our life in Canada. We called a cab and asked the driver to take us some place nice.

He dropped us off outside Day’s Inn at Yonge and Carlton in downtown Toronto and so there we were, waiting.

We were all tired and I was pondering the somewhat inauspicious start of our new life when a gentleman walked down the steps. He doffed his hat and said a cheery, “Good evening!” Not realizing that he was greeting us, I looked over my shoulder to see who he was addressing. The street was empty. It was just us and the man whose back was now retreating further down the street.

That was our first encounter with the quintessential friendly Canadian. We met many more after that in our first few days in the country. The ladies in the elevator who oohed and aahed over my son’s hand-knitted sweaters. The gentleman who approached us as we stood at an intersection, map in hand, obviously looking a little lost.

“Can I help you find the place you are looking for?” he asked.

The bus driver in Vancouver who showed us “his” Vancouver when we turned out to be the only people on the city tour.

I still think of the gentleman who wished us a good evening that night many years ago and feel embarrassed at what he must have thought of these new arrivals to his city.

I can only hope he gave us the benefit of doubt. That he realized we came from a place where we were not used to being hailed by strangers.

But we have changed. For the better.


What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at

Posted: Sep 3, 2010

June 2019

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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