Call it the establishment’s way of welcoming 72 new Canadians into the fold.
Along with a laminated citizenship certificate and a Canadian flag, newly minted patriots at a citizenship ceremony in Toronto yesterday got a special gift — free year-long family passes to six of Toronto’s major cultural institutions: Art Gallery of Ontario, Gardiner Museum, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum and the Textile Museum of Canada.
The package of tickets, worth hundreds of dollars if purchased, is part of a new Cultural Access Pass program announced at the ceremony. New citizens across the GTA will be eligible for the same gift from now on, and there are plans to expand the idea to cities like Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa.
“We’ve got great cultural institutions, but we have been failing to get new Canadians to come to them,” said John Ralston Saul, co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, who spearheaded the project along with the AGO.
“Citizenship functions when people are involved … When you are in a conversation with people who are born here or who have been here a long time, we don’t notice it, but our conversations are filled with references to the place. That’s the identity, that’s the culture. So people are talking about their cottages, kids’ hockey teams, the Group of Seven, science or whatever. If you know about that, you’re part of the conversation. This cultural program is part of bringing people into the conversation.”
Darya Kosareva, who emigrated from Belarus in 2006, started filling out the form to receive her passes right away. “It’s a chance to learn about Canada’s arts and culture,” said Darya, 17, who heads to university in the fall to study science.
Without the pass, Mohamed Salamm said he probably wouldn’t be able to afford such cultural outings for his three daughters: Fatima, 3, Mifra, 13, and Minza, 14.