Focus on Africa: Time right to look at immigrants, their legacies

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The Free Press newsroom has been working for the past few months on an ambitious editorial project.

We’ve been talking to Africans in Manitoba (and Manitobans in Africa) for a special All-Africa edition of the paper, which you’ll see Wednesday, Jan. 18, and online (at

Ambitious is a nice way to describe it, actually. Quixotic might be more accurate.

Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable “theme” to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it takes up the whole newspaper. (The rest of Our City Our World will continue in FYI sections, beginning Feb. 25.)

But we chose Africa because Winnipeg sponsors more refugees than any other community in Canada, and Africans are our newest and fastest-growing group of refugees.

We chose it because a number of powerful NGOs — the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, Mennonite Central Committee — are headquartered in Winnipeg and have been making a difference in Africa for decades.

We chose it because francophones from Africa have dramatically rejuvenated our French quarter in St. Boniface in recent years.

And all those factors add up to a lot of Winnipeggers with their hands and hearts in Africa.

Senator Romeo Dallaire has added his voice to the edition, which was initially inspired by local music producer and activist Darcy Ataman, who works with Dallaire in Congo.

Themed newspapers are rare. But we like to try new things at the Winnipeg Free Press. As one of the last independent papers in Canada, we have the ability to take risks other papers might not. We were the first metropolitan daily in North America to put out the themed paper on breast cancer, and we expect to make next week’s issue worth your while.

It’s truly a significant year to look at immigrants and their legacy in this community.

Two centuries ago, in 1812, the first big wave of European immigrants, the Selkirk Settlers, arrived at the Red River Colony in what is now known as Winnipeg.

One century ago, in 1912, Winnipeg was the fastest-growing city in Canada, due to a flood of immigrants flowing into the province on the railway.

And almost precisely 50 years ago, Jan. 19, 1962, Immigration minister Ellen Fairclough (the first woman to serve as a federal cabinet minister) tabled regulations in the House of Commons that would end racial discrimination in Canada’s immigration policy, and open this nation’s doors to the world.

Over the next year, in a series of monthly FYI sections, we will look at many of the immigrants who now call Winnipeg home — why they came, why they stayed and their impact on our community.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2012 A19

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