Written by Reza Khanahmadi
When we are caught up in our day-to-day lives, it’s hard to see gradual change. You probably don’t notice how much Toronto has changed, and is changing, because it’s gradual… but if you leave for 5 years and come back the smallest changes in the landscape will be noticeable to you.
The same can be said of the social and cultural landscape of this city, and of the Iranian community within it. The Iranian community now is vastly different than it was 23 years ago when my family came here. We lived in Richmond Hill and our family knew of only a few other Iranian families in the area. It was so rare to run into someone speaking Farsi, that if you did, you’d stop and say hello… There were no big Iranian restaurants, stores, or supermarkets. There were no Farsi signs anywhere, and Yonge and Steeles was just another intersection!
Basically, Iranians in Toronto were a small and scattered minority group, trying find each other and find out where they fit into this city and culture they’ve immigrated to. Iranians didn’t have a big identity within the city, and I think Toronto first found out how many Iranians were really here when Iran first beat Australia to enter the 1998 World Cup, and all the Iranians poured into the streets with their flags to celebrate… but that’s a story for another time!
Fast forward to today, the Greater Toronto Area is home to over 100,000 Iranians; there are two Iranian members in Canadian Parliament, one member in the Provincial Parliament, numerous Iranian-Canadian organizations hard at work strengthening the position of our community within Canada, and other organizations, like Tirgan, dedicated to promoting and upholding the image of Iranian arts and culture.
Iranian-Canadians now have a unified community; we now have a voice, and this voice is strong!
Canadian politicians now participate in Iranian events, send public announcements to our community for Nowruz, and recognize the role of Iranian-Canadians as an integral and contributing part of the greater community. In 2017, Toronto Mayor John Tory came to the summer Tirgan Festival, and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent video messages.
Twenty three years ago, I could not have imagined this day… a day that we would post billboards in Toronto’s busy intersections promoting Iranian Nowruz events, and I surely would not have imagined a day the city would permit us to have banners hanging from the electric poles along Yonge street in celebration of Iranian New Year… but here we are! It brings tears to my eyes, and joy to my heart.
All this didn’t happen overnight… it is the result of persistent and gradual change in the right direction, perpetuated by all of us: the Iranians who create great businesses and contribute to the city’s economic prosperity, Iranians who seek knowledge, achieve great positions, and Iranians who relentlessly strive to improve our position and strengthen our voices in Canada.
We have come far but we’re not done yet. I don’t know what the landscape will look like 20 years from now… but I do know this: We will build it together!
 number derived from 2016 StatsCan (www.statcan.gc.ca) Survey