Inspiring immigrant stories

October 17, 2011
Raina Delisle

Immigration and education build a nation.

That’s a prominent theme in the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson’s new book, Room for All of Us: Surprising Stories of Loss and Transformation. In the followup to her memoire, Heart Matters, Clarkson explores the immigrant experience through people who have been transformed by Canada and who have in turn transformed the country.
“The most important thread that runs through the book is the importance of public education to these people who come with nothing. All of the people talk about their teachers and I talked about my teachers and how they encouraged me,” says Clarkson, who dedicated her last book, Norman Bethune, to her high school English teacher. The author says our public education system instills a set of democratic values in young immigrants and going to school is the first stage at which a family new to Canada is acculturated. “Teachers are in the forefront of helping to make Canada real to these kids. That’s why public education is so important.”

To help acculturate and educate new Canadians, Clarkson founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) with her husband, John Ralston Saul, in 2005. The national nonprofit helps immigrants settle into Canadian life and make meaningful connections with fellow Canadians through innovative initiatives. One of the ICC’s major projects is the Cultural Access Pass, which offers new Canadians a free yearlong pass to museums, galleries, parks and discovery centres across the country. Information on the pass is handed out at every citizenship ceremony. There are currently 600 cultural destinations on the map, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Royal B.C. Museum, and Clarkson says that number will double by the end of the year.

Clarkson also believes in educating Canadians about the contributions immigrants make to our country, from exposing us to their cuisine and cultural traditions to becoming political and business leaders. She says we can all learn something from the people she profiles in Room for All of Us. The personal stories Clarkson shares include those of Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s Ismaili-Canadian mayor; former CBC broadcaster Andy Barrie, a deserter from the U.S. army; Fred Bild, a former diplomat and a child from the Holocaust; and Nadir Mohamed, a Tanzanian immigrant and president and CEO of Rogers Communications. “I think what they’ve brought to Canada is the ability to help us transform as Canadians, those of us who have been here for a long time,” Clarkson says. “We learn a lot from them if we open ourselves up to it.”

Room for All of Us will be released Oct. 18, three days before Clarkson receives an honorary degree from Royal Roads University. Clarkson, who has received more than 30 honorary degrees from institutions in Canada, Italy and Russia, says the doctorates are very dear to her. “They mean a great deal because they actually mean that the places that give you the honorary degree wish to hear from you about the ideas that you stand for and the principles that you put forward and I take this as meaning that everything that I did as governor general is being recognized.”  

“Madame Clarkson has made outstanding contributions to the arts, public service and nation building, and continues to do so,” says Royal Roads president Allan Cahoon. “She is an exemplary Canadian and an inspiration to the Royal Roads community. We are proud to have her join our alumni.” 

Clarkson will speak at the morning convocation ceremony on Oct. 21, which starts at 9:30 a.m. To hear her speak, listen live at