Heddy and Gary: Egypt and Canada
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
“Merrickville is a small town and everyone knows each other in the community,” said Fae MacKay during her ‘We Are Neighbours’ interview back in July. Vivianne, Project Coordinator of the Immigration Partnership got to experience this first hand.
Vivianne explains that, “After wrapping up my interviews with the MacKay kids, their mother, Diana MacKay, bumped into some friends walking across the street on their way to lunch. She introduced me to Heddy and Gary, and I shared with them a bit about the ‘We Are Neighbours’ Campaign… the next thing I know we are sitting down the street at Cha Tea House. Over lunch, Heddy and Gary shared their stories of how they came to live in the small, beautiful and dynamic village of Merrickville-Wolford.”
First, let’s meet Heddy!
Howaida Sorour (everyone calls her Heddy) was born in Cairo, Egypt and came to Canada in 1986. When asked ‘what brought you to Canada’ she said it was “by a series of accidents, quite literally”. As a young girl, one of her friend’s father worked for the Canadian embassy in Cairo, so she spent quite a bit of time around the embassy. One day, she was hanging around and one of the drivers recognized her and told her that the Canadian embassy was accepting applications from people wanting to move to Canada. Next thing she knew was inside the embassy filling out paperwork. “It was totally unplanned and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t really remember filling out the paperwork and sort of forgot about it,” she said.
A few weeks later Heddy received a letter from the Canadian embassy asking her to come in for an interview. She attended the interview and “I guess it went well,” she laughed. Three weeks later Heddy received a letter at home stating she had been granted immigrant status. Heddy’s decision to come to Canada was on impulse, “I wasn’t really thinking, I just saw the word visa” she said. At the time, it was quite difficult to get a visa to leave Egypt, “it was a lengthy process, you would have to apply 6 months ahead of time” she said. Having travelled quite a bit as a child, Heddy was ready to take on a new adventure. “I guess you could say I had the travel bug” she said, “I thought it was going to just be another adventure…31 years later, and I’m still here!” she said laughing.
When asked what advice she would give to a newcomer moving to Canada, she said there are two big things that a newcomer may have to adapt to. The first being, distances. When Heddy first arrived in Canada, she settled in Toronto, “I was shocked by how far Vancouver really was” she said. She gave an example for some perspective, “if you drive six hours outside of Cairo, you’d be at the border, if you drive two days you would be all the way through another country,” she said. From Merrickville, depending on what direction you are going you aren’t even through Ontario or just entering Quebec!
Heddy also mentioned that if you are a newcomer coming from a warm climate, getting used to winter and the weather will be another challenge to adjust to. “In Cairo, there is no such thing as a weather” she joked. For fun, Heddy pulled up the weather in Cairo on her phone…sure enough, 30 degrees, bright sun, 7 days in a row! “No one can ever prepare you for Canadian winter” said Heddy. When asked if 30 years later she had adapted, she laughed and replied “no”.
In her spare time, Heddy volunteers with numerous community groups including, the Smith Falls Rotary Club, the Smith Falls Hospital, and acts as an Arabic translator for the Rideau Bridge to Canada refugee group.
Gary Roberts was born in Quebec City. As a young boy, Gary moved around a lot. “My father was an electrician so we moved around a lot for his work. We I lived in Bay St. James, Thetford Mines, we also lived in Bermuda for a year,” he said. By the age of 6, Gary’s family settled down on the south shore of Montreal, where he lived until he was 18.
Gary lived in the Ottawa area for most of his adult life, but he says there is something unique and special about living in a small village. “In the 8 years I’ve lived in Merrickville, I’ve met and am good friends with more people than I did all those years in Ottawa” he said. “I grew up in a small town, so I am familiar with it. I like how you can walk down the street and recognize your neighbours,” he said.
Some interesting facts about Gary – he is a drummer, a martial arts instructor, he has a 5th degree black belt and he runs a weekly ‘open mic night’ in town.