PHOTO STORY - Multicultural Toronto

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Multicultural Toronto

Colin Boyd Shafer has taken photos of multicultural life in Toronto

People say Toronto is one of the most multicultural places in the world. More than half of the people who live there were not born in Canada. I live here and I decided to photograph someone born in every country of the world.

More than a year later, I had photos of people from 195 countries. I have heard many amazing stories, from North Korea to Suriname. And I didn’t have to leave the city.

My project – ‘Cosmopolis Toronto’ – got its money by crowdfunding and volunteers organised it. I found the people to photograph by asking and talking to different people. I asked at community centres, I met people by chance, I found people through the media and on social media. It wasn’t easy to find people from places like Tonga, but with the volunteers and hundreds of hours of research, we reached our goal.

The best thing about the project is that everyone works together. I love the deep connection I have to everyone in the project. It was different from a normal journalist; I tried to to allow the person to tell their own story.

The photos show the many types of diversity in the city. They show that a person is much more than their religion, ethnicity or country of birth. I told everyone in the project that they were not representing their country, but themselves – and they were telling their own story. It is important to be an individual. Often in Canada we say people are ‘African’, ‘Asian’ or ‘White’ and we do not try to understand the individual.

The idea of ‘country’ will always be complicated. I wanted the basic United Nations’ 193 countries. But people born in Scotland, Puerto Rico, Kashmir, Tibet etc. also wanted to be part of the project. I decided to include everyone, and told the stories of people born in these places. This project is about the power of individual stories.



Colin Boyd Shafer

Catalina didn’t know she was leaving Colombia until three days before she left. She did not have much time to say goodbye to friends. Her father had to pay lots of money to criminals to protect his life. When he couldn’t pay, his life was in danger, so the family had to leave the country quickly. Catalina wanted her photograph to be in her second home, Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. ‘This is where I feel safe when living in Canada is too much for me,’ she says.



Colin Boyd Shafer

Abdel Raouf was born in Palestine. He had to leave Palestine when he was 15, in the occupation. First, he moved to Egypt, and then went to Kuwait. Now he is an engineer. When his family [a wife and five daughters] was visiting Turkey, he heard that the Gulf War had started in Kuwait and he had to make a quick decision; return to Kuwait or go to a safer place. He lived for a short while in Spain, then Canada accepted him and his family. Abdel feels that Toronto is special because it is so open: ‘it’s a place where you can have a family and keep your religion and culture at the same time.’

Sierra Leone


Colin Boyd Shafer

Mbalia’s family ran away from the civil war in Sierra Leone and Canada accepted them as protected persons in a UN resettlement programme. Now, Mbalia is very active, and she feels happiest when she is exercising in Toronto’s parks. “[Toronto] is home because the city is multicultural. I can be part of the culture and still keep my own history.’



Colin Boyd Shafer

Yvonne had a dream of being a dancer. She applied to her university in Toronto when her friend said she should apply to go to the place she really wanted. Toronto is not like Singapore. In Toronto, Yvonne could become the person she always thought she could be: a choreographer, presenter, exhibition manager, arts educator and artistic director.



Colin Boyd Shafer

Khydup is a writer, translator and illustrator of traditional and modern children’s stories. He translates children’s stories into Tibetan – and he has sent his books to Tibet for people to give free to schoolchildren. When he got Canadian citizenship, Khydup felt he was born again. He is now able to do what he can to help the world, which he couldn’t do in Tibet.



Colin Boyd Shafer

Alisi moved to Canada when she fell in love with Dennis, her future Canadian husband. Today, they live in Toronto, and their three children were born in Canada. She went to Georgina Learning Centre and Alisi is now a Personal Support Worker. The photo of Alisi is in her sister Sosina’s house. They eat many amazing Tongan meals here and it is where Alisi and Sosina often talk about their childhood in Tonga.



Colin Boyd Shafer

Kamal came to Canada from Yemen. He wanted to live in an open and free society that would accept him as a gay man. He says he feels safe here and that he belongs in Toronto and doesn’t look different. “There are so many people from all over the world. No-one has more right to Toronto than any other group,” he says. Here, he has a successful career as a journalist, academic and author. This would not be possible in other parts of the world.



Colin Boyd Shafer

The Gulf War changed Hiba’s life. Her pregnant mother had no choice. She had to take her to Saudi Arabia. Her father went there later. Hiba was very young, but she remembers the refugee camp outside the country. When the family moved to Canada, Hiba remembers the wonderful idea of having a real home in Toronto, with real walls and a room of her own. ‘Toronto saved us. That is why it will always be my home.’

Colin Boyd Shafer is now crowdfunding his next documentary series, the INTERLOVE project. This will show relationships between people of different faiths in Canada.

All photos copyright Colin Boyd Shafer.

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