Arun Daniel and his mom, Suguna, first touched Canadian soil two weeks ago and, on Wednesday, they first touched ice, sliding on one knee and pushing a 40-pound granite rock across a rink.
Arun, an 11-year-old from Sri Lanka, was learning to curl alongside 45 other resettled refugees. Some had come to Canada just days before.
Arun had seen curling on TV before. It didn’t seem like a real sport.
“It looked like not that fun. I was like, ‘Why is it taking such a long time?’ It felt like hockey is better. But when I came and really did it, I felt like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t say that’.”
Even a minor wipeout, smashing his mouth to the ice when a stone hit his foot, wasn’t enough to curb Daniel’s enthusiasm.
The event at Toronto’s Royal Canadian Curling Club was the brainchild of Anna Hill and the Together Project of which she’s the director.
She founded the group last fall to fill a need: Government-assisted refugees lack social supports when they arrive in Canada, she said.
The group’s previous outings include trips to taste maple syrup or to the Royal Ontario Museum. This was their first curling excursion.
“Curling is a fantastic, very Canadian winter sport, and we thought that they might be interested in learning about winter sports in Canada since we have quite a long winter here,” Hill said.
People making refugee claims in Canada after crossing the border illegally have dominated the news. But these individuals, like most Canadian refugees, were hand-picked from pools screened by the United Nations.
That day in the curling club they were like movie stars, swarmed by curious journalists asking how they liked Canada in general and this quintessentially Canadian sport in particular.
One young woman, who came to Canada last month from Iraq with her sisters, nephews and niece, spent hours on the ice, sliding forward with a stone in each hand, cackling with delighted laughter at her own wipeouts.
“I’m slowly learning. The first time is fun, because you keep falling and it’s funny. … I want to learn it all. I’ll be back to learn this better.”
Her family’s caseworker advised against using their names: Their case is still uncertain. But the young woman said the Canadians she’s met have made her feel right at home.
“They’re very respectful. They’re like our sisters and brothers.”