Refugees lay down new roots at first-time visit to Toronto's High Park

Some 50 new Canadians to visited Toronto’s High Park on Saturday as part of an outing organized by the Together Project to help newcomers get to know the city's public spaces.

Outing organized by the Together Project helps refugees get to know Toronto's public spaces

Gheder Bismar and her two little ones were among some 50 new Canadians to visit Toronto’s High Park on Saturday as part of an outing organized by the Together Project to help newcomers get to know the city's public spaces. (CBC)

As Gheder Bismar and her littles one pat the soil around their newly planted seedlings, they're laying down the roots for a new life in Canada.

Bismar, who arrived from Jordan less than a year and a half ago, was among some 50 newcomers to visit Toronto's High Park on Saturday.

It was all part of an outing organized by the Together Project, which aims to introduce government-assisted refugees to the city's public spaces, and matches newcomers with volunteers to help support them as they build a new life here.

"It's a good idea," said Bismar who was visiting the park for the very first time. "Now I met so many people …very nice people, new people."

'There were a lot of firsts'

Together with a group of newcomers who fled war-torn Iraq and Syria, Bismar had a chance to hike the park's trails, visit a wetland area and plant species native to the endangered Black Oak Savanna ecosystem, including wild strawberry plants, grey goldenrod and hairy beardtongue — many which, while ancient, were brand new to the group.

"I think there were a lot of firsts, there were a lot of animals that this group had never seen before," said Diana Teal, executive director of the High Park Nature Centre. 

Loae Almously, a settlement counsellor at the Arab Community Centre of Toronto knows how meaningful getting out and exploring the city’s outdoors is for the newcomers he helps adjust to life in Canada. (CBC)

Anna Hill, director of the Together Project, says that's extra special for populations settling into busy parts of the city surrounded by concrete and tall buildings, where green space can seem scarce.

"We really want to make sure that they're aware of all the really great destinations in Toronto, particularly in regards to nature because a lot of them are living in pretty dense, high-rise communities," said Hill.  "And High Park is such a gem."

'Maybe someday they'll come with their families'

Loae Almously, a settlement counsellor at the Arab Community Centre of Toronto knows how meaningful getting out and exploring the city's outdoors is for the newcomers he helps adjust to life in Canada.

"They had a lot of bad experiences in their countries because of the war," said Almously.

Together with a group of newcomers who fled war-torn Iraq and Syria, Bismar had a chance to hike through the park’s trails, visit a wetland area and plant species native to the endangered Black Oak Savanna ecosystem (CBC)

"This is very important actually because people don't know that much about nature in Canada and it's a good chance for them to meet and communicate."

All the while, Bismar's young son looks excitedly at the seedling he's planted and at his little hands covered in dirt. 

"Maybe someday they'll come with their families," said Almously, "and say 'Yes, we planted these things.'"

With files from Adrian Cheung