What's Your Story

Foot hockey, friendship and my 'welcome to Canada' moment

Make no mistake: this was not, in any way, soccer with a tennis ball. This was Canada and it was, indisputably, foot hockey.
Persaud kneels in the school yard during recess. (Anil Persaud)

Born in Guyana, Anil Persaud immigrated to Canada with his family in the mid 1980s. The newness of the country took time to adjust to, and it wasn't until one day during recess that Persaud felt truly welcome here.

Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Persaud, of Toronto, shares his.

It was the mid 1980s and after a few months of living with family, my mother, father and I found our very first apartment in Canada at 514 Dawes Rd. in East York, Ont., which, at the time, was Canada's only borough, a distinction that would be lost with its amalgamation into Toronto in the following decade. 

'Canada was new for all of us.... For me, it was the new smells of a new season — the crisp, refreshing smell of a below zero-winter's day.' Persaud and his mom on a cold Canadian day. (Anil Persaud )

Canada was new for all of us. New struggles and new opportunities. For me, it was the new smells of a new season — the crisp, refreshing smell of a below-zero winter's day. New sports — not so much of my beloved cricket, but now hockey and baseball. New foods. New schools. New words and idioms. New boys and girls in what was already an emerging multicultural hub.

I may have been welcomed to Canada by family when we got off of the BWIA plane from Guyana into that crisp Canadian winter air. I may have had a more official welcome to Canada when, a few years later, we were granted Canadian citizenship. But for me, my "Welcome to Canada" moment happened at recess on the grounds of George Webster Elementary School. 

Each recess, a bunch of boys gathered by one of the school walls, divided up into two groups, put down makeshift goal posts and engaged in the daily ritual of "foot hockey." Make no mistake: this was not, in any way, soccer with a tennis ball. This was Canada and it was, indisputably, foot hockey.

'Mrs. Miller's class.' Persaud's class photo, George Webster Elementary School, 1984. (Anil Persaud)

One day, I was the goalkeeper for my team, on bended knee, my jeans tearing from constant friction with the pavement, my winter jacket in hand as a very large blocker. We were up by a goal. There was a mad scramble in front of my net (not that there was any actual netting anywhere) and the tennis ball-cum-hockey puck slipped by me to tie the game. In anger, I threw down my jacket and made a dash up the right wing, it being impossible to go left as left wing would have been the brick wall of the school. 

Canada was new for all of us... New struggles and new opportunities. New foods. New schools. New words and idioms.- Anil Persaud

Leaving a couple of defenders in my wake, I found a rare bit of open space, unleashed a beautiful kick and bulged the proverbial twine. The school bell rang signalling the end of recess. The game was won. A few high fives followed and I prepared to leisurely make my way back to class when one of the other boys in the game called all the other boys over to the net I had abandoned. I was told not to come and stood around what would have been centre-ice, taken aback, sad, rejected and uncomprehending. What had I done?

Suddenly, the jubilant throng of boys rushed at me, piling on in celebration, congratulating me on my first official foot hockey goal! A momentous occasion! I was overcome, literally and figuratively.

This great, generous, thoughtful act — from a group of elementary school boys — was the day I felt welcomed to Canada.

What's your story? What defines Canada for you? Is there a time that you were proud to be Canadian, or perhaps a time you felt disappointed? Is there a place, person, or event in your life that sums up what being Canadian is to you? Tell us at cbc.ca/ whatsyourstory.


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