AHA Connects May 15 – Immigrants and Newcomers

AHA! CONNECTS!       May 15, 2023

Welcoming Immigrants and Newcomers to Antigonish

Many newcomers and immigrants living in our community have been welcomed into AHA!’s programs in the past 10 years. However, two programs were created especially for immigrants: The Shoe Project Antigonish and New in Town: A Comedy Cabaret have welcomed immigrants to Antigonish through inviting them to share their stories. The New in Town team will be performing this summer: mark your calendars! You won’t want to miss it……

In both The Shoe Project and New in Town, AHA! has partnered with ACALA in recruiting participants. Anne Simpson and Laura Teasdale, both remarkable artists, have guided and facilitated the projects. In Laura’s words, “Listening to someone’s story fosters compassion and empathy, helping to nurture inclusivity in our community. It’s hard to feel alienated from someone when you have walked a mile in their footsteps.”

“When Newcomers Tell Their Stories, We Are All Enriched”:
The Shoe Project Antigonish

Shoes accompany us on all our journeys. They say who we are, where we come from and where we are going. If ever there was an image of our arrivals and departures, our presences and our absences, it is our own shoes, especially the ones we’ve nearly worn out, or the slippers of a grandmother, or the ducky boots of a child. The Shoe Project was created by novelist Katherine Govier and incubated at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Shoe Projects have been mounted in Calgary, Vancouver, Canmore, Halifax, and several other cities. Anne Simpson, a writer, heard about the Shoe Project and contacted Katherine, who invited her to a Shoe Project production in Fredericton. From there, the idea for the Shoe Project Antigonish was born, the first such production in a small, rural community.

Arts Health Antigonish, together with its partners, The Shoe Project, ACALA (Antigonish County Adult Literacy Association) and Theatre Antigonish, spearheaded a project whereby a group of newcomer women would tell their stories using a pair of shoes as a central image. This was funded by Nova Scotia’s Culture Innovation Fund and The Shoe Project, Toronto. Through the spring and summer, Jyotsna Jain (of ACALA) helped Anne recruit eight interested women.

Anne then led a ten-week writing workshop throughout the fall of 2018. Later, Laura Teasdale, a local actor and playwright, helped participants learn strategies of staging these stories. Liliona Quarmyne, a dancer and choreographer, choreographed a dance of her own story of coming to Canada from Ghana, and her piece, “The Perfect Immigrant,” was part of the presentation.

Photo credit Ryan Smyth

On February 8th and 9th 2019, The Antigonish Shoe Project was presented at Theatre Antigonish so the entire community could appreciate the stories of local newcomer women. Those involved were Willie Duykers (Netherlands), Jyotsna Jain (India), Soo Kyeong Lee (South Korea), Karen Bissonnette (Germany), Almudena Garcia-Garcia (Spain), Renée Romero Brown (Philippines), Yen Ngoc Nguyen (Vietnam), and Anu Joshi (India). It was a memorable show, and there were overflow crowds for the performances.

When newcomers tell their stories, we are all enriched. What better way to encourage health and wellness through the arts? We laugh, cry, and learn from each other, and, above all, let others into our lives.

Anne Simpson


In 2023, Anne interviewed Anu Joshi, one of the participants, about her experiences with the Shoe Project Antigonish. What follows is a video recording of Anu’s conversation with Anne.

 New In Town: A Comedy Cabaret

Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) is excited to present New in Town: A Comedy Cabaret, written and created by Laura Teasdale, Justin Gregg and eleven new Antigonishers! Together they explore the comedic quirks of coming to a new country and navigating the culture, food, language, rules and customs.

Funded by the Mental Health Foundation of NS, the Community Health Board and the County of Antigonish, the project is also strongly supported by several local community groups, including ACALA, CJFX (which will air the radio version of the show), StFX Performing Arts Series, the Sisters of St. Martha, Mulgrave Road Theatre, Antigonish Heritage Museum and Antigonish Community Transit.

The show will be at Immaculata Hall on July 13th at 7 pm and on July 16th at 2pm, and at Mulgrave Road Theatre on July 15th at 6:30 pm. On July 18th at 6:30pm, the show will be at the Antigonish Heritage Museum followed by a special celebration of all immigrants new to our community! Payment is by donation at the door.

Laura Teasdale

 MEET THE NEW IN TOWN TEAM (click to view video) : https://www.canva.com/design/DAFhx1vYjx8/GC30ynT1Sq8yj8ygnown4A/watch?utm_content=DAFhx1vYjx8&utm_campaign=designshare&utm_medium=link&utm_source=publishsharelink

Practices of Welcome and New in Town: A Comedy Cabaret

What does a truly welcoming community look like? How can newcomers become part of a community without being made to feel they must “fit in”? How, instead, can newcomers and citizens work together to create social relationships that everyone can benefit from? These are some of the research questions that drew me to a recent AHA! initiative, “New in Town.” Led by writers and improv artists Laura Teasdale and Justin Gregg, “New in Town” involves newcomers collaborating in the creation of a cabaret that will be performed live in Antigonish in July and be made into a radio play to be broadcast in August. Combining stories, music and improv games, the play will give audiences an opportunity to get to know some new neighbours, to laugh about some of the strange customs newcomers encounter in Canada and to learn a bit about what brings people from around the world to Antigonish.

From the perspective of Arts Health Antigonish, “New in Town – A Comedy Cabaret” represents an effort to combat the isolation that many immigrants suffer as they acquire a new language and negotiate unfamiliar social practices. It can be difficult to make new friends and find meaningful ways to get involved or to find employment that matches up with the skills people bring with them, all of which can lead to dejection and discouragement. On the assumption that stories can bridge cultural divides, increase confidence and contribute to a sense of well-being, AHA! obtained funding for this collaborative storytelling and performance project.

My research is about hospitality as a political framework (immigration policy, refugee sponsorship and the like) and a set of social and cultural projects and practices. The idea of hospitality, to put it differently, extends to the work of making Canada home that newcomers and citizens alike engage in. I am keen to learn how well New in Town succeeds in its aims to welcome newcomers, create a space for their views and experiences, and ease their paths toward a sense of belonging in Canada. This blogpost is not intended to draw any conclusions or offer any theories about the possible outcomes. It is, instead, intended to offer a snapshot—both in words and actual snapshots—of how the project is going so far.

As the project nears the mid-way point, I recently asked the participants how they would describe the project. Here are some of the things they said:

New in Town represents an opportunity to meet people with similar experiences, to make new friends, to learn about and celebrate other cultures, languages, food, ways of living and thinking. It offers a space where people can be themselves, without feeling judged.

It means being part of an evolving project, to which everyone can contribute in their own way. It involves exploring and learning together and respecting everyone’s past experiences. In learning from one another, it is possible to acquire new perspectives on world events or other cultures and countries because we see through the eyes of someone who has experienced those things. Horizons are wider as a result. The project is a collective one; it is about creating a story from all of the stories.

 Maureen Moynagh