Over the summer 38 newcomers to Canada spent time with local cycling volunteer hosts learning how to bike safely and happily around Metro Vancouver. Individuals and families built their cycling skills, and were introduced to the city’s great routes and spaces, and its expanding urban cycling culture through the Newcomer Bike Host Program.
The program is a partnership between HUB Cycling and ISSofBC based on a model developed in Toronto, and was first delivered in Vancouver in 2017. Thirty-two local volunteers contributed their time, cycling knowledge, and inter-cultural communication skills to make the program a success for the second year, which was funded by four local organizations:
- Westbank and QuadReal Property Group
- Hamber Foundation
Ranging from three to 72 years of age, the program attracted a diverse group of newcomers from: Armenia, Brazil, China, Eritrea, Iran, Japan, Russia, Syria and many other countries. Participants met regularly with matched volunteers for cycling-based outings to destinations such as parks and festivals, and spent time exploring and socializing together.
One of these participants was Bibigul, a woman who immigrated to Vancouver from Kazakhstan and was new to cycling. She joined the program for both practical and emotional reasons. She felt cycling would allow her to be more mobile, and would be a great way to commute and run errands. She also wanted to feel less like an outsider in Vancouver as someone who didn’t know how to ride. She was matched with Dave, who has been cycling in Vancouver for many years. The pair started out riding on pathways, and progressed to riding on quiet neighbourhood streets during their weekly rides. In Bibigul’s words, ”when you discover something that moves you, you want to have more of that experience”. She now experiences a sense of freedom, with the wind on her face as she rides.
“This program brought a new focus to our volunteer matching.” said Mahi Khalaf ISSofBC Settlement Site Manager, ”We have seen it work wonders for newcomers to Canada in many ways.” Some of the benefits that she cited include:
- Learning English
- Staying fit
- Decreasing stress
- Understanding Canadian culture
- Strengthening family
- Making social and economic connections
“What’s special about this program is that cycling is being used as a vehicle for social inclusion,” added Alyshia Burak, HUB Cycling’s Bike Education Program Manager. “Many participants report feeling a sense of belonging in their new city by the end of the program, and making new social connections.”
The 2018 program came to a close on September 29 as newcomers and volunteers came together to share their experiences at the wrap-up graduation event. Newcomers to Canada were gifted a one-year membership to program partners Mobi by Shaw Go as part of the Vancity Community Pass, enabling them to continue their cycling adventures long after the end of the program.