Collingwood retiree sees parallels between immigrant and Indigenous experience


Collingwood resident Shah Mohammed had many jobs in his life to support his family after immigrating to Canada from Trinidad in 1968.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood, we spoke with retired Unity Collective member Mohammed.

Q: How long have you lived in Collingwood?

A: About 20 years.

I immigrated from Trinidad to Canada in 1968. When I came to Canada, I went to Barrie. I lived there for seven years, then we moved to Wasaga Beach for about 20 years. After that I came to Collingwood.

Q: In 1968, what made you want to immigrate to Canada?

A: Well, I’m 12 years older. I got married very young. I had two boys then and I wanted a better life for them.

Q: Can you tell us about your debut in Canada? What did you do coming here?

A: I started at General Tire Co. in Barrie. In the 60s and 70s, it was easy to find a job. That’s where I stayed for those seven years.

Q: What made you want to move further north to Wasaga Beach?

I found that I was not progressing. When I came to Canada, I only had a high school diploma. I wanted to improve myself. I started attending Georgian College the first year I was here. It was also my way of meeting people.

I also went to Humber College in Toronto at night to get a certificate in industrial engineering.

I got a job at the furniture factory (Kaufman) here in Collingwood as an estimator. I worked there for about four years, then I started looking around again.

I managed to get a job in my own field at Shopsy’s Food in Toronto, but after a while the drive from Wasaga Beach to Toronto started to bore me.

I got a job at a carpet store in Collingwood and worked there for about 14 years. When it closed, I had to look for another job.

I opened my own dollar store. They were a rising thing. I called it more for less. It was on Hurontario Street across from Loblaws.

When I opened, less than a month later, two more opened in town. I couldn’t follow. After three years, I had to give up.

Then I started driving for the Red Cross in town. I did this for 16 years.

Q: You joined the Unity Collective this year. Where did you first hear about the Unity Collective and what made you want to be a part of it?

A: When I lived in Barrie, I helped the local Cub Scout group through Scouts Canada. I really like that. I didn’t have the opportunity to do that kind of stuff when I was growing up in Trinidad.

When I moved to Wasaga, I also enrolled my two boys in hockey and volunteered with the minor hockey association. I was on the recreation committee at Wasaga Beach.

I have always been interested in volunteering.

Carolynn Wilson was one of my son’s teachers at Wasaga Beach, so I know her well. When the Unity Collective started, she encouraged me to join.

Q: Have you personally ever encountered issues of racism or equity in your own life?

A: People tried to call me… whatever.

But it was always below the surface.

I never let that bother me. There were times when that was the case.

There was an incident that really bothered me for years and years. When I first moved to Wasaga Beach, there was a pop shop. My kids loved it.

I was at a gas station in Wasaga Beach on the way. I went to the back of the store and no one said anything to me. He (came closer), grabbed me by the neck and led me back to my car.

It was little incidents like that.

Q: What would you say you bring to the Unity Collective table?

A: I identify with the Aboriginal experience. When I was growing up, Trinidad was ruled by the British. At that time, Britain ruled the world. In all the tropical countries they possessed, they cultivated sugar cane. Slaves worked on the plantations in Trinidad.

When I was growing up, we weren’t taught our history in school. I never knew that my grandparents had been brought over by the British to work on the plantations. They were considered indentured servants.

In my village, nobody talked about where they came from, because there was a culture of being seen, but not heard.

You weren’t encouraged to ask questions.

By my name, I’m sure you can tell that I’m a Muslim. But we never knew where our grandparents came from. They may have come from India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. I have no way of knowing, because my last name – Mohammed – is like Smith.

Q: As you look to the future, what are your hopes for what the Unity Collective will accomplish?

A: I would like people to know that I am as Canadian as anyone else. People of different religions and cultures should all be accepted on an equal footing.

Q: Is there anything else you would like the people of Collingwood to know about you?

A: I teach yoga. I retired at the start of COVID-19. I’m having coffee with friends. I’m riding a bike. I visit family.

I am part of this community. With the influx of retirees from elsewhere in town, we are all one.

For our People of Collingwood feature, we’ll speak with interesting people who are part of, or contribute to, the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will work on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you would like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected]


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