The world can certainly feel like a big place.
But when you’re in Toronto, every country seems to come to you. Canada’s largest city is one of the most diverse in the world, where more than half of its population hails from another country. And despite the many conflicts being fought between various nationalities around the globe, Toronto somehow makes this whole multicultural thing seem easy.
One photographer is on a mission to capitalize on that fact. Cosmopolis Toronto, started by Colin Boyd Shafer, is a project that aims to photograph a portrait of one immigrant living in the city from every single country in the world. The purpose is to highlight the city’s diversity, but also offer some insight into what Torontonians can learn from its multicultural population.
“Diversity means everything and it means nothing,” Shafer said. “[The project] helps tell the individual stories that make up that diversity.”
“We all come from migration.”
Shafer originally moved to Toronto from Kitchener, Ont to care for his grandmother (who is also part of the project, she comes from the UK). Having lived in several countries around the world, he wanted to work on something that would challenge him as a photographer while also allowing him to explore his new city. It didn’t take long before Cosmopolis Toronto was born.
As for the subjects, Shafer photographs each of them in a place they feel most comfortable. His locations range from inside of subway cars, to hot, sandy beaches.
Here are just a few of the amazing stories he’s covered:
Jina (North Korea)
Jina grew up in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, until after her father was reported for criticizing the government and her family was forced to move outside of the city centre. Due to the poverty there, Jina’s mother encouraged her to leave, saying it was the only way she could have a future. With help from a friend’s aunt, and money given to her by her mother, the plan was set into motion. Jina left her identification with her family, so that if questioned about her disappearance, the family could say she was killed in a car crash. She then braved the freezing December waters and swam across the border to China. Read the rest of her story here.
Michael (Burkina Faso)
According to Michael, Toronto is the most beautiful city, a place with unprecedented diversity. His first language is French but he has never considered returning to live in Montreal, the place where he started his studies. He says the intensity of cultural diversity in Toronto makes him feel as if he is also an ambassador for cultures other than his own. Michael explains how he has learnt the martial art of Muay Thai here and that this combat sport has changed his life forever. Read the rest of his story here.
Born shortly after the fall of Communism, and with there being few opportunities in Ukraine, Nadine’s father secured a job at a company in Toronto and relocated the whole family. As she was just a child then, she says she doesn’t know the details of “the struggle” that her parents must have faced. However she does remember her parents quietly selling their wedding rings to help fund their move. She has memories of an incredibly happy childhood in “a country uncertain of everything, right down to which language to speak”. Read the rest of her story here.
Andrea’s family left the Congo for Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast because of his father’s work. The First Ivorian Civil War began in 1999 and they fled from Ivory Coast in 2002. Upon graduating from high school in Tunisia, Andrea decided to go to Montreal to complete his studies at Concordia University. After this, he headed to Toronto seeking better job opportunities and luckily was selected by the engineering consulting firm Exp Services Inc. Read the rest of his story here.
Along with seeking better opportunities and a stable political situation, Madina and her husband moved here because of Canada’s well-developed health care system. They had lost their first son in Kyrgyzstan due to what Madina describes as “a mistake by the doctors”. It was after this tragedy that they decided to leave their country, and start a new life overseas. Read the rest of her story here.
After all, don’t these amazing stories make you feel proud to be Canadian?