Passport to Belonging: Canada’s Secret to Welcoming Newcomers


TOP IMAGE: Newcomers enjoying Alberta Parks site © Courtesy of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship

Many countries have snow, hockey, oil, friendly people, and public healthcare. But no country on Earth is as open to immigrants and refugees as we are.

Canadians’ welcoming disposition is not just enlightened but essential: as the population ages, our very prosperity depends upon an influx of educated, energized newcomers—the very best from around the world—who choose to make Canada home. They also bring wonderful music, food, and ideas that enrich us all.

Even though Canada thrives when newcomers choose to become Canadian, their choice to do so hinges upon a strangely intangible feeling: belonging.

Belonging is funny. You know it when you feel it, but it’s practically impossible to pinpoint the precise moment when you transition from perceiving yourself as an outsider to intuitively believing that this is my place—that these are my people.

Though tough to identify, these moments are vital to our national success. Canada’s future prosperity and dynamism depend on hundreds of thousands of people per year realizing that suddenly, they belong.

Given that our prosperity depends on these moments of belonging, you might be surprised to learn that only one organization in the country has dedicated itself to cultivating that experience for newcomers—each and every one of them.

It’s not the government. It’s not a company. It’s a charity called the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC).

The charity was founded in 2005 by Adrienne Clarkson and renowned Canadian writer John Ralston Saul.

The ICC has created a fast track to belonging called the Canoo Access Pass. It’s an app that gives newcomers and their kids free access to Canada’s best culture and nature attractions for a year, plus exclusive deals with leading brands like VIA Rail, Air Canada, Cirque du Soleil, and more.

Over 450,000 newcomers have enjoyed Canoo. Eighty-six per cent report an enhanced feeling of belonging in Canada after enjoying the program for just one year, and it’s easy to see why.

Nuno Silva used Canoo to buy half-price train tickets and visit every single province. Now, he belongs. “These Canadian landmarks are now my places as well,” he said.

Navneet wasn’t much of a camper. But Canoo gave her free access to all Parks Canada sites, so she gave it a try, and she’s glad she did because, in her words, “those are the experiences of being Canadian.” She’s taken her daughter to Detta, Northwest Territories, forging lasting connections with Indigenous people there. All thanks to Canoo.

In May 2022, with the help of generous Canadian donors, Canoo expanded. It’s now available to over 2,000,000 recent newcomers and includes new pathways to belonging, like volunteering. Since the relaunch, downloads of the Canoo app are up over 500 per cent and new companies and organizations join the Canoo welcome network each week.

ICC CEO Daniel Bernhard thinks Canoo is Canada’s secret weapon in the global competition for talent. “To be the best, we need to bring the best,” said Bernhard.

“For Canada to retain the world’s most educated and energized newcomers, we need to ensure they love it here. Canoo is the only initiative that puts hundreds of thousands of newcomers in the position to feel that moment of belonging upon which all of us depend. And they don’t even know it. They’re too busy having fun, loving Canada, and contributing to our shared success.”

Donations to the ICC’s Canoo program are tax-deductible. Donate at

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Canoo is the only app that gives newcomers free VIP access to +1,400 of Canada’s best cultural and outdoor experiences along with exclusive deals from exclusive brands. 


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