2015 IW Winners

Thunder Bay | Executive of the Year

Cathy Woodbeck

Cathy Woodbeck

Cathy Woodbeck is considered a mother hen for many newcomers to Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario.

In following the personal mantra of: Where do we need to go, and how do we get there?, the executive director of the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association has been an enthusiastic leader and provides a sympathetic ear toward making her community and region a better place for newcomers to flourish.

Regarded by one of her nominators as a “champion of those seeking a new life and success in a new country,” Woodbeck and her staff have shepherded thousands of newcomers to Canada through the immigration process and attracted many internationally- trained professionals to the region.

“I’ve had many conversations with people where they’ve started with: I’ve suffered much,” said Woodbeck, a Lakehead University graduate who joined the organization as a researcher in 1995.

She’s experienced her share of lump-in-the-throat moments, from listening to harrowing exploits of clients escaping Third World countries on their journey to Canada, to bearing witness to their personal and professional integration into society.

“When you hear someone say Thunder Bay and Canada is home and going back to their country is visiting, you know that they’ve felt welcomed and felt that they belonged.”

During her 15-year tenure at the association’s helm, the staff has grown from nine employees to 18 – many of them newcomers to Canada themselves – and a satellite office has been established in Kenora.

The centre handles immigration and settlement services for 36 municipalities in northwestern Ontario.

“We start finding them employment, and everything else from registering their children in school, to learning English as a second language, finding housing, getting their documents in order and applying for citizenship.”

When the federal government closed the local citizenship and immigration office in 2012, the association’s roles and responsibilities expanded, but it also created a one-stop shop for newcomers.

In promoting community diversity, Woodbeck has been at the committee table for anti-racism and anti-oppression campaigns, and has advised the Thunder Bay Police, organizations, employers, and institutions on human rights legislation and practices.

Funding for the association comes from government sources, but also through their popular Folklore Festival, a two-day multicultural event in May that attracts between 14,000 and 16,000 people.

The association serves as the contact agency for the Northwestern Ontario Immigration Portal, a website designed to attract internationally-trained professionals.

“There are a lot of people coming from elsewhere in Canada across the country wanting to know what’s happening in the mining boom or are underemployed in the city that they first chose to land,” said Woodbeck. “We’ve placed people in jobs all around the region.”

Through two decades, Woodbeck said the job continues to be a rich and rewarding experience.

“Every day there’s something interesting. Seeing someone arrive out of a war-torn refugee situation to learn the language, to find meaningful employment, purchase their own home, and become a Canadian citizen, it doesn’t get any better than that.” IW

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