Connecting new Canadian citizens to their history through culture

Jonathan Almanza uses his Cultural Access Pass to take his young daughter to the Ontario Science Centre.

Jonathan Almanza's little girl is all about the fossils.

For some kids, seeing a Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus Rex on TV or in a movie is an amazing experience, but for others, there's nothing like getting a chance to see the fossils of those once mighty creatures up close and personal.

Almanza's young daughter is so enraptured with dinosaurs that he and his wife Veronica took her to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) four times to see The Age of the Dinosaurs exhibit using his Cultural Access Pass from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC).

"We just took her. No questions asked," he said.

The only program of its kind in the world, the ICC's Cultural Access Pass (CAP) offers new Canadian citizens free admission to more than 1,400 Canadian museums, galleries, historic sites and other attractions during their first year of citizenship.

In 2012, Almanza, a manager in Innovation and New Product Development at TD, immigrated to Canada from Mexico with his wife Veronica to start their family.

Now that they have a young Canadian daughter, being a Cultural Access Pass member has been especially meaningful to the entire family.

"[It] helps me explain to my child 'This is now your history,'" he said. "As a parent, I cannot stress how important the CAP program has been for me."

Beginning in 2008 with just six attractions, the ICC's CAP program has now grown to more than 1,400 participating cultural spaces including museums, art galleries, science centres and more.

Becoming a CAP member is simple – registration is open if you are 18 years or older and if it's been less than one year since your citizenship ceremony. If you have kids, you can bring up to four children with you to any of the participating institutions for free, and visit any institution as many times as you like during your membership.

“Over the past decade, more than 265 000 Canadians have benefitted from the Cultural Access Pass in their first year of citizenship,” said Yasmine Mohamed, Director of the Cultural Access Pass at the ICC.

“They’ve told us that the program has let them celebrate their Canadian citizenship; that it has helped them take ownership of and contribute to Canadian culture. Not only has it made them feel more included in their communities, the CAP program has helped to inspire them to become more active citizens.”

Almanza has taken his family to the Canada Day festival at Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto and to an outing at the Ontario Science Centre in addition to their multiple trips to the ROM.

"Just being exposed to the culture and the history is extremely important for me to feel like I understand the country that I'm now a part of," he said. "It’s amazing that in Canada there’s an organization like the ICC that has the thought and the care for new Canadian citizens to say, 'Welcome to our family. Welcome to our country.’ That's very special."

In partnership with the ICC, TD has committed $1.7 million over the next three years to help double the size of the CAP program and bring it into the digital age.

"Encouraging new Canadian citizens to enjoy what Canada has to offer - whether it is a camping trip in a national park or a visit to a world-class museum – is just the right thing to do to make everyone feel welcome in his or her new country," said Kelvin Tran, Senior Vice President and Chief Auditor at TD, who announced TD's commitment to the program at the Four Season Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto alongside the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, co-founders of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.  

“Our support of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship's Cultural Access Pass is a perfect example of our global corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment, at work. Our aim is to help open doors to an inclusive tomorrow where everyone feels connected to their community. This is exactly what the Cultural Access Pass does — fosters connectedness between new Canadian citizens and their communities to help accelerate their sense of inclusion in Canadian society, and create meaningful knowledge of and participation in Canadian culture.”  

Visit the ICC's website to learn more about the Cultural Access Pass.