MCRC - 30 Years of Fostering New Beginnings

Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre

And they said, “My God! What did you guys do?”

- Fariborz Birjandian

What were the obstacles in building this house?

First, we were a very small organization, we had a budget of about $800,000 altogether, and then you want to embark on a project of millions of dollars, and to sustain it, you needed at least another couple of hundred thousand dollars a year to do it.

So it was out of whack, we didn’t even have a space, we were in the basement of a church, and then we had the ambition of building the first purpose for reception house building in the country.

We wanted to do it. The other obstacle was we had no money.

CCIS total assets, going back to 1993, including broken chairs, was $121,000.

And in that situation, we want to build a multi-million-dollar building. We had no money even to do feasibility study.

But we had a $1.7 million mortgage, not funding, that we secured.

The other obstacle was, our main funder, IRCC, did not support it. The province did not support it either. They knew that would be a good idea, but they thought we were not going to make it happen.

And then the other obstacle was the neighborhood. There were newspaper articles saying we do not need another service, especially involving refugees.

We really had to go door knocking, talking to everybody. We had a town hall meeting at the city of Calgary, we called the deputy chief of police came and talked to the neighbors. We gave reference of the house we were operating before and we never had an incident.

We actually needed to be very welcoming, going and informing the community what we’re doing here, introducing the services we have here to ease some of the tension that we had prior to building this building.

We were lucky we got the land. We had no money, but city was not willing to give us the land at discount. At that time, the corporate office said the value of land is 170,000 and they wanted all of it.

They were not willing to give us any break. The federal government did not give us any grant. The provincial government did not give us any grant.

We knew that we are making sense. We knew that we could do it.

When this house was opened, that was really a turning point for entire refugee and immigration work in Calgary. People could not even believe that it happened. Then the city came, and the politicians came, the media came.

And they said, “My God! What did you guys do?”

We had challenges of making sure that we really walked the talk.

We had to tell people refugees are not going destroy this neighborhood. It’s about education and engaging them here.

And that’s it, now 30 years have passed!

Birjandian arrived as a refugee from Iran in 1988. He retired as a CEO of CCIS, after climbing through the ranks, at the end of 2022.


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