Embracing Canada by connecting with communities

Javanshir (Atilla) Mukhtarov at Lake Louise, in Alberta's Bow Valley Region. Photo by Pam Doyle

Javanshir (Atilla) Mukhtarov at Lake Louise, in Alberta’s Bow Valley Region. (Source: Pam Doyle)


Javanshir (Atilla) Mukhtarov came to Canada for love.

Known as Javan Atilla to his friends, he was working at the Fairmont Baku in his home country of Azerbaijan in 2012, when he met Sonya, one of several Canadians working at the luxury hotel along the Caspian Sea. Falling in love was the easy part, however; staying in the same country was the challenge.

“I got a job at another Fairmont hotel in Dubai, but she didn’t get offered a job there,” says Mukhtarov. Instead, Sonya was offered a job at another Fairmont property back in Canada, at the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff National Park in Alberta.

Although Mukhtarov did not get offered a job at the hotel himself, he had no hesitation about choosing love over his career. He came to Canada on a tourist visa in fall 2014, and the newly married couple settled in Canmore, about half an hour away from Banff and Lake Louise, both of which are part of the Bow Valley region.

Mukhtarov wasn’t able to look for work initially as he didn’t have a work visa, but he wasn’t the type of guy to just sit around. He decided to make the most of his free time by trying to forge connections with people in the community. Talking to new people was a strength of his, after all, given his years in the hospitality industry.

“I didn’t have a work permit, so I was like ‘OK, what am I going to do if I can’t work?’ So I started to walk by myself every morning. I would just walk around the town for about two hours,” he says.

“I then thought what if I created a group so like-minded people can walk in the morning together?” Upon the advice of a friend, he turned to social media and launched a Meetup group: the Canmore Social Morning Walk. About 80 people joined. “Every morning I would have anymore from four or five to 15 people joining me on a walk.”

Making connections in your community

It seems like such a simple way to meet new people, but it was just the beginning of more things to come for Mukhtarov.

“This is how I started building my network,” he says. “I would call it a good Canadian welcome.”

Noticing how much litter was often on the trails he walked, he started a Facebook group called Canmore Cleanup focused on cleaning up the trash. He then took over another Canmore Social Meetup group that brought people together for social events. He also started volunteering for various organizations in the community, including as a lead in welcoming Syrian refugees to the area.

“I think because of my culture and my background in hospitality, I love to talk to people — I love to make friends,” he says.

Thoughts of what his future career would hold weighed on his mind, however, as he had decided that he wanted to try something other than the hotel business. Once his work visa came through, he didn’t have many options initially and took a job at Tim Hortons.

Things were sometimes challenging, as he faced overt discrimination from some customers, who made assumptions about his immigrant background. “Maybe because of my looks and accent, some of them thought I was less educated,” he says. “I realized I couldn’t work there anymore when a customer started screaming at me. He was really rude and I was really upset.”

He quit the job. One night, he came across the Humans of New York website via social media and was really inspired by the stories he read. “There were people like me who have rough days and stories to share,” he recalls.

So he decided to launch a similar initiative called Humans of Bow Valley on Facebook. “I started with the idea to share the stories of people, while at the same time celebrating the diversity of people in this region,” he says. “It’s about community and positivity. No hate.”

His efforts were noticed. A co-ordinator with the Bow Valley Immigration Partnership, Meagan Stewart, saw what he was doing and asked him to collaborate with an idea they were developing called #MeettheLocals.

“More than 27 per cent of Banff’s permanent population was born abroad, so there is no shortage of stories from our area to share,” says Stewart. “The #MeettheLocals project is designed to help celebrate the diversity of the Bow Valley.”

“We combined forces. She introduced me to different people who have really good stories to share,” says Mukhtarov. “I have met so many people in the [year and a half since coming to Canada]. Every time I go into town, I usually see someone who says, ‘Hey, how are you?’  I feel like I’m a part of the community.”

New opportunities in Bow Valley

Through one of those connections, Mukhtarov also heard about a job retraining program at Bow Valley College that could help him establish a new career path. He just completed the classroom portion of the Occupational Skills Training program and is now doing a 12-week internship with the Town of Canmore.

“If you get involved in the community, you never know what kind of doors will open to you,” says Mukhtarov, who is excited about the possibilities for his future. “Honestly, for me, I’d like to be anywhere where I can help people and make my community a better place.”


Article source: Canadian Immigrant

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