Easing Isolation and Establishing Independence

The Rexdale Immigrant Women Centre’s Community Outreach Program

Moving to a new country can be an isolating experience as one navigates through an unknown environment, a foreign language and complicated government policies. This pamphlet, created in the eighties by the Rexdale Immigrant Women’s Centre (RWC), a non-for-profit, advertises services to dissipate the struggles of those newly arriving in Canada.

The cover of the pamphlet, featuring an illustration from a woman that benefitted from the organization’s services. Roxana Ng Fonds, University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services, 1980.

Rexdale and its People

Rexdale[1] is a north-western neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario. Much of the population migrated in the late seventies and is South Asian.[2] South Asian migration grew due to The Immigration Act of 1976, which removed race and religion from the grading criteria and were replaced with a point system based on skills meeting the needs of the Canadian economy.[3] These revisions enabled many Indian men from technical fields in engineering and IT to migrate to Canada with their families, causing a chain of South Asian migration throughout the eighties and nineties.[4] My parents were among the influx of Indians moving to Toronto in 1991.

A Space for Conversation

The Rexdale Immigrant Women’s Centre (RWC), a volunteer agency, was formulated in 1978 by a group of likeminded women who gathered at the Thistledown Community Centre to discuss their stories of migration.[5] They realized that many other newcomers, especially those from the South Asian community felt isolated and lonely in Canada. Many women were delegated to taking care of the family while their husbands worked. With no familial connections or English skills to fall back on, they felt isolated, silenced and dependent on their spouses.[6] Similarly, my mother gave up a lucrative government job to take care of my siblings as my dad worked two jobs to gain Canadian work experience. Initially excited to move here, the lack of social contact with others became frustrating. Not wanting to voice her unhappiness, she mustered the courage to venture out of the apartment to find opportunities to meet others on her own.

Understanding this need for social interaction, the RWC began a community outreach program of self-help groups that offered cooking and parenting lessons, providing a safe place to speak their native language while learning English.

A Platform for Action

This pamphlet, created by the RWC in 1980, reveals how community support structures gave a voice to women, like my mother, who desperately needed one. While the pamphlet aims to recruit volunteers to expand self-help groups within Rexdale, it also inspired them to reach “out to women on their terms”.[7] Volunteers are described as “indigenous leaders”[8], encouraged to facilitate conversation by sharing their experiences in their native language and English.

The inside of the pamphlet, detailing the RWC’s program, objectives and goals. Roxana Ng Fonds, University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services, 1980.

As these women exchanged their skills, recipes, and stories, distances shrunk, and the foreign became familiar. These groups became so popular that the organization received government funding in 1989 and volunteers recruited in the eighties became paid employees.[9]

When reading this pamphlet, I’m struck by how a humble attempt to forge connections between women evolved into a platform of independence that empowered South Asian women to voice their unheard stories of migration.

RWC continues to help immigrant women. Become an integral part of this organization by volunteering at [10]


Kelly Manikoth is a Masters of Museum Studies candidate at the University of Toronto. A graduate of Fine Arts and Psychology from the University of Waterloo, she can often be found sketching or with her beagle, Jasper. Kelly dreams of leading a travel-filled life, exploring cities from London to Mumbai. She hopes to pursue a career in exhibition design and accessibility services, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the artefacts and stories held in museum collections.

[2] Qadeer & Kumar, 2006

[3] Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, 2016

[4] Sheel, 2008, p. 218

[5] Rexdale Immigrant Women’s Centre, 2016, “About Us”

[6] Choudhry, 2001, p.377

[7] “Rexdale Immigrant Women’s Program – Overcoming Isolation”, 1980

[8] “Rexdale Immigrant Women’s Program – Overcoming Isolation”, 1980

[9] Rexdale Immigrant Women’s Centre, 2016, “About Us”

As these women exchanged their skills, recipes, and stories, distances shrunk, and the foreign became familiar