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Skeena Voices | A heart of diversity

Immigrating 30 years ago, Saša Loggin now welcomes newcomers to Canada
Saša Loggin is the project director for Skeena Diversity Society, where she strives to create “a Terrace family” for anyone that needs one. (Natalia Balcerzak/Photo)

Growing up in Czechoslovakia during its communism era, Saša Loggin saw the power of coming together firsthand as the Velvet Revolution carved its way into history in 1989.

Among like-minded people who wanted change, Loggin was actively involved and energized by their spirits —and it was that approach to the world she carried with her for decades to come.

“It was exciting, I was a student then so we were on strike and doing different things so it was a really interesting process to go through,” Loggin says. “We definitely fought for freedom… all of Eastern Europe was changing, all the things were happening but I decided to leave it all and come to Canada.”

During an exchange in university in Finland, Loggin fell for a Canadian and eventually followed him overseas. She was witnessing change in her country at an accelerated speed and it was exhilarating, but hearing how great Canada was, she decided to make the move to Smithers.

“I spent the first month crying… it was just kind of agonizing coming from a completely different world where people were like ‘let’s change things,’ then I come here and everybody’s like, ‘la-dee-da,’” Loggin recalls.

“When you’re growing up, especially in a communist country, you hear all these things and you imagine everything is perfect [in other countries]. When I came here, there was no public transit, really, and that social network didn’t really exist. Plus everything costs a lot of money so that was eye-opening to see both those worlds.”

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Although there were times she felt she should’ve been marching on the streets with her classmates back home, she decided if she was going to make Canada her home, then she had to keep herself busy and get involved.

Taking on her first job in the country at a computer store, she met a lot of people and learned about Canadian culture. She laughs that people were always asking so many questions about her, which seemed odd at first, but later realized it was just them being friendly.

“[I tell people that] they seem really nosy but it’s because they care… I don’t know if there’s a better place for newcomers to come to a new country [than Canada],” says Loggin. “And I think people can make it here, especially in smaller communities since we make a point of introducing people from different countries [to everyone].”

When she moved to Terrace with her family, her kids attended Clarence Michiel Elementary School which was on the brink of closing down in the early 2000s. They had formed a close-knit community of students, parents and teachers that relied on one another, and their reasons to shut its doors weren’t justifiable.

Feeling the frustration, Loggin says she eagerly took on the fight and helped lead rallies with other families and staff to keep the school open. They held presentations, researched statistics and gathered support throughout the town to make sure their voices were heard.

“[There was a lot of] prejudice and racism that existed in the community separating [our school], that was the first time for me learning about poverty and discrimination,” Loggin says. “It was not just about the building, but it was about the people that were coming from some of the low-income families or immigrant families, people that had enough to worry about and were now standing up for themselves.”

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Loggin says their effort was worth it as the school ended up merging with another and they were able to keep their community together. She was happy to have shown her children that it was possible to make a change but most importantly, the entire process reminded her of her younger self marching in the streets of Czechoslavkia and she saw the potential to make a difference in Canada.

She joined the Skeena Diversity Society shortly after, where she worked with a team of people fighting racism through different projects. She learned a lot about different cultures, including First Nations, which she says was an important experience as she recognized they all had a lot in common and how their differences should be celebrated.

When their centre officially opened up on Lazelle Ave., they began hosting weekly events, like international cooking nights, to bring people together and became the first stop for a lot of immigrants moving into the area. She welcomed newcomers, connected them to opportunities and did everything to make them feel that Canada was home. Helping people settle into a new foreign country gave her the feeling that she had a purpose as she was able to relate to their initial struggles and support them through it.

“First, I thought maybe I’m only here [in Canada] to give my children the life best possible… I would sometimes feel like I might never get [English],” Loggin says. “But it kind of brought it all together, becoming a world citizen… and [Skeena Diversity] was a platform for everybody to share and tell us where they were from… it’s not about carrying a country flag but saying, this is my journey.”

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Loggin also joined the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area society for a few years, as she saw the benefit of making a city accessible to everyone. When visiting her family in Europe, she became conscious of how places worked and how they affected people through their urban design.

“[I met an architect] who spoke about how urban planning affects child development and everything else. I realized how Europe focuses on town squares versus how cities have been built for cars in North America,” she says. “And I was kind of asking, what can we do instead of bulldozing the whole thing and starting over?”

Working with the board and downtown business owners, they came up with initiatives and events to create a feeling of pride for residents. Loggin wanted to make Terrace more aesthetically-pleasing with more greenery and places of gathering, along with encouraging everyone to work together.

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With the Skeena Diversity Society approaching its 20th year, Loggin summarizes her job as a project director as providing a “Terrace family” for anyone that needs one and offering a place to share stories.

“Coming together here, I feel that I get to meet new people every day and it’s super exciting. It’s like going through the journey of discovering this town and Canada all over again,” she says. “And when people share stories, they connect hearts.”

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