After moving to Canada 54 years ago, Josefa Fernandez finally swore the citizenship oath on Monday, but in her heart, she has always been Canadian.

“To me, I was a Canadian with no papers,” said Fernandez, who moved from Galicia, Spain, when she was 10-years-old. “I couldn’t vote, but I was free to do what I wanted.” She decided to become a Canadian citizen at age 64, mostly to make travelling through customs easier.

Fernandez was among forty permanent residents who became citizens at the Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec in Saint-Laurent. The ceremony, organized with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), was one of 75 nation-wide for 2016, and the only one in Montreal.

Moving to a new country was difficult for Fernandez and her family. Her father, a fisherman by trade, had trouble finding work. His brother would take him to work on construction, teaching him new skills.

Fernandez struggled with the climate and language at first. “I was sick all of the time. I spent more time in bed than out of it,” she said. She now speaks French, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

Her family’s experience has made her sensitive to issues for newer immigrants. “It hurts me when I hear people complaining about not getting enough help . . . there are associations now. They get housing. We had nothing.”

Building community

People from 23 countries participated in round table discussions about their personal experience before swearing the citizenship oath.

The ICC ceremony has taken place in the Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec for the last three years. Every year the ceremony is “touching” for Mayor Alan DeSousa, who came to Montreal from Pakistan at the age of 13 in 1973. “If you had told me when I first came here that . . . I could become the mayor of Saint-Laurent, I would have said it’s not possible,” he said in his speech.

The mayor brandished his first citizenship card for the attendees, something he said he keeps in his wallet at all times.

The overarching sense of possibilities in Canada filled the room, with the message that “the sky should be the limit, if not for you, then for your children,” from citizenship judge Farid Osmane.

The ICC, founded in 2006 by former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, aims to welcome new Canadians and create new opportunities for them. The group also provides a cultural access pass for each new citizen that offers free access to over 1,200 cultural attractions nationwide for one year.

In 2015 there were 234,985 new Canadian citizens. The application process can take about a year, but varies, according to the Government Canada website.

Test your knowledge! Here are three sample questions from the Canadian citizenship test (source: Government of Canada):

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