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Wednesday, 20.10.2010 / 5:05 PM / Mike Ulmer's Blog
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Ramon Cabel was scanning the newspapers, looking for work.

He had a mechanic’s certificate from the Philippines, but it is the plight of the immigrant that what he learned in the old country seems to have no value in the new one.

He saw the want ad and called the number.

“I got the job,” he said, “sharpening Zamboni blades.”
And so it happened that a Pilipino mechanic began to work on machines unimaginable to him a short while before, machines that occupy the view of countless Canadians who, with nothing better to do, watch its hypnotic pad around the ice. The Zamboni is our national vehicle.

Ramon Cabel traveled 13,000 kilometres to make it sing.

Wednesday, Ramon was one of 30 people whose journey started from a point far away converged in the dressing room of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Citizenship ceremonies are moving out the confines of federal buildings to sites representing all the things Canada has to offer. There have been ceremonies at Casa Loma, Exhibition Place, the Rogers Centre, even the CN Tower.

“We want to stress how important citizenship is,” said Cheryl Sleep, Clerk of the Ceremony. “Every one of our ceremonies are open to the public, but it’s hard to get people to come to an office. This is a way of advertising.”

Stan Obodiac, the Leafs long-time publicity man used to say Conn Smythe chose the Leafs colours to represent the blue of the sky and the white of the snow. And so as the 30 people took their oath, the Leafs sweaters hung in front of every locker like 20 fresh ice-white flags.

Everywhere a story. Ramon’s wife Fe had never been to Canada when she stepped off the plane in 2001. After two years of domestic work, she saved enough money to send for Ramon. Ramon says he never doubted that Fe would send for him. Fe only smiles.

MLSE’s Jennifer Callegaro said the idea of bringing newcomers into the Leafs dressing room just felt right.

“Hockey is a big part of who we are,” she said. “We thought what a perfect marriage…bringing new Canadians to the home of the Maple Leafs.”

Allesandra Cannito stepped to the podium to deliver a lovely version of O Canada. Her grandfather came to Canada from Italy. He worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad as a condition of his citizenship and proposed to his soon-to-be wife via proxy. He was the first of 13 siblings to make his way to Canada from Italy.

Now his granddaughter was singing the national anthem in one of the most exclusive rooms in the country. “It was so exciting,” she said. “My brothers will be so jealous.”

Evan Wheeler, his fiancée Edith Parilla and Edith’s three kids, Christina, Christian and Kevin were sampling cake in the Air Canada Centre’s Director’s Lounge.

Edith was born in the Philippines. She came to Canada unable to transfer her registered nurse degree here. Instead she found work as a nanny. Now she works as a medication nurse. Her fiancé was stunned to find himself in the Leafs room.

Said Evan: “It was an amazing experience, not just to go into the dressing room, but to be able to do it while gaining citizenship.”

The woman who oversaw the ceremony might have had the strongest love for the Canadian experience of cold nights and moonlight skating.

“I had a very special mother,” said Cheryl Sleep, still wearing her judicial robe.

“She was a single mother. She had two boys and she made a rink for them in the freezing cold. She wanted to help them be the best hockey players they could be. We loved having that rink. I remember putting my grandmother in a chair and skating her around the rink."
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