A film by Giovanni Attili and Leonie Sandercock

“Where Strangers become Neighbours: the story of the Collingwood Neighbourhood House and the integration of immigrants in Vancouver” is the story of a local institution which was born to facilitate the integration of immigrants in a neighbourhood of Vancouver.

Vancouver, a predominantly Anglo-European city until the 1980s, has been transformed since then by the arrival of East and South East Asians, who account for 65% of newcomers. In the City of Vancouver 51% of residents are from non-English speaking backgrounds – a higher proportion than any other city in the world, except for Toronto and Miami. In simple human terms, this means profound changes at the level of streets and neighborhoods, schools and shops, recreations and religions. What happens when increasing numbers of newcomers move into a neighborhood, bringing with them different histories and cultures, different religions and social practices, and often urgent needs for housing, language training, schooling, and jobs? How do newcomers, as well as members of the ‘host society’, develop an everyday capacity to live alongside and work with those perceived as, in various ways, different, strange…? How do strangers become neighbors? Our story explores this question by looking at one neighborhood in the City of Vancouver.

Collingwood, on the eastern border of the municipality, is home to 45,000 people, only 28% of whom have English as their first language. In 1986, people of English background made up 51% of this working class neighborhood, and people of Chinese background, 21%. Today, 50% of residents are of Chinese origin, 9% are Filipino, another 8% are of South Asian origin.

The documentary is the result of a research whose aim was to investigate the strategies and the goals of the Collingwood Neighbourhood House in building an ethnically diverse community in a place that, just 20 years ago was locking its doors, afraid of change, and telling immigrants to go back where they came from. Through a series of interviews (especially with immigrant women) we gave space to: the pain of separation from immigrant’s countries, the sense of loss which is created in a new territorial context, the discovery of the CNH and of its services and program, the new sense of community which was built by the CNH through a variety of strategies of Community Building.