NEWS FOR NEWCOMERS
The 50 x 50 photo exhibition at George Brown College celebrated the college’s 50th anniversary and demonstrated how it has made an impact in the lives of many Canadian immigrants, capturing the diversity of both the college and the city over the past five decades.
It showcased how education has shaped the lives of newcomers to Canada with 50 leading and emerging photographers capturing the success stories of 50 George Brown College alumni who immigrated to Canada.
Minaz Abji, graduate 1975, Hotel Management, is one of them.
It was 1972 and Minaz Abji was in his first year of studying hotel management in North Wales when he learned that his parents had been expelled from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin.
The news came as a “shock”. Abji’s family moved to Africa in 1890. His father was in property development and they had a home and comfortable life. “Then the rug was pulled from underneath and everything we had we lost.”
Abji gave up his studies to join his parents in Canada, where they had been accepted as refugees.
“It made me grow up faster,” he says. “It made me become serious about what I wanted in life and it made me apply myself.”
He chose to study at George Brown because its curriculum included a strong mix of practical and theoretical components. His family had fled with very little so his priority was being able to get a job right out of school. The seriousness of that objective didn’t prevent him from enjoying his studies.
“School was just fun,” he says. They lived in Scarborough and he loved escaping into the cosmopolitan heart of the city. The campus, located at Nassau Street and Spadina Avenue at the time, was next door to the Portuguese market and the El Mocambo nightclub where acts like The Rolling Stones played. “The whole area was exciting,” he says.
On graduating, he applied for a position at Hotel Toronto. He started at the bottom, but didn’t plan on staying there. He researched the career paths of Western’s general managers with a view to joining their ranks. He gave himself 10 years to do it. It took 11.
He stayed with Western International for 23 years before leaving to join a start-up real estate investment trust in Vancouver. After becoming president there, he was offered a job with a Fortune 500 company in Washington, DC. He stayed there for 14 years and was executive vice-president of asset management before retiring recently. The plan was to “spend more time with family and friends, travel, enjoy life, and give back”.
Today Abji serves on the board of charitable organizations World Relief and iRead, as well as several business-related boards, and he recently got back from his first-ever extended vacation, exploring countries like Egypt and Nepal.