Cricket, Culture, and Caring for Each Other for 40 Years: SLCAO has been the bridge between Canada and Sri Lanka
By Rohan Basnayake & Mohan Samarasinghe
(Note from web admin, January 2016 :This article was located in an archived site and the time of the article is likely to be around 2005/6)
It was the 1970s. Tropical Sri Lanka seemed far away from the Canadian capital. Ottawa’s Sri Lankan community was small in number, but they were united in thought and deed that they were Sri Lankan-Canadians.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was helping open up Canada and the minds of Canadians to multiculturalism. The world’s second largest nation was not only encouraging people from all over the world to make this their home, but was also fast becoming a model for multicultural, multi-ethnic coexistence.
The Government of the day encouraged new arrivals in Canada to share their culture with the community-at-large.In order to assist the newly formed ethnic associations to achieve their cultural goals, the Government provided grants.
The idea of forming a Sri Lankan community association was first mooted by Piya Gamage, Nelson Wijesekera and the late Norbert Seripala. With the eager support of the Sri Lankan residents of Ottawa, the Sri Lanka-Canada Association of Ottawa (SLCAO) was formed in May 1976.The members, though small in number, were eager to make their mark in the community. They wanted their voice to be heard by the community-at-large.
With the encouragement given by the Government, SLCAO was able to organize a number of cultural activities.In 1978, the SLCAO took a bold step in organizing a big cultural event, called “Passport to Sri Lanka”, at Carleton University’s Alumni Theatre.This 2-hour extravaganza featured the songs and dances of Sri Lanka and these were interwoven with scenes of the day-to-day life of the people of Sri Lanka.
This cultural event unleashed the talents of the Sri Lankan community and from then on, on an annual basis, SLCAO organized many concerts with the co-operation of other South Asian Associations and these were staged at Carleton University. SLCAO was invited by Cultures Canada to participate each year on Canada Day at various locations in Ottawa and Hull. Thanks to the enthusiastic participation of the young and the old, Sri Lanka was able to take her due place in the community.
1978 was a significant year for the SLCAO.Because of the continued interest of the members in cultural activities, SLCAO sponsored 2 Sinhala plays, Maname and Kuveni, which were produced and directed by one of our very talented members, Harrison Perera. These plays were staged to packed audiences both in Ottawa and Toronto.
Harrison Perera was also responsible for arranging Sinhala language classes at a local High School in 1978. This program was sponsored by the SLCAO through a grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.Unfortunately, this program fell through the cracks, because of the lack of interest of the membership.
The first official SLCAO Newsletter with its new logo was launched in 1978. The Sri Lanka High Commission assisted the SLCAO with the printing of the Newsletter for a number of years.
SLCAO’s Proudest Moment
In 1978, SLCAO was honoured with the appointment of one of its members, Ernest Corea, as the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Canada. During his tenure of office and thereafter, SLCAO has enjoyed preferential treatment from the SLHC.
Music from the Homeland
The SLCAO also sponsored big names in Sri Lanka’s entertainment field to give concerts in Ottawa. These included M.S. Fernando, H.R. Jothipalaand The Gypsies.
Since 1986, the Band, “Lankan Breeze”, a group of talented musicians, has been quite active at most social and other cultural events sponsored by the SLCAO.These talented musicians, who are members of the SLCAO, perform at most functions organized by the Association at no charge to the membership. It is indeed a dedicated community service rendered by these musicians. Thank you, “Lankan Breeze”.
Christmas, Sinhala and Tamil New Year get-togethers over the last 30 years were always a smashing success. The SLCAO is very grateful to all of its members who have contributed their valuable time and energy to make each celebration an event to remember.
In the field of Sport, the Association was quite active in organizing cricket, soccer and netball matches and for many years the members met each Friday evening at a local school gymansium for various indoor sports activities.
One of SLCAO’s landmark achievements was the Try-City Cricket Tournament. In August 1986, with the support of Sunil Somatissa (Toronto), Neil Peiris (Montreal) and the Executive Committee of the SLCAO, the first encounter of the Tri-City Cricket Tournament was played at Carleton University grounds. Even though the SLCAO was dormant for a year in the 1990s, this tournament was able to survive because of the enthusiasm of the Sri Lankan community. To date, the Tri-City Cricket Tournament, which is linked to an evening dinner dance and a host of other summertime activities, is considered as a key event in the calendar of many Sri Lankan-Canadians.
Over the years, many people have sacrificed a great deal of their time and energy and have contributed much towards the success of the SLCAO.We must salute the past Presidents and Executive Committees for guiding the SLCAO through the good and difficult times during the last 30 years.
The past Presidents, who unselfishly steered the SLCAO during the last 3 decades were: Piya Gamage (1977/78), Michael Seneviratne / Ted Widyaratne (1977/78), Vel Nadarajah (1978/79), Milton Silva (1979/80), Ranjit Perera (1980/81), Rohan Basnayake (1981/82, 1986/87, 1990/91), Bonnie Lena (1982/83), Asoka Yapa (1983/84), Reginold de Silva (1984/85), Chandra Fernando (1985/86), Sydney Sinnathamby (1987/88), Sherrie de Mel (1988/89), Edward Lankaji / Sujatha Edwards (1989/90),Asoka Wikramanayake (1991/92), Marie Weerasuriya-Epps / Sherene Wikramanayake (1992/93/94), Melwyn Machado (1994/95), Lalith Kottachchi (1995/96), Sohan Dias (1996/97, 2004/05), Malkanthi Perera (1997/98/99/00), Manju Fernando (2000/01/02), Sydney Sinnathamby (2002/03/04), Ranjit Perera / Sohan Dias (2004/05).
We are equally grateful to the 161 members, who have sacrificed their time and energy to serve on the SLCAO Executive Committee between 1976 and 2005.
Helping Sri Lanka
Whenever there was an urgent need for money, whether it was for a disaster in Sri Lanka or a death of a member, the members were there to help and, as always, their generosity has been immeasurable. In 1990, SLCAO donated money to the “Sevana Sarana” Home to assist in the courageous work it does for needy children.In 1992, another donation of $3,000.00 was given to an Orphanage in Sri Lanka, and the money was personally handed over to the President of Sri Lanka, Late R. Premadasa, by the Secretary of the Association, on behalf of the membership. Also, the SLCAO was able to collect over $15,000 for the victims of the Tsunami, which struck Sri Lanka in December 2004. The Association organized a mulit-faith service at the Ottawa Congress Centre, which was attended by distinguished guests from all political parties, the Diplomatic Corps, the media, the Sri Lankans and their friends.
Another notable fund raising event in 2004 was the dinner that was co-hosted by the Sri Lanka High Commission and the SLCAO in honour of the world’s renowned spin bowler, Muthaiyah Muralitheran, who was in Canada to collect funds for one of his charities in Sri Lanka. This function was graced by members of the Diplomatic Corps, Parliamentarians and Sri Lankans.
United We Stand
For three decades, the SLCAO has been an invaluable link between two cultures. It has helped Canadians understand Sri Lanka and it has helped Sri Lankans feel a bit more at home in Canada. From a small association of 60 members, today it has blossomed into an organization of more than 300 members. The wider community of Sri Lankan-Canadians it caters to is in the thousands.
The SLCAO has come a long way. Let us hope that all members of our community will do their part to nourish the association, so it may flourish into one of the finest ethno-social organizations that Canada has seen.