Blue jays and raccoons welcome Syrian immigrants to Toronto in colouring book

Raccoons, pancakes, surfing … these are some of the things that make up Tkaronto.

Toronto’s name originated from the Mohawk word, which means “where there are trees standing in the water.”

It’s surprising how much you can learn from a colouring book.


A Toronto arts and culture company launched a colouring book called ‘Welcome to Toronto,’ aimed at Syrian refugees.

Keep 6 Exhibits reached out to 30 artists and illustrators and asked them to contribute pictures and text about Toronto things and places they felt greatly about.

“We wanted to share our love of the city in a fun yet educational way. What’s more fun then colouring?,” Rafi Ghanaghounian, the executive director of the company, said.

“We wanted to share our pleasures. The things that maybe we take for granted. These families have had a hard journey getting here and many more months of settling. So this book will take some of the edge off.”

Ghanaghounian wanted to help immigrants since he had his own memories of being a newcomer to the city.

“I remember when I arrived from Iraq as an immigrant to Toronto. I knew very little English. It was cold and no friends. So this book makes me feel good knowing that it will actually help.”

The end product is a book filled with images that represent the city.

Small bits of text in both English and Syrian Arabic accompany each image, all drawn by artists from the GTA. The Syrian Canadian Council helped translate the English text. The artists put the book together in only four weeks. Five-hundred books out of the 1,500 printed have been sold.

Some of my favourite images are below.

Artist Justin Broadbent drew a few of his favourite things in Toronto, including raccoons, blue jays (the bird), Dundas Street, the Royal Cinema, doughnuts and TTC tokens.


Kinda Arbach’s morning includes a massive pancake breakfast, along with a four-legged guest who creepily sneaks in through a window for a cupcake.


Lake Ontario for adventurous artist Nicole Tomasi means surfing.


Yum … grape leaves. Similar in shape to the Maple Leaf, artist Ibn Talib demonstrates in a two-page spread with a maple leaf on one side and a grape leaf on another. One is definitely tastier than the other.


Of course architect Daniel Libeskind’s napkin sketch come to life outside the Royal Ontario Museum is featured, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal that sits on Bloor Street at the building’s entrance. Christine Kim drew it as part of her piece on Toronto buildings. The Ontario College for Art and Design’s Sharp Centre for Design – the funky multicoloured building on steel legs – will be fun to colour, as of course it’s in the book in black and white.


The book is on sale at for $20, plus shipping, and works as a fundraiser. If you buy a book the company donates a book to refugee services in Toronto. The company is partnered with COSTI immigration services, which helps distribute the books to the families.

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