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First Canada Day: Marking Citizens' First Year In Canada (PHOTOS)

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CANADA DAY SPLASH
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Imagine stepping into a new country -- that is now your home -- for the first time. For new Canadians, memories usually involve their first snowfall, an overwhelming number of friendly people, and for some, finally being accepted in a country where they can be themselves.

A recent survey of new Canadians by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship found 89 per cent of Canadians believe everyone -- including both Canadians born in Canada and foreign-born Canadians -- can be good citizens. Almost 30 per cent of us are proud of our country's freedoms and democracy, while Canadians born outside of this country specifically value friendly people and the quality of life.

"We didn't find these numbers surprising. New citizens are those who made Canada their home by choice, as opposed to those who were born here," says Gillian Hewitt Smith, CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

In 2010, Canada granted over 280,000 permanent resident applications, according to Statistics Canada and countries with the highest number of immigrants coming to Canada included India, the Philippines and China.

Hewitt Smith will be attending a Canadian citizenship ceremony on Canada Day this year, and says it's heartening to watch: Parents with hope for their kids' futures, new citizens are excited to join their communities abroad and most of the time, just live in peace.

"They talk about how refreshing it is to live in an open society and how personal freedom can be expressed here," she says.

The survey also found new Canadians -- at least 95 per cent -- believe that men and women being treated equally is an important characteristic of being a good Canadian citizen, along with following the laws, protecting the environment and having the right to vote.

Here are eight people who are celebrating their first Canada Day this year. Read their stories and favourite moments, and learn why they've chosen Canada as their home.

What was your first memory of celebrating Canaday Day? Let us know in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #lovecanada.

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Ivonne Serna, Mexico
What has been your best moment so far in Canada?
Enjoying Canada's natural beauty on both coasts. My husband and I had the opportunity to take a cruise from Vancouver and the scenery was breathtaking -- we saw wildlife and picturesque mountains. Yukon has the Emerald Lake, which was incredibly beautiful. Then we took another cruise, this time on the Atlantic side, to visit Halifax, Sydney, Prince Edward Island, Quebec City and we ended in Montreal. It was an amazing experience, and I loved the Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
Read the rest here.

Greg Robinson, United States
Why did you decide to come to Canada?
The larger reason that I came to Canada was to stay together with my partner. He had come from Southeast Asia to the United States on a student visa, and we had met in New York and moved in together. Once he completed his studies, his student visa expired, and in the aftermath of 9/11 he could not find any business willing to sponsor him for a visa as a foreign national. I had no way to marry my partner or otherwise keep him in the country legally, as I would have if he had been a woman. Instead, he was forced to leave, and we faced permanent separation. It was my great good luck to get the position in Montreal, as I could bring my partner up to live with me and get him legal residence in Canada -- initially as a common-law partner under Canadian law, eventually as my spouse. Read the rest here.

Charanjeet Singh Mehan, India
Why did you decide to come to Canada?
To prove that Canada was really a "land of opportunities" and to become a part of a great tradition and to take pride in my identity as a proud Canadian.

Syed Mohammad Mahmood, Saudi Arabia
Why did you decide to come to Canada?
I came to Canada since everyone in my community believes that North American degrees are quite prestigious. My parents wanted me to get the best education so they fully supported me travelling here. I would not agree to go to the States due to personal preferences. I do not agree with their political stance nor unaccepted communities. I have always been grateful that I came to Canada -- here I have found a diverse community that I resonate with. Only a small portion of people are judgemental based on race or religion.

Geraldine Capili, Philippines

What has been your best moment so far in Canada?
Still the best time for me was and will always be is when I first stepped out of the airport and felt the cold breeze of Canada's air on my face. I told myself that, 'This is it, this is now my home.' It was a strange land for me, but I wasn't scared -- it was all excitement.

Amro Azzam Sabbagh, Palestine
What has been your best moment so far in Canada?
The moment when I was blessed with my baby boy. He was born in Toronto and I am proud of it. Me and my wife were alone with no assistance, but every single person we met during that time was helpful and compassionate. Now he is a happy four month old and celebrating his first Canada Day with us.
What would you consider a Canadian attribute?
When you live here, you feel the spirit in society that no one is better than the other. Also, you feel that everyone is working for the best interest of himself/herself AND the community they're living in. I noticed that everyone is usually considerate of other people around them. I believe this is something distinct in Canada.

Diane Picinic, United States
What's your favourite thing about Canada?
I love the culture in the big cities, such as Toronto and especially Montreal. Montreal has a European feel to it like no other North American city does. I also appreciate the smaller cities, such as Kitchener-Waterloo, and the farm areas, such as St. Jacob's Market. Additionally, I am very fond of the cultural diversity in Canada.

Anna Adelberg, Israel
What has been your favourite moment so far in Canada? The best moment so far was getting our citizenship, I was thrilled and very emotional to the point of tears, because at that moment I realized that I now belong here, this is my country and my home.