Michael Hanna
Michael Hanna

Interview with Michael Hanna

Crossgar born board member of I/CAN

We spoke to Michael about this experiences living in Canada and the work of I/CAN

Please introduce yourself and your job title?

I am Michael Hanna and I am from Crossgar, Co. Down.  Currently, I am the Chief Financial Officer at Backerhaus Veit, a German Heritage Bakery in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada.

Where are you from and where did you study?

I was born in Co. Armagh, but I grew up in Crossgar, Co. Down.  I attended St. Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick (the Red High) and then studied Accounting at Queen’s University Belfast for the BSc. (Hons) Accounting and Post-graduate Diploma in Accounting.  After University I stayed in Belfast and qualified as a Chartered Accountant at John McVeigh & Company on the Malone Road

Can you tell us about the journey from Northern Ireland to Canada?

My journey to Canada was not a direct route and I had never thought that I would be living here.  However, I am really happy that I came here and I am enjoying the Toronto lifestyle. 

In 1998, after I qualified at John McVeigh’s I moved to London, England for 5 years.  The fast-paced life of London was an exciting time for me.  It was my first experience of many different cultures living side by side and it instilled in me a realisation that I am a representative of my country.  This ingrained in me a strong motivation to work hard and represent our people positively.

After London, I moved to Dublin intending to settle there during the Celtic Tiger boom.  In Dublin, I worked at Cuisine de France and really enjoyed the bakery business.  At this time, I had also met my wife and we married back home in Crossgar.  My wife is a Canadian and after we married, with a good piece of Irish luck, the husband of a friend of my wife was looking to hire someone in Toronto to do the same work in Toronto that I was doing in Dublin.  So I flew out to Canada one weekend and was hired by his company, Weston Foods.  This allowed my wife to return to Toronto, to be close to her ageing parents.

With my experience in London, the transition to Toronto was easier, but the cultural mixture here is a lot more intense.  Every nation under the sun is here with so many different foods and cultures to experience.

I worked at Weston Foods for an enjoyable 12 years, especially my time at ACE Bakery (a subsidiary of Weston Foods), which brought many different cultures together with their love of good bread.  After Weston Foods, I am now at Backerhaus Veit and the love of top-quality bread and pretzels is continuing with our sales across every corner of Canada and the USA.

 What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my children.  They are still young, but they surprise me every year with their success at school and in their extracurricular activities

Can you tell us about your work with I/CAN?

I have been involved with I/CAN since the summer of 2018 after I was introduced to Dermot Muir by a mutual friend.  As a board member and the secretary, my support for the centre is through advocating for the work of the team and networking for additional support.

Cathy, Tara, Micheal, Gerry, and Gillian do the real hard work at the centre.  The mandate for the centre is to assist in meeting the needs of the Irish diaspora across Canada, offering outreach and information, nationally, in 3 key areas: Immigration, Employment and Social Services

In the past year of COVID-19 with restricted travel back to Ireland and the need for increased social support in Canada, the services provided by the team have been invaluable.  I am awe-struck each quarter when Cathy updates the board on the work accomplished in the past three months.  Connecting people with health services and especially Mental Health support over the past year has been vital to many of the diaspora.

Why do you think it’s important to support other members of the Diaspora?

Once I heard about the work and the support that the centre provides to the diaspora I wanted to support the centre as much as I can. 

After I moved away from Northern Ireland I realised how much we take for granted our family support groups and the ease of availing of social services.  It can also be quite lonely when you first move away and have not developed your social network, plus finding work without a strong professional network can be difficult. 

I can see the great work that the centre does to help people overcome these challenges.  Through the outreach services, the centre helps people to understand and access the social services resources available to newcomers in Canada.  The career seminars are great to ensure that newcomers approach job-hunting from a Canadian perspective, including great opportunities to allow them to develop professional networks. 

I was very fortunate in my career and journey to Canada and I want to help others to have the same fortune. 

The centre provides newcomers with a foot up in settling and creating a new life in Canada.  I am proud of Ireland and I want to see our people be successful here and be good ambassadors for our home.

Would you encourage other diasporas to reach out and offer their help to others for example NI Companies/ the universities?

Of course, we are stronger as a community and the people of Northern Ireland have immense abilities.  The better we work together, the stronger the positive Northern Ireland brand is across the world. 

When living in many cultured cities like Toronto, you see how different communities look out for their people and are strong communities because of these connections.  Even when they 2nd or 3rd generation Canadians, they still have a strong connection to their “home”. 

NI Companies and Universities can access great advantages in Canada through tapping into the Northern Irish community here via their support to the diaspora and services like I/CAN. 

How do you stay in touch with home?

I generally stay in contact with my family and friends at home via SKYPE / Zoom calls or Whatsapp messaging.  I also stay up to date with the news at home via the UK and Irish media (BBC, RTE, etc).

Do you visit home often and how has Northern Ireland changed since you left?

I have generally been home for a visit once per year, but with the COVID pandemic, I am now well overdue in getting home.

Over the years Northern Ireland has changed a lot since I first left in 1998, with a lot of developments in the towns and cities, but I think that the biggest change is the attitude change.   People are more confident and outwardly looking, especially in relation to business and creating prosperity for Northern Ireland. 

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