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Cosmopolis Toronto: Photographer Captures Toronto's Diversity, One Nationality At A Time

This Is Why Toronto Is So Multicultural
Cosmopolis Toronto

If you're ever in Toronto and talk to strangers on the bus, chances are you'll find most people are originally from another country.

In an effort to prove this point, documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer is on a simple quest: photograph someone born in every single country of the world who now calls Toronto his or her home. Whether it's leaving their home countries because of war, unemployment or for their children's future, Boyd Shafer has been able to capture both portraits and personal stories. Dubbed the Cosmopolis Toronto, Boyd Shafer wants to show how diverse Toronto really is.

"Toronto is an incredible city full of people who have amazing stories to share. Although the people I have photographed have migrated from a wide range of places, there are many common elements to their stories," he says. "This project reminds us of our country's important historical and continued relationship with migration, one that I am directly the product of as my grandparents migrated here."

The 30-year-old, who is also a high school teacher in the city, started the project in July with an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. After raising more than $8,000 with a goal of $6,000, he began taking photographs in September.

Through word of mouth, people often contact Boyd Shafer themselves, asking to take part in the project. And besides reaching out to his own network, he also lists all the countries he has so far (116 to date) and which countries he is missing.

Working towards his first exhibit in January, Boyd Shafer says he also plans on creating a photography book as a final project.

"The city is far from perfect, but as mentioned by most of my participants, it is a place that is 'open' enough for most people to feel a sense of belonging," he says.

Check out some of our favourite shots below:

Nour, Saudi Arabia
Cosmopolis Toronto
Nour lived most her life in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and then her family decided to migrate to Canada, seeking out a more "open" life that would be easier for her and her siblings to adapt to. Both of her parents had studied overseas, and they wanted their children to have similar experiences. Read her story here.
Gloria, Angola
Cosmopolis Toronto
Gloria left Angola filled with many “sorrowful memories” caused by more than 25 years of civil war. It left her birth country devastated with millions dead and many more disabled. From Angola she arrived in Portugal where race was always an issue. Gloria now considers Toronto home and appreciates its excellent quality of life. Read her story here.
Hiba, Iraq
Cosmopolis Toronto
The Gulf War in the early 1990s changed Hiba’s life. Her pregnant mother had no choice but to take her to neighbouring Saudi Arabia where her father later joined them. In spite of her young age, Hiba remembers waiting for citizenship in a refugee camp just outside of the country. She also remembers how the Saudi Arabian military personnel would enter their family’s tent, and how they would often take the men away for interrogation. Read her story here.
Bruno, Belgium
Cosmopolis Toronto
Thirteen years ago, Bruno moved his family to Toronto to have a better future with more opportunities. He says he appreciates the space, freedom and natural beauty in Ontario. Read his story here.
Jenny, China
Cosmopolis Toronto
Jenny points out how there are very few places in the world where diversity is as cherished as it is in Toronto. “Most Torontonians take for granted the social acceptance that comes with being a part of this city,” she says. Prior to arriving here, her family moved around quite a lot. At the age of nine her father took them to Australia from China to seek better opportunities. Read her story here.
John, South Korea
Cosmopolis Toronto
At the age of 11, John’s family left South Korea, in search of “better opportunities” for him and his brother. John explains how South Korea at the time was still a developing nation with limited choices. He says growing up in the city he has been heavily influenced by “Toronto culture” and is an intense Maple Leafs fan. Read his story here.
Clotilda, Haiti
Cosmopolis Toronto
In Haiti, Clotilda studied journalism and worked at a radio station when the parliamentary elections were happening. She was appointed to cover the elections and while interviewing voters at the polling stations she noticed two uniformed men carrying boxes near the official ballot boxes and became suspicious of fraud. She told the men that they needed to leave the area because it was only for voters. Read her story here.
Nadia, Bangladesh
Cosmopolis Toronto
Originally from Bangladesh, Nadia explains how Toronto was the first place she called home. Her father, an engineer, moved the family around a lot when she was a child, including Botswana and the United States before they arrived in Toronto. Read her story here.
Jason, Costa Rica
Cosmopolis Toronto
After growing up in Costa Rica, Jason decided to move to Toronto to pursue his undergraduate degree and now he calls the city home for many reasons. He enjoys the city’s many modes of transportation and his ability to feel comfortable, supported, and "out" in regards to his sexuality. Read his story here.
Amra, Sri Lanka
Cosmopolis Toronto
After her marriage ended, Amra made the most difficult decision of her life: she decided to remain in Canada. She left the suburb of Ajax, and in the two years that she has now been in Toronto she has made wonderful friends and has had the “opportunity to follow her dreams.” Read her story here.
Soupie, Laos
Cosmopolis Toronto
After fleeing communist Laos, Soupie’s family spent seven years living in Thailand in two different refugee camps before her family was sponsored to come to Thunder Bay, Ont. Her parents believed that coming to Canada would give their children a “better life.” Landing in Thunder Bay at age nine was very difficult for Soupie and her parents, especially for her mom as they were the community’s first Laotian family. Read her story here.
Niya, Bahrain
Cosmopolis Toronto
While many aspects of Bahrain are thriving, for expatriates like Niya, there are few opportunities for post-secondary education. Since her parents didn’t want their children living away from home for university, they decided to move the whole family to Toronto. Read her story here.
Mayank, India
Cosmopolis Toronto
While in the United Kingdom, Mayank and his wife Mahrukh decided to emigrate to secure a better future outside of India for their son Che. After weighing their options they chose Canada for its multiculturalism and Toronto became his family’s "only choice."Read his story here.
Rita, Uganda
Cosmopolis Toronto
The 1980s saw many Ugandans like Rita’s parents leave to neighbouring Kenya, due to a failing economy. After five years, and mounting pressure from the local government to push Ugandans to leave, Rita’s parents took the family to Regina, Saskatchewan. Rita says “Living in Saskatchewan, at a time where there were few minorities, I always felt like I did not quite belong. I was somehow caught in between two worlds, which I did not quite fit in.” Read her story here.
Kamal, Yemen
Cosmopolis Toronto
Arriving to Canada from Yemen through U.K. education, Kamal yearned for an open and free society that would accept him as a gay man. He says he feels safe here and that he belongs in Toronto where he doesn’t stand out in a crowd. “There are so many people from all over the world," he says.Read his story here.
Erika, Peru
Cosmopolis Toronto
Erika first came to Toronto from Peru in 2008 on a working holiday with the YMCA. Having really enjoyed herself, Erika wanted to stay in Toronto, but she couldn’t extend the working holiday visa. She had to go back to Peru to apply to be a permanent resident of Canada. The whole process took a couple of years, but she finally received her visa in 2012. Read her story here.
Ivan, Spain
Cosmopolis Toronto
Ivan left Spain in 2008, “feeling like a fish in a bowl.” After studying and working in the United States., Ivan came to Toronto in 2011 and believes that arriving here was his “destiny”. Read his story here.
Leila, Latvia
Cosmopolis Toronto
Leila moved to the United States as an exchange student in order to improve her English and experience North American “melting pot” culture. She instantly fell in love with the region and eventually moved to Canada. Toronto was not a love at first sight. Read her story here.
Karolaine, Samoa
Cosmopolis Toronto
Political tension in the late 1980s forced Karolaine and her family to first go to Fiji from Samoa before moving to Toronto with hopes of a better life and opportunities. First her father, a well known business man in Fiji, left to work as a carpenter and then the rest of the family followed. She says she considers Toronto home since she was raised here as a child and has built her life here with her own son and daughter. Read her story here.
Antoine, Switzerland
Cosmopolis Toronto
Antoine’s life in Canada started with studies at McGill University in Montreal after leaving Switzerland [which he described as being too quiet and predictable] in the early '90s. Read his story here.
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