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Fort Macleod residents become Canadian citizens

HEATHER CAMERON – GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR

Celest Heatlie and her sons, James (middle), and Bertie.

Celest Heatlie and her sons, James (middle), and Bertie.

Rev. Eras Van Zyl and his wife Lynne embrace becoming Canadian citizens.

Rev. Eras Van Zyl and his wife Lynne embrace becoming Canadian citizens.

Fort Macleod residents Rev. Erasmus Van Zyl, his wife, Lynne Van Zyl and Celest Heatlie and her two sons, James, 20, and Bertie, 18, became Canadian citizens Friday in a ceremony at Lethbridge City Hall.
After taking the citizenship oath to embrace the country they are becoming a part of, the Van Zyls and Heatlies received their certificates of citizenship.
The oath was conducted by citizenship judge and former University of Lethbridge president Dr. David Tennant, who also shared a few words of encouragement with the new citizens.
“We congratulate you on becoming a Canadian,” Dr. Tennant said. “At the same time, we look forward to what contributions you will make in building Canada.”
“With being a Canadian, you now have your opportunity to put your stamp on the country that we live in. Each of you has made a very big decision, which I think is a wise one, and this is something that will be a hallmark for the rest of your life.”
The Van Zyls and the Heatlies immigrated from South Africa.
The Heatlies have been in Canada since November 2008 and lived in Granum for three years before moving to Fort Macleod four years ago while the Van Zyls have been in Canada since February 2007.
“I am relieved that the long journey is finally behind me,” said Rev. Van Zyl, who is minister at Trinity United Church. “I feel great and am indeed thankful to become a voting citizen of the foremost country in the world.”
Their experiences in Canada have been very diverse.
Although the United Church recognized Rev. Van Zyl’s credentials, he had to go through a tough admission program since he was not yet Canadian.
Rev. Van Zyl also had to enroll at the University of Montreal and at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon to complete the courses that would grant him ecclesiastical admission to the United Church of Canada.
Ultimately, Rev. Van Zyl went through 14 interviews and was finally admitted to the United Church on May 6, 2012.
“The members of the church and those I know in the community were always supportive and are excited about the citizenship,” Rev. Van Zyl said. “They have walked the road with me.”
Rev. Van Zyl wrote and passed an English proficiency exam and was ultimately granted permanent residency on Sept. 3, 2013. After a long wait and hard work, Rev. Van Zyl was able to apply for citizenship in December 2014.
“Special thanks to the Swihart family and their mother the late Jean Swihart who became my Canadian mom, Jack and Colleen Dekok, Pam and Bruce Young, especially Pam who help me in the early days with temporary working permits and legalities, Gunther and Ailsa Kotke, David Hughes — and so many many more,” Rev. Van Zyl said. “It is difficult to mention names because everyone did so much in their support of us. I can just say — thank you, thank you.”
The Heatlie family first lived in Granum and then moved to Fort Macleod when Celest found a an administrative job at Trinity United Church and the Fort Medical Clinic as a medical lab assistant.
As her sons were in Claresholm and Fort Macleod schools, Heatlie and her spouse did not want to relocate their children again.
“Becoming a Canadian citizen for me is best described as an emotional roller coaster ride,” Celest Heatlie said. “You are tired of paperwork and also do not know the outcome because there are many legalities in this process.”
The Heatlies had work permits upon their arrival in Canada and thanks to the Alberta Provincial Nominee Program, they applied for permanent residency soon after and that was received six months later.
Nine months later, just after 1,000 days of living in Canada, the Heatlie family was able to apply for citizenship.
“I have had the most wonderful support from colleagues and friends while going through this process.” Celest Heatlie said. “They were really wonderful”
James and Bertie made friends from the start and became immediately part of the community without any problems.
“I want to thank my friends, Jack and Colleen Dekok, Gunther and Ailsa Kotke, and the Swihart family for their unselfish support, love, and help,” Celest Heatlie said. “They helped us settle. They showed us the correct clothes to wear for winter. They took us to Lethbridge to show us where the government buildings were as well as the shopping centres. They accommodated us in an amazing manner.”
Celest Heatlie added that for her sons, Canada is home and they are well acclimated, but she misses her mother, who is unwell and back in South Africa. Nevertheless, Celest’s heart is full of gratitude about becoming a citizen after such hard work and such a long wait.
“We are so blessed here and very thankful for being here and enjoying this wonderful country called Canada,” Celest Heatlie said. “I am thrilled, thankful, and relieved. I cannot overemphasize my absolute thankfulness.”

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