Belfast Telegraph

Canada's keen to build on strong Ulster foundations

Gordon Campbell, Canada's High Commissioner, reflects on his country's historic ties with Northern Ireland

I've been keen to visit Northern Ireland since I was appointed Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Canada and Northern Ireland have deep historical ties and they remain strong today.

Recently, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster came to Toronto to forge closer commercial and governmental links between us, which was very welcome indeed.

This week, I am making the first of what I hope will be many visits to Northern Ireland, to meet business leaders, members of the Assembly and staff and students at the University of Ulster

Our two countries' relationship goes back centuries. Around 2.5 million Canadians claim Northern Irish ancestry and generations from these shores helped make Canada what it is today.

And, by the early-1900s, so many Northern Irish had settled in Toronto that it was nicknamed the Belfast of Canada.

Northern Ireland even played a part in introducing ice hockey to Canada. William Cochran, a schoolteacher from Omagh, taught his pupils hurling, which was then adapted to be played on frozen ponds.

I want to continue to build on this important relationship. Every year, significant numbers of young people take part in our International Experience Canada programme, enjoying working holidays right across the country.

It's a two-way street - and one of my goals is to have more Canadian young people come to Northern Ireland to learn and to get to know you.

Already large numbers of Canadian tourists come to Northern Ireland and are among the highest-spending and longest-staying visitors, as well as some incredibly passionate golfers.

New attractions, like Titanic Belfast and the Causeway Coast project, will draw in even more Canadian visitors and will be real engines for tourism growth in Northern Ireland. Our political ties are strong, too. Canada has long been a supporter of the Northern Ireland peace process and, for 25 years, contributed to the International Fund for Ireland.

Canadians played an important role in the peace process: General John de Chastelain, the former chief of staff of the Canadian Armed Forces, was head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

Al Hutchison, the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police assistant commissioner, until recently acted as Northern Ireland's Police Ombudsman.

Alongside those important links are our commercial and educational connections. We both have highly-skilled workforces and world-class universities.

The University of Ulster has a thriving Centre for Canadian Studies, carrying out research on Canadian issues and collaborating with Canadian institutions.

And Canadian companies employ thousands of people in the province.

Bombardier is the biggest Canadian investor - and largest manufacturing employer - in Northern Ireland and has put some £1.6bn into the area over the past two decades.

Bombardier is also working with Invest Northern Ireland and the UK Government to fund the Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering Centre.

While Bombardier is the best-known Canadian company in Northern Ireland, there are others which employ skilled local workers - the Galantas Gold Corporation operates a gold mine near Omagh.

Dalradian Resources has mineral prospective licences and is working in Tyrone and Londonderry. And Talisman Energy has important oil and gas interests here.

We have a lot we can do together and I know I will be back often, but the first visit is often the most meaningful and most memorable.

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