EVEN though he had to dig himself and his car out of two feet of snow this week in temperatures of minus-20 (with a howling wind chill), Keith Donaghy couldn’t contain his joy that he’d become a Canadian citizen.
Standing in the municipal buildings of the legendary Thunder Bay, on the shores of Lake Superior, his voice choked with emotion as he took the Oath of Citizenship which gave him dual British and Canadian citizenship. Keith won’t ever forget his Northern Ireland roots, which were planted in Hamiltonsbawn and progressed to Tandragee via Portadown and - for a spell - in the Isle of Man.
The son of the late Sidney and Peggie Donaghy, his emigration to Canada is a story of romance. He met his wife Lila through a mutual pen pal network - “no on-line romances then” - and, as the friendship developed, he visited Lila in her hometown Marathon (population 3,500) in 1999, she returned the visit to Tandragee in 2000, and they wed in Ballymore Parish Church in 2001.
Said Keith, “We moved to Canada in 2008, after my mother died. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, I’m very family orientated, so I thought I might as well head west and be part of Lila’s family in Canada. Marathon is about 200 miles east of Thunder Bay and I love it there. I work for a major gold mining company called Barrick, who also operate in the US, in the Dominican Republic, in South America and Australia. Lila is in economic development in a local reserve with First Nation people.”
After starting his life in The ‘Bawn, he moved to Douglas IOM for eight years with his mum and dad and went to the same school as the Bee Gees. The family returned to County Armagh, lived in Jervis Street, then Broomhill, before settling in Tandragee. Keith drove a bin lorry for Craigavon Borough Council on the Bleary run. And when Lila joined him in Tandragee, she landed a job working in Bannvale Unit in Gilford.
“After mum passed away, we decided to go to Canada in 2008, and I managed to get a visa and a job, although it took me a while to settle,” said Keith. “But now I love it, even though the lowest temperature has been minus 50, that was in 2010, and the highest 37 degrees last year. It takes a bit of getting used to.”
His quest for citizenship culminated in the ‘Twenty Questions’ set for all aspiring Canadian who come from abroad, based on geography, politics, economic development, history and general knowledge about Canada. The rules state that he also had to live in the country for 1,095 days (three years) and all holidays away - “we often travel to America” - have to be reported and subtracted from the total.
“New citizens have to score 75 per cent to make it,” he said. “I studied really hard, as you never know what questions they ask, and I got 100 per cent. I took the exam in Thunder Bay, took the Oath of Allegiance the following day, and I’m now both British and Canadian. I have to say I’m very proud of both.”
He is at pains to keep his County Armagh accent, “although I have to slow down to make myself understood”. And he keeps in touch with his old bin lorry friend Colin Gray by phone, computer and letter.
“Ontario is my home now,” he said. “I’m delighted to have made the citizenship. It was very moving to be accompanied by Lila, a real-live Mountie and the Judge. Lake Superior is really beautiful, and Marathon is a very progressive area. I’m glad I made the journey west.”