A commentary by EXIT Realty’s SVP Corporate Communications, Susan Harrison
Unless your heritage is First Nations, if you live in Canada, you or your family come from somewhere else. I’m no different. My parents emigrated in 1957 from the little village in England where they, and countless generations before them, lived. They knew no one, had no job to come to, only the belief that better opportunity lay ahead. So they sold most of their worldly possessions, packed up the rest along with my 11-year-old sister and boarded a plane for parts unknown.
I was born here three years after my parents’ arrival. EXIT Realty was born here too, in 1996, with no money, only the belief that things could be better. Thus is the spirit of Canada, and make the real estate industry better we did. We are the only Canadian real estate company that has been tremendously successful in the United States, and here at home, our brokerages dominate in the markets they serve.
This year marks Canada’s 150th birthday and I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be Canadian. I asked my colleagues here at EXIT Realty Corp. International’s head office to share their thoughts.
Christina Luis worked with EXIT Realty’s Founder and Chairman, Steve Morris, during his RE/MAX® days when she was 18 years old. Now a 42-year-old mother of three, and EXIT Realty’s Senior Vice President, she says, “My mom and dad came to Canada at 15 and 18 respectively. They grew up very modestly on the island of St. Michaels in the Azores. They often speak of how different it was ‘back home’ and my mom in particular always says that as soon as her feet hit Canadian soil, she vowed never to leave. She found her new home, where she didn’t have to ration food with her four sisters, where she was treated with respect at school and where everyone was so polite and willing to help. She had a feeling of well-being and belonging right from the start in a strange land that she never felt back home. I am thankful every day that my parents made that journey. It’s offered me the opportunity to do and be anything I choose, the freedom to say and think anything I choose. As much as I love to see the world, there is no other place I would ever live and raise my family. Wherever I am in my travels, I just can’t wait to get back to my home.”
Maria-Louisa Orzakovski and I started work at EXIT Realty 17 years ago. I’ve been blessed to witness her meeting her husband, marrying and becoming the mother of two beautiful boys. EXIT Realty’s VP of Operations, says, “I feel extremely fortunate because of all the countries where my mother, a Sicilian immigrant, could have ended up, she found her way to Canada. As a result, I was born in this compassionate country, free of prejudice that respects cultural difference. We are friendly, kind, politically correct and polite, reputable and respected. I thank my lucky stars each day that I call Canada my home, especially considering the state of the world today. I am so very proud, and grateful to be Canadian!”
As I write this, Sara Gileo, EXIT Realty’s Accounts Receivable Administrator, has begun her maternity leave and is awaiting the birth of her first child, a son. “The word ‘Canadian’ has become associated with some very important ideals, all of which I embrace and am proud to belong to; we stand for peace, acceptance of different cultures, and freedom. In a world that is very much divided and fearful, I am thankful to live in a country that holds these values.”
Melanie Robitaille is a talented graphic artist, gifted amateur photographer and mother of two. Few people tell the EXIT story as beautifully. The creative talent behind EXIT’s online magazine, the EXIT Achiever, says, “To me, to be Canadian is to live in the elements. It’s about finding myself; hearing the call of the north amidst the wide open spaces and untamed landscapes. It’s being set free among nature, where I can chase the light and hear my heart beat drum undeniably in rhythm with the wild.”
Lindsey Rego, our Corporate Records Administrator, recently returned home to EXIT following her second maternity leave. “When I think about being Canadian, I think about being from the best county in the world. It’s somewhere that accepts you. Pretty much every culture is represented here, and Canada welcomes and celebrates them.”
Chantal Galliott is the newest member of EXIT Realty’s acclaimed Franchise Support team. “I come from a small island on the east coast that united with Canada in 1949, becoming Canada’s tenth province. Newfoundland is home to the most eastern point in all of North America, Cape Spear. This magical island boasts some of Canada’s most beautiful raw and rugged vistas. Rumour has it that it is also home to some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. To me, to be Canadian is to also be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian. When I think of celebrating Canada I must give a nod to the extraordinary place I will always call home.”
One of the things I love about EXIT Realty is Steve Morris’ philosophy that if someone is worth hiring, they’re worth keeping for life. After she married, Receptionist Ana Uzelac, moved to her native Croatia for a period but was readily welcomed home to EXIT when she returned to Canada. “Coming from war torn Croatia, to me Canada is a peaceful land that gives us freedom from war and oppression,” she says.
Rachel Villanueva began working at EXIT while she was still in university. Now a 30-year-old mother of a toddler, she says, “Being Canadian to me means opportunity and growth. We emigrated from Trinidad when I was only three and my parents made the move to ‘open up more doors for us’. They were all on their own with only a few dollars to their name and they left all of their friends and family behind. I’m so grateful that they did that because I would have never met my husband and have my beautiful daughter and be working at such an amazing company.”
I’ve known EXIT’s VP of Broker Services, Sharron Richardson, for more than a quarter century, working together at Century21® before coming to EXIT. My evil twin and I often find ourselves in fits of laughter at jokes only we understand. “As a Canadian, I find myself apologizing when I bump into an inanimate object. I am proud to be part of a typically polite group of people. I am glad that our philosophy is that what is good for the group is good for the individual.”
Joyce Paron joined EXIT Realty in its infancy as a Regional Director in the Golden Horseshoe area of Southern Ontario. Quickly rising to the position of President of the Canadian Division of EXIT Realty Corp. International, she is a well-respected, dynamic speaker and coach who cares deeply about the success of our brokerages and agents. We share a wall and her infectious laugh keeps me smiling all day long. “I feel that it’s a privilege to call Canada home. I wake up every morning thankful for this incredible blessing and for everyone who made it possible for me to be here!”
I remember the day I met Erika Gileo like it was yesterday. I arrived for my interview and she was dashing here and there (some things never change) so she sat me down with a copy of our company magazine (then known as the EXIT Recruiter) and asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting for a few minutes. What happened over the next three hours, meeting with her and Steve Morris, impacted me profoundly. EXIT Realty is a by-invitation-only company and they invited me to join and for that, I will be forever grateful. On what it means to be Canadian, EXIT Realty’s Chief Operating Officer says, “I appreciate living in a country whose people are inclusive, tolerant and considerate; where basic health care is available to everyone regardless of financial capabilities. I appreciate the magnitude of this great country and the natural wonders it holds. I appreciate the warm welcome extended when I tell people around the world that I am from Canada.”
So what does it mean to me to be Canadian? It means having the freedom to live, work, play, protest, travel and worship as I choose; rights and freedoms for which others around the world fight and die. It means proudly wearing my flag anywhere my travels take me and being recognized as a citizen of a nation of peace keepers. It means enjoying the privilege of working for a company whose ideals both shape and mirror my own and with people I am blessed to call family.
We are EXIT Realty. Proudly Canadian, born and raised.