Sport fishing helped my family settle down in Canada


This First Person column is the experience of Lorie Berberian, a Lebanese Armenian living in Toronto. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

My dad is a proud fisherman. He has always been fascinated by the sport, so much so that he used to spend days fishing in the vast coasts of Lebanon, soaking up as much sun and scenery as he could. On multiple occasions, my mom, brother and I have accompanied him on his adventures. I used to climb on large rocks and watch him catch loads of fish. 

But when our family immigrated to Canada in 2015, fishing went on the back burner. My dad was working extra long hours and our family didn’t own a car. The accumulating financial responsibilities of newcomer life in Canada weighed on all of us, but especially my dad, who was constantly agitated and skeptical about the idea of relocating here. We needed to go fishing as a family again, but we were too busy to connect the dots. 

Three years passed. We were better off financially, but my dad hadn’t yet reconciled with his new lifestyle. 

Then, one summer day in 2018, we were driving back from a family gathering in Cambridge, Ont., and were talking about how we needed to find a way to relax. I suddenly had a light bulb moment! What if all my dad needed to settle down in Canada was to experience fishing in its freshwater lakes? 

My dad was instantly consumed by the idea. So the next day, we sat down together and learned about the fishing rules in Ontario, bought him an outdoors card and a one-year sport fishing licence. 

Within two days, my dad bought himself a new fishing rod, bait and tackle and we embarked on our first fishing adventure in Ontario. After hours of trying without any luck in Lake Simcoe, we caught a medium-sized fish. Seeing the wobbling fish and the serenity of the lake felt like our eyes were finally open after a daydream. The catch restored our hope of  living in Canada. We returned home with a sense of relief and accomplishment.

We were both hooked to that feeling, like the fish we reeled in. 

A girl holds a fishing bucket and a man ties a hook to a fishing line near the shore.
Lorie Berberian, 10, and her father during a fishing trip in Lebanon. (Submitted by Lorie Berberian)

Back in Lebanon, I loved watching my dad fish. I even held the rod until a fish got caught. But I wasn’t allowed to cast a rod or land the fish myself. That always frustrated me because my dad didn’t believe my 10-year-old self could do it on her own. In his defence, fishing in an ocean requires stepping over dangerous piles of boulders and getting close to crashing waves. 

Here in Canada, I began fishing when I was 15 — old enough for my dad to teach me how to manoeuvre around the dangers of fishing. The calmer nature of lakes in Ontario also helped. 

It took a bit of practice and a whole lot of courage to learn to attach live bait to hooks (they’re so squirmy and slimy!) or dislodge fish from them, but my encouraging mentor didn’t give up on me. In just a couple of days, I mastered setting the hook and learned to sense the shivering of the tip of the rod. From then on, summer afternoons were booked for fishing with my dad. 

The change in my dad was also remarkable: he was finally looking forward to his free time, because he could picture exactly where he planned to spend it. 

Together, we have explored the peaceful rivers and lakes of Scarborough, Ont., near Rouge Park and Unionville, where we have caught a bunch of catfish. We have also crossed more animated waters farther away — like High Park in downtown Toronto, L’Amoreaux North Park, Beachfront Park in Pickering, Ont., the Elora Gorge, Oriole Lake, and a lake in Milton, Ont. Sometimes we drove more than an hour just to fish. These magnificent waters allowed us to catch perch, carp, bass, catfish, salmon and groupers. Our latest discovery has been the walleyes and carp in Port Maitland, Ont., in the waters of Lake Erie. 

A younger woman hugs a man holding a fishing rod.
Lorie Berberian, right, and her dad on a fishing trip in Lake Simcoe, Ont. (Submitted by Lorie Berberian)

Our shared fishing experiences have deepened our father-daughter bond. We began to consciously plan around our busy lifestyles to spend quality time together and share our hobby. I will never forget the look of pride on my dad’s face in Milton when I caught two catfish at once on the same fishing line. Both baited hooks had successfully snagged fish. He taught me how to do that. We knew nobody would believe it, so we had my mom take pictures to save the memory. On another momentous night on the north shore of Lake Ontario, my dad caught his first large bass after three hours of fishing and was beaming with joy the entire night. I remember thinking, “Now that is a happy man.” 

Despite the remaining financial pressures on our family, my dad had found a way to cope with them and that made all the difference.

A man fishes by a lake as the sun sets.
Lorie Berberian’s dad fishing for bass in Pickering, Ont. (Submitted by Lorie Berberian)

I’m in awe of my dad’s patience and dedication to regaining his mastery. After all, he hadn’t held a fishing rod in over four years. Sometimes you have beginner’s luck, but catching fish regularly requires the right bait, gear, location, time, skill and mindset. Over time, my dad even began teaching beginner fishermen the tricks of the sport. 

During our adventures, we met many fishermen from different backgrounds that made both of us feel more at home in Canada. Meeting similar-minded individuals that were from various walks of life allowed us to grasp the beauty of diversity and created a sense of community where we least expected it. It’s through these experiences that we expanded our gaze on even greater aspects of life in Canada outside its awe-inspiring waterways. 

Two smiling men and two smiling women sit at a dining table laden with food, including a plate of fish.
Lorie Berberian’s dad, back right, with his wife, front right, and family friends at a dinner serving a main course of the fish he caught. (Lorie Berberian)

My mom’s curiosity has been piqued by the beautiful landscapes we keep describing and she also joins us. Plus, the countless dinners around the table featuring freshly caught fish have become a chance for us to celebrate our friends and family and newfound peace of mind in Canada. 

One can even say the sport has tied a fisherman’s knot between our family and our new home. 


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