Meet Umut Turnalí!

Jennifer Muir


Umut is a small business owner living in Vancouver, BC. Umut left his home in Istanbul, Turkey to come to Canada in 2009. He chose Canada because he felt that it was “a place I could be free to be myself, to feel safe, and to not be discriminated against.” Like many people, he was faced with challenges such as learning English and having to make new friendships and connections, yet he loved being surrounded by beautiful nature and friendly people. He admired the diversity in Canada, and enriched it by bringing his own cultural practices and traditions such as the gift of food. Umut says that “In my home, it’s common to give food, as a gift to others for all kinds of reasons. For example, if someone I know has lost a family member, or if they are celebrating opening a new business, I make sure to bring that person food (usually, I send them a pizza). Whether you are celebrating or giving support, food is a wonderful way to send a message.” 

Despite a busy schedule running Ignite Pizzerias in Vancouver, in his free time Umut enjoys connecting with nature at local parks and beaches, and visiting art venues and cultural spaces in BC. He says that “art is a universal language, and not only does it touch our emotions and connect us to others, it helps us to understand the world around us and where we fit into that.” When travelling outside of Vancouver, Umut loves going to The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, a popular destination among Canoo members. He says that “it shares so much about the history in this area of Canada,” and highly recommends it to others when in Victoria. 

As an active citizen, Umut believes that active citizenship means caring about the country and the people around you, and it also means giving back, no matter how small those efforts might seem. Umut shares Canoo’s belief that art and culture bring people together, which is why, as a small business owner, he tries “to sponsor events and charities that resonate with [him], such as the Turkish Film Festival, and the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. It’s a way to say thanks.” 

Deciding to become a Canadian citizen is a big decision, but Umut felt that becoming a Canadian citizen would allow him “to truly experience the feeling of freedom, and as an aspiring entrepreneur I saw Canada as an opportunity to grow a business.” Umut followed his dream, and these days he is his own boss working with a very supportive team. He has not looked back since, saying with pride that “It’s a huge accomplishment when I look back at where I was when I started, and something I enjoy waking up to everyday.” 

After 12 years in Canada, Umut still remembers the first time he truly felt Canadian, arriving back to Canada after visiting his family in Turkey. He says, “I lined up with the other Canadians, and the border services agent said “welcome home.”  Perhaps it was a small experience, but it was a meaningful acknowledgement for me.” Umut truly values being able to travel with a Canadian passport, but he also says that to him the passport is mostly symbolic. It means not only a commitment to making Canada his home, but also that Canada has accepted him as part of the country, which means a lot.

To anyone who is still on the path of pursuing their dreams in Canada, Umut says to keep at it! You’ve chosen Canada where “there is a wonderful opportunity to become part of the diversity that is here. Don’t forget that nowhere is perfect, everywhere will have its challenges, but Canada is one of the best places in the world to live. Become part of that diversity, and you will find that by giving and contributing, you will also receive.”

Use the Canoo app to check out more places in your area, like the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, recommended by Umut. And next time you’re in Vancouver, don’t forget to head over to Ignite Pizzeria to enjoy a slice of pizza in Gastown or Mount Pleasant, and to meet Umut, his wife Jennifer, and his friend and business partner Cihan Yanar (pictured with Umut above).

Canoo gives new Canadian citizens and their families access to more than 1400 arts and culture spaces and parks across Canada. While Canoo is free to use, it’s not free to operate. As a charity, we rely on donations to help keep Canoo available and free for new citizens. With your generous support, we can help thousands of new Canadians and their families feel like they belong. Give the gift of Canoo! Become a monthly donor today.


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