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77 million people (including 45 Saultites) wish you a Happy New Year!

The Sault's Tamil population was essentially nonexistent when Hariram Mukundan arrived here in 2006
2019-04-14 Sault Tamil Community
Sault Ste. Marie's 45 Tamils celebrated Puthandu on Saturday, April 13, 2019 at Soo Blaster. David Helwig/SooToday

From just one person in 2006, Sault Ste. Marie's Tamil population has grown to 45.

Today is Tamil Puthandu, the first day of the year on the Tamil calendar.

Last night, local Tamils brought in the New Year with a celebration of food, dance, prayers and culture at Soo Blaster.

With a recorded history dating back more than two millennia in the Indian subcontinent, Tamils are considered one of the world's largest and oldest surviving ethnolinguistic groups.

India has 61.5 million Tamils.

Sri Lanka has three million.

Malaysia has one million and Singapore has 111,000.

Other areas with signficant Tamil popuations include South Africa, Mauritius, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, and Europe.

The Sault's first Tamil family is believed to have arrived here as early as the 1950s.

Hariram Mukundan, who teaches project management at Sault College, says the Tamil population was essentially nonexistent when he landed in Sault Ste. Marie 13 years ago.

In 2007, India's Essar Group bought Algoma Steel and the Sault's Indian population began to grow.

One Tamil arrived in 2008. Then, in 2010, a small group came to Algoma University for the masters program in computer gaming.

"Until that time, I had nobody else to speak to in Tamil, it was only in English," Mukundan tells SooToday.

Pretty much the entire Tamil community made it to last night's Tamil Puthandu celebration at Soo Blaster.

Mukundan expects many more Tamils will be coming here.

"It's the community. It's inclusive. It's small. It's not crazy-busy as Toronto," he tells SooToday.

"The biggest part that I admire about Sault Ste. Marie is the social aspect, the networking. You can actually meet people and you can spend time with them. In Toronto, it's so busy. You're just in a rush. You're taking a lot of time to travel. Here. your travel time anywhere within the city is about 20 minutes. You can do lot of outdoor activities. The community is quiet and everybody's looking out for each other."

Mukundan has found plenty of volunteer organizations to keep him busy in the Sault.

He's been involved with the Sault Ste. Marie Cricket Club, Heart and Stroke Foundation's Big Bike, Terry Fox Foundation's Race for Hope, dragon boat racing and Bon Soo Winter Carnival.

More recently, a large group of international students from India arrived at Sault College.

"A lot of students have come here who didn't know what Sault Ste. Marie was," Mukundan says.

"Now, they're saying: 'I don't want to go to Brampton or Toronto. I love it here. I want to stay here.' It's going to be a great multicultural city in Northern Ontario."

Mukundan is hoping last night's event will be a warm-up for a larger Tamil Heritage Month celebration in January.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement on Puthandu.

“As Tamil Canadians celebrate, let us all take time to learn about the rich heritage of their communities and recognize their important contributions to our country. Our diversity is a source of strength, and helps make Canada one of the best places in the world to call home," the prime minister said.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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