At first glance it’s difficult to know whether the large yellow beast is a dragon or a lion. Upon further inspection, looking closely at the large teeth and yellow hide, it’s most definitely a lion.

Oh, yes, certainly … a striking yellow lion, set with sparkles.

The wood-framed lion, with the fabric-draped hide, sits in one corner of the room and in another hangs the Canadian flag.

This is the drop-in centre of the Carrefour d’immigration Crossroad Yukon program.

People of all nationalities are welcome here.

This is a convenient place for newcomers and Yukoners to hook up. Newcomers are provided with an opportunity to practise speaking one or both of our two national languages while learning about life in Canada, particularly the “quirks” of the Yukon.

At the same time, local residents have access to a wonderful opportunity to learn about different cultures from around the world.

Program facilitators organize special events such as the Lunar New Year dinner at Café Rencontres, held in late-January of this year, which featured the dramatic lion.

There are also monthly workshops, each one focusing on a specific, timely topic such as income tax, citizenship or finances.

One of the most popular workshops is How To Survive a Yukon Winter at –40. The most-recent one attracted a standing-room-only audience. There’s a fairly good chance that one or two newly arrived Canadians, from Outside, were in there somewhere.

Another activity, which forms a core part of the program, is the weekly drop-in conversational English sessions held Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m.

Peter Surette is manning the drop-in today, browsing through a newspaper until someone arrives for him to talk to. A comfortable couch and chair are set around a low coffee table. Posters covered with Canadiana decorate the area. Toward the back of the room, four tall chairs perch around a dining table for those who bring their lunch.

Surette obviously enjoys his time here.

With an eye to the possibility of teaching English overseas, this is a terrific way to introduce himself to the profession right here at home. In addition, he learns much about other cultures in the process of meeting and assisting new residents. He stays until just past one o’clock, in case someone arrives a bit late.

While some visitors just like to chat and improve their language skills, others attend with more-specific concerns: how to apply for a driver’s licence, where to obtain a Yukon health card or what procedures are required to register their children for school.

If Surette isn’t certain, they find the answers together.

Yvette Bourque is the engaging director of the program. She draped her long, fringed scarf over one shoulder as she leaned forward in her chair to tell me that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada had, in fact, attended the opening of this “Centre d’accueil” in June, 2007.

If you are new to the Yukon and would like further information, or if you are an interested Yukoner with a few hours a week and would like to participate, phone 668-2663, ext. 330 and ask for Yvette. You can also drop by 302 Strickland Street or visit www.cicy-yukon.ca.