It was one of those casual, chance meetings that begins with small talk about the beauties of Cuba’s beaches.
This time, my wife took the conversation a little deeper, discovering not only the home cities of our new acquaintances (both lived in Ottawa), but also the fact that both had immigrated to Canada from Soviet Bloc countries in the 1960s. Sophia came from Kiev. Rosa came from Warsaw. And what stories they had to tell.
Over the next few days, my wife spent increasing amounts of time with both Sophia and Rosa, so enthralled was she with their amazing life stories and their generous willingness to share their experiences with us.
In their arduous struggle to flee hardships of life in Soviet-era Kiev and Warsaw (many families living in a single room with no running water), they epitomized the unique drive, determination and energy that is hard to duplicate outside the immigrant experience.
Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab reminded us, in her recent address at Cape Breton University, that to immigrate is one of the most entrepreneurial acts possible.
As research at Yale University has shown, this super-determination to achieve a better life marks almost all immigrant groups. It is of so high a voltage that even second- and third-generation immigrants rarely match the energy and fierce work ethic that new immigrants bring. In many cases, immigrants have left behind the kind of harsh conditions that Sophia and Rosa escaped. And in so many other cases, as we are seeing in the current tragic exodus across the Mediterranean, immigrant refugees are fleeing horrific conditions of war, famine or brutal persecution.
Whether we open our doors and our hearts because we very much need new population in Nova Scotia to halt our sharp demographic slide, or whether we act out of humanitarian concern for those in such need, we must act.
Following the release of The One Nova Scotia Commission’s Now or Never report, virtually all informed comment in this newspaper, and elsewhere, singled out reversing Nova Scotia’s demographic decline as Job One.
It was passing strange, then, and perhaps a little unfortunate, that in a recent address to the Halifax Board of Trade, IMP Aerospace chairman (and U.K. immigrant) Kenneth Rowe chose to emphasize the need for jobs over the need for immigrants. I believe this gets the causal arrow backwards. It may also, inadvertently, play into a dangerously prejudicial stereotype; namely that “immigrants take jobs.”
As Wadih Fares, provincial point man and immigrant entrepreneur extraordinaire put it to me recently at his new head office on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax, “Get the immigrants here and they will create jobs.”
If we are not convinced by the scientific and historical research on the contribution of immigrants to economic development, perhaps we can ask ourselves:
Did Ken Rowe take or create jobs at IMP Aerospace?
Did Wadih Fares, who arrived in Halifax from Lebanon without a word of English as a young engineering student, take or create jobs as founder of W.M. Fares Associates?
How about Pete Luckett, another U.K. émigré to Nova Scotia, who started with one small fruit and vegetable stand and grew it to a multi-site diversified food, beverage and travel enterprise?
What about Denis Ryan from Ireland who helped bring us not only the rollicking tunes of Ryan’s Fancy but also Nova Scotia Fine Crystal, a company unique in all of North America?
Or John Eyking and his fellow Dutch immigrants to Nova Scotia, whose successful farming operations cannot find enough local labour for the harvest?
Or John Xidos of Techlink, Mathew Georghiou of Media Spark and the other amazing Cape Breton entrepreneurs of Greek origin who founded these and many other businesses? These are but a few examples of the outstanding contributions made by newcomers to our province.
And how could we ever forget New Waterford’s Ruth Schwartz Goldbloom, a driving force behind the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax’s remarkable national tribute to Canada’s immigrants.
In the years since the high tide of immigration through Pier 21, have we lost the desire or the ability to welcome newcomers? For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must again find the economic planning wisdom and generosity of heart to welcome newcomers to our shores.
We, not they, will be the chief beneficiaries.
Increasing immigration to our province is so important that we must wish Immigration Minister Lena Diab and Premier Stephen McNeil’s immigration leaders, Colin Dodds and Mr. Fares, great success in this crucial economic development work.
Brian Richard Joseph is a board member of St. Joseph’s Lebanese and Syrian Benevolent Society in Sydney and a former Knox Canada Fellow at Harvard University.
More on St. Joseph’s Lebanese and Syrian Benevolent Society
Every year the St. Joseph’s Lebanese and Syrian Benevolent Society supports local organizations by donating to various groups in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
Past Charity Recipients:
Regional Hospital Foundation
St. Patrick’s Museum
Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board – Breakfast and Snacks Program
Each year, the Cedars Club gives bursaries to Lebanese and Syrian students attending high school in the CBRM. To be eligible, the students must meet the following criteria.
• Must be of Lebanese or Syrian descent
• Must be accepted to a post-secondary institution (university or college)
• Must have a grade average of 70%
• Must be active in community/volunteer at Cedars Club
Students interested in applying for a bursary should submit a cover letter and resume to the Bursary Committee. In the cover letter, students should highlight their connection to the Lebanese and Syrian Society and make suggestions for youth engagement opportunities. A copy of the student’s university or college acceptance letter is also required.
Students can apply via email to email@example.com or drop off or mail a package to St. Joseph’s Lebanese and Syrian Benevolent Society (Attention Bursary Committee), 30 MacKenzie Street, Sydney, NS, B1P 1W5.
For more information please contact us.
2013 Bursary Recipients:
Youth Assistance Fund
The Lebanese and Syrian Society is pleased to offer financial assistance to its members to support various youth activities, when possible. Please write, in confidence, to the Bursary and Youth Fund Committee outlining the activity that your son or daughter is interested in participating in and the costs associated with it.
Members can apply for support via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to St. Joseph’s Lebanese and Syrian Benevolent Society (Attention Bursary and Youth Fund Committee), 30 MacKenzie Street, Sydney, NS, B1P 1W5.