As if the lessons alone from the Hadhad family of Antigonish are not proof enough of the social and economic benefits from immigration, along come two businesses in Port Hawkesbury to drive the point home further.
On September 14, the official opening of Nani’s Esthetics & Laser Centre was held at 308 Philpott Street, then on September 16, Jacky’s Asian Store hosted its grand opening at 634 Reeves Street, attended by enthusiastic members of the Strait Area Filipino Society, the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, residents, customers, and officials with the Town of Port Hawkesbury.
Esthetician Nani Venus left the Philippines 26 years ago for the United Arab Emirates, but after meeting and falling in love with her current office manager, Aby Maqui, a decade ago, they decided to come to Canada, even though they were both earning a very good living at the time. Venus said it was because Canada is a more open and accepting country for those in same sex relationships.
When Venus moved to Canada in 2013, she described it as a challenging time of getting used to a new country, a different climate and a new language. In her first year in Canada, Venus was alone which proved particularly difficult.
But after Maqui arrived and the couple was embraced by the community, their stay became much easier.
Before long, Venus got the idea for a new business; an idea born from necessity since she is supporting her family and has plans to move them to Port Hawkesbury permanently.
Once Venus and Maqui found the location for the business, generous members of the community donated equipment to give them a start last May.
Venus does laser removal, facials, waxing, manicures, pedicures, and every esthetic service, while Maqui greets customers, schedules appointments, orders supplies, and does advertising and promotion.
At Jacky’s Asian Store, owner Jacky Lou Tormis has been open since June 8 at the Causeway Shopping Centre, a year after she returned from the Philippines with her son, who required surgery on his spine. In addition to offering cooking classes, Tormis wants to provide her customers with recipes and she plans to host tasting events.
The specialty store offers food from the Philippines, Japan and Thailand, as well as clothes, accessories, and personal care products. She also has plans to add Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine.
After leaving her native Philippines for Dubai 13 years ago, Tormis came to Canada in June of 2015.
Before long she realized there was a need in the community for Asian food, as the nearest locations are in Sydney and New Glasgow.
And her community is growing. Tormis estimated there are hundreds of ex-pats from her native country all over the region, including approximately 150 in Antigonish alone, and more than 100 in communities like Whycocomagh, Baddeck and St. Peter’s, in addition to Port Hawkesbury.
Along with supporting her son – who is dealing with a curvature of his spine because of neuro-muscular scoliosis – Tormis is putting her younger brother through school, and she sends money home to her mother, as well as her niece, whom she hopes to bring to Canada soon.
Tormis said she received a lot of help from local residents and fellow members of the Filipino community in getting her shop up and running.
YMCA immigration settlement officer for Cape Breton, Trina Samson, noted that the new entrepreneurs are not just clients, but have become friends who are helping build a future for themselves in the Strait area.
Samson said the new businesses can help attract more newcomers to the region, as well as increase employment and attract investment. Economics aside, the new businesses also contribute to the cultural and social fabric of the Strait area, she pointed out, because the business owners volunteer around the region and have opened their homes to newcomers from other countries.
In the case of Nani’s Esthetics & Laser Centre, Samson said they have plans to expand. Even though they have only been open since May, they now have more than 200 clients and are booked a month in advance. They are also considering hiring more employees.
In the case of Tormis, Samson said she is offering niche products offered by no other local businesses and already has plans to offer more services and products.
In addition to enriching the community, Samson mentioned that the community has done so much for the recent Canadians, including setting up computer systems, running errands, providing donations, doing some painting, and displaying products.
These two new businesses, which are creating business activity, employing people, and have the potential for growth – along with the success of Peace By Chocolate, which is employing dozens out of its growing operation in Antigonish – are proof that newcomers to Canada have much to give.
On the social side, volunteering in the community, developing a community of their own, and sharing their culture with others can also help stem the trends of outmigration and an aging population, which have hamstrung the Strait area since the early 1990s.
More people coming here, getting residences, opening businesses, paying taxes, and bringing more people with them will inevitable reverse those negative demographic trends which have led to the closures of schools, reductions in infrastructure and services, as well as the loss of young families and professionals, for the past three decades.
Immigration will not solve all the problems in this region, but they are part of the solution, and it is now up to residents and officials to continue to welcome these newcomers.