Small towns, big opportunities: Why immigrants are moving away from urban centres
February 18, 2022
By Canadian Immigrant Magazine |
If there’s anything that the pandemic has proven, it is that there’s life beyond the big cities. Tens of thousands of people have left urban centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in favour of small town Canada. For newcomers, the lure of cheaper housing, more space and more opportunity has them looking further afield. For rural communities, the challenge is to balance progress while preserving their unique histories.
Brockville is one such historic community that is welcoming newcomers to contribute to its rich heritage. The coordinates of the oldest incorporated town in Ontario make it an important economic hub. This small town, situated on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River across from New York State, is just a few hours away from Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. Once a manufacturing and industrial giant, Brockville is once again seeing economic growth and investment.
Many immigrants like Wajahat Khaleeque (aka Waji the Baker) made the move to Brockville in 2020 for economic opportunities.
Khaleeque immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2002, earned a bachelor of commerce degree, and gained a Certified Bakery Specialist designation from the Baking Association of Canada.
After 15 years of working in bakeries around the Greater Toronto Area, he opened his own café in Mississauga and started serving all day breakfast. But when Sunset Grill offered him a franchise opportunity in Brockville, he took a leap of faith and opened the business.
“I had lived the majority of my life in Toronto,” says Khaleeque. “I don’t have any relatives or friends in Brockville, but since moving here I’ve made a lot of new friends in customers, staff members, and neighbours. Brockville is beautiful. I’m glad I moved here. I love the small town feel.”
Life in the slow lane
Small town living can be startling for newcomers who move here from the big city. But immigrants like Ahmad Khadra have found that the culture shock is worth the effort. Khadra, owner of Kinda Electronics in Brockville’s historic downtown, landed in Montreal when he came to Canada from Syria in 1995, but left soon after for Brockville.
“If you like nature and the outdoors and a relaxed pace of life, this is the place for you,” Khadra says. “A few times in the summer I’m asked to take people out on St. Lawrence River cruises. In late September on the boat, when the sun is setting on the river – it’s paradise.”
Brockville has changed a lot since he’s lived here. “I remember in the early days I was walking down the street and three men were coming toward me. One of them said with a perfect accent ‘As-salamu alaikum’.” I put my fists up thinking they wanted to fight! I was known as the ‘husband of the lady who wears a scarf.’ Brockville people are very kind-hearted, very open,” Khadra says.
Newcomer Marc Gomez-Segu also found it very hard to adjust to small town living when he arrived in 2015 to be with his wife who grew up in the area. “I joke that I was thrown in the bushes!” Gomez-Segu says.