A new report shows that Sault Ste. Marie has been one of the most effective “small centres” in Ontario at retaining immigrants.
The report, “Beyond the Big City: How Small Communities Across Canada Can Attract and Retain Newcomers,” published by Public Policy Forum and Pathways to Prosperity, found that 69% of the immigrants that arrived to Sault Ste. Marie between 2002 and 2006 were still living in the community five years later.
From 2007 to 2011, Sault Ste. Marie improved on that number, with 73.4% of the immigrants who arrived during that time still residing in the community five years later.
Both were the highest scores recorded in the immigrant retention category among the communities consulted for the study. Community consultations were held earlier in 2019 in five communities in Ontario: Brockville, Chatham-Kent, Grey and Bruce Counties, Sault Ste. Marie, and Greater Sudbury.
The authors of the report defined a small centre as an area with a population of 50,000 people or fewer that is at least 75 km from a Census Metropolitan Area, or an area with a population of up to 200,000 people that is remote from other larger cities.
The report finds an overall relation between attraction and retention: as a community’s ability to attract newcomers increases, so does its ability to retain newcomers. Sault Ste. Marie, however, occupies a unique spot: among communities with low immigration rates, Sault Ste. Marie had the highest retention rate.
“As a community, we’ve made significant strides over the past 15 years in improving services and supports for newcomers, in becoming more culturally vibrant, and in creating economic and education opportunities, “ said Adrian DeVuono, Coordinator of the Local Immigration Partnership. “While there are ways we can improve, this is a great place for newcomers to settle, work and raise a family.”
“The challenge,” he said, “is that immigrants and other types of newcomers from across Canada and beyond simply don’t know much about us so they go to the cities they’re most familiar with. Many immigrants to Canada simply don’t know about the high quality of life we have to offer.”
The authors of the report suggest that small centres like Sault Ste. Marie can now compete with metropolitan areas like Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto because of the skyrocketing cost of living in those cities. Small centres, they recommend, could promote their affordability, unique attributes and compelling lifestyle as an alternative to the costly hustle and bustle of booming metropolitan areas.
Dr. Teniayo Araba, the Human Resources Director at Algoma University, immigrated to Canada from Nigeria and then moved to Sault Ste. Marie from Saskatoon with her husband and three children. For her, the quality of life and the supportive people she’s discovered in Sault Ste. Marie has convinced her that she’s found a home in Canada.
“I’ve been blessed to have good people around me,” said Mrs. Araba. “The President [of the university] was very involved in helping me get settled. She was very intentional in providing support. We also received a lot of support from our new neighbours, friends, and colleagues at the university. I found a church community, joined the African-Canadian Caribbean Association of Northern Ontario, and became part of a ladies’ group. My family’s making connections too and that’s been wonderful to see. It’s the connections which have been most helpful.”
Mrs. Araba said the genuine warmth of local residents also helped her feel welcomed. “I find people in Sault Ste. Marie are very friendly. I’ve lived in a few cities in Canada and this city stands out, I have to say. This is one of the first places where I can start talking to a stranger and at the end of the conversation I’m thinking, ‘Have I known that person for a long time?’
A community welcoming to immigrants may have other benefits, too. Since the reasons newcomers and Canadian-born individuals settle and remain in a community are very similar, the authors of the report indicate that improving a location’s welcoming features can attract more than just immigrants, such as young professionals and their families.
The results of the report are encouraging for the community as it prepares to embark on the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program, which will address urgent workforce needs by recruiting international talent for specialized jobs that employers have not been able to fill locally.