'We are at home': Stories about new beginnings in Happy Valley-Goose Bay
Newcomers to Labrador share the challenges and triumphs of starting a new chapter in their lives
In March, the Newfoundland and Labrador government unveiled a new strategy to boost immigration, setting a target of 1,700 immigrants per year by 2022.
Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Gerry Byrne says the province's aging population means fewer people entering into the workforce over the long term.
At the same time, he says, there are occupations and professions that are not being filled.
"If a business cannot find a particular skilled labour, then of course that business suffers, and then the economy suffers, and then we all suffer if the economy is not firing on all cylinders," he said in an interview on CBC's Labrador Morning.
Byrne said a "foreign national" must have a job offer — one that can not be filled by a person in the province.
He admits boosting immigration by 50 per cent in the next five years will take a lot of work, but says the sense of "community" will draw immigrants to the province, especially to Labrador.
With this in mind, we asked several newcomers to Labrador to share their stories of settling into life in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Chapter 1: Reverend Adekunle Benjamin Adeniyi and family
Meet Reverend Adekunle Benjamin Adeniyi, Oluwatoyin Dorcas Adeniyi and their children, Temilade Victoria, Adebayo Samuel and Adeife Testimony.
The Adeniyi family arrived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on a cold December day in 2015 after travelling from Nigeria.
Oluwatoyin Adeniyi remembers what it was like stepping out of the aircraft onto the tarmac for the first time.
"I was thinking, 'No, this could not be ice,' and behold it was because my legs was freezing and I was shivering and my legs was almost frozen off."
She says people who welcomed them at the airport brought jackets and boots, although the reality of living in wintery Happy Valley-Goose Bay really sank in when she stepped outside the next morning.
"My husband told me this is snow. Yeah, we arrived here in the snow," Adenyi says, chuckling. "I said, 'My goodness. Is this where we're going to live?' He said, 'Yes, we are here. And we are here for good.'"
We are here to learn. You learn their cultures, and they learn ours, too.- Oluwatoyin Adeniyi
Adekunle Adeniyi is the minister of the Central Labrador Pastoral Charge, which covers the United Churches in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Mud Lake and North West River.
He first met ministers with the United Church of Canada during his studies in Geneva.
He says he thought they were joking when they asked if he would like to come to Canada.
Adeniyi says settling in Labrador has been all about meeting new people and learning new customs — and despite language barriers and cultural differences — he says people in the area are very welcoming.
Oluwatoyin Adeniyi saw travelling to Labrador as an opportunity to keep the family together. Her children say they love living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but say it can be lonely at times.
"There's a lot of groups of friends to make, but they don't hang out with you," said Temilade, 8, adding that people don't always understand what she is saying.
"When they say something here too, you don't understand, you keep asking till you understand so I don't see any big deal in that," said her mother. "We are here to learn. You learn their cultures, and they learn ours, too."
Whether it's the children being invited to birthday parties, or the family receiving gifts from people who aren't even church members, Adekunle Adeniyi says it's a sign the community accepts and loves them. Now that the family is in the process of immigrating to Labrador, Oluwatoyin Adeniyi says their future in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is looking bright.
Chapter 2: Jenna Roberts
Jenna Roberts describes Happy Valley-Goose Bay as a welcoming place with a network of friends who are always ready to lend a hand.
She moved to the town — a place her husband, Jared Roberts, is originally from— about three years ago after living in New Brunswick. Her husband sponsored her to immigrate to Canada from Maine, but she says the process of getting her permanent residency was very challenging.
She says it was two years without being able to work in her mid-20s at a time when she was trying to get a start after finishing university. She says moving to Labrador halfway through the process felt even more isolating.
"We were just scraping by, you know, living in my in-laws' basement once we moved here [Happy Valley-Goose Bay] and it felt like I was at a complete standstill at a time when I was supposed to be moving forward."
Three months before she got her permanent residency, Roberts and her husband discussed whether it was even worth staying.
"We kept looking at the website, seeing the status and nothing was changing for a year and half, two years. It just felt at some point something needed to change and that I was never going to get it."
We were just scraping by, living in my in-laws' basement once we moved here and it felt like I was at a complete standstill.- Jenna Roberts
Roberts has been a permanent resident for about two years now, and although initially it felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, it was definitely worth it in the end.
She said it felt good to finally be able to work again and to be a full part of the country she moved to.
Looking back, Roberts admits she had a safety net moving to Happy Valley-Goose Bay with her husband's network of family and friends. But that doesn't mean they're planning to stay, not with the cost of living and the real estate market. She's not even sure if there are a whole lot of incentives to move to the region given the economy.
"It's not an easy place to live and kind of get your feet underneath you and feel like you can start you life."
That said, Roberts says she and her husband were only to supposed to live in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for a year and it's already been three. Now they'll just have to wait and see what the future holds.
Chapter 3: Irene De Asis Thornhill and Prescious Ann Alegada
It was a family reunion seven years in the making for Irene De Asis Thornhill and her daughter, Prescious Ann Alegada.
Thornhill first worked in New Brunswick before arriving to work at a restaurant in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 2012.
She left her daughter and son behind in the Philippines with the goal of one day giving them a better future. Prescious Ann Alegada was 19 years old when her mother left for Canada.
"For typical Filipinos, it's actually kind of normal for us not to have our families because normally they do work in other countries," she said, noting that she and her brother were helped by extended family and friends.
In November 2016, a local business sponsored Alegada to work in Happy Valley-Goose Bay through a program aimed at reunifying families.
It was the day her mother was waiting for.
"Every Christmas, every birthday, my wish is only to have my kids here," Thornhill said. "When it happened, I really feel like I'm so thankful first to God, and to all the people that really helped me."
Alegada is now settling into life in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and making up for lost time with her family.
She's on track to get her permanent residency in six to eight months, a much shorter time frame than the temporary foreign worker program her mother had worked under.
To top it all off, Thornhill found love in Labrador.
"I really don't expect to find love here in Happy Valley-Goose Bay because I came here to work, to have a permanent residence, and to get my kids, " she said, laughing.
So, what about the long-term plan? She said her husband Wayne Thornhill will be retiring in the next few years and what worries them is the high cost of travelling out to St. John's for medical appointments as they get older.
Every Christmas, every birthday, my wish is only to have my kids here.- Irene De Asis Thornhill
That's the No.1 reason why they won't be staying in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the long term.
But Thornhill does say the province's plan to boost immigration will help grow the economy as there are lots of job opportunities in Labrador.
She also says having supportive employers, such as the one who helped reunite her family, is an incentive for newcomers to work — and stay — in Labrador.