William Whyte's settled newcomer population, faith groups help support recent immigrants

The North End has always been a place for immigrants, but who are the new newcomers in William Whyte?

More African immigrants than European in North End neighbourhood, according to 2016 Census

Julie Rajkumar shows the murti in honour of her mother at Manitoba Hindu Dharmik Sabha on Manitoba Avenue. She says she sees many newcomers come from all over Winnipeg to practice Hinduism in William Whyte. (Sam Samson/CBC News)

When Tom Ali first moved from St. Vital to William Whyte, his school friends told him to beware.

"They're like, 'oh that's a dangerous area. There's always cops there,'" he said.

"Situations do happen where people get hurt, — stabbings and stuff — but speaking from my perspective, it never happened to me at all. It's hard to sleep when you hear sirens all the time, but it's a good area."

The 16-year-old Nigerian immigrant and his family moved to William Whyte a few years ago because that's where they could afford to buy a house.

Now, Ali is part of a growing group of newcomer kids who go to a drop-in at Inner City Youth Alive on Tuesdays. Volunteers say in the past decade, they've seen about a 30 per cent increase in newcomers at the centre.

And while residents will tell you the North End has always been home for immigrants, the data shows there are a lot of new newcomers in William Whyte.

More recent immigrants living in William Whyte

According to data from the 2016 Census, more than 4,000 immigrants live in William Whyte and the surrounding area. About a third of them moved to Canada between 2011 and 2016, meaning a large portion of the immigrant population is relatively new to the country.

The data also shows a change in where people are moving from. While most immigrants in the neighbourhood are from the Philippines, more and more people are from African countries. This is compared to the 2011 census data, which shows many immigrants coming from European countries and India.

Ponz Mapuyan is a Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Worker who helps families in William Whyte access resources when they first move to Winnipeg. (Sam Samson/CBC News)

Ponz Mapuyan is a Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Worker (NISW) for the William Whyte neighbourhood. He said one reason why immigrants move there is because property and rent is cheaper compared to other neighbourhoods in Winnipeg.

The second reason, he said, is because people crave connection. The history of immigrants makes that easy with several cultural groups and settled communities attracting people from similar countries.

"To most newcomers, it's important to have access to a support group," he said.

"Maybe Filipino, African, or long as they know there's a whole community to cover their back."

Move there for family, leave for family

For Louie Desengano, William Whyte means being close to family. He first moved to Canada from the Philippines in 2011 and now lives on Burrows Avenue, with his wife and their five-year-old son.

Desengano's aunt and uncle live in the apartment next door, his grandparents live in a house next to the apartment building, and he has several uncles scattered around the neighbourhood.

"They help. Like, if I need something, like to babysit for my son, at least it's just a walk away. Just close to my house," he said.

Louie Desengano waits for the school bus with his five-year-old son, Prince Loiedy, in front of their home on Burrows Avenue. Desengano moved to Winnipeg from the Philippines in 2011 and is very close to his family in William Whyte. (Sam Samson/CBC News)

But family is also what's drawing Desengano outside of William Whyte.

According to Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Workers, William Whyte is a starter neighbourhood. Many immigrants and refugees move there because it's affordable. They save up money, then leave to another area of Winnipeg for work, to be closer to family, or to give their kids a different environment to live in.

Desengano says he'd like to save up some money and buy a house in the South End to be closer to his sister. He says he'll still be around William Whyte, though.

"We'd get in touch, still. Every week we'd be out to visit them, because there's still family in the neighbourhood."

Faith in William Whyte makes it safer, residents say

Even though it's a small portion of the North End, William Whyte is home to several different places to practice religions. Different Catholic churches scatter the area. An old church was just converted into an Islamic mosque a few years ago. The city's oldest Synagogue calls William Whyte home.

Julie Rajkumar has been a member of the Manitoba Hindu Dharmik Sabha on Manitoba Avenue since she moved to Winnipeg from Guyana in the '80s. (Sam Samson/CBC News)

Julie Rajkumar says she doesn't live in William Whyte, but her heart is there. Rajkumar is on the board of the Manitoba Hindu Dharmik Sabha, a Hindu temple on Manitoba Avenue. She's practiced there since she moved to Canada from Guyana in the '80s. Since then, she's seen newcomers come from all over Winnipeg to practice Hinduism here. In that aspect, she thinks places of faith attract newcomers, and in turn make the neighbourhood safer.

"People see this area as not so safe and, you know, it has a bit of a negative connotation to it," she said.

"This temple being here, it brings positivity. There's stuff always happening and people coming and going. Because when we pray, we pray for the whole universe We pray for the neighbourhood, and it blesses the community."