Val-d'Or wooing immigrants who can't find jobs in Montreal
So far, a dozen people have said goodbye to the big city in favour of the mining town
Following a day of job interviews and of touring the city of Val-d'Or, roughly 530 kilometres northwest of Montreal, Yosri Blegui is exhausted.
As he hops on a bus headed to the Val-d'Or airport to return home in Montreal, he's also in disbelief.
After immigrating to Quebec from Tunisia in July, he finally found a job.
Blegui said since arriving in Montreal, he has been getting training and knocking on doors to find work.
"And then I came to Val-d'Or, which a week ago I knew nothing about, and now I'm here," he said.
"I'm about to accomplish my dream."
Land of opportunity
Blegui's life-changing trip to Val-d'Or happened during a recruitment mission called Un emploi en sol Québécois, the local chamber of commerce's answer to a major worker shortage in the region.
Qualified immigrants from the Montreal region are flown to Val-d'Or for a tour of the city and a job fair. On this particular trip, 28 people took part in the event. They were recruited through various organizations that help newcomers find work.
It's where Blegui had a sit down with ALS Geochemistry, a company that provides chemical analysis services for mining companies in the region,
With his degree in biological sciences, he was hired on the spot as a technician in one of its chemical analysis labs.
"I don't want to compare with Montreal...but it's big and you won't always have the same opportunities there."
One job at a time
Now in its third edition, the recruitment effort has helped at least a dozen newcomers find work, said Stéphan Ferron, the head of Val-d'Or's chamber of commerce.
That might not sound like a lot, but in a region in desperate need of workers, every person helps, he said.
In turn, newcomers bring their families, which means dozens of new residents in the region.
That's the ultimate goal, Ferron said — showcase the area as a place to live and raise a family.
"It's larger than only a work opportunity," he said.
"You know, it's a nice place with nice people and everything we need, we have it here."
Marina Stavila agrees — originally from Moldova, she and her husband moved to Montreal seven years ago.
After her husband found work for a mining company, the couple moved to Val-d'Or with plans to stay for three years.
"After 11 months, we bought a house and decided to spend our lives here," she said.
Sense of belonging
During the event, Stavila spoke to Blegui and the other newcomers who came to visit the city in the hopes her story will convince them to stay.
She said for an immigrant, heading to a place like Val-d'Or might seem overwhelming because it's far from Montreal.
But people shouldn't be afraid of travelling 500 kilometres farther if it means being able to fulfil their dreams, she said.
"We feel accomplished, both family-wise and professionally," Stavila said, beaming.
"We are happy here."
She said what helped with her transition and integration to Val-d'Or was her work environment.
Stavila is a health and workplace safety advisor for a mining company, and said she always felt supported and could tell people were concerned about her well-being, something she said wasn't the case at her jobs in Montreal.
"I have always felt like I was a part of their family," she explained.
"I go to work with a smile."
A history of immigration
Paul-Antoine Martel works for the city of Val-d'Or and is one of the people in charge of the newcomers' welcoming committee.
Val-d'Or might not come to mind when thinking about diversity, he said, but ever since the city was founded in the 1930s, people have flocked here from all over the world: Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, France and Belgium.
"People are used to seeing other cultures," Martel said.
However, he acknowledged there's still work to do to make sure people in town are open to immigration.
In the aftermath of allegations of mistreatment toward Indigenous women at the hands of provincial police in Val-d'Or and the ensuing Viens commission, Martel said everything is being done to have an honest and open discussion about racism.
"I can't say racism is totally absent here. I can't say there's no discrimination. But there are more and more initiatives bringing up diversity," he explained.
"We must just create opportunities, create experiences for people to get to know each other and that's how we'll bring up more acceptance."
He said one example is an adult soccer league that brings together players from several African countries.
It's something Blegui might look into when he returns to Val-d'Or in the coming weeks. Right now, his priority is to sublet his apartment in Montreal and find a place to live in his new city.
And have a good night's sleep.
"I need to rest up now and think about the future."