Small-town Quebec's Anglo youth still move away, but many come home again

Young people living outside Quebec's major urban centre often move hundreds of kilometres away to pursue post-secondary studies or sports. But eventually, many return home, a new study finds.

Distance, language and work force remain challenges for English-speaking youth in Quebec

Melanie Gallibois-Robertson says there is a great sense of freedom and pride for residents on the Lower North Shore (Submitted by Melanie Gallibois-Robertson)

Taylor Mackay is 14, and this year, he moved away from home.

​Mackay was recruited for the 2017 school year by the Montreal Impact Academy — the training camp for the city's professional soccer league.

But to get him to daily afternoon practice, his parents would have had to drive from Rawdon, Que., to Montreal, around 80 kilometres away, twice a day.

Mackay is now living with a host family in Montreal.

Taylor Mackay sports his new uniform with the Montreal Impact Academy. (Submitted by Bruce Mackay)
''When opportunity knocks, you take it,'' said his mother, Suzanne Albert.

Mackay attends classes at Lester B. Pearson High School in the morning and then hops on a public bus to make it to practice.

''It wouldn't have happened if I had stayed in Rawdon,'' said Mackay, especially since the town lost its express bus service to Montreal last year.

''It was exciting because I'm living on my own for the first time, but it's also a bit sad because I'll only see my family and friends on the weekends."

Mackay's dilemma reflects what many young English-speaking Quebecers have to go through to access services and higher education.

New study lays out youth migration

While the migration of Quebec youth towards urban centres isn't new, young adults are now more likely to return home later in their adult life.

This reality is highlighted in a study published this week by the Quebec Bureau of Statistics, which shows young people in the Lanaudière region, where Rawdon is located, are among the most likely to move away.

They are, however, more and more inclined to return after their studies, a trend that the statisticians are noting in other regions of the province, as well.

The authors followed cohorts of young people over several years.

They found that Quebecers who turned 16 in 2008 were less likely to leave home than those born in the 1990s, and when they did, they were more likely to return.

​Wheels on the bus...

Distance and limited resources are an obstacle even to attend high school classes in English.

''Our students have to bus approximately an hour, an hour-and-a-half to go to school each way,'' said Katie Lowry, the director of Phelps Helps, an educational support program in Stanstead, Que.

The organization was set up by community members concerned with the region's high drop-out rates.

''Spending two to three hours on a bus really creates adversity to succeeding in school, and when you're not doing well in a class, you're less motivated to keep going,'' said Lowry.
Katie Lowry (left), with two young volunteers who work with Phelps Helps in Stanstead, Que., Tosha Calloway and Noah Bishop. (Julia Page/CBC)

While English-language school boards across Quebec see higher high school graduation rates than their French counterparts — 84 per cent versus 78 per cent — certain regions outside city centres are lagging behind.

That includes the Eastern Townships, as well as the Lanaudière and Montérégie regions.

Lowry said there are also limited work opportunities in the southern part of the Eastern Townships.

She said many of the jobs that are available don't necessarily require a post-secondary diploma.

''What we try to do with the youth is make them realize the importance, the value of it, and that it is attainable,'' said Lowry.

Uprooting your life

On Quebec's North Shore, 20.2 per cent of 23-year-olds who left the region in 2008 ended up eventually returning home, compared to 15.8 per cent in 1993. 

Melanie Gallibois-Robertson said there was never a doubt in her mind that she would go back to the Lower North Shore once she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree.

She now works for the local tourism office.
Melanie Gallibois-Robertson came back from Ottawa with her dog Lola, pictured here off of La Tabatière, Que. (Submitted by Melanie Gallibois-Robertson)

''The way of life here is very unique,'' said Gallibois-Robertson. ''There's a very large sense of pride here.'' 

The 22-year-old grew up in La Tabatière, Que., a mainly English-speaking town of 400. 

Blanc-Sablon, the largest municipality in the region, is a 10-hour boat ride away. There are no roads connecting the towns.

This isolation means students have to travel far away to pursue post-secondary education, especially in English.

Like many young people from the coast, Gallibois-Robertson attended Heritage College in Gatineau, 1,700 kilometres from home.

''I went to one of the smaller CEGEPs, and it had over double the population of my village, so it was a big change,'' said Gallibois-Robertson, who was only able to go home once a year given the exorbitant cost of travel.

​''The towns are small fishing communities, they aren't wealthy people,'' said Gallibois-Robertson. ''To get home is difficult so it makes leaving even harder.''​

​Opening up doors

Sarah-Ashley Leblanc Harrison says she wanted to practice in her own town to give back to her community. (Submitted by Sarah-Ashley Leblanc Harrison)

Sarah-Ashley Leblanc Harrison grew up in Cascapedia–Saint-Jules, Que., on the Gaspé Peninsula.

She obtained her nursing diploma from McGill University in Montreal in 2017 and secured a bursary for students who practise health care for at least one year in their home region. 

Leblanc Harrison is doing just that, working as a nurse at the hospital in Maria, a 10-minute drive from her hometown.

She said going back and seeing the limited resources available for patients in her home region made it all the more important to stay.

"I wanted to give back to the community," said Harrison Leblanc.

"I love being here. I was born here and raised here.''