Montreal·Special Report

Welcome to Côte-des-Neiges: An immigration story

The story of Zhi Li and Jing Fan – a couple settling into the Côte-des-Neiges borough after immigrating to Montreal in October 2013.

A Chinese couple seeks new beginning in Montreal

For Zhi Li and his wife of 10 years, Jing Fan, the decision to move to Montreal from Shanghai did not happen overnight.

Not only would it involve leaving their entire social fabric behind — and the familiar bustle of their home city of Shanghai —  the couple would also have to learn two new languages and integrate into a culture they had never experienced before.

Despite these hurdles, the young couple decided that leaving their home country was an important step in moving towards a healthier, more stable lifestyle.

They said Shanghai’s growing problem with air pollution was one of the main reasons for the move.

“In China, we couldn’t imagine our lives or our future,” recounted Li. “Even 10 years ago, I couldn’t imagine emigrating, but my wife and I wanted to change our lives.”

Home away from home

Montreal stood out to Li and Fan. The city was big enough to provide the couple with the conveniences they had in Shanghai, and being among the more affordable cities in North America, the couple felt they would have some time to adjust to their new life without being strained financially.

When they arrived in Montreal, Li and Fan settled in Côte-des-Neiges – one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in Canada.

According to the 2011 census, immigrants from more than 36 countries make up almost half of the Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough’s population.

The two countries with the highest number of immigrants living in the borough are the Philippines and China, with 14 per cent and six per cent respectively, followed by France and Morocco, with five per cent and Romania with four per cent.

Today, Li and Fan spend most of their time in their new borough. Their favourite spots are the library, which they visit several times a week, and the Chinese supermarkets that carry the small comforts that make Côte-des-Neiges feel like home.

Jing Fan and Zhi Li holding hands (Leah Balass/ Concordia Journalism)

While most of what they have to say about Montreal is positive, Li admits there were some disappointments upon their arrival.

For one, they assumed Montreal would be as modern as Shanghai. hey find the old buildings beautiful, but were surprised by the lack of skyscrapers. They’ve also encountered little inconveniences – for example, they always shopped online in Shanghai but when they order things here, the mail is slow and sometimes gets lost.

En Français, S.V.P

With sentences strung together in a mix of French and English, Li explained that he is using resources available in Côte-des-Neiges to develop a stronger grasp of the language.

“I think its is a good neighbourhood for newcomers,” said Li. “For learning the culture of Quebec, and surtout for learning French.”

Knowing that French would be an important part of life in Quebec, Li studied it for three years in Shanghai before moving to Montreal. Li and Fan continue to study and improve their language skills by attending classes at the Centre Communautaire de Loisir de la Côte-des-Neiges.

“Montreal is the best city to learn French,” said Li. “It’s free and there are so many volunteers who want to teach the newcomers. I spend most of my time learning French – it’s the most important thing to do.”

Fan is still in the beginning stages of learning French and with a limited grasp on the English language, she often relies on Li to translate for her. In addition to taking part in community activities, she studies part-time.

“For the Chinese, [learning French] is difficult,” said Fan, speaking in French. “But everyone is nice, and we are happy here now.”

Struggles along the way

Moving is never easy.

Language aside, there are plenty of other challenges for new immigrants.

One of the biggest concerns the couple raised is finding a job. In Shanghai, Fan worked as a travel agent and Li as a chemist. While Li is actively searching for a job, Fan is concentrating on improving her language skills before joining the job market.

Li immigrated to Canada with an im-1 skilled workers visa – meaning that the government believes he has the skills necessary to succeed in the Canadian job market.

Li said that finding a job in his field has been challenging and that most employers prefer hiring people with local degrees and local experience. He stays positive however, and says he reminds himself that it takes only one job to start a career.

Another challenge has been building a social network. Meeting new people has been particularly hard for Fan.

“At first, she had no friends here,” said Li. “But now, she has some friends from China and some friends dans la classe.”

Li and Fan connected with other Chinese immigrants living in Montreal through a Chinese social media network, similar to Facebook and through activities in the community, have been building a friend base in Côte-des-Neiges.
Looking to the future

Li said that despite the challenges they face in Canada, “life here is facile” and they are optimistic about their future.

The couple has permanent residency for three years, after which they can apply for Canadian citizenship – something they hope to do as they would like to start a family in Canada.

“We are happy here,” said Fan, speaking in a mix of French and Chinese and with a little help from Li.

“Canada is a good country, a beautiful country.”

About the project

Côte-des-Neiges Chronicles is a collaboration between CBC Montreal and the Diploma Program of the Department of Journalism at Concordia University.  Students from an online journalism course were asked to report on Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges ​neighborhood.  They were also asked to push their storytelling skills through the use of photos, video and information graphics  The result is a wide-ranging look at the history of Côte-des-Neiges , its key attractions, and the individuals and communities that make up one of Montreal’s more diverse neighborhoods.