Nova Scotia

Newcomers helping decades-old Dartmouth daycare survive, thrive

A Dartmouth, N.S., daycare that was forced to scale back operations 18 months ago because of a severe staff shortage is now thriving thanks, in part, to an immigration program started four years ago to lure newcomers to the Atlantic region.

Dartmouth Child Development Centre using Atlantic immigration program to fill vacancies

Antra Mukherjee came to Canada through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and works at the Dartmouth Child Development Centre. (Erin Organ)

When Antra Mukherjee and her family moved to Canada last August, it was a decision that not only changed their lives but also helped reshape the future of a non-profit daycare in Dartmouth, N.S.

The Indian family, who had been living in the United Arab Emirates, applied to come to Canada a year ago through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, launched four years ago as a way to lure immigrants to the Atlantic region to take jobs in hard-to-fill positions.

"No regrets, actually, no regrets," Mukherjee said from the apartment the family rents in Halifax's Clayton Park. "I feel we are really lucky and blessed."

As an early childhood educator, Mukherjee quickly matched her skills to a job at the Dartmouth Child Development Centre, which joined the program to find enough staff to keep the decades-old non-profit daycare from having to shut its doors.

Krista Smith, interim manager of operations at the centre, said newcomers have helped turn things around.

"We had two classrooms closed in the summer of 2019, and at the same time we had a big renovation planned to open another infant room because there's not enough infant care in the city," said Smith. "And we just didn't have people to man the classrooms."

From left, Antra Mukherjee, son Vivan, husband Swarup and daughter Koena arrived in Canada in August. They live in Halifax. (Chiranjib Biswas)

Smith said without help from the newcomers, the centre was "definitely skirting" the possibility it might have to close.

"We've been around for 40 years, so we weren't going to go quietly," she said. "A year and a half later, I feel like we have a completely re-envisioned team. Our team is a lot stronger now and we're just clipping right along."

Currently, 10 of the 18 people who work at the centre are newcomers to Canada. Three foreign students, in the province on study permits, are also helping out.

Four of those employees, including Mukherjee, have come as a result of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. The centre has offered a job to a fifth person, but they haven't yet been able to leave their home country because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Smith calls the diversity of her workforce "a blessing."

Before moving to Canada, Mukherjee spent 17 years living in the United Arab Emirates. It's where she and her husband, Swarup, were raising their two children, daughter Koena, 15, and son Vivan, who is 12. It's mainly for them that the family chose to move to Halifax.

"For better prospects and a bright future for my children," said Antra Mukherjee.


There are currently 2,705 people (applicants and their families) in Nova Scotia as a result of the program, which Ottawa and the provinces are no longer calling a pilot project. Ottawa plans to make it a permanent immigration stream.

There are currently 1,425 companies listed as "designated employers." These are companies eager to hire foreign workers and help them and their families settle in one of the four Atlantic provinces. 

Halifax immigration lawyer Thiago Buchert has helped about a dozen clients come to Nova Scotia since the program was launched in 2017.

"It's more streamlined, so it's just quicker," said Buchert. "It can help employers get permanent residents to come to Canada more quickly than it would be under the nominee streams. That's the biggest advantage. It's a straight line to permanent residency.

"This program has been seen as a kind of a model for several other types of programs across the country."

Buchert's only complaint is that processing time for files has slowed down considerably as a result of the pandemic. For example, he said it took four months for immigration officials to simply acknowledge they had received an application he sent them last fall.

Liz Ingram-Chambers is the owner of Le Bistro by Liz in Halifax. (Submitted by Liz Ingram-Chambers)

Restaurant owner Liz Ingram-Chambers has also been frustrated by delays and what she feels is an inadequate response to questions. The owner of Le Bistro by Liz in Halifax is on the designated employer list but has found the process long and laborious.

"We encountered numerous computer glitches and issues that were just frustrating and endless," said Ingram-Chambers, who lost a Chilean cook, who had been working at the restaurant for 18 months, as a result of the delays. She said he simply quit.

Since the start of the pandemic, the program has shifted focus from bringing in people from other countries to helping immigrants who are already here on temporary work permits to find more permanent jobs.

"I don't know if it's because of COVID or if the program has a lot of glitches in it, but trying to get a work permit or an extended work permit for one of my staff was pretty near impossible," Ingram-Chambers said.

Ingram-Chambers poses for a photo with cook Flavia Vasconcelos and server Heidi Brady. (Submitted by Liz Ingram-Chambers)

Although she is not happy with how that file was processed, she was shocked to learn applications for two other staff members were processed within just two weeks.

A woman from Ireland and another from Brazil learned late Friday afternoon that they will be allowed to apply for permanent residency status under the program.

Ingram-Chambers was at a loss to explain why the process worked so quickly in that instance, but she was happy to learn their future would be more secure now.

"The three people that I'm sponsoring right now, I absolutely love," she said. "And they're all hard workers and appreciative and, you know, really great to work with."

Krista Smith is interim manager of operations at the Dartmouth Child Development Centre. (Erin Organ)

Smith has similar praise for her newcomer staffers at the Dartmouth Child Development Centre. "I feel really confident that we have the best quality people in our centre now," she said.

As for Antra Mukherjee, she's happy her kids are adjusting well to their new lives in Canada.

"I feel we are lucky and blessed enough to be in Nova Scotia," she said. "Looking at the pandemic situation and other things, it's beautiful. It's too good! We are lucky enough to come here." 

She and her husband are anxious to receive their permanent residency status and for Swarup to find a job, but no one in the family is embracing one Nova Scotia tradition this time of year — complaining about the weather.

"Oh, I must say we are enjoying it so far because, you know, our entire life we have lived in 50 degrees, so it's an amazing feeling."