P.E.I. is experiencing a demographic and cultural shift, experts say
Population aging, new communities arriving while Islanders outmigrating
It's clear P.E.I. is currently experiencing a demographic and cultural shift, and that's not unusual for island communities, say population change experts.
The population is aging while more Islanders are leaving to find work, said Jim Randall, chair of the Island Studies program at the University of Prince Edward Island.
"What we often see, for example on Pacific islands, is when there's a mismatch between opportunity and the supply of labour, then you find people will go offshore either temporarily or permanently," said Randall, one of the featured speakers at a symposium on island migration and population issues at UPEI Thursday.
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But despite the trend, P.E.I.'s population has increased in the last few years mainly due to international immigration.
And now a new community is coming to the Island — 13 Amish families from southern Ontario will arrive in the spring.
Tony Wallbank, who has helped to bring the families to the Island, said it will help build the already booming tourism sector.
"There's a multi-million-dollar industry in all of the states and provinces that have the Amish, and so it's going to be good to the economy all around," he said.
Integration is key
Randall said the key to keeping the Amish families and other newcomers on the Island is making them feel welcome and helping them adapt.
"I think our society will be better in the next, say five years, 10 years, 15 years, because the people who are coming now, not only will they be integrated into society, but we'll be integrated into their society as well," said Randall.
Katie Mazer, a University of Toronto researcher who examines migration from the Maritimes to Canada's resource sectors out west, said the number of workers leaving is much higher in P.E.I. than other provinces.
In 2008, P.E.I.'s outmigration was three per cent compared to the national average, which was well below one per cent, said Mazer.
But most of those workers would come home if job opportunities at home were better, she said.
Many workers have told her they would prefer to stay with their families if they could make even half of what they earn out West.
"That's not the case for everybody, but that's a line that I heard again and again and I think that's really important to take that seriously."