Welcome baskets help build community in eastern P.E.I.

Organizations and businesses in the Souris area are handing out welcome baskets to newcomers.

Businesses and groups donate gifts, provide information to help make newcomers feel welcome

Manager of the Souris Co-op has included a gift card in the baskets. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Brandon Canning and his family had recently moved to the Souris area from Vancouver Island when he was pleasantly surprised to get a knock on his door.

He was receiving a basket of gifts.

"Oh good grief," Canning said. "I've moved a few places in my time and I've never had someone come to the door with a welcome basket."

The welcome basket is an initiative of the company Eastern Media and a collection of businesses and organizations called the Eastern PEI Network as a way to build a sense of community.

The basket is a small replica of a lobster trap built by clients at the Harbourview Training Centre in Souris. Each basket is filled with gift cards, handmade products like mittens and pickles, and a subscription to the Eastern Graphic. It also includes brochures and information about the surrounding area and organizations such as Girl Guides, 4H and TCAP.

Several municipalities, including Montague and Cardigan, have supported the project.

The welcome baskets come in the shape of a lobster trap and are built by clients at the Harbourview Training Centre in Souris. (Karen Mair/CBC)

One of the gift cards is donated by the Souris Co-op. Manager David Fraser said the baskets are another way to make new people welcome, like the hitching post he had installed at the store for an Amish family.

"This is also a way to encourage local shopping and the local economy as we do lose a lot of business to larger centres, so it's important," he said.

Library cards

Grace Dawson, the regional librarian with the P.E.I. Public Library Service, puts library cards in the welcome basket. She sees the welcome baskets as an ice breaker. 

""The truth is, the only way we can succeed is to build partnerships and a sense of community," Dawson said. "Regardless if you're a retail business, or a social service like we are, we're all trying to build thriving, resilient communities."

Brandon Canning gets a tour of the Souris Public Library from regional librarian Grace Dawson, after receiving a library card in his welcome basket. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Wallace Rose of Eastern Media said the baskets are a small gesture from communities across P.E.I. who may struggle to attract and keep newcomers.

We're all trying to build thriving, resilient communities.— Librarian Grace Dawson

"We didn't sit down and say, 'Let's design this to retain people,' we just wanted to welcome people to this area," he said. "We have so many assets and so much to offer. We just thought it would be a nice way to say welcome."

A large frame in his office shows pictures of many of the people who have received baskets. The group handed out 38 on 2017.

Different than big cities

"They've come from all over the world — Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S., all across Canada and one Asian family," Rose said.

The Cannings are one of those families.

A large frame in the Eastern Media office displays photos of newcomer families to the area. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Brandon Canning says he's enjoying the hot sauce from Maritime Madness that came in the basket, and his sons scooped up the handmade mittens. He and his wife are planning to open a business and are finding all the pamphlets and information helpful. And if he has a question about how things work in Souris or P.E.I., he knows he can reach out to any of the people he's met through the welcome basket program.   

It's different than in big cities like Vancouver, he said.

"Here there's a sense of community, you feel like you have someone in your corner, you have a chance to chase a dream." 


Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.