Irish immigrant says boom or bust, Sask. is home now

Gerard Burke says he was wary about moving to Saskatchewan and leaving the Celtic Tiger behind 10 years ago. He's stayed in the province, through boom and bust.

Business owner Gerard Burke came to Sask. through the province's skilled workers program 10 years ago

Gerard Burke immigrated to the province through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program. He went on to start CFN Construction Limited alongside Damien Collevy, another Irish immigrant, in Saskatoon. (Government of Saskatchewan)

Everyone, they say, is a little Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

But that's more true for Saskatoon's Gerard Burke than most.

The business owner left the Celtic Tiger behind and came to Saskatchewan nearly a decade ago. It was a period of rapid economic growth in Ireland, spurred on by foreign investment. 

"We were a little wary of having left that behind and moving to Saskatchewan," Burke said.

He came to Saskatchewan through the province's skilled workers program along with his wife, who grew up in Saskatoon, according to a profile of Burke on the Government of Saskatchewan's website.

He went on to start CFN Construction Limited from scratch alongside Damien Collevy, another Irish immigrant, in Saskatoon.

When Burke and his family arrived, things were looking promising in the province.

"We came just when it was starting to boom," he said.

"Everything was going well — agriculture was going well, mining was going well, oil was going well. So you knew all them facets couldn't sustain themselves."

But eventually, the economy turned and the boom became a bust.

Lessons learned

Burke has learned construction does slow down but it never stops entirely.

"We knew coming in that if we worked hard enough and created a good product for people, no matter what kind of a climate you're in, if you do good work you'll always have work."

Gerard Burke, left, came to Saskatchewan just two months shy of a decade ago. (Submitted)
He said some people figure they need to grow a business faster in boom times, but that can be risky.

He's seen it happen personally, and also when his brother-in-law got "burned pretty badly."

"As boring as it sounds, it's always better to walk before you can run," he said.

Furthermore, he said people should take care of other people, because it's often relationships that can get people through downturns.

Upon reflection, he feels a sense of achievement when he thinks of the people he's met and the business he built.

For Burke, the latest challenge has been changes to the provincial sales tax, which was hiked from five to six per cent last year.

"The PST coming in in the last year has slowed things down a little bit, and I suppose the market correcting itself," he said. But work appears to be picking up again.

"Like everything, it's a cycle."

'I can't complain'

For now, Saskatchewan has become home to Burke.

He and his wife weren't certain about where in Canada they would settle when they came here, and considered other cities such as Kelowna, B.C.

While they still go back to Ireland at least once a year, they've decided to make Saskatoon home and have since had a third child, born Canadian.

He's even learned to embrace the province's often inclement weather.

"When somebody says you can smell rain — even though I came from a country that rains a lot — when I moved here first, that's the first time I actually smelled rain."

There are also extreme winter temperatures to contend with, but Burke takes that in stride, saying he thoroughly enjoys the variation in Canada's seasons.

"An Irish person doesn't see much sunshine, so I can't complain too much."