Immigrants keep Red Lake booming
Northwestern Ontario mining town's unemployment rate is nearly zero
A community founded on immigration is once again attracting new residents from around the world.
Almost a century after miners from around the world rushed to Red Lake to work in its booming gold mines, the community still needs workers to keep its economy going.
"Immigration was really extremely significant because had we not had immigrants coming to work in the area, the mining would actually not be here,” said Michelle Alderton, who works at the Red Lake Heritage Centre. “We would not have an economy."
Today, Red Lake welcomes people like Gabriela Jiminez. She came from Mexico with her husband, who found work at a mine. Jiminez said her family is comfortably settled in.
"My husband is now getting all those toys that the people like to have here,” she said.
“And, I think that's enough for us for summertime. [We] just go outside and do whatever."
Jiminez said she is proud to be part of a growing number of immigrants moving into Red Lake, a town of 5,000 people.
Later this fall, she'll help Red Lake grow even more, when she and her husband have their first child.
Attracting and keeping newcomers
Alderton said all newcomers must be made to feel welcome.
"[It’s] so much easier if we can retain these people, and make them part of the community,” she said.
The heritage centre holds events to introduce immigrants to the services and recreation opportunities offered in Red Lake. Alderton said she expects immigrants will continue to move to Red Lake for work, as its economy continues to boom. Red Lake has been home to immigrants since the 1920s.
"There were some Italian people that came, Finnish people, but not so many people from the eastern European countries,” Alderton said.
“And then, after the Second World War, that's when the discoveries of the Campbell mine and the Dickenson mine in Balmertown were made. That’s when a lot of people started to come here, and they were recruited.”
One of Alderton's largest projects is documenting the people who moved to the area decades ago.
She points to people like the Metzner's, who live in the nearby hamlet of Madsen.
Anne-Marie and Hans Metzner have lived there since 1956, after immigrating from Germany.
"It was alright. Don't forget we couldn't speak English. All we knew were yes and no,” Anne Marie Metzner said.
“There was no television, and there was no radio reception. It was quite the adventure."
She explained that, after the Second World War, she and her husband had to move somewhere.
"And I looked at the possibilities for jobs, and I liked the name Madsen,” she said.
"What could I say, I had to follow. It was still an improvement. In Germany we had two rooms, and I had to get water from the basement. Then, when we came here, Madsen was very up to date. They had indoor plumbing and everything else. Red Lake still had the outhouses."
Today, the number of jobs in Red Lake has outgrown the local population. The unemployment rate is almost zero, and one can walk into almost any business and find a job.
Help wanted signs are all over town.
Some companies are so desperate for workers that they bring them in from other countries.
The owner of the local Tim Hortons said he can't attract employees — even when he pays more than minimum wage.
"I have 10 people from the Philippines that I had to import because I couldn't staff enough people,” said Ron Parks.
This is the first in a three-part series on the community of Red Lake. On Tuesday, CBC News will feature a story on the bustling economy in the community, and the challenges it brings