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While attending a church service recently, I had the privilege to witness the welcoming of a refugee family to our community. The church had committed to sponsoring the family of six more than a year ago, when Canada pledged to settle 25,000 refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq. The family had just arrived in the community about a week earlier. The introduction of the family to the congregation was a very moving experience, which saw the parishioners offer the family a warm round of applause.

A large hurdle has been crossed for the refugee family by fleeing the turmoil within their country and immigrating to a new country and community. The integration of the family within the community is the next major hurdle to overcome. Culture, weather and language are only some of the challenges they will face as they establish roots. Offering of a welcoming and supported network for the family to reach out to, is important to ensure a successful integration into the community.

Immigration and in-migration have been identified as important strategies to address the labour needs facing the province. Nova Scotia is home to the oldest population in Canada, where death rates exceed birth rates by a large margin.

Strategies to bring immigrants and/or citizens from other parts of Canada to this province to fill employment vacancies are being used more frequently. Meetings with a number of our chamber members who have employed these strategies to fill their own labour needs, stress the importance of citizens, neighbours and co-workers, demonstrating a welcoming and inviting community.

Naturally, immigrants are drawn to communities with large and rooted populations of citizens from the same country or region of their heritage. Incubating and establishing clusters of immigrant communities in rural Nova Scotia can present some challenges.

Further attracting and retaining families where the mother or father’s education or occupation is the target of employment; ensuring the spouse is happy and welcomed by the community is often raised as a reason for an unsuccessful residency.

Engage Nova Scotia has supported efforts to encourage the welcoming of immigrants to communities by organizing the Share Thanksgiving initiative. Share Thanksgiving sees immigrant families invited to share the Thanksgiving tradition with a Canadian family. The program allows immigrant families to experience a Canadian tradition but also form friendships within the community.

Presenting an open and welcoming community to immigrants and in-migrants is important to the successful settlement of these individuals. The skills, culture and experiences they offer help advance the acceptance, appeal and diversity of a region. The diversification will allow our children to grow up with open and accepting attitudes while further advancing the economies of the area.

Andrew Lake is President of the Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce. He is Project Manager with Will-Kare Paving and Contracting.