Saskia Geerts thinks smart immigrants should give Digby a second look.
Geerts, from the Netherlands, and her Canadian partner moved to Digby in 2007 and opened the Digby Backpackers Inn on Queen Street in 2008.
“Our area offers an opportunity for immigrants from many places to become self-sufficient in a beautiful, peaceful, quiet and safe place to raise a family,” she said. “As being from the Netherlands and a small business owner myself, I know I would never have had the same opportunity in the Netherlands, or even many other places in Canada.”
Geerts made those comments in response to a list circulating on Facebook that puts Digby, Clare and Yarmouth on a list of the worst ten towns in Canada for immigrants.
Immigroup, an immigration consulting firm based in Toronto that helps people apply to come to Canada, posted a list last August called “Dying Towns: 10 Towns in Canada that Smart Immigrants Avoid”.
Geerts laughs at the title.
“I must be pretty dumb then for taking an opportunity to start my dream business in a beautiful area within a community that offers such a welcoming, friendly and open atmosphere,” she said.
Yarmouth is number eight on the list, Digby number six and Clare is number three.
The list appears to be based on StatsCan data – for Digby and Yarmouth the unemployment rates of 13 and 12.5 per cent are the main reasons for avoiding the towns, but for Clare they also mention that the average wage fell by 7.5 per cent.
Immigroup describes Digby as “a pleasant little town in southwest Nova Scotia which is a significant tourist destination for those from nearby Halifax and Saint John.”
“The problem is that Digby, aside from losing people 6.5 per cent of its population from 2006 to 2011, has a pretty high unemployment rate; nearly 13 per cent. So whereas it might be a nice place to visit if you're out that way examining historic Acadia, you likely don't want to stay there.”
But Geerts says the employment rate isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing a home.
“Not everybody that moves here would be looking for a regular job,” she said. “There are those who would start their own small business and become self-sufficient, or those that would move here to retire. The house and land prices are such that it is not expensive to live here, compared to many other places in the world.”
She says the area is perfect for an entrepreneur like herself.
“It is a fact though that many immigrants are entrepreneurs,” she said. “And, guess what, we have everything in our area that this group of immigrants would like to see: a skilled workforce, low land and house prices, good connections to the world (high speed internet, deep ocean port at Halifax, same day connection to Boston), safe community, and a beautiful place to be.”
Digby’s mayor says people who want to pick a place to live should visit.
“If I was looking for a new place to live, I’d visit,” said Ben Cleveland. “People who visit the area see what it has to offer. A recent study here found we have attracted immigrants from over 20 different cultures. We have people from Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, families from Asia and the Middle East, people who love it here.”
Cleveland hopes people won’t put much faith in a list generated based solely on numbers.
“Shouldn’t [the authors of the list] visit the various regions of the country, or at the very least speak to people from the communities, both long term residents, or new members of our community who have choose our region to live, work and raise their families?” he asked after looking at the website.
The mayor says Immigroup’s information about the Yarmouth ferry is out of date, not to mention the StatsCan data the whole list is based on.
“We’ve seen an increase in fisheries jobs,” he said, “We have a fish plant in Meteghan looking for employees—they’re looking to bring people in because they can’t find employees here.”
And the mayor says more jobs are coming.
“There is opportunity here,” he said. “And the future opportunities as tidal energy takes off, will rival the rest of the country.”
[Tidal power firms promote local economic impact, March 28, 2014]
The mayor said beyond the friendly people and beautiful scenery, Digby has a lot to offer.
“I think were progressive and willing to take on new challenges and new opportunities—just look at what we’re doing with tidal power,” he said. “It’s a myth that we say no to opportunity here. I’ve been on council for a decade and we’ve always worked with everyone who has come knocking, and we’ve gone knocking asking people to come.”
The warden of the Municipality of the District of Digby, currently in British Columbia on a solid waste and recycling conference, told the Courier by phone she brags about her home wherever she goes.
She said Digby has a lot to offer including the friendliness, beautiful scenery, low crime rate and high speed internet that connects workers to the world.
“I push Digby and Nova Scotia because I believe we are one of the better provinces to live in,” she said. “Yes we have an older population but that means there are opportunities for young people here.
“In our area, you can be busy and you can be useful,” she said, “You can sit on volunteer boards, the health foundation, you can be a fireman, our Lions Club has won international awards for the work they do.
“There’s lots to do for anyone who wants to be busy and involved.”
She too thinks more jobs will come with tidal energy and green energy in general.
“We are looking at our port and working with industrial commission to see just how we need to expand for tidal energy,” she said. “That’s going to be jobs, so we do have a future. And not just tidal, but green energy is the way to go.”