Rural community welcomes arrival of 13 Togo families

·3 min read
Tado Ahoga, Yawo Mensah, Djamillatou Abassa and Aboudel-Kahr Adam arrived in Edmundston this weekend, where they will quarantine before heading to Haut-Madawaska with their families. (Submitted - image credit)
Tado Ahoga, Yawo Mensah, Djamillatou Abassa and Aboudel-Kahr Adam arrived in Edmundston this weekend, where they will quarantine before heading to Haut-Madawaska with their families. (Submitted - image credit)

Haut-Madawaska's newest families have arrived after a long journey from Togo.

The rural community in northwestern New Brunswick welcomed 43 new residents from the west African nation this weekend.

The newcomers stepped off a plane in Moncton late Saturday night, before travelling by bus to an Edmundston hotel. After two weeks in self-isolation, they'll begin moving into their new apartments.

Mayor Jean-Pierre Ouellet said the aging community is excited to welcome the 13 families and help them settle in. He's briefly spoken to some of the new families over the phone.

"They're a little bit stressed but they're very happy to move to our area," he said. "For them it's a real challenge and they're ready to accept that challenge."

Ouellet said the newcomers were recruited to work at one of the region's largest employers, the Nadeau Poultry Farm Ltd. The company travelled to Togo to find and interview prospective employees before the start of the pandemic.

The rural community — with a declining population of about 3,700 — has seen more than 100 newcomers arrive in the past two years. It's located about 20 kilometres southwest of Edmundston.

More jobs than people

Haut-Madawaska's declining population has created challenges for large employers in the area.

The area is home to three poultry processing companies, a buckwheat flour plant, and several facilities that manufacture cedar shingles and other wood products. Saint-François-de-Madawaska, one of the villages within the municipality, is referred to as the province's "chicken capital."

Jean-Pierre Ouellet is the mayor of Haut-Madawaska, a rural community in northwestern New Brunswick.
Jean-Pierre Ouellet is the mayor of Haut-Madawaska, a rural community in northwestern New Brunswick.(Bernard LeBel/Radio-Canada)

Ouellet said young people are leaving to study or find different employment opportunities, then parents follow to be closer to their children.

"We have more jobs available than we have people available to fill those jobs," he said.

The City of Edmundston and Haut-Madawaska were chosen by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for a three-year pilot project. The region is trying to develop a model for integration and retention for minority francophone communities.

A representative for Nadeau Poultry travelled to Togo before the start of the pandemic to recruit employees.
A representative for Nadeau Poultry travelled to Togo before the start of the pandemic to recruit employees. (Bernard LeBel/Radio-Canada)

"They want to make sure that by recruiting young families that this population growth helps to keep our school open," Ouellet said. "And it will ensure the sustainability of our community."

Nadeau Poultry, where some of the Togo newcomers were hired, has about 300 employees. The plant has up to 30 newcomers.

A focus on families

Haut-Madawska's goal is to improve newcomer retention.

Ouellet said many immigrants have come to work for the companies in the region in the past and decided to leave for larger Canadian cities after a few years.

But they were mostly hiring single people.

Newcomers each brought two suitcases with them. So the community rallied together and collected household goods to help families start their new lives.
Newcomers each brought two suitcases with them. So the community rallied together and collected household goods to help families start their new lives.(Submitted by Jean-Pierre Ouellet)

Now, recruitment efforts are targeting families.

"When the children will be in school, when they have friends, when they have a role to play in the community, it will be harder for the families … to go live in Quebec, Montreal, Toronto," Ouellet said.

The families were supposed to arrive in Canada about six months ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic postponed their resettlement.

Residents gathering donations

Newcomers could only bring two suitcases on their more than 7,000 km journey between continents. So the town stepped in to help.

Donations for the newcomers' apartments quickly filled the basement of a local church. Hundreds of items now await the newest residents of Haut-Madawaska once they begin moving into their apartments.

"We have no more place to stock them," he said. "The community's contribution was just incredible."

The mayor said people in the community are accepting of the change.

"It just brings another point of view and it brings a cultural diversity in our area," he said.