Only 20 years after the Confederation Bridge allowed people to drive to Prince Edward Island, the appearance of PEI society is changing.
Immigration to Canada’s smallest province is on the rise, most come from the world’s most populous country — China.
According to the PEI government, the province has attracted 2,776 immigrants in the past three years, with Chinese expatriates now forming two per cent of the Island’s population.
“For myself, the longer we live here, the more we like it,” said Jie Hu, PEI’s first Chinese real estate broker.
Selling homes to other Chinese immigrants is what keeps Hu’s business booming.
“In the past 7 years, we have served more than 200 families,” she said.
Roland Liu moved to PEI with his wife, 4 years ago, to open a travel agency.
“I have 2 daughters here, and one was born here, so I have an Islander here, you know?” said Liu, moments after showing prospective buyer Yongxin Li around the Charlottetown property he currently rents out.
Li moved to the province in April, to retire.
Speaking Mandarin through a translator, Li says people have been kind and helpful, easing his culture shock.
All part of a plan
The influx is the result of a government program targeting immigrants with business skills, willing to invest money in PEI’s economy.
It’s providing valuable business for the construction industry.
Contractor Wayne Dalziel has been busy renovating homes.
He says spending several years working in another Asian country, Japan, helps him relate to his new employers.
“If you can get into a niche, where you’re working with these people, it’s absolutely wonderful,” said Dalziel.
As a single entity, Chinese newcomers are the Island’s third largest community. But, they don’t want to be considered a community unto themselves.
“This is an English language summer camp, from the local people,” said Ally Guo, as she shows brochures in the community centre she manages with her husband, Ricky.
Among other things, Guo hopes to save others from embarrassing transitions like she had. Guo failed her PEI drivers’ tests after forgetting the Canadian rules of the road.
“We don’t stop before the red light. We are able to turn. But here, if you see a red light, you have to stop.”
Importing a little piece of home
Chinese immigrant are also importing some of their own customs to Canada’s smallest province.
In Stratford, a new training centre for table tennis hums with activity. At one table an experienced female player shows youth the finer points of one of China’s most popular sports.
Growing foreign ownership in some parts of Canada has been blamed for driving up real estate prices and making homes unaffordable for others. But, on PEI, there are long-standing safeguards, aimed at limiting sales to non-Islanders.
“Your property taxes are higher than if you were a permanent resident,” said Mary Jane Webster, President of the PEI Real Estate Association.
Webster suggests a more pressing concern is keeping the new neighbours on the Island.
“Some of the newcomers will come, meet the requirements of the program, and, maybe look at another part of the country. Many come from large cities and they miss that part of it,” said Webster. “So, we see a lot of them moving onto Toronto, or, Vancouver, or, Montreal, a larger centre.”
Liu says he plans to stay put.
“I think I live here for a long time. Yeah, I like here,” he said.