A Few Findings from the Pathways to Prosperity Annual Conference, Part 2

In these two blog posts, I relay some research presented at the Pathways to Prosperity 2015 National Conference. Here I focus on a presentation in the workshop “Immigration to Northern, Rural and Remote Communities” (NRRCs).

ThunderBay Multiculural Association logo


Immigration to Northern, Rural And Remote Communities

Cathy Woodbeck, Executive Director of Thunder Bay Multicultural Association (TBMA), presented “Migration and Integration of Refugees: Thunder Bay’s Success Story” (Download Presentation).

TBMA has thrived in the face of many challenges, and Woodbeck relayed some aspects of the organization’s success. Thunder Bay is a regional population centre in northern Ontario where people are spread across large distances and many live in remote communities.

For example, the Local Immigration Partnership is made up of 36 municipalities and a variety of partners within those 36 communities in addition to the 36 mayors and councils! Face to face meetings can be challenging to arrange, so there is a heavy emphasis on technology, including use of Webex, discussion boards, Google docs, and Dropbox for document sharing. TBMA has a toll free telephone number and website. Staff also frequently use Face Time and Skype as part of service provision. A satellite office in Kenora serves the western part of TBMA’s catchment area.

Some advantages of living in small community include that everyone knows each other. When you need something done, you know who can get it done and how to reach them. According to Woodbeck, residents of Thunder Bay compensate for being remote by being welcoming.

Thunder Bay is experiencing secondary migration INTO the community. Most of these immigrants came for jobs in the area. Some came to join up with existing immigrant communities such as the Karen people whose population continues to grow. (The Karen largely arrived in Canada as refugees from the Thailand-Burmese border area.) They are a tight-knit community with their own Baptist Church, language school, and other amenities.

TBMA worked with The Community Economic Development Corporation on business succession planning, with the idea that immigrants could apprentice and then purchase local businesses who owners wanted to sell or retire.

Other programs runs by the TBMA include working with Rotary International volunteers who act as “connectors” for newcomers and an Enterprising Women’s group. A young professionals group called SHIFT helps newcomers find work locally. Working through newcomersuccess.ca, TBMA offers some pre-arrival services.

Local Innovation: Health Passport

TBMA settlement DSC00480


An example of a unique and successful local partnership is embodied in the “health passport.” The passport is a single document that newcomers carry to all medical appointments. It lists their contact information, emergency contacts, allergies and medications, medical conditions, immunization history, health care providers, and more.  The Local Advisory Group state,


“Passport owners use it as a handy reference tool and can update it as necessary. It is particularly helpful for persons who lack communication skills in an official language and who are not familiar with our healthcare system.”

This idea arose from an advisory group formed between TBMA, medical clinics, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, refugee groups, dentists, health unit and Local Health Integration Network. The initiative was driven by medical students who sought feedback from refugees and sponsorship groups along the way. The passport is available for use in other communities.

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

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