Old convent in rural N.S. prepares to welcome 6 refugees

ST. ANDREWS, N.S. -- The old convent in rural St. Andrews, N.S., had been for sale for more than a year when the Sisters of St.

See Full Article

Martha concluded that fate or something more powerful was telling them the big, empty home had a higher purpose.

In September, within a few weeks of Pope Francis urging more parishes to take in Syrian refugees, the nuns had turned their attention to making the house available when a call came from a local group thinking the same thing.

"Maybe it wasn't meant to be sold," says Sister Brendalee Boisvert, the order's congregation leader. "Maybe this was always in the mind and heart of the Holy Spirit -- that we would always have a family enjoy this home that we enjoyed for 87 years."

With the help of the religious order, volunteers with the Tri-Heart Society are now preparing for the arrival of a privately sponsored Syrian family of six who have been living in a camp in Lebanon.

The volunteers have been told the family's 43-year-old father is an electrician and welder, and his 39-year-old wife has secretarial skills. They have three sons -- ages 16, 13 and six -- and an eight-year-old daughter.

Little else is known about the family, except that they speak Arabic and the eldest son speaks some English.

Tri-Heart has raised more than $30,000 for living expenses. As well, the seven-room convent has been cleaned up, stocked with supplies and is accepting donated furniture.

A cozy living room with a flat-screen TV has replaced a small chapel. School supplies sit in neat piles on a small desk in an upper bedroom. And when the call went out last week for a kitchen table and chairs, a donated set showed up the next morning.

While there's no question the nuns and volunteers have the best interests of the refugees at heart, the question remains: is a quiet, rural corner of eastern Nova Scotia an appropriate place to settle a family from a war zone?

Boisvert says she knows there will be challenges.

"They're going to come carrying what it feels like to be displaced, but this community is ready."

Harry Daemen, a retired engineer and chairman of Tri-Heart, says the group has consulted with three local schools to ensure they are ready for their new students. As well, several Arabic-speaking residents have come forward to help, including some professors at St. Francis Xavier University in nearby Antigonish.

And there's more to the community than dairy farms and cornfields, says Daemen.

"On any given Friday night, the community hall is full, the curling rink, too, and the elementary school (next to the convent) is always having a meetings," he says. "It's not a little village that doesn't have things happening."

More importantly, St. Andrews -- population 1,100 -- has a well-earned reputation for welcoming newcomers.

Daemen was a toddler when he and his family first arrived in the area as part of a wave of Dutch immigrants looking for farm land after the Second World War.

"Somebody had to sponsor you for a year," he says, noting a parallel with the Syrian family.

"It is a community that has been welcoming people ever since the first Scots set foot in St. Andrews (in the early 1800s). And that will continue."

MaryAnn Forbes, another member of Tri-Heart and also a Dutch immigrant, recalls how she helped a family of Vietnamese boat people who were resettled near her family's farm in the early 1980s.

The family used only the lower floor of their donated home when they first arrived, she says, adding, "They didn't feel free to use it all until they were told."

Daemen says the residents of St. Andrews are keen to help the Syrian family adapt, but there's more to what is happening at the convent than a simple act of charity.

"The immigration cycles of the past have kept us healthy and renewed," he says."We need an injection of new cultures, people and new thoughts."

Nova Scotia has offered to settle up to 1,500 refugees but it's unclear when they will start arriving. To date, more than 100 groups have raised money, including 51 in Halifax alone



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • An Atlanta cyclist helped apprehend a murder suspect by lending an officer his wheels

    World News CTV News
    A cyclist assisted Atlanta police in the capture of a murder suspect by loaning an officer his bike for the chase. On Tuesday, officers were canvassing an area in the city's Old Fourth Ward where a fatal shooting occurred when they spotted the suspect, according to a news release from the Atlanta Police Department. Source
  • Quebec reports over 100 new COVID-19 cases for the first time in two weeks

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Quebec public health authorities reported 102 new COVID-19 cases Saturday and six more deaths due to the virus. It is the highest number of new daily cases since June 19 when 133 cases were reported. Source
  • Fourth person dies after tractor accident in rural Quebec

    Canada News CBC News
    A fourth person has died following a tractor accident in Quebec earlier this week, provincial police said. One of the two adults who had been in critical condition after the accident died Friday night. Three children, all under the age of five, also died after they fell out of the front bucket of the tractor and were struck on Wednesday. Source
  • China downplays potential new swine flu pandemic

    World News CTV News
    China played down the threat of a new swine flu strain with pandemic potential that researchers discovered in pigs, saying the study is "not representative." The deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which has now infected more than 10 million people worldwide, first emerged in China and is thought to have originated in bats and jumped to humans through an unknown intermediary animal. Source
  • Across Sun Belt, hopes for economy give way to renewed fears

    World News CTV News
    ST. PETERSBURG, FLA -- At the beginning of March, Joey Conicella and Alex Marin were riding high. Their new Orlando restaurant, Hungry Pants, had drawn rave reviews. With revenue rising, they planned to hire more servers. Source
  • Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, Amnesty, sex worker advocates say

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada's sex work laws are creating undue harm and contribute to human rights violations during COVID-19, sex workers and human rights advocates say, which is why they're now pushing Ottawa to stop enforcing them. Amnesty International Canada has joined a number of rights and sex work advocates in a lobby effort asking federal Justice Minister David Lametti for a moratorium on prostitution laws. Source
  • As monuments fall, Confederate carving has size on its side

    World News CTV News
    STONE MOUNTAIN, GA. -- Some statues of figures from America's slave-owning past have been yanked down by protesters, others dismantled by order of governors or city leaders. But the largest Confederate monument ever crafted -- colossal figures carved into the solid rock of a Georgia mountainside -- may outlast them all. Source
  • As much of U.S. dials back July 4 plans, Trump plans to go big

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- As coronavirus cases spike, public health officials are pleading with Americans to avoid large crowds and hold more muted Independence Day celebrations, but subdued is not President Donald Trump's style, and he aimed to go big, promising a "special evening" in Washington that could bring tens of thousands to the National Mall. Source
  • As much of U.S. dials back on July 4, Trump goes big

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- As coronavirus cases spike, public health officials are pleading with Americans to avoid large crowds and hold more muted Independence Day celebrations, but subdued is not U.S. President Donald Trump's style, and he aimed to go big, promising a "special evening" in Washington that could bring tens of thousands to the National Mall. Source
  • U.S. marks Fourth of July with COVID-19 restrictions in place, while England reopens pubs

    World News CBC News
    The latest:England's pubs, restaurants and hair salons reopen as lockdown eases further.U.K. scraps quarantine for arrivals from about 60 countries, excluding Canada, U.S.With cases spiking across the U.S., there's concern Fourth of July parties will help spread coronavirus.Atlantic bubble opens, allowing travellers from within the four provinces to cross borders. Source