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

  • Man charged in toddler's 2014 death linked to snake venom

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER - A 51-year-old man has been arrested in the 2014 death of a two-year-old girl and North Vancouver Mounties say it's believe she was poisoned by snake venom. Police say Henry Thomas had the girl in his care on May 18, 2014, and returned her to her mother that day in North Vancouver. Source
  • 7 shot to death at home in Mexican resort city of Cancun

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY - Authorities say three gunmen have shot to death seven people at a house in the Mexican resort city of Cancun, in an apparent dispute between street-level drug dealers. Cancun is located in the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo. Source
  • B.C. man who left moose to suffer before death is convicted, fined in court

    Canada News CTV News
    VICTORIA -- A man who illegally shot a moose in British Columbia's southern Interior has been fined $10,000 after leaving the animal to suffer before it died. The B.C. Conservation Officer Service says it began an investigation in November 2017 after the man from Surrey, B.C. Source
  • Premier says no changes to Quebec gun registry despite call for better screening

    Canada News CTV News
    QUEBEC - The head of the Quebec City mosque where six men were killed in a shooting almost two years ago wants the province to tighten up controls over who has access to firearms. In a letter to Premier Francois Legault, Boufeldja Benabdallah identifies a weakness when it comes to verifying people who have mental health problems. Source
  • Man who killed Const. Sarah Beckett gets partial parole for rehab treatment

    Canada News CTV News
    ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - A drunk driver who killed RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett in a crash has been granted limited day parole to attend alcohol abuse treatment. Kenneth Fenton was handed a five-year, six-month prison sentence in July 2017 and his first parole hearing was held today at a medium-security prison in Abbotsford, B.C. Source
  • Expect more extreme hurricanes on the East Coast due to faster ice melts in Greenland, study says

    World News CBC News
    Ice is melting in an unexpected region of Greenland at a rate that is unprecedented in the past century, according to a study published Monday, which could lead to rising sea levels and increasingly wild weather on the East Coast. Source
  • European Union sanctions heads of Russian intelligence for poisoning former spy and daughter

    World News CBC News
    The European Union has sanctioned the heads of Russia's military intelligence and two of their officers for poisoning a former Russian double agent in Britain last year, a decision Moscow dismissed as groundless. The EU travel bans and asset freezes issued Monday are against two men Britain has named as Russia intelligence officers Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and accused of attempting to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Source
  • Russia brandishes new superweapons as U.S. threatens to scrap nuclear treaty

    World News CBC News
    Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday. Source
  • Man accused of throwing trailer hitch at woman in Thunder Bay, Ont., to stand trial for 2nd degree murder

    Canada News CBC News
    A Thunder Bay, Ont., man will stand trial for second degree murder in the death of an Indigenous woman who was hit by a trailer hitch in January 2017. Brayden Bushby was initially charged with aggravated assault, accused of throwing a metal trailer hitch from a moving vehicle which struck 34-year-old Barbara Kentner. Source
  • Death toll in Mexico pipeline fire reaches 89

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY -- The death toll in a massive fire at an illegally tapped pipeline in Mexico rose to 89 Monday as more of the injured have died at hospitals. Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer said 51 victims severely burned in the fire were still in hospitals, two of them in Galveston, Texas. Source