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

  • 100 days in power, Myanmar junta holds pretense of control

    World News CTV News
    BANGKOK -- After Myanmar's military seized power by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, it couldn't even make the trains run on time. State railway workers were among the earliest organized opponents of the February takeover, and they went on strike. Source
  • Queen's speech to unveil U.K. PM Boris Johnson's post-coronavirus plan

    World News CTV News
    LONDON -- The British government plans to expand student loan programs to give all adults access to four years of university or job training throughout their lifetimes as part of a legislative program designed to help the U.K. Source
  • Russian officials say 8 killed, 21 wounded in school shooting in Kazan

    World News CBC News
    A gunman attacked a school Tuesday morning in the Russian city of Kazan, killing eight people — seven students and a teacher — and leaving 21 other people hospitalized with wounds, Russian officials said. Rustam Minnikhanov, governor of the Tatarstan republic where Kazan is the capital, said Tuesday that four male and three female eighth-grade students have died in the shooting. Source
  • School shooting in Russia leaves 8 dead, 21 wounded, officials say

    World News CBC News
    A gunman attacked a school Tuesday morning in the Russian city of Kazan, killing eight people — seven students and a teacher — and leaving 21 other people hospitalized with wounds, Russian officials said. Rustam Minnikhanov, governor of the Tatarstan republic where Kazan is the capital, said Tuesday that four male and three female eighth-grade students have died in the shooting. Source
  • School shooting in Kazan kills 8 people: Russian officials

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- A gunman attacked a school Tuesday morning in the Russian city of Kazan, killing eight people -- seven students and a teacher -- and leaving 21 other people hospitalized with wounds, Russian officials said. Source
  • Russian school shooting in Kazan kills 7 students, 1 teacher

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- A gunman attacked a school Tuesday morning in the Russian city of Kazan, killing eight people -- seven eighth-grade students and a teacher -- and leaving 21 others hospitalized with wounds, Russian officials said. Source
  • U.S. border guards regularly engage in racial profiling, 3 Black officers allege in lawsuit

    World News CBC News
    Allegations of racial profiling at the U.S. border are nothing new: A number of reported incidents have made headlines, including last year's flood of detentions of Iranian-born travellers. What's more unusual is how those allegations are now coming from inside the agency that oversees the U.S. Source
  • What Canada can learn from U.S., U.K. about COVID-19 vaccinations and reopening

    World News CBC News
    For a few brief weeks in February and March, Nancy Olaoye envied her friends in Canada. The 30-year-old, who moved from Toronto to London in 2017, was still living under a strict lockdown in the U.K. Source
  • Mix and match: Canadian officials watching the data on alternating COVID-19 vaccines

    Canada News CBC News
    As some experts continue to warn of very rare side effects associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, Canadian health officials are now reviewing the research on mixing various COVID-19 shots. A study of a "mismatched" vaccine regimen is underway in the U.K. Source
  • 'I got bear-maced in the face,' Ottawa mom says of newborn's brief abduction

    Canada News CBC News
    A brazen, brief abduction on Mother's Day of an infant boy and his subsequent rescue by neighbours began after the child's mother was offered a free gift basket from someone she met on Facebook. Melissa Armstrong, 31, says she connected with a woman on a Facebook page about free giveaways for moms in the Ottawa area, and met her on Friday when she dropped off free clothing for her newborn son. Source