Easing the transition: Paula Shields knows well the ups and downs of immigrating to Canada.

Community building in the Shuswap

Like many residents, Paula Shields’ journey to Salmon Arm took her on a long and winding road

Like many residents, Paula Shields’ journey to Salmon Arm took her on a long and winding road, one she is happy she made.

Her journey began in Jamaica, in a rural farming community, where reading was a huge part of her growing up. In particular, she devoured articles about the world in National Geographic. Her favourite subjects in school were history and geography.

Then came university.

“By the time I got there, I already knew I wouldn’t limit myself to live in the same country my whole life,” she smiles.

After university she worked for an airline, where she was able to travel. She liked Toronto and decided to move there. However, it didn’t turn out as she had envisioned.

“In deciding to move to Canada, I was so excited at the prospect of going to someplace new, I never really sat around thinking about the road blocks and challenges I would face and how I would get over them…,” she says, adding that enthusiasm is common for those coming from other countries. “And I think that’s what drives most immigrants. I was a hard worker, resilient, enthusiastic and I moved to Toronto and I couldn’t get a job.”

Her lack of Canadian experience was often given as a reason.

“Suddenly, everything you’ve worked for has been stripped away because you’re starting from the very bottom,” Shields remembers.

However, she did see a position advertised in the small community of Dorset, Ont., five hours away. Perhaps the employer was as desperate to find someone to work in an isolated place as she was to find a job, she laughs. She was hired.

The people she worked for were wonderful and welcoming, although some in the tiny community were not.

“Here I was the only black person – it wasn’t a bad thing for me but other people would look at me and said things under their breath or had assumptions about me. Perhaps they thought I wasn’t educated or not smart, based on not knowing me, or not having met me, or things they had in their head.”

She eventually returned to Toronto, working on contract for the Attorney-General and then getting a job with a software company, as well as going to college at night.

“I felt more or less at home, had a stable job and one which I enjoyed.”

Finding a place to live was tough.

“You get on the phone, speak to the landlord and try to disguise your accent. When looking for housing, it’s better to sound as Canadian as ever.”

When Shields arrived at one place, the landlord wouldn’t allow her to view it. It was a painful experience, one which also left her angry.

“I was surprised – I spoke to this person (on the phone) half an hour before, and half an hour later they were unwilling to show me the place.”

Shields later visited Vancouver, where she fell in love with Stanley Park, and loved being near the ocean again. When a position came up in Burnaby with the company she was working for, she jumped at it.

Once there she also began volunteering with the city’s Citizen Support Services, shopping for housebound seniors. That was 2007 and Shields is still volunteering with some of the same seniors, gathering the grocery lists by phone each week and sending them to volunteer shoppers in Burnaby.

Shields and her spouse, who she met in 2008, came to Salmon Arm when his family-owned business, which provides parts for manufacturing, decided to open a branch here.

Since then, Shields has volunteered with Okanagan College teaching English and tutoring math, as well as coordinating volunteers for Shuswap Theatre. She is vice-president of the Shuswap Settlement Services Society, using her years of experience to build bridges between newcomers and people who have lived here for generations.

“I wish when I’d moved to Toronto there was such a place offering to help immigrants settle into the country,” she muses.

With her farming background, Shields loves Salmon Arm.

“The gains are really great, I love the outdoors, I love living in a small place, I feel I can contribute a little bit more than living in Vancouver.”

She says the only negative thing is she hasn’t been able to find paid work.

“The other little things, I deal with them in my own way, I don’t let them dampen my spirit,” she says, noting for instance that people will sometimes grill her on what she’s doing here, why she left Jamaica.

“Sometimes I think people who have never experienced racism don’t fully understand how powerful it is and how negative it is. It damages the community. Sometimes people think they’re being protective and have their own justification. There isn’t any justification for excluding people or treating people badly.”

Shields is quick to add she doesn’t feel negative about Salmon Arm. She tells her story to help explain that newcomers to Canada have resilience and courage, want to be welcomed and to participate fully. They also help keep the economy going.

“It’s beneficial if more people move here and help the community to grow.”

To learn more about services for new immigrants, or to become part of a Community Conversation about Salmon Arm that’s open to all, go to the Shuswap Settlement Services website or phone 250-804-2726.

 

Just Posted

Shuswap’s Rust Valley Restorers team rolling onto Netflix

Mike and Connor Hall, Avery Shoaf see television show picked up by streaming service

Canada geese in the Shuswap: Beautiful milfoil eaters or poopy pests?

Numbers of geese increasing in the Shuswap to the joy of some people and dismay of others

Salmon Arm’s Sebastien Archambault joins Humboldt Broncos

Defenceman played last two seasons with Junior B Sicamous Eagles

Shuswap artists invited to bring the noise

Sound machine exhibit planned for Salmon Arm Art Gallery in 2020

Sister Speak comes home to Okanagan on world tour

Shosws in Kelowna, Vernon and Revelstoke

UBC Okanagan, Lake Country joint community pool not a reality

Lake Country residents want a community pool, survey shows

Hell’s Angel prospect back in custody after being charged with assault

The 30-year-old man now faces several additional charges

New South Okanagan winery will open its doors soon

Phantom Creek Estates announced its new CEO and winemaker, and completed first phase of construction

B.C. man tells judge he attempted suicide a month before daughters’ murders

Andrew Berry takes stand in his defense for December 2017 deaths of young daughters

‘Plenty of time for a deal’: Teachers’ union expects kids back in school on Sept. 3

BCTF says class size, composition at the heart of the issue

Okanagan Rail Ride gathering steam ahead of inaugural race

The ride is a non-competitive event celebrating the Okanagan Rail Trail

Province funds new shuttle buses for 13 B.C. senior centres

Activity, socializing helps maintain health, Adrian Dix says

Musaic Vocal Ensemble seeks additional voices

Summerland-based choir has performed for past 25 years

Most Read