From France to Winnipeg

Last year, I was part of Quartier Magazine, a magazine that me and a few classmates developed for the infamous CreComm magazine project.  Quartier, (meaning neighbourhood) was French themed, focusing on St. Boniface and Francophone culture within Winnipeg.  I had the opportunity to interview a French immigrant who moved here for work, and since we couldn’t distribute our magazine, not many people besides my instructors had a chance to read our articles.  I wanted to share his story, as he had some very interesting things to say about our city. Without furthier adieu.

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When Thierry Keller walks into a French café in Winnipeg, he is greeted in English.

“Canada claims to be multicultural but I think that’s a myth,” said Keller, an immigrant from France who lives in Winnipeg.

“The culture changes because time changes. Canada doesn’t want to be a big melting pot, but that’s what it is,” he said. “Sooner or later everyone is going to mix.”

Keller has a PhD in Environmental Science and immigrated to Canada after he could not find work in Marseilles, France.

I decided to come because the economic situation in Europe is not very good,” said Keller.  “With my PhD, I was unable to find a suitable job according to my skills.”

We met at Léo’s Gelato and Café in St. Boniface, and he ordered a decaf coffee in his strong French accent.  He had a European flare about him, and wore a fashionable scarf and dark tweed coat.

Keller learned of job opportunities in Canada after he attended an information seminar in France.

“They pretty much said ‘Hey come to Canada, the streets are paved with gold’,” he said. “I don’t think that it was a trap. There were no bad intentions, but I don’t think they realized what it is to move from one continent to another.”

Keller decided to move to Winnipeg because because of its size, and low unemployment rates.

He also wanted to learn English.

“A lot of people in France think to move to Quebec because of the language,” said Keller. “But I didn’t want to move to Quebec, I wanted to learn English.”

According to recent immigration statistics, Manitoba welcomed 15,962 permanent residents in 2011.

Only 484 were French speakers.

Keller avoided St. Boniface when he arrived because he wanted to focus on English, and discover the city for himself.

Ironically, he rarely speaks French while in St. Boniface.

“I don’t think it would be possible to survive in the community speaking only French,” said Keller.

He remains in Winnipeg as a permanent resident and enjoys the cultural life in the city.

“People here love to hate Winnipeg. They don’t think it’s a cool city – it’s not New York, we all know that,” he said. “But I was really surprised to see that the cultural life is so vibrant, so active.”

Keller frequently goes out and attends events that go on in the city.

“I go to the Jazz Festival in June usually. I often go see live performances in the city and I think that Winnipeg is a really good city for that,” he said. “I also like the exhibits and concerts.”

His family in France is concerned about him, and often asks how he is doing.

“When my parents in France ask me about Winnipeg, I like to describe it as an island,” said Keller. “Instead of being surrounded by an ocean of water, it is an ocean of crop fields.”

It is an island with everything that he needs.

“When you think about it, the closest cities are 700km to the west, 800km on the South, almost 2000km on the east and there is nothing up north,” he said. “Because we are an island we need to have everything that we need locally.”

He has now lived in Canada for two years, but the move hasn’t always been easy.

“You don’t have a job when you arrive,” said Keller. “How do you find a place to live when you don’t have a job?”

With the help of another immigrant from France who he met in Winnipeg, Keller was able to find an apartment to rent until he found employment.

“The bank doesn’t work the same way, we almost never use credit in France.” said Keller. “So when I learned that I had to build my credit rating and then find a place to live, it was difficult.”

Keller says he did not receive much help from the Canadian government.

“You realize that when you arrive in Canada, you are just a foreigner.”

Keller now has a stable job at Advance Electronics and often misses France, but has no desire to return.

“I miss some aspects of France,” said Keller. “But if you’re doing good where you are, then you don’t miss your country.”

Although Keller views the two countries as more similar, than different.

“France and Canada are both western countries, the social rules here are quite the same,” he said. “The differences are only in the details.”

Despite his initial struggles, Keller remains positive.

“Although I’m not working in my field, at least I’m experiencing something new.”

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