A new chapter opens in the history of immigration on the North Shore

The North Shore, a vast and largely uninhabited territory, is suffering from the worst demographic decline in Quebec. Despite its remoteness, harsh winters and difficult access, the region still manages to attract new arrivals. The duty traveled its coastline over 800 kilometers to understand the reasons that lead these immigrants to the ends of the earth. Second and third in a series of four texts.

A new page of history is being written these days in Sept-Îles. Jean-Pierre Stea, heir to the Italian pioneers of the North Shore (see other text), sells his father’s old butcher’s shop. As the symbol of the passing of the torch from one community to another, the buyer is a Senegalese of origin. Beyond the anecdote, a real Afro-descendant community is taking root north of 50e parallel.

Christoph Boucar Diouf shares the same name — and the same grandfather — as his famous compatriot from Rimouski. He also shares the same love for his adopted region. “Here, everything is broader. We breathe. Even in Senegal, we build over 200 m2. Here it is 8500 m2 », he says, his eyes full of stars, in the half-open door of the building formerly at the heart of the Italian-September community.

With various associates, he multiplied acquisitions in Sept-Îles. He would like to purchase the bowling alley, other apartment buildings, etc. At the same time, he works as an immigration consultant and “opens the doors” to others who, like him, are eager for new horizons.

It was for the love of a Quebec woman that he first chose the region. And it is for the favorable context for businessmen that he remains there. Because his success as an entrepreneur, he owes a lot to his colleagues, his knowledge and the word of mouth that spreads in this town of some 30,000 inhabitants. “I never bought anything on display,” he said. Everything goes through human relationships and mutual trust.

“ [En ville], when you arrive in front of the banker, he doesn’t know you, he doesn’t know. That’s why [les autorités] create assistance programs for immigrant entrepreneurs. But here, we don’t have that. We don’t even need it, because I go to the bank, and no matter what I buy, they saw the result, they saw what I did. […] They look at this and can’t say no. »

Pillar of the emerging Afro-north-coastal community, Christoph Boucar Diouf is not the first black person in the area. The pioneer is probably Assane Sakho, who arrived for the first time in Sept-Îles in 1995. He remembers well the type of comments that were thrown at him when he spoke about the North Shore to his relatives living in the big centers.

“At the time, people thought I was crazy. But you didn’t go to the North Shore to say that! It’s a paradise! »

The owner of the restaurant Chez Omer, where the cuisine of maritime Quebec is offered, was expecting a breeding ground of lobsters that day. The fishermen greet him warmly.

“You also have a duty of pride, to show the way, to integrate,” underlines the man who started as an assistant manager. “We are proud, and in the community too, people are getting into entrepreneurship because they see us. »

We are proud, and in the community too, people start entrepreneurship because they see us

New organizations

A few weeks ago, these first roots gave rise to a real Afro-descendant community in the region located at the edge of the tundra.

The tropical grocery store, the fruit of the work of Justice Ahui and three partners, opened its doors just two months ago.

African, but also Arab and South American products find their place on the shelves of the small premises, a first in the region. “Before, when one of us went to Montreal, we got together to ask him to bring back what we needed,” explains Justice Ahui. But often he didn’t have enough space in his car to fill everyone’s orders. »

This original store is only in the “trial and error” phase, she admits. The next step will undoubtedly consist of selling fresh products to satisfy even more people. And perhaps to expand the business. The woman does not want to reveal all her secrets.

Before, when one of us went to Montreal, we got together to ask him to bring back what we needed

At the same time, a unique association was created, almost at the same time. The Forum of Blacks and Afro-descendants Côte-Nord held its first meeting last November.

“I’m from Toronto,” says the vice-president of the board of directors, Kerry Ann Taylor, of Jamaican origin. From time to time, I miss the city. I love Sept-Îles, but… I lacked a certain belonging. »

It is to meet the needs of this order, higher “in Maslow’s pyramid”, that the black community felt the need to come together, notes the president, Pierre Tchouka. “Personally, when I arrived here, in less than a year, I had lost three or four families that I had met when I arrived. There was a feeling of uneasiness. It creates a form of relational insecurity. […] We are here to anchor ourselves, to put down roots, and to contribute to the North Shore. »

The Forum was recently approached by the high school to offer anti-racism workshops. “We were surprised. We had a lot of support from the community. It’s as if everyone was waiting for the Forum to be born,” underlines the president. All this is only the beginning, finally reminds Mme Taylor. ” Come ! We are setting the table! »

This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

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