By Kathryn Blaze Carlson
When a Chinese immigrant visits Brown’s Volkswagen in Charlottetown, general manager Skip Rudderham is prepared: He has interpreters on speed-dial and bilingual business cards. Prince Edward Island, with its reputation of homogeneity and conservatism, may not seem the likeliest province to require such measures, but require them it does: Chinese immigration is transforming the island both culturally and economically.
“We would quite literally hire every qualified [Chinese] person we could get our hands on,” said Mr. Rudderham. “Our Chinese clientele is large enough that we could keep this person busy basically dealing with that clientele alone.”
The Brown’s Volkswagen experience is echoed elsewhere on P.E.I. — a small province once notorious for its “strong cultural norm of sameness” and better known as the rural home of the white, carrot-haired Anne of Green Gables.
When Kate Middleton, who reportedly adores the Lucy Maud Montgomery series, descends upon the province for “something of a sentimental journey” during her Royal visit to Canada this weekend, she will see a remarkably different P.E.I. than the one she has read about.
“You go through some of our schools now, and I joke that you think you’re in downtown Toronto,” said Premier Robert Ghiz, the son of Lebanese-Canadian Joe Ghiz, himself Canada’s first non-European premier. “You’re seeing cultural diversity in our hallways.”
Since the province started recruiting skilled and affluent immigrants through its Provincial Nominee Program in 2001, upward of 10,000 newcomers have called P.E.I. home. But while the province of just 143,200 is undergoing a metamorphosis at the behest of immigration generally, it is immigration from a land of nearly 1,337,000,000 in particular that is driving the novel shift.
China has been the chief source of immigration to P.E.I. for the past five years, with nearly 2,400 newcomers arriving between 2006 and 2009 alone, according to the province’s Population Secretariat. Most of those newcomers at least initially settled in Charlottetown, where the population was just 32,000 at the time of the census in 2006.