How a Dutch immigrant created jobs and boosted the economy in a small Prairie town.
Shaping small-town Saskatchewan
Toos Giesen-Stefiuk is living proof that immigration matters, not only in Canada’s big cities, but also in smaller communities across the entire country. She and her family moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 1981, settling in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, which is about 2 hours southwest of Regina.
Gravelbourg is a small Prairie town that has grown and thrived for more than a century, thanks in part to its diversity and open-heartedness. From its earliest days, the community has welcomed newcomers from across Canada, the United States and Europe. It has grown from its origins as a French-speaking settlement into a multicultural hub, largely due to the influence and contributions of immigrants like Toos.
“Toos was part of a group that spearheaded the Summer Solstice Festival, which is an important economic driver for our community”, says Robert Bowler, Mayor of Gravelbourg. “Without her, this annual event may well have been discontinued. It’s an honour to be able to work with her for the good of our community”.
“Without their contributions and those of other immigrants like them, Gravelbourg wouldn’t be what it is today”.
– Isabelle Blanchard, economic development officer for the Town of Gravelbourg
Over the past 37 years, Toos and her family have created many jobs and boosted local tourism in Gravelbourg. They owned and operated a construction company, built the Gravelbourg Inn and opened the landmark Café Paris, which has grown into an important gathering place for the community. Toos currently runs a bed and breakfast called La Maison 315.
Isabelle Blanchard, Gravelbourg’s economic development officer, says Toos saw opportunity where others didn’t, and that was a huge economic driver in the community. “She and her family have had a positive impact on our tourism industry and have helped create jobs in the town. Without their contributions and those of other immigrants like them, Gravelbourg wouldn’t be what it is today”, Isabelle says.
On top of her business ventures, Toos is a 15-year veteran of the Gravelbourg town council and is actively engaged in the economic and cultural development of her community. She’s involved in preserving Gravelbourg’s heritage buildings, and for the past 12 years, she has organized an annual international food festival that celebrates Gravelbourg’s diversity and culture.
“In the 37 years I’ve been in Canada, my family has always worked to create jobs and give back to Gravelbourg because we felt so fortunate to live here. In Canada, you really can make a difference”.
– Toos Giesen-Stefiuk
"Toos is a remarkable individual, who recognized the tourism potential in Gravelbourg and the economic spin-off that it could have on the community. With her vision and leadership, businesses and residents alike were able to build on strong roots in heritage and culture”, says Daryl Demoskoff, a travel media consultant with Tourism Saskatchewan.
Toos hopes that her personal story both encourages immigrants to become part of their communities and inspires non-immigrants to welcome people from other countries. “Immigrants bring new ideas and energy. We need more immigrants but also need to hear more about their positive contributions”, she says. “In the 37 years I’ve been in Canada, my family has always worked to create jobs and give back to Gravelbourg because we felt so fortunate to live here. In Canada, you really can make a difference”.
Immigration profile: Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan
- Immigrants represent some 7% of Gravelbourg’s population.
- The Philippines is the largest source country of immigrants in Gravelbourg, followed by India and Mexico.
- A significant majority, 86%, of all immigrants who landed in Gravelbourg between 1980 and 2016 came as economic immigrants, while the remaining 14% were sponsored by family.
Did you know?
- Near the turn of the 20th century, Canada opened its doors to settle the West. Immigration from previously under-represented groups, such as Ukrainians, Hungarians and Mennonites, helped Saskatchewan's population grow by 1,125% between 1891 and 1911.
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