HÉROUXVILLE, Quebec — For years, the small town of Hérouxville, in rural Quebec, was a symbol of indigenous hostility toward immigrants. There were no immigrants to the city, but once a code of conduct had been adopted, no doubt they and their perceived customs were not welcome.
Hrouxville did not tolerate “stoning women in the town square” or “burning them alive” or “treating them like slaves”. The people of Hérouxville celebrated Christmas and did not cover their faces.
The code took advantage of fears in Canada’s only French-speaking province that immigration would undermine their culture and also triggered a provincial government commission that sought to build consensus on the “reasonable accommodation” of ethnic minorities.
So it may come as a surprise that Herouxville is now welcoming to immigrants.
“Now we want as many immigrants as possible,” said Bernard Thompson, mayor of Herauxville and a former supporter of the code.
The change comes as Canada looks to open its doors to immigrants as a strategy for its economic vitality.
Canada has announced plans to welcome a record 1.45 million immigrants to its population of 39 million over the next three years. There is a broad consensus on the value of immigration in Canada, in contrast to other Western countries.
One outlier has been Quebec, where politicians have stoked anti-immigrant sentiment by tapping French Quebec voters out of fear of losing their cultural identity.
But in Quebec, too, there are signs of change.
Hérouxville’s turning point stemmed from an aging population, low birth rates, labor shortages, and changing views among younger generations and people like Thompson.
Mackinac County, which includes Herouxville, has attracted a record number of immigrants — 60 — from South America, Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the past two years.
Habiba Hamdi, 40, arrived from Tunisia a year ago with her husband and two children. Hamdi, who works as an insurance agent, and her husband, a welder, are French-speakers who speak Arabic at home.
Hamdi said he was warmly received by the local people.
“We get a lot of phone calls or even people knocking on our door asking if we need anything,” Hamdi said. “One of our neighbors came knocking on our door with a big bag of toys for our kids.”
The move was the result of a pro-immigration policy adopted by the county in 2017, a decade after Herouxville passed its code of conduct.
Officials working with local companies began hiring foreign workers. He also began preparing the local population for the new arrivals and set up programs to help the immigrants settle.
“The arrival of these 60 people has opened up our own environment tremendously,” said Nadia Morrow, the county’s director of economic development. “Sometimes they have different values, customs that they share with us and make us see reality from another perspective.”
Thompson said that he became uncomfortable with the Hérouxville Code. He said that almost everyone in Quebec could not deny being “the children of immigrants”. He was “in love” with his brother’s longtime partner, a Muslim woman.
After being elected mayor, Thompson pushed for the removal of the code. He said he wanted to restore the city’s reputation, and the urgency to attract immigrants grew with labor shortages affecting Mackinac County’s agricultural, forestry, industrial and service industries.
“We need immigration to survive,” Thompson said. “We have no other choice.”
Abdelkarim Othmani, 33, left his home in Tunisia about two years ago and works nights at the local Pronovost snow removal plant. During Ramadan, they were allowed to have an early meal after sunset to break the fast. He said he also socialized with his co-workers.
His best friend is Alex Beland-Rickard, 29, with whom he drives to work. Béland-Ricard, a French cubésar, said he was impressed by the newcomer’s commitment to friendship, family and work.
“Kareem is the first immigrant I’ve met,” Beland-Ricard said. “I hope many more will come here.”