Summerside, P.E.I. - Breathing in the crisp salty air, Darcia Burnett and her husband, Jordon, reminisce on a bench that overlooks the frozen Summerside harbour.
They took a leap of faith 10 years ago.
“We met in Edmonton and moved to Whitehorse (Yukon) for seven years,” said Darcia.
“Jordon got a job as a chef for multiple restaurants and hotels, and I worked as a community service provider for people with disabilities there. But we needed a change. Our dream was to afford our own home, as well as have the income to support our young family.”
But the cost of living in western Canada was crushing the family of four.
“Our education, business and experience that we had to offer did not support our income, and we couldn’t support our family in western Canada,” said Darcia.
The couple started to look for affordable homes and areas suited for raising a family in Canada. P.E.I. dripped into their search.
“I had visited the Magdalene Islands when I was in Grade 9,” said Jordon. “And I have always wanted to come back to this end of the country, so Darcia mentioned the affordable houses on P.E.I. and I jumped at the opportunity.”
The family came to vacation on P.E.I., and quickly planted their roots.
“We bought our house while on vacation,” said Darcia. “We came with an open mind and an open heart and said, ‘lets just look around and see what happens.’ We landed in Summerside and fell in love. We could picture ourselves living here.”
They saw opportunities in the downtown area where others had turned a blind eye.
“Some may look at the city and say there are no opportunities, but there are opportunities everywhere here,” stressed Darcia.
The couple started a business at the Shipyard Market, located at 622 Water Street.
“I started a catering company and from there I got asked to operate the Shipyard. Seven years later we’re still there and have done 130 plus weddings,” said Jordon.
The couple is one of the first three faces to represent a new marketing campaign that will be launched by the City of Summerside.
Mike Thususka, the city’s director of economic development, said the Homeward Bound Program is an effort to establish a far more diverse and prosperous community in which to live, work, play and raise a family.
“Our goal is to retain students that are here, to attract expats who have left Summerside, and the third goal is to have conversations with business and immigrant investors and entice them to Summerside by making them aware of all the benefits of living and doing business here.”
The program aims to assist and facilitate the establishment of mutually beneficial relationships between program participants, and the local business community to heighten the awareness of Summerside as a place to invest, live and grow a future.
“After graduation there are still opportunities right here in Summerside,” said Thususka.
Students can spread the word of the campaign through the new Summerside #I Build My Future Here! program. I Build My Future Here links absent Islanders to all the latest local job and business opportunities available in an effort to bring them back home.
“The choice to stay here is just as much as a risk as it is to go away,” said Darica. “And the Atlantic air is just so good for the body and the soul. It’s the views and it’s just everything as far as where concerned. This is the place to live.”
Alex Clark, co-owner of Open Eats in Summerside, is another face on the marketing campaign.
He returned to P.E.I. after his studies in Vancouver and far-flung travels.
“I lived in a 300 square foot apartment in Vancouver and it was swallowing all my money. I slept on the couch while sharing the apartment. So the cost of the apartment was $1,000 per month, with no kitchen or windows. I found it depressing.”
Clark wanted to get ahead, and then remembered his home in P.E.I.
With elbow grease and determination, Clark opened a business called Open Eats in the downtown area of Summerside.
Clark hopes more restaurants will follow pursuit and fill the vacant buildings in the downtown stretch.
“People want to see you succeed and want to support you here, and if you put your head down and work hard you can accomplish a lot.”
The campaign that will be launched by the city of Summerside through local schools, aims to create awareness, conversations and linkages on Summerside.
For more information, visit www.mysummerside.ca.