Abe has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. In Iran, he was a mechanical engineer and business owner, as was his brother-in-law Abbas. Together with their families, they decided to emigrate and began searching for a ripe climate to start a business. Researching opportunities in Australia, Europe, and Canada, they found the promising Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program for entrepreneurs. Abe says an added benefit was, “We talked to people and they said Canadians are kind and welcoming to new immigrants.”
After visiting Saskatoon in 2011 and completing an immigration interview, Abe’s family moved in 2013. Per their immigration requirements, they needed to start a business. A complicated process for anyone, newcomers face additional challenges like language, which Abe says is the main barrier. Despite taking English lessons for a few years and feeling prepared before arriving, he says they were shocked by the difficulty of understanding and speaking in real time.
Beyond the language barrier, it’s challenging for newcomers to start a business “because you don’t know the culture, you don’t know the nature of the economy,” Abe said. “Starting a business is not just a matter of doing a job, you have to have connections with people, and building those connections is a huge challenge for a newcomer. And where to start, what kind of business to start, it takes time to do research and find that.”
To start this complex process, Abe and Abbas came to newcomer organizations for guidance. Lori Steward, a manager at GGP, assisted with their initial research of the business landscape in Saskatchewan and introduced them to business owners like Joseph Bourgeault, President and Manager of Bourgeault Tillage Tools. Abe and Abbas also connected with organizations that help entrepreneurs, including the Chamber of Commerce. Abe says, “Everyone we asked for help showed us something.”
Getting to know the community through the Global Gathering Place
As Abe’s family navigated the many aspects of settlement, Abe says, “Global Gathering was one of the places that kept us busy with English. Coming to new country you have to be busy, otherwise I think you get depressed for the first two or three months. You’re busy getting an ID, driver’s license but still you need to be involved to not feel lonely in this city. We had a great experience learning English here and also Coffee and Conversation was one of the best experiences. We made friends and are still with those friends.”
Abe especially appreciated all the lessons on Canadian culture, both explicit and implicit, he learned at GGP. He remembers a volunteer at Coffee and Conversation explaining cultural norms in Canada, such as showing up to meetings five minutes ahead of time and shaking hands. Abe says, “If you’re coming to a country and learn this stuff ahead of time, you will be more successful in your relationships and in your job or whatever. It’s simple but very important.”
Abe’s fondness for Canada and Saskatchewan is apparent. He speaks with gratitude about the many people who helped him and his family when they arrived. While researching the hydraulics industry, many local business owners allowed Abe and Abbas to tour their shops and openly shared information about the industry. Their last tour was at Mike’s Hydraulics, a 15-year-old company that primarily serviced farm equipment. A few months later, Abe and Abbas ended up purchasing this business from owner Mike, who Abe calls “a great gentleman”.
“Canada is equality and freedom”
Nearly six years later, the business has expanded greatly, employing 10 people and earning 8x its original revenue. Abbas built a machine that allowed the company to expand into construction and mining, and once word got out about the machine, companies started requesting them. Since November 2019 Abe and Abbas have built and exported eight to Canada, the United States, Germany, and Hungary. They are also in the process of opening a Regina branch.
Saskatchewan has also proven to offer a lot of outdoor activities for Abe and his family. During the winter they visit Ebb’s Trails to cross country ski (15km a day!). In the summer, Abe enjoys riding his bike to towns like Delisle and Outlook, and hanging out at a café there before biking back.
Two years ago, Abe and his family experienced an unforgettable moment: becoming Canadian citizens. About life in Canada, Abe says, “Above all it’s freedom. There is no limit for everyone, whether you’re a landed immigrant, a second or third generation immigrant, it doesn’t matter. You’re a Canadian. You have the same rights as someone whose great-grandfather came here, and not just on paper. It gives us this sense that we’re Canadian, and a sense that I want to contribute as much as I can.”
Abe’s advice for new immigrants
When asked about advice for immigrants who are either newly arrived or coming soon, Abe has plenty. “Take advantage of the programs that exist here. The first thing is to work on your English, and there are free programs at Global Gathering and other places. There you can learn about the culture and language and make friends, so you can be involved with the community.”
Abe also emphasizes the importance of having a certain mentality: “I tell all immigrants who come to me, ‘We came here. Nobody invited us to come. We have chosen to come to Canada so it’s our responsibility to adapt to this country and to learn.’ Some people come with a mentality that everybody should help them. In Canada everybody is going to help you, but you have to forget about that mentality.”
“It’s our responsibility to prove ourselves as new immigrants. This community doesn’t owe anything to us, we owe something to Canada because they opened the door to us. This mentality will help immigrants to try hard to find their position. It might take 2-3 years or six months. The basic things are to learn English, learn the culture, send credentials for assessments, and patience.”
“If you build up on your potential, work on yourself, and work on your capacity and don’t blame anyone but yourself, that mentality will help you. Moving to a new country is a major change and change is stressful. But with a little patience you’ll get there. We are now ahead of where we were back home.”