SSM-Inline 2 2024

How Three Families Found New Beginnings in Sault Ste. Marie

Discover how three families from Ukraine, India and Trinidad chose Sault Ste. Marie as their new home, thriving through community support and new career opportunities.

June 13, 2024

Some newcomers spend years planning their move to Canada. For others, a sudden turn of events brings them to a city that they now call their perfect home.

That latter situation is how Iryna and Dmytro Pustovar found themselves moving from Ukraine to Sault Ste. Marie in 2022—a few stressful months after Russia invaded their home country. The couple were preparing to return home to Kyiv from vacation in Sri Lanka when conflict erupted and they quickly decided to uproot their lives.

“We were following the newspapers and Facebook posts to see what people were doing, where we could go,” says Iryna. “Working in television production, it seemed like we could have a lot of opportunities in Canada. But then we started thinking where should we go? Canada is huge.”

All signs pointed to Sault Ste. Marie.

First, Iryna began to message with a Ukrainian-Canadian woman who lives in the city and wanted to host Ukrainians who were fleeing the war. “The exact same day, I typed into Google ‘best production companies in Canada’ and we found one with offices in Sault Ste. Marie,” says Dmytro. When the couple looked into educational opportunities for their 17-year-old, their minds were made up.

“All things were pointing to Sault Ste. Marie,” Dmytro says. Two years later, he says those signs helped the couple make the best decision of their lives.

“A unique pathway” to Canada

Whether due to a twist of fate or years of planning, there are hundreds of families like the Pustovars—newcomers to Canada who have found everything they were looking for in a city many non-Canadians have never heard of. 

Over the last five years, more than 800 principal applicants have received community recommendations for permanent residency via the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), a federal government program designed to boost northern economies via immigration. Many are professionals drawn by opportunities that can otherwise be difficult to come by. RNIP applicants include skilled trades such as aircraft mechanics and senior metallurgists and healthcare sector workers. A good proportion of those new residents have landed jobs rated TEER 2 or higher, meaning they require a college diploma or specialized training or apprenticeship or are management level.

“I’m an electrical engineer. I had 11 years’ experience in India,” says Gunjan Pandit, who came to Sault Ste. Marie in 2021 to earn a graduate certificate in project management from Sault Ste. Marie’s Algoma University. 

“When I came here, I wanted to know I could get a job in my field,” Pandit says. “Even though I was a student at that time, I was looking at what local companies like Tenaris were doing and how many jobs were available. I was just waiting for the right time—once I graduated, I applied and after six rounds of interviews, I’m an electrical supervisor for Tenaris.”

Choosing to build a new life in Sault Ste. Marie eases other common immigration challenges too. RNIP candidates who receive an offer of employment and letter of recommendation from the community can apply for permanent residency. 

“During our research about the city, we realized it offered a unique pathway to permanent residence,” says Shelly Bazel-Smith, a school guidance counsellor who moved to the ‘Soo—as locals affectionately call the city— from Trinidad two years ago ,with her husband Aaron, a doctor, and young daughter. 

“I went into research mode and realized that the ’Soo’ was just what we were looking for: a city where we could raise our daughter, settle, contribute and thrive,” she says.

SSM-Newcomers 2024

Iryna (left) and Dmytro Pustovar (right), Gunjan Pandit (center), Shelly Bazel-Smith (left) with her husband Aaron (centre) and their two children.

Big opportunities, small-town charm

But as much as Sault Ste. Marie’s ample opportunities are a draw, so too is its nature—skiing, hiking, beaches, and other outdoor activities all within minutes of downtown—and small-scale charm. 

“If someone wants to move here, they should understand it’s not skyscrapers and subways,” says Pandit. “Other places, I see international students or newcomers struggling for jobs, struggling to find accommodation, and commuting to their jobs. Here life is manageable. It’s a beautiful, respectful city and that encourages people like me to stay here for a long time.” 

“Everything is less than five minutes away. In the summertime, I can go fishing from 6 a.m. to 9, and be at my work at 10 a.m.,” says Dmytro Pustovar. “The community is so tiny—everybody knows each other. It’s amazing.”

That friendliness and openness make the city quickly feel like home. “On arrival I got involved immediately,” says Aaron Smith, Shelly’s husband. “I joined the Toastmasters Club at Sault College, I volunteered as a mental committee member and attended numerous community events, both professional and recreational.” 

The Smiths have also found community by joining not just one, but two local churches. “I’m the outreach coordinator at the United Baptist Church where I plan and execute community events catering to community members and newcomers—cooking, parenting classes and starting a Vacation Bible School Camp which is going on its third year,” Shelly says. “We also hosted a dual denominational event where both our churches participated in a bowling night together.”

SSM-Inline 2024

Planting new roots—and paying it forward

With so much to recommend in the city, it’s no wonder these newcomers are already deepening their roots in Sault Ste. Marie. 

For Pandit, that means bringing his wife over from India this year. The Pustovars’ son, who moved with them two years ago, is now 20 and studying cybersecurity at Sault College. “He has a bunch of Canadian friends and he rented his own apartment. He’s trying to build his adult life,” says Dmytro.

As for the Smiths, their son Noah was born in Sault Ste. Marie nine months ago—and Aaron is focused on resolving key community challenges to make life in the city better for all. “As a doctor, my primary objective is to contribute to addressing the shortage of medical professionals in Sault Ste. Marie and across Canada,” he says. “I am actively engaged with a coalition of internationally trained physicians in Sault Ste. Marie, collaborating with various community stakeholders to devise streamlined pathways to licensure.”

Paying it forward and letting others know about the great life her family has built in Sault Ste. Marie is important to the Pustovars too. Says Iryna, “We want to develop the filming industry here. We want people to get their education and stay here.”