Client and Connector Stories
Martina MacDonald sees connecting people as a way of life.
“It’s rewarding,” says the self-professed extrovert. “It’s all about helping people and making it a little easier for them.”
Martina is executive director of CBDC PEI East and general manager of the Rural Action Centre in Montague. The CBDC helps entrepreneurs start or expand businesses, while the Rural Action Centre provides a hub for organizations dedicated to business and community development.
Martina says she started volunteering as a PEI Connector because she values its work, understanding firsthand the challenges newcomers encounter. She is the daughter of Dutch immigrants, who faced language barriers, isolation, and even prejudice as they tried to integrate into PEI.
“Unless immigrants have support, it is extremely difficult,” she says.Read more
Jamie Arsenault tries to imagine how a newcomer must feel, trying to find services in a foreign place.
“You don’t just want to go off the street and talk to somebody,” says the partner at Fitzpatrick & Co. “You want a referral. You want to have trust in a person.”
Jamie says PEI Connectors provides a platform where newcomers and local businesspeople can build those relationships — and establish that trust.
His involvement as a Connector grew out of his work at accounting firm Fitzpatrick & Co., which serves many newcomer clients. As a volunteer, Jamie participates in networking events, meets newcomers to exchange ideas, and offers tax education sessions.
“It all comes back to providing information,” he explains.Read more
Tina Dickieson says helping newcomers build a network can ease their isolation and fear in an unfamiliar place.
With a network, newcomers don’t have to Google for information late into the night. They can reach out to someone who can help.
“When they get that level of comfort in the community, it becomes a community that they really want to stay and live in,” she says.
Tina became a PEI Connector soon after taking her current role as executive director of CBDC Central PEI three years ago. At the time, she wanted to build partnerships to better serve the organization’s clients.Read more
When David Sun got off his flight to study in Canada, he could speak one sentence in English. “‘How are you?’ That’s all,” he says with a laugh.
Support from other students, teachers, and the community helped him learn English and settle into his new home in Newfoundland. Then, looking for work, he faced new challenges. How could he find a job when he felt so shy to introduce himself to employers? Again, he received support, this time from the newcomers’ association.
“Being a newcomer myself, I’m understanding the challenge of transitioning to a new country,” says David, who now manages TD Bank in Summerside. “I would like to improve that experience for other newcomers coming to Canada.”
“Every business is a people business. Without people, your business won’t be successful in the community.”Read more
How can we keep newcomers on the Island?
Kent Thompson says even one connection can make the difference.
“I see so many people moving to PEI and wanting to make it their home, but they’re just lacking that network or lacking that one connection that could mean the difference between them having a family, raising it here, and becoming members of the community — or leaving,” says the chief operating officer of Upstreet Craft Brewing.
“PEI’s a close community. Since so many people grew up here, it is a bit of a closed community. It’s really welcoming once you get your step in,” he says.
Mohammad Rakhshan (Makan) first visited Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2018 to look at the prospects of living here with his family. He travelled from Toronto to PEI, stopping at places in between – Halifax, Montreal, Moncton, Fredericton – and realizing that PEI was the most appealing choice. The family eventually settled in August of the following year.
Although originally from Iran, Makan studied obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Dubai with concentrations in management and marketing. He went on to Switzerland where he got an MBA in international business.Read more
Lian was born in Xiangzhou but lived in Beijing, China. She had an established career in media and completed a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication. But the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake led Lian to join a charity organization responsible for providing psychological assistance to survivors. She began to re-evaluate her choices and look for opportunities to spend more time with her family and write another book. She saw a picture of downtown Charlottetown and took a leap of faith in 2013.
The Island’s quiet appeal was a perfect complement to her new aspirations. But the going was not so smooth, especially in the beginning. Lian was keen to join in community-building activities and pursue economic opportunities, and soon found PEI Connectors events to be just what she needed. “Of course, we had work experience in our country, but the experience here for the newcomer was just so different,” she says.
Almost two years ago, Luke and Hai immigrated to Prince Edward Island from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The couple visited the Island months prior and spent most of their time exploring coffee shops. Hai planned to establish hers but had never worked in a coffee shop before. In fact, she had a 15-year career in advertising and communications and had the double challenge of moving to a new country and building a new business from the ground up.
Luke had a career in the petroleum industry in Vietnam, and found work in PEI as a Fleet Services Project Manager. Shortly after they arrived, Luke attended a session facilitated by the Construction Association of PEI and was connected to the Association’s director by his program officer. He completed a four-month course, applied for a position at Aspin Kemp and Associates, and landed it. His previous experience with oversea projects has made for a smooth transition to his current role. Read more
Jonathan arrived in Prince Edward Island from Nanjing, China with his family in 2017. He ran a small company and was an irrigation engineer in a bustling city of both history and modernity. But the decision to move to Canada was for two reasons: the desire for his son to experience a richer curriculum and the opportunity to experience life under a democratic political system.
Before moving to the Island, Jonathan had never heard of PEI. If asked about Canada, he could speak of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. But at an immigration agency in China, the manager described PEI as a beautiful land, much quieter than the big city he was used to.
He chose to venture into the hospitality industry and officially established No 1 Grafton Inn, a bed and breakfast in the heart of downtown Charlottetown. He opened his doors in February 2020 but had to shutter them as the pandemic hit. Jonathan used the opportunity to redesign the space to acknowledge PEI’s history. “I wanted to make the building have more history and culture,” he says. Read more
Abraham came to Canada from India with the hopes of providing a better future for his children. Before starting his business journey, he used to work for some of the best IT Companies, including a few years in an IT company in PEI, where he exhibited his prior skills in the latest Technologies and Program Management for almost two decades. However, due to the company’s downsizing, he had to consider other opportunities.
He focused on utilizing his advanced knowledge of technology and decided to start his company called Contacts-DB Inc (ContactBoss) (https://contactboss.com). Contact Boss is a one-stop shop for contact management requirements of small to mid-sized organizations and not-for-profits where the software not only includes Contact Management but has a variety of other features like Event Management, Follow Up Management, Visitor Management, etc. Contact Boss is developed by Contacts-DB Inc., a Canadian-based information technology and business management software developer. ContactBoss is honored to manage the entire database of PEI Connectors’ operations.
Yan and his family moved to Prince Edward Island from Beijing, China in October 2018. With a career in banking spanning 16 years, his enjoyment of cooking in his spare time earned his house the nickname “The Banker’s Kitchen”. Having worked his way up from receptionist vice president of a branch, he realized that the pressure to deliver results and attend to customers at the drop of a hat was draining and keeping him away from his family. So began the journey to PEI after learning of the province from a friend.
He first worked for TBK Silver Streams - previously Silver Streams - as an employee, before taking it over from the former owner who moved off-Island. The transition from a successful career in Beijing to a simpler life in PEI did not come without major mental adjustments. “One day, the owner asked me to fix the cupboard. In that moment, I thought “Really? I was a banker. My office was as big as this kitchen,” Yan recalls.
When Mazen Abouelnaja visited PEI in 2015, he was taken by the greenery, the meadows, the hills, and the beaches. The second visit with his family in 2017 confirmed that PEI was the place for them, and they relocated in the summer of 2018. Originally from Lebanon and having lived in Dubai for almost 20 years, Mazen was keen on the quiet pace of life that the Island offered. “What caught my attention is the short distance from wherever you want to be and people’s friendly nature”, he says.
“For newcomer business owners, the first priority is a good brand,” says Benjamin Hao. Last year, he and his wife Grace bought Jack’s Pizza, a Charlottetown favourite for 20 years. But their decision wasn’t just about profit: “We wanted to keep local residents happy with the brand they love and engage with our new community.”
They see pizza as a metaphor for newcomers’ lives. The dough is the foundation, “an interface to learn about the new culture. Through pizza, we can live here in peace and friendship, so the next generation can grow and have a better future,” Benjamin explains, mentioning the couple’s nine-year-old son.
But they’ve faced some challenges. Because of the recent coronavirus pandemic, they had to temporarily close their Cavendish location, to focus on maintaining quality and service in Charlottetown. But sales during the pandemic haven’t dropped, thanks to savvy business strategies. Social media promotions, such as chances to win food or gift cards, have attracted new customers. “We get lots of positive feedback,” Benjamin says. “And customers are happy to get free pizza.”
Loyal social media followers haven’t been alone in getting free pizza. Benjamin and Grace, collaborating with PEI’s Chinese community, donated 150 pizzas to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He says, “this is just one example of how the Chinese community has contributed.” Read more
Headquartered in Moncton, New Brunswick, goji’s brands itself as the “neighbourhood treatery” — and David & Josephine Lau are doing their best to make their Charlottetown franchise just that. “We’re here to serve the local community and bring joy,” David says, “especially to kids. And I’m proud we’ve gotten so much support.”
The couple are also delighted with the assistance they’ve received from PEI Connectors. Before moving here, David had never owned a business — he was a train engineer in Hong Kong. Newly arrived on PEI, the couple heard about PEI Connectors from friends and got in touch: “The program officers were very, very helpful,” David says, nodding. “They told us who to contact and arranged seminars to help us learn about how to start and buy a business.” The couple were also paired with a local business owner who shared expertise and knowledge. Read more
In early 2016, Rona Yang placed ads in local papers for a figure-skating coach for KZ Skating School, one side of her company, Canada Kinetic Intelligent, Inc.. But nobody replied. So Rona reached out to her PEI Connectors contact. “Amy was happy to help,” Rona says. “One week later, she said, ‘I found a coach, would you like to meet her?’”
That coach was Kim Duffy, who is a level-three certified figure-skating coach. Of her more than 36 years of experience, four have been with Kinetic Intelligent as Coach Director.
The school’s first program began in November 2016. Now they offer several programs, including learn-to-skate and competitive figure-skating at the CanSkate and Star Skate levels. Not to mention 300 registered skaters and more than 20 coaches – and in 2017, membership in Skate Canada. “We’ve grown a lot in a short time!” both women state proudly.
Among their many accomplishments is helping competitive figure skaters get ice time. “Before, they had to buy tickets for ice time and didn’t have regular access,” Kim explains. “Many had to leave PEI to train.” Because Kinetic Intelligent books time at arenas across PEI, “now, those skaters can stay year-round with their families.”
“It makes people very happy,” Rona adds with a huge smile. Read more
In bringing the Instant Imprint brands to PEI, Ranjit and Priya Chatterjee have “a burning desire to succeed and offer tremendous customer service,” in the couple’s own words.
Their franchise, which opened in August 2019 after the couple did extensive training, provides a range of customized marketing products, from apparel to signs to printed materials. Customer feedback has been very positive, says Ranjit: “Seeing the smiles when they get their end result, and knowing we’ve succeeded in meeting their expectations, makes us happy.”
Because 90% of orders are managed in-house, Ranjit says, they can finish jobs faster than competitors. But perhaps their biggest advantage is the product range: “A customer comes in with a picture on his phone of his family or dog – we can put it on a mug, a t-shirt, a postcard! They dream and we build it!”
“And it’s about the personal touch, the relationships we’re developing,” Priya adds. Read more
Sabine Schoenknecht, co-owner of Lucky Bee Homestead and Atlantic Mustard Mill, sums up her first impression of PEI: “Magical!” she says. “And it still is!”
Sabine and her husband Michael have created their own magic since buying their farm in Murray Harbour North in 2013. After the chicken coop, they put in a garden. To their delight, “It produced so much, we could sell some of it!” Now they have 15 hens and several beehives, which produce honey they sell at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market. They also have jams and various condiments – including 35 flavours of authentic German mustard available in shops throughout the Maritimes. And the farm runs on solar power. Read more
Ayham Daas brings more than 20 years’ experience in business and engineering to his role as investing partner in Atlantic Doors. The company supplies top-of-the-line commercial and residential doors to customers across the Island, with certification proving their commitment to quality and safety.
Back in 2017, when Daas relocated with his family from Dubai, the PEI Connectors program provided wings that helped the company get off the ground. “They were angels!” he says, estimating that the program reduced the time needed to start the company “from three years to one.” PEI Connectors meant networking was much easier: “They organized lots of events, lectures, meetings – I asked if I could meet specialists in the construction business, and they made it happen. I want to thank them for all their help.”
Daas is thrilled the business is succeeding: “It makes me want to spend more time helping the business grow. I am very proud that I started from zero and built a business with the highest standards.” That the company has become one of the top three door specialists on PEI is testament to their commitment to service and safety. Read more
When Ji Peng incorporated Everich Import & Export in the fall of 2016, he already knew the value of networking. “My work experience as general manager of an agricultural company in China gave me many government and business connections,” he says.
When one of Ji’s customers in China suddenly left the seafood business, “he introduced me to his friend, who is one of China’s main seafood importers,” Ji explains. “He said he trusted me and believed in the quality of the products.”
“If you treat people with sincerity, they give back the same,” he continues. “Mutual trust is more important than anything else. Success means to be recognized by your partners and clients.” Read more
When Hamid Sanayie moved to Prince Edward Island, he found it strange that so many restaurants served frozen French fries. “Being in the Island, which is famous for the potato, I wondered how come everybody used frozen fries here,” Sanayie explains. “Then I realized, if they want a fresh potato, they have to cut it by hand.”
As president of Fry Factory, Sanayie hopes to change that — not only in P.E.I. but across North America. His company manufactures an automatic fry-cutting machine that can turn a 50-pound bag of potatoes into fries in just one minute.
“Doing that by hand takes too much time,” he says. Instead of pressing potato after potato through a manual cutter, the operator of the Fry Factory machine simply loads piles of potatoes into the top and then sees the machine spin out a shower of fries.
Aman Sedighi walked into Papa Joe’s with a small bowl of produce — and a desire to make a sale.
But the Iranian immigrant had no idea what to charge the Charlottetown restaurant for the fresh dill, cilantro, zucchini and tomatoes he had grown on a small plot of land. Sedighi thought he would be happy with $5 or $10. As a sharp entrepreneur, he asked the chef what he would pay.
“Around thirty dollars,” Chef Irwin offered.
“I’m not giving it to you for less than fifty!” Sedighi replied.
The pair bartered to $40, and Sedighi launched his foray into his farming business in P.E.I.
Five years later, his A-OK Gardens has grown from a plot on the dairy farm where he used to work to the 15 acres he now grows in Brookfield — plus another 91 acres for possible expansion.
When Michèle Lihrmann moved into her Victorian home in Alberton, she knew she had to open it to visitors. “We couldn’t buy this house, close the door and live inside,” she says. “That’s not possible to live like this.”
That’s because Michèle and her husband, Hubert, had purchased an Alberton landmark with a history filled with community connections and fondly remembered gatherings. Built in the 1890s for Fred L. Rogers, the Rogers House has over the years provided a home for a member of parliament, David MacDonald; and a lodge for senior citizens.
Lihrmann chats in the parlour, where the upright piano promises to entertain, and the antique furniture begs a visitor to sit and stay awhile.
When Nguyet Hoang moved to Prince Edward Island, she found few places to buy solid wood furniture with classic lines.
“I haven’t seen such kind of furniture here,” she explains, sitting at a dining table in a store showcasing polished pieces in rich dark caramel tones.
“There should be room for me to enter this market,” she says.
Nguyet “Ivy” Hoang entered this market in early 2018, when she opened Ivy Furniture on the main floor of the Confederation Court Mall. Her shop offers living room, bedroom, dining room and library furniture crafted in her native country of Vietnam and imported to P.E.I. She describes the furniture construction as more traditional, the design more classic — reminding some Islanders of the Victorian furniture from a beloved grandmother’s home.
When Seacy Pan and Ray Cai brought Formfree Branding to Charlottetown, they created more than a new branding, printing and photography studio. They created another support service for newcomer entrepreneurs.
“We can become a connector with Chinese people and local people,” explains Pan, chatting at Formfree on the lower level of the Confederation Court Mall.
“Most of our clients are Chinese,” Cai explains. “We have no language block. We can talk directly to them.”
This husband-and-wife team operated Formfree for about two decades as a design studio in Guangzhou, a city of approximately 14 million people in southern China. Seeking a more relaxed pace of life, the couple emigrated with their son to P.E.I. in 2015 and set up Formfree in May 2016.
When Jessica Fritz served a fruit tart with marzipan filling, people raved. So when she couldn’t find the marzipan on P.E.I., she became concerned. Then she became inspired. “Why can’t we just bring it to Canada — starting with P.E.I.?”
Jessica and Mike Fritz have since launched Maritime Marzipan, which sells treats made from the tempting smooth mixture of sweetened ground almonds. “Everybody loves sweets, right?” says Mike, standing in the couple’s new summer shop at St. Peter’s Landing.
The couple’s love of food helped prompt their move to P.E.I. Jessica not only enjoys cooking, but also writing about food and exploring foods from other cultures.
“I somehow infected Mike with that,” she says.
When Dawn Binns first volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters, she only wanted to make connections in her new home province. She grew up in Hantsport, Nova Scotia and moved to PEI once she obtained her Bachelor of Education degree from Acadia University in 1998. Using skills she acquired from her degree, she became a facilitator with the Adult Connections in Education (ACE) program at UPEI. As she worked, she became more interested in adding value to the community and did so through volunteering. Her first key role at Big Brothers Big Sisters was Bowl for Kids Sake, the organization’s fundraiser. In this role, she helped with marketing and communications, and did the same while volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society.
Interestingly, these roles indicated what her job in the future would be. Volunteering helped her meet people and provided opportunities to blend her education with real-world experience. Today, Dawn is the Managing Partner of Insight Brand and Marketing Studio and serves as the 2019—2020 Board President of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce. She continues to serve in different roles, and as a connector throughout the Island community and beyond.
Daniel Ohaegbu moved from the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja, to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to begin his university education. When Christmas came and several international students could not make it back home, Daniel’s solution was to throw a party in a small apartment in a residential area. Eventually, the crowd was shown the door because of noise complaints. That was the first, not the last party. With time, the crowd grew and began to include more locals. That’s how Overtime Entertainment was born. So far, it has grown to include Jonah Chininga, whose background in business from UPEI supports the vision.
Overtime Entertainment now aims to give people more than just a good time. It works to promote diversity and inclusion through social interaction. It is completing a residency at the Startup Zone, hosted events for Black History Month and more. Daniel did all of this while completing an honors program in psychology at UPEI. He was nominated for the 2019 Fusion Awards under Arts and Culture. Daniel and his team show that with passion and diligence, dreams are valid and viable in PEI.
Teresa Tu’s dedicated involvement with the international student body at UPEI. She was a member of the UPEISU Student Council, where she represented the interests of international students attending UPEI. Teresa also worked at the International Student Office and served as coordinator of the UPEI Buddy program, where she organized efforts to help international students integrate better into UPEI and Canadian society, by befriending and mentoring new students.
She moved to Canada from China to study business administration, and the connections she made by immersing herself in the local community helped her land a role as a program officer at the PEI Office of Immigration.
Riley Aiello’s journey to post-secondary employment began during his time as a summer intern with PEI Network under the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce. Holland College’s Learning Manager, Brenda Compton, connected Riley to the program manager of PEI Network, Alana Walsh. As part of his duties, Riley worked at the PEI Network booth during a job fair put on by Skills PEI. That was where he got talking with Gloria Welton of the Employment Journey of PEI, a magazine created to highlight job opportunities found throughout Prince Edward Island, and provide resources for both employers and potential employees.
Gloria learnt of his interest in human resources and informed him of an opening at the Construction Association of PEI. At that same fair, he got introduced to Sam Sanderson, who oversaw the hiring. A few months later, Riley accepted a position as the human resources advisor of the Construction Association of PEI (CAPEI). Read more