The single mother is hardly the only Filipino immigrant who has found joy and community outside Canada’s major cities.
She found herself pregnant and alone in a new nation, working on a temporary visa.
Then Dixie Marie Judilla claims to have been blessed by an exceptional act of compassion in Claresholm, roughly 130 kilometers due south of Calgary.
Judilla moved from her small community in the Philippines to another small hamlet on the Canadian prairies in 2008. She came to Claresholm during a blizzard in December.
She began cooking Blizzards at the neighborhood Dairy Queen a few days later.
Money was tight for several years. Then Judilla learned she was going to be a mother. A single mother. And she was deliberating over some difficult choices.
“Because as a foreign worker, you’re not entitled, you don’t have any benefits, and nannies are expensive. So I just cried and said, ‘I think when I give birth, I’ll just take my son back home [to the Philippines] and let my parents take care of him. And then I’ll just come back [to Claresholm] to earn money,'” said Judilla.
However, Judilla’s son, Dominic, who turns ten this year, was allowed to remain in Canada with his mother thanks to the help of a local couple.
Gerd and Elaine Schmidt had retired and were empty nesters. Gerd first encountered Judilla at the Claresholm Dairy Queen, where he was a regular.
Gerd would frequently strike up discussions with Judilla while drinking his coffee and reading his newspaper. When he and Elaine learned of her plans to send her baby back to the Philippines, they stepped in to assist.
They offered to care for Dominic after he was born, allowing Judilla to stay in Canada, keep her job, and build the future she desired.
“Staying in Claresholm, I met these good people with a good heart, Canadians who helped me … take care of my son for free without even asking for anything in return,” Judilla said.
Judilla has no intentions to leave rural Alberta after thirteen years and countless snowstorms. She has obtained permanent residency in Canada and is currently employed at an Alberta Health Services long-term care facility.
“This is my town. This is my home,” she said.
While the bulk of newcomers to Canada settle in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary, where there are more established immigrant communities, federal programs such as the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot assist in filling employment outside of the major cities.
Statistics Canada estimates that over 25,000 immigrants have moved to small towns (with populations fewer than 10,000) and rural areas in Alberta over the last decade.
Gerd Schmidt, according to Dixie Marie Judilla, regarded Dominic like a grandson. (Dixie Marie Judilla submitted this)
According to the latest recent figures, more than 15,000 Filipinos emigrated to tiny Alberta communities between 2010 and 2016.
Elaine Schmidt stated that her husband considered himself a mentor to Judilla and identified with her because he was also an immigrant.
Gerd Schmidt was born in Berlin, Germany, and emigrated to Saskatchewan to work on a farm in 1955. He married Elaine in 1968 and relocated to Claresholm in the 1970s.
“[Gerd] didn’t have any family in Canada, either,” said Elaine Schmidt. “He said when he came over, people helped him, so he wanted to help somebody, too.”
Judilla and the Schmidts’ friendship lasted years, with visits, meals, and holidays spent together.
Dixie Marie and Dominic were mentioned in Gerd’s obituary when he died in 2017. Elaine later relocated to Lethbridge to be closer to her older children, but she maintains contact with Judilla.
Dixie Marie used to drive from Claresholm to Lethbridge so that Elaine could see Dominic before the epidemic.
“I always tell him … I’m your Canadian grandma,” she said.
Schmidt claims that she and her husband met many members of the Filipino community in and around Claresholm through the Judillas and formed friendly ties with them.
‘Big sister’ to all the new Filipinos in town
When Susan and Roy Hernando left the Philippines in the late 1990s to relocate to Canada, their first stop was Toronto. But they only lasted for two years before relocating to Yellowknife and subsequently to Stettler, Alta.
“I didn’t even know where Stettler was. All I knew was that it was in Alberta,” laughed Susan, who was interviewed for her job via Skype.
She is now the Clearview School Board’s director of financial services. Roy Hernando is a Grade 5 teacher with the Siksika First Nation, where he says he has always felt “quite welcomed.”
The Hernando’s are involved in their community church and have performed at Stettler’s yearly music festival. Small towns, according to Susan Hernando, are ideal places for newcomers to establish themselves.
“Salaries are the same. If you work at Tim Hortons [in Stettler], it’s the same salary if you work at Tim Hortons in Calgary,” she said. “And the cost of living is way, way, way cheaper. And there’s a lot of free stuff. Free vegetables in the summer, and sometimes there’s even free beef! And free chickens [from nearby farms]!”
According to the Hernando’s, when the Hernando arrived in Stettler in 2009, about 40 Filipinos. There are currently roughly 150.
Susan Hernando claims to know the majority of them.
“In a big city, if you see a Filipino, you smile, but you don’t usually talk to them. But in a small town … you would immediately have the urge to talk to them.”
Susan, who takes pleasure in being a “big sister” to all the new Filipinos in town, said people in her small town go out of their way to welcome newcomers with a smile, a pleasant greeting, and, on occasion, a couple of ears of corn.