When Dominique and Mieke Berlenger toured the Maritimes for the first time in 2014, they immediately fell in love with New Brunswick, specifically the town of Saint Andrews. “We spent what I would call three perfect days in Saint Andrews,” says Dominique. “We went whale watching, had some terrific food, and walked Water Street. It’s a beautiful town and a gorgeous province.”
The Belgian couple is well-travelled, having lived and worked in places like Geneva and Chicago. New Brunswick, however, felt like a place they could make a more permanent move to. After multiple return visits to Saint Andrews, they purchased land in Bayside in 2018. In 2019, the couple leveraged the Provincial Nominee Program’s NB Strategic Initiative Stream aimed at French-speaking immigrants to begin their path towards permanent residency, which both have received as of late 2022.
Making Their Mark
Dominique says he and his wife are far from ready to retire in New Brunswick. In making the move here, they were determined to contribute to the provincial economy and help with some of the challenges facing the entire region. “Housing has been on our mind since the beginning,” he says. “It’s something that we already had experience with through building rental properties in Europe. That was going to be a big part of our work here.” They started by building their first rental property on Water Street and have since invested in multiple housing properties in Saint Andrews. They haven’t stopped there, however.
Last fall, the Berlengers became the new owners of the historic Kennedy Inn, the first summer hotel in Canada built in 1881. Now fully renovated and re-named Kennedy House, the hotel is set to re-open for the 2023 peak season. Dominique says they are excited to show the world their new-look landmark property which includes a new restaurant and bar. “I’ve been around food and beverage for most of my life. In Belgium, I worked for Quick Restaurants, a large chain that competes with brands like McDonald’s. I also worked for Leonidas, a Belgian chocolate company. That work is what brought me to Canada for the first time. Mieke worked for a coffee company at that time and now works for a Swiss chemical company that specializes in flavours. The food service industry is something we know well.”
The Road to New Brunswick
The Berlengers leveraged support from what is now Opportunities NB’s (ONB) Immigration Team to begin the process of moving to New Brunswick. “They gave us the guidance we needed to get started. Ultimately steering us towards the Strategic Initiative Stream, it was the simplest fit for us where we are both fluently bilingual.” He says despite COVID-19’s impact on waiting periods, things went smoothly after the best immigration stream was chosen, with the initial invitation to apply coming within two weeks.
Paying it Forward
Dominique says Kennedy House offers another opportunity to help other international arrivals put down roots in New Brunswick. “It’s allowing us to do our part in terms of helping others arriving here from abroad. We opened about 75 per cent of our accommodations to workers and international students over the winter months.
He says 14 students are still living with them, which includes students from China, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mexico, and the Philippines. “It’s a privilege to help others with accommodations while they establish themselves in New Brunswick. Some of these people may even be able to stay on as Kennedy House staff,” he says. “That’s what we talk about when we talk about making a real difference in the local economy. If we can help keep more of these people in the community over the long-term we’ll have made a real positive difference.”
Book accommodations with Kennedy House here.
ONB’s Immigration Navigator provides live services to help candidates (potential and active) and information seekers navigate the provincial immigration process and supports employers’ access to skilled workers. Contact them by email at email@example.com.
The New Brunswick Strategic Initiative Stream is for French-speaking workers with the skills, education, and work experience to contribute to New Brunswick’s economy, and who are ready to live and work in New Brunswick permanently. Couples like the Berlengers are a great example of our ongoing effort to see 33 per cent of all provincial nominations extended to French speakers by 2024. Learn more here.