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Alex Carrion, owner of Marc's Poultry, pauses when asked about the friends and cousins he lost in a horrific accident involving his company's passenger van and a truck in Ontario. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Alex Carrion, owner of Marc's Poultry, pauses when asked about the friends and cousins he lost in a horrific accident involving his company's passenger van and a truck in Ontario. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

An immigrant's success story; an employer's enduring pain Add to ...

Mr. Carrion’s first job in Canada was with his brother-in-law’s construction business, but when he fell off a barn and hurt his legs, he began looking for other work. He joined Brian’s Poultry Services in 1983, catching and loading chickens for farmers Brian and Evelyn Herman. The stint helped him secure work with a hatchery in Hanover, Ont.

At Horizon Chicks, he learned the ins and outs of poultry vaccination, supervising a crew. By 1989, he was ready to strike out on his own, starting MARC Poultry Vaccination Services.

Building the business took a toll on Mr. Carrion’s time with his family and his marriage fell apart. He was rarely home, toiling from 3 a.m. until 10 at night. His sons, Raymond and Pedro, spent their summer holidays working with him. It was the only way to get quality time with their father.

“Any business is tough to start,” said Mr. Carrion, who now lives in a modest bungalow clad in red brick and white siding in Kitchener. He paid $130,000 for the house in 1996 and has mortgaged it several times to raise cash for his business. “It was long hours,” he said of his firm’s formative years. “I didn’t see my family. That’s the only thing I regret about this business, but I had to build something … provide them with a better life.”

Over the years, Mr. Carrion returned regularly to Comas, and when he did, it was as a striking success – the owner of the largest vaccination service for breeder chickens in Southern Ontario, working on about 55 farms. He wielded influence that came with the promise of work and opportunity.

His relatives constantly asked him to help them come to Canada. He sponsored several members of his immediate family for immigration, but there was little he could do for his many cousins, nephews, nieces and friends until 2007, when he began hiring temporary foreign labourers to augment his Canadian work force. Since that time, he has brought 20 Peruvians to Canada.

The arrangement was mutually beneficial. Mr. Carrion got a pool of reliable workers, and the Peruvian migrants got the chance to build a substantial nest egg, saving as much as $1,000 monthly when their homeland’s current minimum wage is equal to $250 a month.

In many ways, the experience of Mr. Carrion’s migrant workers was atypical. He wasn’t a stranger; they weren’t holed away in trailers in the middle of nowhere, like so many other foreign farm labourers in Canada. Mr. Carrion regularly socialized with his employees. He set them up in apartments in Kitchener because they didn’t want to be stuck in the countryside, far from grocery stores and nightlife. On weekends, they often gathered for a big communal meal in one of the Jean Avenue apartments.

“He goes beyond for those men,” said Melissa West-Balceda, whose husband works as a chicken catcher for Mr. Carrion.

UNCONSOLABLE OVER LOSS

Inside a red-brick church with stained-glass windows and a vaulted ceiling, Mr. Carrion sat silently on a stiff wooden pew, his head bowed as he wept. In front of him, nine grey, cloth-covered caskets fanned the church’s white marble altar, each one accompanied with a framed photograph of the Peruvian migrant worker inside.

Dozens of people approached Mr. Carrion at last week’s memorial service in Kitchener, placing a hand on his broad shoulder, hugging him and kissing his left cheek. His family, his workers and poultry farmers from across Ontario have tried to console him, but it’s still hard for him to comprehend why so many lives were lost in that single moment on Feb. 6.

Mr. Carrion’s 16-member vaccination crew had stopped at Tim Hortons before heading to Albert Burgers’s poultry farm early in the morning. They spent the day rustling up about 16,000 11-week-old chickens, injecting vaccines into their necks and wings and squeezing medicated drops into their eyes.

When they were done, they stripped off their grey coveralls and black rubber booties. Three of the workers set off in a van around 4:30 p.m., while the others lingered a bit longer. The trio had no clue what happened to their co-workers until later that night.

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