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Hernan Argana and his wife Lady Ann are photographed with their two daughters: Hershey Anne, age 7 and Hershey Ynan age 11 near their home in Banff, Alberta on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)
Hernan Argana and his wife Lady Ann are photographed with their two daughters: Hershey Anne, age 7 and Hershey Ynan age 11 near their home in Banff, Alberta on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)

Banff’s changing labour landscape Add to ...

After years of repeated efforts, Mr. Hernan was finally granted landed immigrant status on Jan. 18, 2012. His wife and children arrived in Banff less than 10 days later; it was only the second time they had seen Hernan since he left in 2005. Eventually, he moved on from Tony Roma’s to take a job with the municipality as a sanitation worker, in part because of the pay, in part because of the staff accommodation provided by the town. He also works nights as a security guard. Lady Ann is employed as the assistant manager at a clothing store.

“It was very hard being apart for so long,” says Lady Ann, sitting at a table at Evelyn’s Coffee Bar on Banff Avenue. “He would send home almost all of his money to us every two weeks. He lived on nothing. But he wanted to support us. But it was hard, especially when we were hit with floods and earthquakes. That is when we wanted him with us.”

Lady Ann smiles while wiping away tears streaming down her cheeks. Her two daughters look up at her with concerned expressions. She reaches over and gathers both of them closer. Hershey Ynan, 7, wraps her arms around her mother’s arm. An older daughter, Hershey Anne, 11, huddles against her sister.

“But now we are all together,” Lady Ann says. “It is like a miracle. It really is. The people here have been so incredibly kind to us. The people at Settlement Services have helped us find our way. We have finished paying most of our debts back home and so now we can begin saving for the future, for the girls’ education. It is a miracle that God brought us here.”

Then there is the beauty of the place. “Our breath was taken away the first time we saw the mountains and the snow,” Lady Ann says. “We can’t believe that there is such a place as beautiful as Banff in the world. We are so lucky.”

Despite the foreign workers, Banff remains a rite of passage for many young Canadians who come to work and ski. I called the place home in the 1970s, living in a youth hostel and paying for my beer by working for a tree-pruning company. I have been drawn back many times over the years for visits. There are still many who land here for a summer or winter to party and ski and sow their wild oats before moving on.

But the new immigrants, especially the ones transitioning to permanent residency, are not only changing the demographic makeup of the town but also increasing its population. Once upon a time, most workers coming to Banff took up one bed. But with new immigrant workers bringing their families, that one bed has suddenly become four or five.

Rainier Jalalon arrived in Banff from the Philippines in September, 2012, initially to take a housekeeping job with the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. A trained nurse, Mr. Jalalon came under Canada’s skilled workers program and as a result received landed immigrant status shortly after arriving. His wife and two children in the Philippines quickly followed him. Housing has been an issue.

“It’s very hard to find anything here,” says Mr. Jalalon, who now works as a nursing assistant at the local hospital. “And anything there is, is very expensive. It’s the biggest problem immigrants face after they get here.”

According to the 2011 census, Banff’s population increased 13.2 per cent from 2006, more than twice the national average. The mayor says the population is now likely close to 8,600; under federal statute, it has been capped at 10,000. In 2013, the vacancy rate for rentals hovered just over 1 per cent. Ms. Sorensen says she was just told it is now zero.

The town has effectively reached commercial build-out – meaning it has bumped up against the boundaries drawn by the federal government for commercial and residential expansion. To build housing to accommodate more residents, Ms. Sorensen and her council have had to get creative.

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