Filipino Grocery Store Offers Taste of Home to Manitoba City’s Growing Newcomer Community

In the quiet little town of Russell, Manitoba, there are only a few places where you can pick up your food for the week.

You can head to the IGA in town or one of the area convenience stores for snacks.

You can also pop into the Filipino Store, an ethnic grocery store located on the town’s main street.

It’s something you would expect to see in a city like Winnipeg (which has at least two), but perhaps not so much in the rural community, which has about 1,600 people, according to the latest census data.

Still, the city’s growing Filipino population has created a demand for the comforts of home, which store co-owner Denzel Camillo tries to provide.

“We see it as an opportunity. … People can go there not to be homesick because we have this store where you can feel at home while you are here in Canada, mainly by offering the culture that we have in the Philippines,” he said.

Camillo says they try to bring products that people can’t get anywhere else in the area. (Philippine Store Russell/Facebook)

Camillo owns and operates the store with his mother, Lorelee, who immigrated to Canada about 10 years ago and then sponsored her family to join her four years later. Camillo was 17 at the time.

The store opened around 2017 as a Filipino grocery store. It was operated by a woman who lived in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, about 100 kilometers northwest on Highway 16, until the Camillo family regained control about a year later.

Along with selling a variety of grocery items from the Philippines and other Asian countries, Camillo says they also try to be a hub for the Filipino community in the area and help newcomers to the city ​​to settle.

They also provide money exchange and shipping services for those who want to send things home, he said.

“It’s nice to see…when you’re away from home and you see one of your compatriots…you feel comfortable,” he said.

The families decide to stay

Like many Filipinos who now live in Russell, Camillo’s mother moved to town to work for the Russell Inn and the businesses it operates in the area.

The company started recruiting newcomers in 2007 when it wanted to expand but couldn’t find enough staff in the area, said Leanne Bily, who runs the human resources department at the Russell Inn. .

In the beginning, the company hired people under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. But Bily said those hires were usually on short-term contracts and ended up going home afterwards, so they then worked with the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program to get people to Russell that way.

It can be difficult to retain newcomers in a rural area, so they have also sponsored families of newcomers to accompany them, to increase their chances of staying, Bily said.

“We had noticed that when their families joined, of course they were happier and their families also needed jobs,” she said.

“So we thought, OK, well, can we sponsor some of their family members to come and work? And then that would help them want to stay in Russell or the area more than just drive into town as soon as they could.”

Since then, the company has sponsored nearly 200 people to immigrate to Canada to work for them, most of them from the Philippines. Many of them stayed.

This had a significant impact on the diversity of the community. 2016 census data shows that Tagalog was the most spoken language in the city apart from English or French. The city even has its own Filipino association.

Jerry Pestano is one of those people who decided to stay, even though he didn’t expect it.

Pestano moved to Russell in 2013 to work for the town’s Tim Hortons restaurant, which is also owned by the Russell Inn.

Now he has a thriving cake business, Keyk Co, which makes custom cakes for events and macaroons.

Jerry Pestano moved to Russell, Manitoba in 2013 to work for the town’s Tim Hortons, which is operated by the Russell Inn. Today, he bakes bespoke cakes from home full time. (Submitted by Jerry Pestano)

Born in the Philippines, he worked in London, England before coming to Canada.

Going from one of the biggest cities in the world to a rural community was a culture shock, he said.

“When I first came here, I felt like… I’m not going to make it,” he said.

“The place is so quiet. It’s totally different from what I was used to when I was in England and back home in the Philippines.”

Pestano created this cake depicting the wooden arches above Russell’s main street. (Submitted by Jerry Pestano)

But over time, small town life grew on him. When his wife and sons joined him a year later, they decided it might be a good place for their growing family.

He said they enjoy getting to know almost everyone in the community and love the sense of security it brings.

“So I think we’re going to stay here long term.”