When Azel Solano moved to British Columbia with her family last year, she chose to live in Fort St. John, unlike many other Filipino immigrants who have chosen to live in Metro Vancouver.
"We really fell in love with the community — everything is five minutes away," she said.
Solano is part of the rapidly growing Filipino community in the northeastern B.C. city, a community tied closely to the province's oil and gas industries that is home to more than 28,000 residents.
According to the latest census data from Statistics Canada, Fort St. John's Filipino population increased by 75 per cent, from 680 people in 2016 to 1,190 in 2021.
That's just part of a shift that has seen Fort St. John become one of the province's most diverse cities outside the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria over the past five years.
According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, nearly 13 per cent of people in Fort St. John identify as a "visible minority", the agency's term for non-Indigenous people of colour.
% of people identifying as a visible minority by B.C. metropolitan area
The change has been significant: People who identify as Latin American grew by 100 per cent from 60 to 120, South Asian by 82 per cent, Korean by 67 per cent, Black by 11.5 per cent and Southeast Asian by 10 per cent.
Census data shows that among metropolitan areas in B.C.'s northern and Interior regions, Fort St. John has the highest percentage growth of people of colour in the population — 3.67 per cent — compared to the more populous Kelowna (3.34 per cent), Prince George (2.38 per cent) and Kamloops (2.52 per cent).
Percentage of people of colour in B.C.'s northern and Interior metropolitan areas' populations
Solano, who worked as a communications officer with a government agency in Manila, now works as a digital marketing professional with Alaska Highway News in Fort St. John.
She says there are as many job opportunities for newcomers in the northeastern city as in Metro Vancouver.
"It's not a bad thing to look at small towns," she said. "You can do as many jobs as you can ... there's a lot of development [in Fort St. John]."
Tony Mei, lead for international student recruitment at Northern Lights College, says its student body has become more diverse over the past few years, with 35 per cent of students coming from the Philippines.
Mei says many international students come to Canada with their families, and intend to stay after graduation and become permanent residents.
"The community is very welcoming," he said. "There are always individual cases [of racism], but the majority of [students] watch out for each other and make themselves stronger against racism."
Queenie Choo, CEO of Vancouver-based settlement services agency S.U.C.C.E.S.S., which has a branch in Fort St. John, says challenges do exist for some newcomers seeking employment, particularly those who are seniors and who lack English language skills.
She says S.U.C.C.E.S.S. will continue to advocate for more government funding for newcomers seeking support for employment and mental health.