Community

As more Filipinos call Fairview home, a Filipino restaurant thrives

Filipinos are the community with the second highest population growth in the area, according to analysis of Statistics Canada data.

Editor's Note: Reporting for this story was done in August 2019.

On the edge of Fairview in Halifax, a cluster of ethnic grocery stores and restaurants are thriving.

You can get a taste of some of the world’s most diverse cuisines: African, Filipino, Mexican, Chinese, and Lebanese.

The stores reflect the diversity of the community. But only one ethnic group has two grocery stores and a restaurant within two minutes of each other: Filipinos.

Warm lighting welcomes customers into the small restaurant on Titus Street. Three tables, the only tables at Silong Express, are decorated with banana leaf mats.

It’s busy on a Thursday evening. The owner smiles warmly and chats with his customers in Tagalog as they get takeout food and groceries. Some of the customers seem to know each other.

Erick De Los Reyes says there’s an increasing number of Filipinos living in the apartment buildings surrounding his business.

The restaurant opened in early 2017 to offer the community authentic home-style cooking when they miss it.

“In every corner of the Philippines you can see a business like this one,” he says pointing to the stacks of Filipino snacks and condiments lining the walls.

Analysis of Statistics Canada census profiles for 2011 and 2016 shows that the Filipino population has the second highest growth in Fairview.

Infogram

This year, the Halifax Regional Municipality celebrated its first Filipino Heritage month in June.

“We’re very overwhelmed, like ‘oh my God, is it real?’” says De Los Reyes. “Everyone is rejoicing.”

According to De Los Reyes, Filipinos come to Fairview because housing is cheaper compared to other areas. He says Fairview is central and accessible by transit which makes it easier for Filipinos to get to their workplaces in downtown Dartmouth and Halifax.

“Halifax is the best place to raise your family,” he says. “It’s a quiet, small city.”

Deborah Marriott, program manager at the Fairview United Family Resource Centre, says more visible minorities, including Filipinos are coming to the centre for parenting and childcare support.

Heather MacKenzie, manager for diversity at the Halifax Public Libraries, says the number of people attending the English language program at the Keshen Goodman Library, which is the closest branch to Fairview, has almost doubled between 2012 and 2019. Filipinos were among those attending the program.

De Los Reyes says it was difficult for him to adjust to life in Canada when he first came 11 years ago. The cold winters were shocking at first.

“I felt home sick especially when my family in the Philippines were sick,” he says.

He had lived in the United States for a few years before moving to Canada for a better future … and better health insurance.

“We believe that every person who lives in Canada is secure,” he says. “The opportunity is everywhere, but we need to really work hard.”

De Los Reyes now lives with his wife and four daughters in a house 10 minutes away from Fairview. He mostly works alone in the restaurant.

The ingredients De Los Reyes sells and uses in his recipes are imported from the Philippines through a dealer in Toronto. It can get expensive, especially for frozen food.

But he says the price is worth it. The authentic food doesn’t only attract Filipino customers. People from different ethnic backgrounds learned about his restaurant by word-of-mouth.

“The volume of orders is like crazy,” he says laughing. “Sometimes I sleep here just to sustain them.”

De Los Reyes’s recent surge of customers was due to a group of Filipino nurses who immigrated as skilled workers to work as continuing care assistants. They live in Fairview.

Filipinos in Halifax connect to each other on Facebook groups like The Filipino Association of Nova Scotia where newcomers can ask for help.

De Los Reyes says they try to help not only Filipinos, but anyone in need no matter their background. It’s the Filipino spirit.

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