Mathieu Gendron, the new Plant Manager at Bear Island, as well as Mathieu Fournier, Patrick Laroche and Yan Veillette, a llSenior Project Leaders, Operations, left Québec this summer with their spouses and children to settle in Virginia. They will remain there for at least three years, during which time they will lead the Bear Island mill project until production begins, which is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2022. Their spouses kindly agreed to talk to us about this great family adventure. Here are their stories.
The story of Mathieu Gendron and his wife, Catherine Côté, in her words
October 4, 2021: More than three months after the move
How did the first discussions between you and Mathieu go about possibly moving to Virginia?
It all started when Mathieu told me that Cascades had just acquired BearIsland in Virginia. Since I’ve always been drawn to the state of Virginia, I told Mathieu that I would agree to move there if he wanted to be involved in the project. Mathieu was then appointed project leader, which made the move imminent. I had made this type of change in my life in the past and I enjoyed the adventure, so I was ready to do it again.
Why were you so drawn to the area?
I’m a veterinarian for horses, and horses are very popular in Virginia. In Québec, I had my own veterinary outpatient clinic for horses only.
After our move, I had to give up being my own boss, given the complexity of relaunching a veterinary outpatient clinic. So, I agreed to work for an employer for whom I can do the same work I did in Québec.
How long did it take to prepare for your move?
In January 2019, we knew that we would move in the fall of that year. We sold our house in Kingsey Falls. Unfortunately, there were some delays in the project and COVID-19 happened. Between June and November 2019, we stayed with friends temporarily until we were able to buy a new house. We stayed there until our official move in June 2021.
And now, how do you like your new home in the United States?
We’re currently renting a house while we wait for our future home to be built. Since there were very few listings on the real estate market when we were looking, we opted for a new build. We hope to have our home by February 2022 at the latest, but COVID-19 causes a lot of challenges at any given moment that could delay delivery.
Besides the house, what other challenges did you encounter in your move?
It’s just us and our three pets. So, we didn’t have any issues with choosing a school for children, for example. Our main difficulty was getting my work visa, which was very complicated due to the delays caused by COVID-19. It was a process that we were not really familiar with, but we did receive good support. Also, like all other couples, we had to get married to facilitate all the administrative procedures.
Now that it’s all behind you, how is everything going in your daily life and new reality?
We’re both bilingual, so that makes things easier. We also love how long summer lasts here! So, our everyday life is going pretty well. If nothing changes, at the end of the contract, we might want to extend our stay in this beautiful state!
The story of Mathieu Fournier and his family in the words of his wife, Line
“Last weekend, we met with all the other Cascaders from Québec and their families. There’s a beautiful sense of helping each other and sharing among all of us.”
September 16, 2021: A little more than two weeks after the move
Tell me, how did the idea of moving to Virginia come about?
Mathieu was interested in the Bear Island project from the beginning. It was obvious that we would have to move for the role he wanted but as soon as he told me about it, I thought it seemed like a great opportunity for the whole family. We have four children: Téa (7), Flora (9), Isaac (11) and William (23). However, we decided not to talk to them about it until everything was 100% certain. In life, there are always unexpected things, so we didn’t want to worry them. We did however enroll them in an English school in Québec so it would be easier for them to integrate into a new school after our move. We also came to Virginia on vacation in 2019. Mathieu showed us the plant and already began telling the kids that he wanted us to see each other more often. William stayed in Québec to pursue his university studies.
How did the preparations go?
I had to go on unpaid leave from my work followed by a salary deferral. For me to be able to move to the United States, we had to get married. We planned a simple, intimate wedding with an adventure theme, which was a reference to the adventure we were about to embark on.
It took some time for us to decide whether to sell or rent our house. We finally decided to rent so that we could return to our house at the end of the project. It was important for us to leave it in good hands. Meanwhile, Mathieu was looking at homes on the weekends that he was in Virginia. We wanted to live in a good neighbourhood with good schools for the kids. We finally found our house near the end of June and a month later, on July 27, we left our home in Victoriaville and handed it over to our tenants. Before leaving Québec, we spent as much time as possible with family and friends. It was very emotional to say goodbye.
Did it go well when you arrived in Virginia?
When we arrived on August 26, we took possession of our house, but we had to live in a simple manner until our belongings and furniture were delivered on September 5. The delays were caused by the carrier’s logistics and that was clearly noted when the contract was signed. The owner of the house had set up two air mattresses with sheets for us and provided us with towels. She helped us to finally feel at home, even though we had to make do with only a little.
Before starting school, the kids had to take an English test that lasted about one hour at the Welcome Center (the equivalent of a school board in Québec), which helped determine how much support they would need in language proficiency, both in terms of comprehension and oral and written communication. At school, they have the support they need to progress well, which we consider a huge privilege. Another requirement was a medical exam and some additional vaccines.
Last, how do the children like their new school?
It’s going much better than I imagined! I thought they would come back discouraged in the first few days, but not at all. The girls are together and are excited about their school and their teachers. My oldest is 11 and is in middle school here whereas he would be in grade 6 in Québec. He’s adapting well. Ourfriends and family kept telling us that we had a great opportunity and I think it created that mindset in the children’s minds. I consider them brave. However, full immersion is demanding for them physically and mentally. They’re exhausted when they get home from school.
What has the biggest adjustment been for you since you arrived?
I don’t speak English, so language is definitely the biggest adjustment for me. The first time I went to the grocery store, I went with the kids so they could help me, and this morning, in the park, I spoke to the other moms using Google Translate (laughs). In the coming months, my goal is to improve. The owner of our house wants me to teach her French, so we might exchange services(laughs). At least people are very friendly and open, which makes it easier for me to fit in.
How do you envision your next three years in Virginia?
For Mathieu, it’s three years. For me, as a social worker, I was able to take a two-year leave. After the first two years, a decision will need to be made as to whether I’ll go back to Québec to work. Due to the field I work in and especially the language barrier, I’m not able to work here. Our initial plan was and still remains that I be present as much as possible for the kids. The girls finish school at 2:10 p.m. here, so the days go by pretty fast. I’m not ruling out the possibility of eventually finding a job, but for now, the priority is my family and making the most of our new environment.
The story of Patrick Laroche and his family in the words of his wife, Edith
“We’re on this great big adventure day by day and we appreciate every moment of it.”
August 11, 2021: A little less than two weeks until the move
When did you first discuss the possibility of moving to Virginia?
At the beginning of this year. After working at Cascades for 15 years, Patrick left for another job where he worked for two years, but in January or February 2021, Mathieu Fournier, Patrick’s long-time friend and former work colleague, called him to talk to him about the project. He felt that he was well-suited for the challenge and that it would suit us as a couple as well since we’re adventurous.
What was your first reaction?
Patrick’s immediate answer was no, simple as that. He thought I wouldn’t be interested, but after we discussed it a little more, he called Mathieu back for more details. Patrick became more and more excited about the idea while I became less and less (laughs). I was worried about Édouard, that we would be taking a sense of security away from him, but we were told that there were several couples with children who were in the same situation and that we wouldn’t be alone. We listed the pros and cons and three weeks later, we made our decision.
So, what did your son think?
He’s not an anxious boy. So, he reacted very well. The school he has gone to for two years in Québec is trilingual. He already has a good foundation in English. In addition, Mathieu’s children, who go to the same school, will also be moving to Virginia. So, the announcement went well.
Once the decision is made, there are lots of things to think about! What were the next steps?
There were several important steps to take, which were more complicated because of COVID-19. First, we had to sell our house and find one in Virginia that was close to a good school for Édouard. There was already a boom in the real estate market in Québec, but in Virginia, it was even worse! We made nearly seven different offers on homes before we found the one, which I only visited on Facetime!
Then, we had to get married for immigration reasons. We went to the notary with our witnesses, nothing more, because of COVID-19… But we’ll definitely find another opportunity to have a big celebration! (laughs)
Cascades gave us good support throughout the process. One person we were in contact with was Suzette Macedo, a paralegal, who explained each step to us in detail. In fact, before I knew whether or not I could continue my current job remotely, Cascades offered to help me find a new job, even one at the plant.
Speaking of employment, what will your work situation be once you leave Québec?
Soon after I knew that we were leaving Québec, I spoke with my employer, who approached a firm to help determine whether I could continue my work in the United States. Fortunately, everything works, so I can keep my current job in the life insurance industry...
September 21, 2021: Almost one month after the move
Tell me, how did everything go with the move, saying goodbye to your loved ones and arriving in Virginia?
It was a little emotional to leave the house we’ve lived in for the past 12 years, but the hardest part was leaving our family and friends. Now we realize that it will also be an opportunity for them to come visit us and share this great experience with us…
When the time came to leave, we spent two days driving to Virginia. When we arrived, Édouard was very excited to see the new house. He had never seen it before. Our furniture was delivered about ten days later, something we found out about on the eve of our move from Québec. We wanted to use our vacation to get settled in, but since we had only three camping chairs, a TV and an air mattress, we took the time to walk around and get familiar with the area.
How do you like your new neighbourhood?
On our first day, our neighbour introduced himself right away. He came back a few days later, more officially, with his wife, their children and their dog. His wife added me to a Facebook group for the neighbourhood moms. We already know more people on our street here than in Québec! People are very welcoming, which makes fitting in much easier.
A few days before the school year started, the teachers at Édouard’s school drove around the neighbourhood to greet the kids. We thought that was great! Édouard seems to be doing well since school has started. His teacher speaks slowly to help him understand. A teacher also spends two or three hours a week with him to make sure that he understands the material. All in all, things are going very well.
The story of Yan Veillette and his family in the words of his wife, Joselina
“On our own without Cascades’ help and support, this adventure would have been like climbing a huge mountain. We would like to thank everyone for their help, generosity, kindness and dedication. Patricia Nowell, the human resources manager here at the plant, is very welcoming. She’s very generous and supports us in our integration process.”
August 31, 2021: More than two months after the move
Tell me a bit about yourself, your couple and your family.
My name is Joselina Coello. I was born in Honduras and came to Québec when I was 10 years old. So, I’ve had this desire to discover the world since I was very young. Yan and I are frequent travellers. We have three children together: Gabriella (15), Rafaella (16) and Alejandro (17).
Do your children share your passion for travel? How did they react to the announcement of the move?
At work, Yan had always been open to the idea of moving and trying new experiences. With the project for the new plant, the opportunity came up and we seized it. The children were immediately on board. They really considered it as a great opportunity to experience something different, master a new language and get to know another culture. Our oldest was registered for his first year of CEGEP and we gave him the choice of staying in Québec, but he preferred to come along for the experience. We all have this spirit of adventure!
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while preparing for this?
The real estate market was not at all favourable. As soon as we would see a house we liked, it was no longer available. Despite everything, we found the house fairly quickly but we paid more for it to make sure we would get it. At least Yan was able to see it in person.
As we speak, you’re already settled in Virginia. How did the move go?
We had some difficulties with our driver’s licences, but otherwise the move went well. The children and I arrived by car on July 9 this year. Yan had flown down a few days before to be at the new house when our furniture and personal belongings arrived.
How is your everyday life going?
We find the people here very friendly. They are welcoming, warm and very open. They greet us very naturally and spontaneously even though they don’t know us.
In Québec, that’s less common.As for the kids, I have always homeschooled them. Here in the United States, that is much more common than in Québec. So, there are more opportunities for my kids to take part in a program that matches their respective interests. Yan teaches Math and Science and I teach French, History, Geography, etc. It’s a team effort. We thrive this way and for us, it’s like any other family project.
How do you envision your next three years in Virginia?
Life brought us here for a reason. We’re remaining open to whatever comes up!