Manitouwadge and Confederation College are on the brink of securing a $20-million loan to help bring international students from China into the small community for a one-year academic program in English as a second language.
To help drive the project, the township partnered with Confederation, which already has a strong international presence.
Once completing their one-year course in Manitouwadge, students will transfer to Confederation College to continue their education with two credits underneath their belt.
“Without that partnership, this program wouldn't exist,” said Dave Raymond, director of economic development for the Township of Manitouwadge. “So now they're in China looking for funding for the capital investment required to start the program here in Manitouwadge.”
The business plan for the entire project has been written up, and according to Raymond, Confederation College has the guarantee of financing, “but the cheque hasn't been written yet.”
“So they're still waiting on that, but the demand for the education in China to study here in Manitouwadge is growing,” he said.
The idea to bring international students to the township began with the thought to increase enrolment at the local high school.
Manitouwadge's high school is built for twice as many people as are currently attending, and Raymond said that their numbers seem to get smaller every year.
“Then we started looking at not just high-school students, but college and university students too,” said Raymond. “There's a real marketing opportunity in China to study English as a second language program in Canada.”
It was around that time when Morley Chertkoff, director of international studies for Zhengzhou College of Economics and general manager of Canadabridge Education, sent close to 200 email messages to communities across the country.
Most of his messages went unanswered, and those that didn't ranged from unfavourable to xenophobic.
But a response from Raymond in Manitouwadge seemed promising, and in October of 2008, he visited the small community.
“When I came to Manitouwadge, I felt right at home in a place that I've never been before, let alone even heard of,” said Chertkoff, from his home in Zhengzhou City, Henan Province of the People's Republic of China.
Chertkoff lived the majority of his life in Ontario before becoming a university teacher for English classes in China in 2004.
“As soon as I stepped foot in the town, I felt that Manitouwadge would be the ideal place for Chinese students to come, live and learn.”
Chertkoff was inspired to look for a community to help bring students to Canada after he received a letter from a former student, detailing their frustration at not having access to native English speakers.
Every Saturday afternoon in Zhengzhou City, Chertkoff would host an open English practice session in a local bookstore.
The individual who wrote the email would attend every week for several years until his family had the means to send him to Canada.
“I used his email as the impetus to begin looking for a small, welcoming community to send Chinese students,” said Chertkoff.
Since the initial contact, Chertkoff and Raymond spent almost every day of their lives working to bring Chinese students and investment to Manitouwadge.
“It's safe to say that once things get organized here, the program is going to be a success,” said Raymond. “To prove that, this summer we'll be doing some student guided tours.”
In the months of June, July and August, a bus full of 50 students will start a two-week tour of Ontario and eventually pass through Manitouwadge, with the help of Canadabridge Education.
The trip will start in Thunder Bay and will bring students through Manitouwadge, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Port Dover, Niagara Falls, and the many points in between.
Called the “Four Great Lakes in Two Great Weeks Tour”, it is promoted in conjunction with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
Raymond said that there was only one tour planned in the month of June, but the response was so positive they had to book subsequent ones – all in an effort to help promote the North, and get students to move to the area.
“We see a lot of potential here,” said Raymond. “It starts off with maybe a few students living in our community, then going off to school becomes much more than that.”
Manitouwadge has the accommodations in place for the students, and a location selected for the classrooms, and can move very quickly if given the green light.
Raymond said he hopes to have everything operational for September of this year, though it all rests on the progress of the loan.