A worsening Alberta economy brought Sarina St. Germaine to Kitimat on September 17, 2015, to pursue what she initially thought was a simple property manager career.
Nearly two years later and the fast-talking, fast-moving Alberta-born Sarina has taken the job to greater heights, not just managing properties but working with vulnerable tenants to prevent them from ending up on the streets.
“I always wanted to move to the mountains and pursue my property management career, so when the opportunity came up to move to Kitimat, my husband suggested I take the job,” said Sarina, who was born and raised in Alberta.
Not being able to find work in Alberta, Sarina took the offer, left her husband behind in Alberta until he could find work in Kitimat and drove through to B.C.
“My first impression of Kitimat driving into town was that it was really pretty,” added Sarina, who was immediately impressed with just how much outdoor activities there were in a rural town like Kitimat.
Her husband followed her to B.C. after he managed to secure a contract at Rio Tinto, and her son was in Kitimat for a month before moving back to Edmonton.
“There isn’t a whole lot for a sober 25-year-old to do in Kitimat,” said Sarina, whose remaining “kids” in Kitimat are her two dogs, Mephis the Rottweiler-Shepherd mix, and Scooby, her Shitzu.
After settling in, Sarina realized her job was about a lot more than just managing properties, having arrived in Kitimat after the finalization of Rio Tinto’s Modernization Project when the local economy started to wind down and people ran out of Employment Insurance.
“In a big city nobody cares about the vulnerable and don’t want to get involved. When you meet them and hear their stories, it’s hard not to fight for them,” said Sarina.
She believes that landlords shouldn’t just care about profits and should protect tenants who have lived in Kitimat for many years, especially the elderly.
“We shouldn’t throw reliable tenants out onto the streets, tenants who have shown their loyalty through the lean period,” said Sarina. “When the boom comes we need to be ready – we need to offer them some kind of protection.”
She said Kitimat’s way of life is worth fighting for and should be protected, especially considering having come from a big city how relaxed it is and how easy living is in the town.
“This town has so much potential. It has the perfect pace, that old-time, small-town feel that I love so much,” said Sarina, who defines a traffic jam in Kitimat as the moment four cars arrive at a four-way stop.
She also enjoys the closeness of the community, where she goes to the bank and the staff all knows her name.
“If you want to catch up with what’s happening in town, all you have to do is go down to the grocery store – you’re always likely to meet someone you know there. Your circle can be as big or as small as you choose here,” she added.
She admits that she had to “let go of a lot of conveniences” when she moved from the city, but says that it is by supporting local businesses that the community will be able to ensure a better variety of products and services.
Sarina says her work keeps her extremely busy, tearing around town sorting out problems with tenants, helping where she can.
“I’m killing myself right now with the work, but I’m doing it with an eye on the long term. I have lots on the go all the time,” said Sarina.
While she’s not hard at work, she likes to go fishing, something which she never thought that she would get into. She also got into hiking and water sports, and has even been invited to join the women’s dragon boat crew.
“Sometimes I feel like an adult who wants to go back to summer camp. It’s hard to have a bad day here when you’re surrounded by so much beauty. You just can’t beat the views in Kitimat.”
Sarina says like so many other people that came to Kitimat for a “six-month job” and have stayed for the rest of their lives, she and her husband are not going anywhere.