EDITOR’S NOTE: Manitoulin is being transformed with the influx of new residents and business owners who bring with them fresh ideas, experiences and perspectives that are enriching the area. Some individuals and families are still unpacking boxes, having only moved in the past month or two, while others made the move over the last few years and are now comfortably established in their new communities. Here are some of their stories.
by Heather Marshall
Having been an immigrant who has moved to multiple countries over her lifetime, it’s perhaps not surprising that Vera Kuminov would help refugee women who recently moved to Manitoulin after fleeing the war in Ukraine. A native of Crimea, she spent the first decade of her life the region so it understandably holds a special place in her heart. But Vera’s journey would see her move many more times and call several countries home before she eventually found her way to Manitoulin too.
The daughter of a mother from Crimea and father from Siberia, Vera and her two sisters spent the bulk of their lives in Israel, where the family moved when she was 10 years old. She lived in Ashqelon for more than two decades, attending elementary and secondary school before fulfilling her mandatory military service in the Israel Defence Forces, which all young women and men must do when they turn 18. After completing an engineering degree in computer science and mathematics, the fluent English, Hebrew and Russian speaker was recruited by an Israeli multinational computer company, Amdocs, and travelled the world doing its business.
A thriving IT career was just one aspect of Vera’s life in Israel. She met and married her teenage sweetheart, another computer specialist originally from Moscow whose family also had emigrated to Israel when he was a child. The couple had a son and daughter. During those very busy years Vera lived for a time in Amsterdam and London working on IT initiatives in the Netherlands and UK before being sent to Canada in 2014 to work on a project for Telus.
“This was a big move for us,” says Vera. “Our daughter was less than two years old and our son only four when we uprooted the entire family for my career. It became a life-changing experience.”
Vera’s life took a totally different path after arriving in Richmond Hill where she met a neighbour running a home daycare, Inessa Taibert, who took her kids into care. That relationship became an exceptional friendship and, in time, a business partnership when Vera concluded that IT was taking too great a toll on her family and personal life. Among the casualties was the dissolution of her marriage.
Vera went from being a project manager for a high-tech firm to running her own home daycare, which she began with Inessa’s support. “I am endlessly grateful to her,” she explains. “Inessa took me under her wing and taught me how to run a business. I was accustomed to running a team of IT specialists, but she helped me to do everything from interviewing staff and parents to selecting wonderful children. She let me build on her reputation to get myself established.”
Their businesses were so successful that the friends were set to bid on a large-scale daycare operation they would jointly operate when their business partnership took another giant step forward. That’s when Inessa vacationed on Manitoulin for the first time in 2018 and fell so in love with it that she purchased a house almost immediately. She told Vera there were affordable business opportunities on the Island and that they should consider taking their business plans in a new direction.
“I’d never heard of Manitoulin before, but Inessa was confident this would be a good fit for us and suggested we give it a try. After coming up here I understood why. The first trip up we arrived late at night and she told me to look up. I had never seen the sky that way before, staring at the Milky Way and billions of stars. I was sold!”
Vera initially looked at cottages for sale she could potentially rent out but, within short order, she and Inessa agreed to jointly purchase The Huron Sands Motel & Restaurant in Providence Bay. She set aside a stellar IT career, resigning from Telus, to run a tourist operation with her best friend and business partner.
“I got to know the real Canada by making this move. In the city you don’t see Canadians as much because so many people who live there are immigrants. Moving to a quiet rural area you get to know real Canadians—and just how wonderful they are. When we began, we had no idea about wells or septic systems, but we got so much help from local trades people and so much support from our neighbours. We made a lot of rookie mistakes, yet people have been incredibly helpful and nurturing. When I come back to Manitoulin after being away, I get texts from people saying, ‘welcome home’.”
Given the seasonal nature of the tourism business, Vera has returned to IT, once again employed by Telus but now as a consultant working remotely. The enterprising entrepreneur is keeping her options open to potentially start another Island-based business, maybe a daycare, in the future. All this while continuing to commute biweekly between Manitoulin and Richmond Hill, where she shares custody of her children with her ex-husband.
Ms. Kuminov has another, volunteer career at present: settling the refugees from her native Ukraine in places of safety, many now calling Manitoulin their home thanks to her diligence and empathy.
Despite the heavy demands of her new life, Vera is convinced the move to Manitoulin will be her final destination. “This has been an amazing journey. I feel I have become a different and better person because of this decision. I never want to leave this community as I feel this where I belong. Having just gained Canadian citizenship, I can proudly say this is my home, a place where local people leave me speechless with their kindness and goodness.”
Heather Marshall and her husband worked as journalists and consultants in the National Capital Region for more decades than they care to admit before making their Sandfield cottage their permanent home. A lifelong learner, Heather loves discovering new things and people and relishes the opportunity to write about newcomers to the Manitoulin. If you would like to share your story or know of recent arrivals we should meet, send a message to email@example.com