Dream it There, do it Here in Pictou County

Anushka (Al) Sirinivas has dreamed of the day he would come to Canada.  

Though the circumstances that brought him to fulfill his dream were unfortunate, those difficult times in the Sri Lankan born entrepreneurs life led him to the place he will forever call home, Pictou County.

“My childhood dream was to come to Canada,” said Sirinivas. He recalled a memory from his childhood that has stuck with him throughout the years of finding a yellow envelope on a public bus in Sir Lanka, containing information on how to immigrate to Canada.

But the dream always seemed unattainable for Sirinivas. That is, until immigration laws began to change in England, where he had been living and working within the hospitality industry for three years.

He was unable to extend his working visa, which meant maintaining his position as an area manager at a large restaurant corporation was impossible.

Though his employers tried to fight the changes to mandates around working visas, they were unsuccessful. The red-seal chef returned to Sri Lanka after his search for employment in Italy, and various other places he had previously worked while putting himself through school, was unsuccessful.

Sirinivas described those months, back where he grew up, as a mentally low time in his life. The move meant returning somewhere the rest of his life wasn’t. It meant being apart from his long-term girlfriend, and now wife, Anuradha (Ana) who was in school to become a doctor, at the time.

“When you’re born in a poor country and you look for a better life, you need to go through those challenges,” he said.

Sirinivas never gave up on his dream of coming to Canada, continuing to read, write and perform speeches, and work on his overall English skills.

Three months after he returned to Sri Lanka, Sirinivas’ old boss reached out with information about the Harper administrations Skilled Temporary Foreign Workers program.

“I didn’t think twice,” said Sirinivas.

The first person who reached out to Sirinivas was Sean Murray of Advocate Printing and Publishing, offering the chef work at the former Press Room Pub and Grill.

The now entrepreneur is enormously grateful for the opportunity that was given to him, saying, “Sean is probably the most respected person in my life.”

On November 11th, 2011, Sirinivas finally stepped foot on Canadian soil. “Every day onwards, I started to live my dream,” he said.

Shortly after settling in Pictou, Sirinivas was connected with landlord, Geraldine (Gerry) Firth, who he has lived with ever since.

From the beginning, Sirinivas was embraced as the family’s sixth child. “I had never had that my whole life,” he said.

He was also embraced by the greater community, sharing stories of his time playing soccer with guys in the area, showing him around, allowing him to grow comfortable in his home. “For a young guy like me those days, it was everything.”

When the Press Room Pub & Grill shut down in 2013, Sirinivas headed back to Halifax in search of work. That search took him out to Western Canada, and eventually, to the Yukon. Sirinivas returned to his home with Firth in 2018, where he has remained since.

He began working at Maritime Oddfellows, a job which he keeps today, saying it’s not for the money, but because he truly loves it. “It’s more than a job, working with the seniors,” he said. “They show up with not a lot, but many memories … their families become your friends.”

When society began to see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, Sirinivas began searching for new opportunities. His experience in the hospitality industry working at places like Maritime Oddfellows encouraged him to open his own cleaning business.

Before he knew it, he had clients inquiring about other potential services he might offer, like lawn care, sparking the creation of his business, Green Escape Properties.

“I believe when we die, we should leave all this natural beauty for the next generation,” said Sirinivas. “Doing business while also respecting the nature.”

His goal for his growing business, which has now branched off throughout Antigonish County and into Halifax, is to operate without the use of gas.

Green Escape Properties offers complete lawn maintenance, pressure washing services for residential and commercial spaces, AirBnB property management services, cleaning services for cottages, houses, residential offices, and more.

Everything comes with challenges, and being in your perfect place can’t prevent them. “Being in business is about how you get through those challenges,” said Sirinivas. “It’s all about winning those small challenges.”

Sirinivas has faced both challenges in his business, life, and now in his wife’s immigration journey. She’s currently a practicing doctor in England, shifting to focus on research. Though he hopes she will arrive in Canada for her first time this year, the couple is unsure of a timeline. “We’ve had to be patient,” he shared. They’ve spent the last eleven years mostly apart, patience becoming a necessity.

Sirinivas described returning to Sri Lanka for their wedding as going back to where he was born. “But my home is Pictou County,” he said. “I have traveled a lot of different countries, but I’ve never found a place – a community – like Pictou County.”

“We have so many businesses here that we can look up to … I really hope to inspire people to use all the kinds of potential we have here. We have it, and we don’t use it,” he said. “I love running my business here.”

The entrepreneur also hopes to give back to his community, impacting the lives of others, the same way Murray has impacted him.

Though the red seal chef has worked and lived in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Italy and many other places, there is nowhere he would rather be than here in his home, Pictou County.

The societal need to leave home, for many, begins during adolescence, and grows into your teenage years. This inherently human desire is not good or bad, it just is.

There’s something to be said for how lucky we are as Canadians, to live where others dream of one day starting a better life.

The ‘perfect place’ doesn’t exist, and finding somewhere perfect for you doesn’t prevent challenges from arising. But as Sirinivas said, we’ve got things pretty good here in Pictou County.