Not long ago, the handful of African immigrants in Rouyn-Noranda, a remote city in northern Quebec, all knew one another.

There was the Nigerian woman long married to a Québécois man. The odd researchers from Cameroon or the Ivory Coast. And, of course, the doyen, a Congolese chemist who first made a name for himself driving a Zamboni at hockey games.

Today, newcomers from Africa are everywhere — in the streets, supermarkets, factories, hotels, even at the church-basement boxing club.

A couple from Benin has taken over Chez Morasse, a city institution that introduced a greasy spoon favorite, poutine, to this region. And women from several corners of West and Central Africa were chatting at the city’s new African grocery store, Épicerie Interculturelle.

“Since last year, it’s like the gate of hell or the gate of heaven, something opened, and everybody just kept trooping in — I’ve never seen so many Africans in my life,” Folake Lawanson Savard, 51, the Nigerian whose husband is Québécois, said to loud laughter in the store.

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