Daniel and Elena Lubimcev grew up in Siberia
St. Marys Canadian Tire store owners met in Toronto, married in Canada
Daniel and Elena Lubimcev were born and raised in different areas of Siberia, the vast Russian province. They met in Toronto after their families immigrated to Canada and were married in this country. Since early last August, the couple has owned and oper
By Pat Payton
It's a long way from Siberia to Canada. The shortest distance between the two countries is almost 2,500 miles.
Daniel and Elena Lubimcev were both born and raised in Siberia, but they met in Toronto and were married in this country. Since early last August, the couple has owned and operated the Canadian Tire store in St. Marys.
Daniel was 18 and turning 19 when he immigrated to Canada with his parents and sister in 2000. Elena was 16 and turning 17 when she came to live in this country in 2006.
77 per cent of Russia
Siberia has a population of about 36 million, almost as large as Canada's population of just over 38 million. Daniel grew up in western Siberia, while Elena was raised in central Siberia. Russian is predominantly the language spoken.
"Land-wise, Siberia covers an area if you combine Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta," he says. "It's 13 million square kilometres. It accounts for 77 percent of Russia's total land mass, but population density is very low. It's concentrated in bigger cities in the central and western parts of the region."
Siberia encompasses an area that's bigger than the United States.
Daniel grew up in the city of Tyumen, population nearly 750,000, on the banks of the Tura River.
"It's the capital of the oil and gas industry in Russia," he noted. "Most of the oil and gas industry headquarters are concentrated there. That's the city I grew up and lived in for nearly 19 years."
He compares Tyumen to London, Ottawa or Winnipeg when it comes to size.
Elena was raised in the city of Novosibirsk, population 1.6 million, on the banks of the Ob River. It's the largest city in Siberia and the third-largest city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Similar to the Prairie provinces
When people think of Siberia, three words usually come to mind -- brutally cold weather. Daniel agrees that the remote Russian province is cold, but he's quick to note that it's very similar to Canada's winter weather conditions.
"It depends where you are in Siberia," he says. "Generally, the weather there is similar to Winnipeg and Saskatoon. It's very similar, the temperature and precipitation. It's almost identical to the Prairies here in Canada. Where we grew up in the south (of Siberia), the climate is closer to Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg."
He admits that northern Siberia is colder, comparing it to winters in the Yukon or the Northwest Territories.
Daniel says a lot of Siberia has a flat landscape, but there are mountains as well. "They are not like the Rocky Mountains, but there are certainly mountain ranges."
Misconception about Siberia
Daniel says some areas of Siberia are "less safe" than others, just like Toronto or Edmonton or any other big city.
"The rural areas are pretty friendly. The northern parts of Siberia used to have a lot of prisons back in the Soviet days. A lot of major roads and railways were built in the 1930s, almost 100 years ago, using prison labour. People used to think it was a big scary place where you'd get sent if you're not in line with the government."
When Daniel and his family immigrated to Canada, they settled in Toronto. It's where he began working for the Canadian Tire Corporation. He has been with Canadian Tire for 20 years, managing six different stores in two provinces.
Elena, meanwhile, came to Toronto as an international student and studied at a college in Ontario's capital city.
"We met through a mutual friend of ours, who also happens to be Russian and from Siberia," Daniel explained. "It's kind of a coincidence, but there's a sizable Russian community in Toronto, probably around 150,000 people.
"Some people are very immersed in it; they watch Russian-language TV and read Russian-language newspapers and shop at Russian stores -- all in Toronto. But most of my friends were English-speaking Canadians and (from) different nations. Elena was in college where there's all different nationalities."
The couple married a year later.
Six-year paperwork process
Daniel said the plan to come to Canada actually began in 1994 when his parents decided to immigrate to this country. The paperwork process took six years, he noted.
"I was 12-13 years old at the time, but I was pretty fascinated with North America . . . Canada and the U.S. In high school, we had geography lessons and they taught us about Canada.
"In fact, there are a lot of similarities with the two countries, in terms of climate, and some of the major industries like forestry, oil and gas and natural resources."
Daniel says his father is an interpreter or translator, something he studied in university, and he has a masters degree in English.
"He did some work for commercial companies, for the government, as a translator. In the late 1970s and early '80s, he travelled to the northern parts of Siberia with an oil and gas company from Canada. It was like a joint venture between the Canadian and Russian companies at the time."
It was during that business trip to the far north that Daniel's father became good friends with a Canadian man. "He ended up being my dad's best man at his wedding in the early 1980s," Daniel noted. "He visited (Siberia) several times over two or three years. Unfortunately, he passed away before we moved to Canada. But he taught my dad a lot about life in Canada."
Daniel's parents are still Toronto residents, and 10 years ago they brought his grandparents over to live with them. Elena's parents were living in Moscow when they immigrated to Canada last year. "They just received their permanent residence, something we had been working on for several years," he said. Her parents now reside in Edmonton, where her father works for a large construction company in the Alberta capital.
Five years in Edmonton
It was in Edmonton that Daniel managed a Canadian Tire store for five years. He and his wife moved to Western Canada in 2015 to "build and operate" the largest C.T. store in the country. For five years prior to that (2010 to 2015), he managed a Canadian Tire store in London.
Prior to purchasing the St. Marys store, Lubimcev went through the Canadian Tire training program to someday become a store owner. He says it's always been his "dream" to become a dealer and own and run his own store.
Elena, who has over six years of working experience at Canadian Tire stores, is also actively involved at the St. Marys store. She works both in the office and on the floor, on cash, and anywhere else she's needed.
Over the past 20 years, Daniel has returned to Siberia for a couple of visits when his grandparents lived there. "But I haven't gone in the last 10 years, since my grandparents moved here, but I still keep in touch with some high school and university friends. I also have some relatives there."
Most of Elena's family lives in Russia. She returned for a visit 18 months ago, but it was her first time in almost 15 years since immigrating to Canada. "It was nice to see my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins," she said. "It was really hard for them to let me go and live in another country, but they also know that I'm happy here in Canada."
Daniel and Elena said "100 per cent" that they enjoy living and working in their new country.
"My better half of my life has been in Canada," he said. "I almost identify myself more as a Canadian than a Russian. My life is here now . . . my family. Even though I grew up in Siberia, a lot of memories now are more associated with Canada.
"We're very happy in Canada and very much enjoy it."
Big hockey fans
Daniel and Elena Lubimcev, meanwhile, are both big hockey fans, and attended NHL games when they lived in Edmonton.
"The Oilers were the team we cheered for, and one of their goaltenders (Mikko) Koskinen used to play for Elena's home-town team in the KHL in Russia. He was their main goalie for a couple of years before he joined the NHL. And Tampa Bay's goalie (Andrei) Vasilevskiy is from Tyumen; he was born and raised in my home town."
Daniel also has an Alexander Ovechkin jersey. The Russian is captain of the Washington Capitals. "He's a great player. Not that I have a favourite player, but I've certainly followed his career." Elena's favourite player is Edmonton centre Connor McDavid. "He's really good," she said with a smile.