Meet Christine Smalling, a pillar of hospitality, who promotes training as a means to career path development.

Christine’s Story

Christine Smalling started her career in Hospitality and Food Services back home but it wasn’t what she had initially pictured in her future. “When I finished high school I actually wanted to become a soldier” Christine reflects, “I wasn’t your average girl!” But Christine’s father didn't approve of that career path for his eighteen-year-old, so she instead decided to study floral arranging at a local training centre. While Christine mastered the craft and felt that she truly enjoyed it, the work was far too seasonal for her needs and she knew she had to move on. Christine then dabbled in fashion design but ultimately settled on training as a homecare aide. But because she needed a sideline to supplement her income while she pursued these studies, Christine took a position as a room attendant at a local guest house. “I like to work with my hands” notes Christine “and I learned how to keep things clean and orderly as a young girl so I enjoyed the work”.

While she studied homecare aide her exceptional skill in her role at the vacation property began to draw attention from patrons and staff. Christine would regularly receive handwritten notes and complimentary comments from the villa’s patrons for her outstanding work. The recognition motivated Christine and her love of the atmosphere at the villa drew her in. It was then that she realized she had a passion for the hospitality and food services. And not long after that decision was made, Christine set her sights on moving to Canada to pursue her career here and to create a better future for her daughter.

When Christine arrived in Vancouver in the early 2000’s, she quickly reached out to local social service agencies to help connect her to employment – but eventually found work on her own at several local hotels. Just like she had back home, Christine continued to receive accolades for her work. She enjoyed the range of experiences she gained working across a variety of locations, and in less than a year Christine was already responsible for training other team members. During this time, Christine established herself well Vancouver’s hospitality industry, but by 2010 she decided to move to Toronto to be closer to her family and to make travel to Jamaica easier.

So with drive and determination Christine started job searching in the industry as soon as they arrived in Toronto. With her resume in hand and a pleasant “hello are you hiring?” Christine approached every single hotel near the Pearson Airport, large and small. When she arrived at the Hilton, Christine’s positivity and humor so impressed the HR Manager he was quick to offer her a part-time position! Christine accepted the offer and started working weekends and holidays, and even turned down another full-time offer at a smaller hotel because she enjoyed the Hilton’s ambiance so much. With the opportunity for cross-training offered through the hospitality workers union, UniteHere Local 75, Christine developed computer skills and became Smart Serve certified which was “a life changer!” she says, as new opportunities in the industry because accessible for her. It wasn’t long before she reached fulltime hours, easily moving across departments including banquet services and supervisory roles in a variety of departments.

Today, Christine is a shop steward at the Hilton, sits on the executive board for Unite Here Local 75 and acts as an ambassador for the Hospitality Workers Training Centre. She is engaged in her professional community and helps support a well-prepared and vibrant hospitality workforce. The opportunity to train and learn in the Hilton’s environment have been both enriching and rewarding for Christine. Training “changed my life in a positive way” she says and she would encourage anyone, young or old, to go to pursue lifelong learning.

What would Christine say about a career in Hospitality and Food Services to Newcomer youth? “It is a beautiful industry and it’s a place to grow,” she says, “… a place where you can work from your heart”. When you work hard, the skills and experiences you can gain in this industry will travel with you across the world, provide you with many opportunities to find personal fulfillment as well as ways to give back to your community.