The four best – and worst – things about Canada – from a Nouveau-Canadian.
Ten years ago we were in our fifth year of struggling to integrate into Canadian life. We left after seven years – a job opportunity came up that we couldn’t resist – but I’m now testing the waters again with a tentative toe. This is partly because my Canadianised daughter, who was 12 when we emigrated, is now (almost) engaged to a “real” Canadian she met at Queen’s, and her future seems set to hold a move back in that direction at some point in the future. If my daughter goes then there’s a good chance I’ll follow, as blood is much thicker than water, and for me, being away from family matters more than the country I’m in. I’m very much in two minds though about going back – there are some very attractive, little-known features to Canada that newbies might not know about. The funny thing is that every good thing about Canada is also an equally bad thing. Let me explain about the four best – and worst – things about Canada.
The first-best thing about Canada is its size and location. It’s huge and mostly empty, so homes are big and cheap and you tend not to have many neighbours (except in Toronto or Vancouver). It’s a long way from everywhere except along the southern border where it is close to the empty bits of America, so it’s actually a very long way from everywhere including the States. Whether this fills you with fear and foreboding or longing and lust depends on whether or not you have actually lived there, where the only landmark for hundreds of miles is a grain elevator. The fear of not finding a gas-station before I ran out of gas kept me in the city for a whole year when we first arrived in Calgary.
The first-worst thing about Canada is also its size and location. It is so far away from everywhere else that no-one living there needs to care about any other country in the world, and vice-versa. And it is so big that B.C. might as well be on another planet for all the chances are of you visiting it if you choose to live in Nova Scotia – or even Alberta. You think I exaggerate? I knew people in Calgary who hadn’t been to Bragg Creek for fifteen years. Nouveau-Calgarians will know what distance I’m talking about and relate. Consequently the major cities of each province tend to be very isolated in their own ways, and people think of themselves as Albertans, Ontarians, Maritimers etc. first and Canadians very much second.
The second-best thing about Canada is the weather. There has been a lot of talk lately about global warming, and by my reckoning, if there’s one place that can benefit from a few extra degrees year-round it has to be Canada. Notice also that because the country is extremely large and despite increased immigration to “the city” (Toronto or Vancouver depending on your orientation) – most of it is still largely unoccupied and property is cheap almost everywhere – (except in Alberta where they have discovered oil again). This means that investing in real estate now, before everyone else gets wise to it, will mean you own a very valuable commodity when the rest of the planet (at least the coastal bits) becomes uninhabitable and everyone has to move to Canada.
The second-worst thing about Canada is the weather. Most Canadians either dream, plan - or if they are lucky actually go - south for several weeks in the winter. (Florida is the location of choice for most). Only then is Canadian weather tolerable. Brits don’t tend to think too deeply about this irrational need for warmth, and for a few years the sheer novelty of temperatures colder (literally) than your deep-freeze for months on end is enough to keep you going. The second Christmas we were there the freezer was too small for our turkey, so I stored it on the deck outdoors for a week. I kid you not. Another time the ignition key froze and snapped off in the door of the car, and by the time the locksmith had arrived all the food in the trunk had frozen solid. Ever seen a frozen banana? Not good. We came out of the swimming pool one evening with damp hair, which proceeded to instantly freeze solid. Did you know that frozen hair will snap off at the roots? Also not good. Despite these little entertaining events eventually a certain, let’s say tedium for want of a better word, sets in and you have GOT to get away. Trust me, it will happen.
The third-best thing about Canada is the Great Outdoors. There are more lakes, mountains, plains, rivers, coastline, glaciers, bears, wolves, cougars, and other wild life than almost anywhere else in the world. You can hike, ski, skate, canoe, fish, or sail yourself into a frenzy all year round. One caveat. All these activities, with the exception of those associated with sub-zero temperatures, are confined to about 2 months of the year. I’ve recently heard that snowshoeing has become very popular, and if I go back, I plan to look into that. Otherwise for exercise in the winter you only have two choices: take up some form of snow-based and therefore slippery and dangerous winter sport, or go for long walks in the local mall, which is detrimental to the bank account. Again, I jest not. There are well-established mall-walking groups for seniors in most towns.
The third-worst thing about Canada is the Great Outdoors. Out there along with the cute wildlife is another type of critter we don’t like so much. Mosquitos. You wait all year for barbecue time to come round, only to find that the clouds of mozzies drive you indoors unless you surround yourselves with smoke bombs and other forms of chemical warfare. One of the reasons for the popularity of the fire-pit and the associated joint. And don’t imagine I am exaggerating when I say “clouds.” I once had to run for the cover of my car when I tried to walk the dogs near Banff as the mosquitos were so dense I couldn’t breathe without inhaling them. Seriously. There is also the unexpected thrill of finding a bear exploring the garbage bin in your kitchen (happened in Canmore) and the cougar making a meal of your dog on the deck (happened in Banff.)
Joking apart, if I do return to Canada I will be exceedingly glad of the following features, as I approach my senior years:
Health care. They don’t have the same problems we do with MRSA, for example, and health care is very good – you pay a relatively small provincial subscription for excellent care and facilities. I had breast cancer while I was there and believe I owe my life to prompt, effective treatment which cost me nothing.
Seniors are a cared-for priority and there is no comparison to the UK with the level of services for the elderly.
Quality of the environment. Simply put, they care more and have more room and more money to care, and provided you don’t choose a polluted city like Toronto or Vancouver you can expect to breathe easily.
Good behavior. People are overwhelmingly quiet and well-behaved. With the exception of the over-crowded areas of Toronto (yep) and Vancouver, you can expect Canadians to treat you with respect and to be generally – well, quieter than the average European. It’s something to do with the size of the country and the amount of personal space.
So, if I decide to end my days in Canada I will take the following precautions and go ahead and enjoy it.
- Learn to speak with either a Canadian, French or Scottish/Irish accent. (Who doesn’t want to fit in, eh??)
- Learn to like watching ice-hockey.
- Install a fire pit, a hot tub and a buy a large quantity of Molson beer and invite the neighbours round.
- Learn to like watching ice-hockey with the neighbours, drinking beer round the fire-pit or in the hot tub depending on the time of year.
Go Canada, Go!
About the Author: Diane has been a “trailing spouse” since 1987 when she married her Egyptian husband in Yemen. Since then she has struggled to maintain her identity and sense of purpose in eight countries and has notched up at least 48 different homes in her half-century of life. Currently she spends half the year in the UK where she runs a thriving tuition business with her daughter (who could be called a “trailing offspring”) and the other half in the Bahamas with her engineer husband and dog. Watercolour painting, cooking and reading are her mainstay occupations which have supported her through the last two decades when split personality syndrome threatened to erase her completely – but she has survived to tell the tale.