Category Archives: Being Immigrants

It’s not what you think . . .

Today we became Canadian Citizens!

For those who may be unsure, this does not mean we have to renounce our British Citizenship. Dual citizenship blesses us with considerable freedom of movement in both Europe and North America, as well as consolidating our status here in Canada and giving us the right to vote (and hold office). There is also something important to me about embracing the full responsibilities of a citizen – we feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and would like to play our part in helping to make Canada the best it can be.

To honour the occasion, I thought I’d reflect on some of the misconceptions we have come across about Canada and Toronto!

  • Toronto is not ‘the far north’ – it lies way south of the UK, at the same latitude(43 42’N) as Nice and just south of Florence.
  • Average July temperatures are 3.3C higher than in London at 26.1C, though of course the winters genuinely are colder. Temperatures usually hover much of the time around -1 to -5C, though this year we have dipped on occasion to nearly -30C. But we get 2066 hours of bright sunshine on average a year compared with just less than 1500 in London. And that little bit of extra cold actually takes away some of the dampness.

 

  • Despite the recent glare of publicity on the less than savoury exploits of our mayor, Toronto is ranked the second most reputable city in the world, by the Reputation Institute, the world’s leading Reputation Management Consultancy.
  • As far as crime goes, Toronto’s rates are just slightly lower than London’s.

 

  • ‘Canada produces wine?!’ Yes, and much of it is very good! In Ontario, there are three notable wine areas; Niagara, Prince Edward County and the North Erie Shore. I am enjoying becoming increasingly knowledgeable about Ontario wine – it is fun to find winery tours so accessible. And, just for the record, in 2013, the Decanter World Wine Awards judged a wine from the Okanagan valley in British Columbia, Mission Hill’s Pinot Noir, as one of the World’s Best Wines! Echoing Napa Valley’s breakthrough moment, this could herald increasing interest in Canadian wines.

And on that note, it’s time to raise a glass to the country we have chosen to call home.

Erie Shore Wineries - 'Inside I'm a sweet and spicy blond!' Erie Shore Wineries - 'Inside I'm a sweet and spicy blond!'

Cheers!

 

Citizenship celebrations – what a welcome!

I missed the first part of a work ‘cakeathon’ (a colleague’s birthday cake) today because we were at our Citizenship Ceremony, but contributed the second – it seemed only appropriate to order a celebratory ‘Canada’ cake! It was a special moment to cut this in the staff-room, with Bishop Poole (my boss), standing behind me.

Gina cutting the cake with Bishop Poole Gina cutting the cake with Bishop Poole - we ordered it specially in honour of this special day!

What I didn’t yet know was that, one floor up, my work area had been decked out with a flag and piled high with Canadian themed gifts; a red and white tulip, a mug, a pen, a special photo frame with the Prime Minister, just for the occasion, masking a lovely group photo of my colleagues taken at our summer BBQ, a towel embroidered with the flag and ‘Bearne’ (a gift from a priest friend), maple syrup, maple tea and maple filled chocolates, cards and a brooch made from copper that originally was used in the Parliament buildings in Ottawa . My Bishop reckons that if you can be over-whelmed, you should be able to be ‘whelmed’. He instructed  me that I was to be whelmed rather than overwhelmed!

Surprise! This is how Gina found her work space when she returned from the ceremony! Surprise! This is how Gina found her work space when she returned from the ceremony! Surprise! This is how Gina found her work space when she returned from the ceremony! Surprise! This is how Gina found her work space when she returned from the ceremony!

What a wonderful welcome from my fellow Canadians, eh!

 

A Weekend of Awesome . . .

There is a song that says Spring is coming; a slushing, a splishing and splashing, drip-dropping, occasional gurgling and gushing, that sings of Spring breaking free of Winter’s grip, long before the greening begins.

This last weekend reminded me yet again of why I love this city!

On Saturday, a five mile, ice-cleat clad, walk through the ravines in thaw; part ice, part slush, part a crystalline softness for which I have no name, sparkling in the glorious, strong sunshine that reaffirms how far south Toronto actually is. How could we follow that but with hot chocolate and brownie roulade at Xoco Cava?!

On Sunday, the shore, bustling with Beachers revelling in a day that already speaks not just of Spring, but of Summer to come. People thronging the Balmy Beach Club patio; and, on the board-walk and beach, runners in shorts, a paddle-boarder, cyclists, roller-bladers, families and their canine companions, all embracing the warmth, the light, with exuberance and energy. We could have just walked and walked, soaking it all up.

Truly a weekend of awesome!

What a ride!

(Written the weekend after Labour Day but held back for video and images – and then we didn’t have time to sort these whilst concentrating on Paul’s parents’ visit – much more important!)

The last three weekends have overwhelmed us with their rich texture of experiences!

An encounter with Charlie, the Black Crowned Night Heron at Toronto Harbour (a great urban legend) on my way to Japanese Taiko drumming at the Toronto’s Music Garden; the incredible physicality of the drumming blew me away.

Then, on Friday with dear friends Steve and Paul,a last minute decision to take in  Buskerfest; beat-box, contortions, giant ants, music – another great Toronto street party.

Swimming at seven pm on Saturday evening after shopping and chores –  Lake Ontario is always bracing, but so beautiful to swim off a glorious beach as the sun sinks.

Then, on Sunday, brunch at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (home of the Toronto International Filmtection – Festival) before heading for Toronto Islands to try out our new hi-tech Frisbees (driver, mid-range and putter each) on the 18 hole course. Next time I will wear long sleeves and trousers for probeing very much beginners, much of our time was spent scrabbling in the bushes searching for our stray shots (hoping not to encounter poison ivy!). On the plus side, by the end of the course, we had gained two Frisbees.

Last Friday we headed north out of the city for our home from home in the Blue Mountains (a chalet owned by my ski instructor, Richard, for whom we have been doing some web consulting, creating a new website for his company, Eagle Adventures).  On Saturday evening were behind the scenes at Georgian Downs racetrack, watching a friend, Sabina,  take blood samples from a selection of the horses before climbing into the starter car for a unique view of harness (buggy) racing.

Wreck of the Mary Ward in Georgian BaySunday’s adventure was a trip on a Zodiac four kilometres out into Georgian Bay to the wreck of the Mary Ward – sadly a storm was brewing and we couldn’t snorkel as planned, but it was certainly a great taster for a future expedition. With the simple but effective tool of a glass bottomed washing-up bowl, we were still able to get a great view of the wreck.

On Monday (Labour Day) we had a lazy paddle down the Nottawasaga  river, trying out what will shortly be our own Kayaks.

This weekend the focus has been a BBQ, trying out the versatility of our Big Green Egg (everything from the cornbread, to pizza and steak) for Paul’s 50th birthday.  How amazing to be able to sit outside in shorts, with not even a cardigan, until nearly 2am (OK, we do have a patio heater)! We felt blessed in so many ways, but particularly by the beginnings of a shared sense of ‘history’ with our closest friends, something that is a potential casualty of uprooting midlife.

I can’t remember another time in my life quite like this, filled to the brim with such a range of unique experiences, some exhilarating, some poignant, many of which just seem to find us! It truly is an amazing ride . . .

Pinch me . . .

I suppose it is a bit like the early stages of a love affair.  Even after 21 months in Canada, I seem still to experience so many ‘pinch me’ moments!

In the city, often they come in response to the rich cultural mix . . .

A recent evening with friends Luc and Yuri at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario); Abstract Expressionist New York (much familiar, smattered with new discoveries, curated inspirationally); modern Inuit art (how I wanted to be able to run my hands over the carvings!); and the sung response of a First Nations open throat singer to Henry Moore (truly awesome and deeply moving) as part of the Juno Tour of Canadian Art; Luc and Paul chasing each other round the angular display cases, taking strangely distorted portraits refracted by the prismatic points of connection; then Dim Sum in China Town – truly a feast for heart, body and soul!

Our second Beaches Jazz Festival – I’m still blown away by the accessibility of so much wonderful and varied music freely available; by teenagers having a ball jumping around to the music that may date back more than half a century and by those who have lived more than half a century soaking up the new musical permutations offered up by young musicians; by small children utterly confident and safe amid the crowd; by a magical rock violinist, Dr Draw, who, I swear, channels the passion of Paganini; by this sensational street party that sums up summer in the city Toronto style; by dancing to a stomping version of Dancing in the Street on Queen Street.

When we can tear ourselves away from the revelry, there are quieter moments of awe. . .

Brilliant March sunshine belying the icy chill as we climb sand dunes in Prince Edward County – the curious juxtaposition of sun, sand and the ice sculptures that jewel the shore.
        Ice Alligator?
Clambering from our kayaks as the sun sinks past the horizon on Georgian Bay, having been dive bombed by Terns (anticipated, not scary) on a protrusion of the Canadian Shield that serves as a nesting colony for terns and a swimming stop for paddlers. On this occasion, these included a dog kitted out in his own PFD (Personal Flotation Device) who decided to join Paul in his kayak whilst his mistress swam in deep water.

        

A few days ago, at the start of a much needed break; the glassy calm of the sunny evening that follows a storm, out on the Rideau just above Kingston; jewelled fairies filling the air around our canoe (palest to midnight blue, rich red, fluorescent green) and swallowtails – and still, still water reflecting a light show up onto the green canopy above; returning to the dock, we are welcomed by a fat, furry water rat (but not a beaver!)

Now we are holed up in a rustic cottage in Quebec; 30 minutes or so north of Ottawa, yet, once you are off the major roads, very ‘backwoods’. There is nothing to do but sit and read on the dock and soak up the sunshine, rocked by the wake of passing boats and lulled by the occasional eerie call of the Loon or the honk of Canada geese as they rise.  Once in a while we venture off the end of the dock into the deep, clear (and surprisingly warm) water of Lac St Pierre or onto it in kayak or rowboat. The Canadian Cottage experience definitely has much the same capacity as the less developed Greek islands for recharging the body and soothing the soul!
        

I feel so very privileged to have been given this opportunity to re-connect with life through a lens of newness and immediacy. I hope I continue to say ‘pinch me’ for many years to come!

 

(Written when in Quebec, 1st week of August 2011)