Blogging has been overtaken by boxes – I checked 163 items of furniture and boxes in through the door as our worldly goods arrived here from the UK on the day before Christmas Eve!
All the boxes have been emptied since then, though some have been filled up again with the things we don’t need or have yet to find a home for. Quite apart from the urge to be settled, with some damage to key items of furniture, we wanted to be clear about any additional casualties, thankfully minimal.
One has to be pragmatic; my antiques have been passed down through our family and, in some cases, have already travelled the world. Lovely as they are, their significance rests as much in their history and usage by people I have loved and people who loved them. They have in their own way lived and they bear the scars of that living. Now, having swung through the air in a container, slumbered in a cold hold across the ocean, rattled along the rails from Montreal, miraculously these old familiars surround me once again, if a little battered. Hopefully their newest injuries will be made good once we get the insurance claim sorted!
Anyhow, carrying every book we own up at least two flights of stairs, wondering where to put this and how on earth that came to be included in the packing seems to have absorbed as much time and energy as I have had available!
However, it made this New Year, which fell on a blue moon, particularly poignant; it was on New Year’s Eve that I emptied the last box . . .
Happy New Year!
The move went very smoothly – we got the keys at lunchtime on Monday and moved most of our stuff (including a bed frame, which traveled on the roof of our car) on Monday afternoon and evening.
We were in the house by 8am yesterday ready for Rogers to come to connect the Internet and phone and for our bed and a lazy-boy type sofa (for our media/family room) to be delivered. The piles of packaging grew and grew . . .
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Then it was off to the Mall, spending courageously as my mother used to put it!
Paul had an event to go to in the evening, so I was forced into driving as he picked up the subway on the way home – it wasn’t far and I felt about ready to start getting over my nervousness at adjusting to controls on the opposite side and city driving all at the same time! This also meant I could go off to the supermarket to frighten myself at the cost of stocking up with all the essential staples, toiletries etc. – it”s easy to forget the initial outlay of starting from scratch with food, cleaning materials etc!
After two long and busy days, I really feel for Paul trying to find the energy and concentration to get back to his Tyco work. There are still a thousand and one small things to do, which he has to let go in working hours, as well as some re-design of badly sited switches and lighting (we have an electrician working on a quote) to be sorted before our furniture arrives from the UK around 15 December (it’s due to reach port in Montreal on 11th). We also discovered that the house has been plumbed for a central vacuum cleaner and anticipate getting this fitted as soon as possible.
I thought it might be interesting to try to record some of the things that have struck us as ‘different’ coming from the UK to Canada whilst these are still fresh. So far, these include:
- The relative ease and speed of the house-buying process – mortgage confirmed and contracts exchanged within 4 days of seeing our house and completion within around a month.
- The fact that it is still the norm in Canada to pay for Banking services (e.g. Cashline/Interac withdrawals, cheque books, etc), though we have chosen to pay a monthly charge which covers these and also provides additional benefits (Royal Bank of Canada’s VIP Account).
- No glass between you and the bank teller and a really friendly, personal level of service.
- Rental hot water tanks.
- Hot air furnaces rather than boilers and radiators, with air conditioning for the summer heat.
- Kettles take longer to boil (110 v 240 volts!) . . .
- . . . but there’s no lime scale furring up the element.
- That you can’t automatically assume the right to park in an off-road space in front of your house (driveway or hardstanding) – these are licensed by the City. And you must always park on the street in the direction of the traffic flow.
- Being able to turn right on a red light (if the road is clear) and rarely, if ever, encountering roundabouts.
- The high cost of motor insurance, though this does include cover for loss of earnings and medical costs, so the policies are not like for like.
- The need for winter tires (though people have different views on this).
- That the prices you see in shops do not include tax – you need to remember that what you pay at the till will be more than you expect!
- That alcohol has to come through the government warehouse and is not sold from supermarket shelves, though there may be an outlet on the same premises.
- Fruit and vegetables come in all shapes, colours and sizes rather than the conformist regularity that dominates the UK supermarket.
- Tins, cartons and packs all tend to be bigger than in the UK, not always helpful when shopping for two!
- Most people buy their milk in bags, dropping the bag into a specifically designed plastic jug – there’s an art to cutting off just the right amount at the corner so the milk doesn’t slop everywhere!
- Streetcars (trams).
- Toronto is big on recycling; as well as garden refuse sacks, we have three bins, one for organics, one for recyclables and one for waste. All these, as well as old furniture, are automatically collected by the City. There are also recycling bins everywhere you go.
- Alongside this, people put things out ahead of time and encourage others to take anything useful. There is also a real trend for ‘repurposing’.
- The light – the more southerly latitude of Toronto (8 degrees south of London, on a par with St Tropez), means that the sun really is more intense. So far, it has also been much sunnier than the UK!
I’m sure we’ll encounter and think of many more!
As an incomer, it’s also very strange not to know what the best brand of anything is nor where to find it at the keenest price! But gradually names like Loblaws (supermarket), Canadian Tire (most things apart from food, including glasses, cookware, paint, electrical items, lights, mats for the car, bicycles, skates), The Bay (department store derived from the Hudson Bay Company), Rona (DIY), The Brick (furniture), begin to fall into place.
There is a very apparent strand of wanderlust and adventuring in both our families, so the urge to live somewhere other than the land of our birth is perhaps not surprising. So some of our motivation was simply about the challenge of new learning, new experiences and new opportunities.
We started examining the possibilities almost a decade ago, deciding to concentrate on the English speaking world as Paul was never going to find it easy to become fluent in another language and an expatriate enclave was not really what we were looking for.
Canada soon emerged as a front-runner for so many reasons. Although it is inevitable that many issues are common across the developed world, it did (and still does) feel to us that Canada retained more of the values that matter to us.
Included on lists that we wrote in 2005 were:
- A sense that people were more open. Recent reading suggests that young people are encouraged far more than in the UK to be informed and have opinions, but also to listen to the opinions of others.
- Linked to this, a friendliness and mannerliness with apparent concern for the wellbeing of others.
- A better work/life balance, despite shorter vacations (holidays) – this suggests that Canadians are good at making the most of what is on offer.
- A sense of a genuine basis for multi-ethnic fusion – the cultural mosaic.
- An impression that commitment to the community remains a central part of Canadian culture, even in its cities. In the UK my perception is that the constant focus on individual rights has skewed collective consciousness to the point where awareness of the responsibility of that individual to society has almost disappeared.
- Distinct seasons – yes, we know that current temperatures of up to 17C are not representative of a normal November in Toronto! It is going to get cold. But we have also met Canadians who have experienced the British winter and acknowledge that even in Toronto’s ‘vicious’ winter, they have never felt so cold as in the much less extreme damp cold in the UK and that the lack of sunlight saps the spirit. Talk to us in March . . .
- Cleaner air – even in Toronto, this feels to be the case and certainly out of the city it is wonderful.
- Empty roads – OK, again not in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but driving to and from Georgian Bay in July was a delight and a recent trip out to Niagara so much less stressful than a similar expedition in England.
- Open spaces, glorious scenery, lakes, mountains – so much to explore!
- The wide range of physical activities available – skating, snow-shoeing, skiing, snowmobiles, sailing, canoeing, cycling, blading, hiking – many of them possible even in the city and certainly available within an easy drive.
- Social and cultural opportunities – in particular with the shift from our original focus of the Kootenay Rockies (Nelson) to Toronto, we have wonderful access to theatre, art galleries and local art and artisan culture, film, music and more.
- Intellectual stimulation – Paul has already been to a conference the like of which he did not have access to in the UK and has three meet-up groups on his schedule in the next couple of weeks. I am beginning to tap into talks organised by the Library, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and others.
Our main difficulty as incomers is to find enough focus and not to be ‘kids in a candy shop’, either cramming our lives too full or unable to choose. We still need to schedule in sleep time!
A classic English breakfast/brunch:
A classic Canadian brunch:
Ultimate Eggs – layered hash browns, sausage, back bacon, sweet red peppers and two lightly poached eggs topped with a sundried tomato and feta butter sauce
– I think you can see what Paul felt about his first meal on a glorious sunny Sunday morning in Toronto the day after our arrival in October 2009: