Red mittens are a Canadian ‘must-have’, no matter where in the world you live! Apparently people are queuing for hours in Vancouver outside the Bay for their pair. They have become a symbol of the huge upsurge of national pride that these second Canadian Winter Olympics have generated – by wearing them, you both signal your support and contribute (as official Canadian Olympic Committee merchandise, they help generate funding). As you can see, we splashed out on scarves and hats as well!
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Canada has taken a lot of flak from the British press about the Olympics. I can’t help feeling this is misguided with London looming – talk about setting yourself up! We have felt considerable pride in our adopted nation, despite the glitches that are an inevitable element of any such event. I love that the Olympic torch travelled the country – the aim was that no Canadian citizen should have to travel more than an hour to witness its journey. What a wonderful commitment to the inclusive spirit of the Olympics! There is no doubt that this has contributed to the Canadian response to these games. It has also boosted national spirits in the wake of the 2009 recession. I am not alone in thinking that the ‘own the podium’ slogan got it wrong; I suspect it ultimately increased the pressure on Canadian athletes. More importantly, it seems to me to run counter to the Olympic ideal that what is important is participation. Perhaps ‘better than best’ might have captured this spirit better. Certainly we have cheered as so many young Canadians have exceeded personal ‘bests’, regardless of whether these have secured them medals. But we have also been moved by the spectacular performances the Olympics have drawn out of men and women of all nations. What does amaze me, though, is the level of aspiration. I know Canada is a ‘winter’ nation. But its population is less than that of California, just over half that of the UK and 11% of that of its neighbour (USA). As I write this, Canada stands third in the medal tables, with 15 medals, 7 of which are gold. Awesome! PS If any of our friends and family want their own pair of Red Mittens, we’ll do our best to acquire them – just let us know what size!
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!
“(Canada) is our country as it must be the adopted country of the different peoples who come from around the globe, to make their way into its vast forests to build their homes and place their hopes. Like us, their paramount desire must be the happiness and prosperity of Canada. This is the heritage which they should endeavour to transmit to their descendents in this young and hospitable country.”
Louis LaFontaine, 1848
It occurred to me last night whilst reading about Canada’s political and social development that one of the things that attracts me to Canada is the developmental stage it has reached.
Continue reading Why Canada?