As a military family from the United Kingdom, we’ve had our fair share of moving. Not just around the UK, but other places such as Hong Kong and Germany, before we settled in the Merrickville area. My military career drew us to Canada in 2004 for a couple of years, and in 2007, we had the opportunity to move to Canada permanently via the Skilled Worker visa program.
Merrickville became home for a few reasons. Its close proximity to Ottawa afforded me a reasonable commute to work, a high school was available in Kemptville for our youngest son, and our eldest son, who wanted to pursue a career in agriculture, found an ideal program at the Kemptville Agricultural College. Even though our sons have moved to the Barrie area for work (coincidently, living and working only minutes from where we first lived when we moved to Canada in 2004!), Pippa and myself continue to enjoy the quiet, country life of Leeds and Grenville. We live on a few acres of land with a pond for our geese and plenty of space for our dogs, Digger and Tommy, to run.
Naturally, settling into our new Canadian life has been full of peaks and valleys. As our youngest son Guy describes, when he first started high school in Kemptville, he was bullied because of his British accent and being new to Canada. It took him a long time to ‘break-into’ the circles of long-time friends who had been together since Kindergarten. Pippa, who was a highly qualified nurse in the UK, found that it was impossible to work in Canada without retraining. We found we missed (and still do!) family, the public transportation systems in the UK, grocery store food selections, and UK health care.
But, Canada has offered us so many new experiences that we appreciate and value. We feel extremely safe here. Pippa and I both commented on how nice it is to speak to a bank teller without a bullet-proof glass partition, and walking through small towns and cities at night without thinking twice about our safety is a relief. The friendliness of Canadians has not gone unnoticed either, and we love how people say ‘hello’, and wave to each other from cars and front yards. Guy recalls his first day of school which was an icy cold January day. Upon returning home at the end of the day, he quickly realized that he had the wrong key to their new house and found himself locked out in the cold. Rather than wait for Pippa or I to get home, he ventured through the snow to the neighbours across the road where they quickly invited him in and served him hot chocolate.
Pippa and I are continually grateful for the wide open spaces that Canada provides, in addition to the lack of traffic in places outside of the larger city centres. We do think that although the amount of land and space is abundant here, compared to the UK which is blessed with endless historical footpaths through public and private lands, Canada has quite limited points of access to the land.
The rich volunteer culture is another feature that Pippa and I have noticed in the area. The number of people who freely give their time to support children, the sick, newcomer refugees, and others is something we find quite special about Canadians.
Pippa and I feel that newcomer integration is definitely a two-way street. Immigrants have to make an effort to connect with their neighbours, and colleagues (and given the general friendliness of Canadians, we feel this isn’t hard to do!). At the same time, local Canadians need to make an effort to reach-out to newcomers. Asking questions about their homeland, inviting them to events, or asking them over for tea, are just a few things that can help a newcomer feel welcome. Newcomers and locals alike need to be curious about each other – through learning, people can understand each other more and find common ground upon which to build meaningful relationships.
Pippa, Guy, and I are happy we have focused more on the positive experiences and what we love about Canada, rather than the struggles. It has been worth it. We all agree that, “Canada is the best choice we could have made!”