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Express Entry update

3687 Invitations To Apply were issued in yesterday’s Express Entry draw, with the minimum Comprehensive Ranking System points standing at 415. As with the April 19th draw, this is the lowest number of points required by applicants since Express Entry started. So your chances of receiving an ITA are looking better than ever! And for the most part, applications are being processed within the promised 6 months.

Atlantic provinces

If you’re still undecided about where to settle in Canada, it’s certainly worth considering the eastern provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador, and PEI. With huge labour shortages looming there over the next decade, these provinces are now being much more proactive in their efforts to attract immigrants. This is reflected in the introduction of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program. And recently New Brunswick has been holding job fairs in the US, seeking to capitalise on the understandable uncertainty that many Americans are feeling right now.

Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

Ontario house prices

For people choosing to move to Ontario, southern and southwest Ontario remain popular destinations. So it’s disappointing to see that the crazy Toronto house market is driving up prices in those areas. Places like Hamilton, Windsor, London, and the Waterloo-Kitchener area have seen house prices increase by between 20-30% within the last year. Even somewhat less built-up areas like Peterborough, Barrie, and the Niagara Region are seeing the same effect. The average house price in Canada is now almost $550,000, although if you take Toronto and Vancouver out of the equation, this would drop to around $390,000.

Hopefully the recent measures brought in to calm the Toronto market will have an impact. And it’s good to know that the new 15% “non-resident speculation tax” won’t affect new immigrants. Rebates will be available for temporary foreign workers, international students, and people who later become permanent residents or Canadian citizens.

Niagara River

Manitoba

Heading further west, Manitoba has announced a renewed commitment to its Provincial Nominee Program. After clearing a massive backlog, it’s now promising 6-month completions for new applications and additional pathways to permanent residency for international students. It predicts that immigrants will be needed to fill 25% of its likely 170,000 job openings between now and 2022. And with news that seniors now outnumber children in Canada, it’s a safe bet we’re going to see some serious competition between the provinces for skilled immigrants in the years ahead.

Crow Cottage at Wawanaisa Resort

Playtime

It’s finally here! After the long winter, we’ve reached the Victoria Day long weekend. This is the unofficial start of summer when Canadians open up their cottages, dust down classic cars, RVs, and boats, and barbecue/beer/deck time starts in earnest. I’m looking forward to getting our Corvette on the road and doing some hiking. I’m also finishing up a revised version of Moving To Canada. More details coming soon!

 

 

There’s a lot to get through this month! Let’s start with some economic news. Latest results show better than expected economic figures in Canada with growth across manufacturing, wholesale trade, the retail sector, construction, mining, and oil and gas.

Innovation and job creation are the watch words right now with federal and Ontario liberals announcing new projects and dispensing big sums of money this week. More IT and engineering jobs could be on the horizon in Windsor and Ottawa with huge government investment in research and engineering. Meanwhile, Ontario is establishing the futuristic-sounding Vector Institute, a centre for AI research. I’m pleased that some money is coming to Northern Ontario too with an engineering and sciences research centre in the works at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

Express entry

On to Express Entry and yes, it’s being tweaked again.  They aren’t huge changes compared with last year’s. This time the emphasis is on adaptability factors such as language and family, with the aim of bringing in more French speakers to strengthen Francophone minority communities in Canada.

Currently, you can score up to 136 points for your first official language and up to 24 for the second. This won’t change, but as of  June 6th you’ll qualify for extra points if you have “strong French language skills” plus ability in English. This will be judged via the standardized language tests that all Express Entry candidates have to complete. If your French is assessed at intermediate level or better and you have basic level English you can gain an extra 15 points. Those French skills combined with intermediate level or higher English? That can net you up to 30 extra points.

Another change–and somewhere simpler to follow–if you (or your spouse) have a sibling who is already a permanent resident or citizen in Canada, you’ll gain an extra 15 points. Your sibling must be 18 or older.

Finally, if you’re applying to immigrate but don’t have a job offer or provincial nomination, you’re no longer required to set up a Job Bank account. This will become voluntary.

The number of Invitations To Apply (ITAs) issued in the latest Express Entry draw was down on the previous one–3749 compared to 3884, and the points requirements went up slightly to 441 from 434. But overall, total ITAs are up by over 50% for the first 3 months of this year as compared to last–a very positive sign.

Canadian flag

Atlantic Canada

New Brunswick perhaps isn’t always top of mind when deciding where to settle in Canada but it’s definitely out to attract more immigrants. The province and the federal government have just signed the first ever Canada-New Brunswick immigration agreement. The aim is to bring in more skilled workers to address their labour shortages, and they are especially keen to attract French speakers.

In fact, there is a strong push to bring in more immigrants to all four of Canada’s Atlantic provinces and IRCC is reporting strong employer interest in the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program.

Ontario

In other news, Ontario is expanding its Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) with the number of nominees increasing this year to 6000. If you work in ICT you’ll be interested to know that a quarter of Ontario provincial nominees are working in this field. Although things have perhaps declined a little from the Blackberry/RIM heyday, the IT sector is still thriving especially in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

If you want to get an idea of what Ontario’s top public sector employees are earning, take a look at the annual “sunshine list” published on Friday. It lists the salaries of all public sector workers who earn more than $100k. As salaries surge higher with inflation, there’s much debate as to whether the 100k threshold is meaningful anymore. But it’s still interesting to browse and see the types of jobs in there. And if you live in Ontario, it’s fun to be nosy and look up people that you know :-) The list is no longer just directors and managers but also teachers (elementary and secondary), professors, registered nurses, firefighters, IT team leads, and police constables.

And finally…

And speaking of sunshine (did you like that link? :-) ), it’s the time of year when Canadians are done with winter and looking ahead to spring. Spring is officially here, although it’s been a little difficult to tell. Sunday and Monday were hazardous with freezing rain. My yard was an ice rink and I had to battle my way into my frozen canvas portable garage with little icicles flying everywhere. Thankfully I didn’t slip on the ice, but I know many people who weren’t so lucky. Since then, temperatures are up, and a lot of snow has melted. I’m sure the barbecues and patio furniture have already been wheeled out in Canadian Tire, and apparently a few people have already been spotted wearing T-shirts :-)

How was your Christmas? Mine was green! For the first time since I moved to Northern Ontario in 2005, there was no snow on Christmas Day and no ice on the lakes.

Dec. 25th. It's green!

Dec. 25th: Christmas Day at the beach.

 

Canadian Tire was getting desperate...

Canadian Tire was getting really desperate to shift that winter merchandise. But they didn’t have to worry for long…

"Betty" in the snow

Dec 29th: “Betty” in the snow.

 

Yes, winter is back… and I’m sitting here at 3:00 in the afternoon wondering if the City will ever be around to plow my road today*. I’m on vacation this week, but regardless I don’t think I’d have been making it into work today.

So I was really interested to read about “Track My Plow,” a service that currently operates in the Owen Sound, Simcoe, and Huntsville areas of Ontario–all prime snow belt territory. Just click on the map and follow a plow along its route! The service is still in test mode, but the plan is to expand it province-wide eventually.

The downside is that this only tracks plows on provincially maintained highways and not your local city streets. But if the technology is already there, why not track local plows too? Real-time information on bus services is now available for example, so I don’t see why we couldn’t have information on local plow routes. It would remove so much uncertainty and allow people to plan their days a little better.

If you’re setting out on a long journey, as many people are at this time of year, it’s well worth checking road conditions and possible road closures before you leave. The Ontario Ministry of Transport provides Ontario 511, a telephone service and Twitter feed with updates on latest conditions.

Not in Ontario? Check the road conditions for your province:

Alberta

B.C.

Manitoba

Nova Scotia

Quebec

Saskatchewan

*It eventually showed up at 4:00!

I can’t believe it’s already September. And with the new college semester just underway, family arriving for a visit in less than two weeks, plus negotiating the installation of a new well pipe, it’s definitely a busy time!

The arrival of fall is always a mixed bag: that “back to school” feeling, cooler temperatures, and starting to think ahead to winter prep. jobs. But it’s also the beginning of Canada’s most beautiful season: time to plan some fall drives or hikes and pick the best places to view those spectacular fall colours.

Here in Northern Ontario, I’m spoilt for choice – it’s just a short drive to Killarney Park, French River, Manitoulin Island, AY Jackson Falls, Muskoka… In Ontario, Algonquin Park is probably the most renowned–and the busiest!–spot to see the colours, and is one of the places highlighted by The Weather Network for prime fall colour viewing. Outside of Ontario, their recommendations include Gros Morne National Park and the Cabot Trail, both of which appear on my Top Ten Places I’d like to visit list. Maybe next fall!

In the upcoming weeks I’ll be sharing some of our “staycation” experiences with our British visitors. But in the meantime, here are a few of my favourite photos from autumns past.
One of our favourite walking routes

One of our favourite walking routes

 

Fall colours at Killarney Park

Fall colours at Killarney Park on the Granite Ridge Trail

 

Lake of the Woods trail - the newest trail at Killarney Park

Lake of the Woods trail – the newest trail at Killarney Park

 

Mono Cliffs Park

Mono Cliffs Park

 

Fall cruising in Muskoka

Fall cruising in Muskoka

 

Lake Superior Park

Lake Superior Park

Thinking of moving to Toronto or Vancouver? Recent reports on house prices might make you think again. While the housing market seems to have stagnated in many parts of Canada, not so for these two major Canadian cities.

What does $1million buy you in the Canadian housing market?
Where I live: a lakefront mansion
Most of Canada: an extremely comfortable house
Toronto and Vancouver? $1million is the price you’ll pay for the average detached house.

No wonder their many residents are unhappy. Just check out #Don’tHave1Million on Twitter and you’ll get the picture.  Frustrations are rising as people are losing out in bidding wars and many house hunters are resigning themselves to becoming long-term renters. And the situation is only expected to get worse.

According to the RBC, a standard two-storey house in Vancouver was selling for $929,000 in January to March of this year. The Canadian average is $455,00. As if this doesn’t sound bad enough, this means that almost 87% of the average household income in the city would be going towards the mortgage, utilities and property taxes. That doesn’t leave you much of a life! Toronto isn’t too far behind: average price of $759,800 and housing costs accounting for 67% of your average income. Lenders typically recommend that not more than 30% of your gross income go towards housing costs.

What does all this mean for new immigrants?  With more people unable to buy, that puts more pressure on the rental market in these two cities, making it even harder to find decent rental properties when you first move here. Latest figures back this up showing ever decreasing vacancy rates in Greater Vancouver and Toronto combined with–not surprisingly– the highest rental prices in the country. The average monthly rent for a 2-bedroom unit in Vancouver is now $1345.00, compared to the Canadian average of $949.00.

If you’re looking to get on the Canadian property ladder, you may have some equity to cushion the blow if you’re moving here from Europe and selling your home,  but you’ll still need to secure good jobs to feed that mortgage every month.

While it may be tempting to broaden your house search to a wider geographical area and live further out of town, this will likely increase commuting time and impact on your quality of life.  Toronto and Vancouver are fantastic in so many ways for new immigrants, but maybe it’s time to look elsewhere and consider Canada’s other large and medium size cities.

As a side note to this, recent reports suggest that the boom out west is finally slowing. Fort McMurray – which at one point couldn’t find enough housing for its huge influx of workers – has seen its unemployment rate double in the last year due to oil sands layoffs. And surprisingly, the unemployment rate in Calgary has recently increased – up 0.5% in July on the previous month. Admittedly this is only one month, but  this puts it at a higher unemployment rate than London, Ontario, for the first time in 15 years. Southwestern Ontario has been hit hard recently by manufacturing losses, so it’ll be interesting to see if this is the start of a trend.

Have you been thinking of moving to Toronto or Vancouver? Do these reports make you think differently?

 

When I first moved here, I was a complete camping novice and my earliest tent camping trips were complete chaos. So many things to remember and so much equipment to take.  Forgetting the tent pegs is not high on my list of moments to remember…

So it’s great to see Ontario Parks providing more help and information for new campers. Their Learn to Camp programs are a great way for Canadian newcomers to familiarize themselves with the outdoor experience.

And don’t forget that if you’re not too comfortable with the idea of sleeping under canvas, there are various roofed accommodation options open to you in the parks. Happy camping!

I love to travel and have been lucky enough to see lots of Ontario during camping or Corvette trips. Here are some of my favourite places.

Lake Superior Provincial Park
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you may have noticed that Superior always seems to make an appearance. Each time I drive from Sault Ste Marie up to Lake Superior Park (part of the Lake Superior circle tour), I’m completely overwhelmed by the incredible views. Superior never loses its magic.

Niagara-on-the-Lake
Many places claim to be the prettiest town or village in Canada. Niagara-on-the-Lake deserves this title more than most. It’s one of the oldest settlements in Canada with the architecture to match, not to mention stunning floral displays and an eclectic mix of stores. Winston Churchill called the Niagara Parkway, which runs from NOTL to Lake Erie alongside the Niagara river, the prettiest Sunday drive and he wasn’t wrong. Venture beyond the historic old town and you’ll find vineyards, orchards, and rolling hills.

Niagara River

Niagara River

Parry Sound
I have so many good memories of cottage vacations near Parry Sound. I go back there at least once every summer to stroll along the waterfront trail and enjoyed another stay on Georgian Bay last summer.

Hills of Headwaters
Hills of Headwaters” is a tourism designation for the communities of Erin, Mono, Dufferin County, Caledon and Shelburne, about an hour north of Toronto. I’ve driven through there many times as a scenic detour from the 400. There are lots of beautiful country properties to gawp at as you pass (many Torontonians have second homes there), fields of grazing horses, beautiful rolling hills, and rivers. I enjoyed a hiking trip to Mono Cliffs Provincial Park and hope to spend more time exploring this area.

Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

Ottawa
Canada’s capital often gets overlooked, but I love the European feel of this clean and green city, home to the Rideau Canal and Canada’s Parliament buildings. I’ve stayed several times at the Marriott Courtyard, which is right downtown with underground parking, and a good base from which to explore the city. There’s a great salsa club close by and so many galleries and museums that I’ve yet to explore.

Wawa
All my Lake Superior camping trips involve regular trips into Wawa.  It’s always a little sad each time we visit as it seems that yet another storefront is boarded up.  I have so much affection for this place – for the Canadian Tire where we stock up on the supplies we’ve inevitably forgotten, for the Bargain Shop where I buy fluffy socks and cheap DVDs, and for the surprisingly good restaurants where we treat ourselves to breakfast. With its beautiful lake downtown, quiet sandy beach, waterfalls, and stunning views, I’m sure it’s due a renaissance.

Young's General Store, Wawa

Young’s General Store, Wawa

Muskoka
With its twisty roads promising a lake view around every corner, Muskoka is a fantastic destination for road trips. It’s especially beautiful in the fall and a little quieter without the summer crowds. It’s also the cottage destination in Ontario, popular with celebrities, and it was once described in the New York Times as the “Malibu of the North.” Lake Muskoka has a series of cottages known as Millionaires Row; this is the place where the boat houses look bigger than your house. Those of us not in the celebrity club can take a cruise around the Lake on the Lady Muskoka.

Killarney Provincial Park and Killarney village
Killarney Park is one of Ontario’s busiest and most popular provincial parks. If you visit, you’ll quickly understand why. It’s known for “La cloche,” mountains with their distinctive white quartzite ridges, its beautiful lakes and pink granite. There are no electrical camping sites at Killarney, and with several designated quiet areas, it really attracts people who love the beauty and peace of the area such as artists, hikers and canoeists. If you’re feeling energetic, you can tackle “The Crack” (I’ve done this a few times) or set out on the famous “La Cloche Silhouette” trail  – typically a ten-day hike (done this…never!). Chikanishing and Granite Ridge are two of my favourite trails for a day visit. Killarney village close by is a picturesque stop for fish and chips on the waterfront or exploring the Lighthouse trail.

Killarney Provincial Park

Killarney Provincial Park

North Bay
North bay has a beautiful waterfront and is one of my favourite places to visit in the summer. The sandy beaches and shallow water are perfect for young children, or if (like me) you prefer your water temperature on the warmer side. I swam there once and it was like stepping into a warm bath! You can cruise Lake Nipissing on the Chief Commanda II, or lunch on the old Chief, now a fish and chip restaurant. It’s also fun to stop off at the always busy Duchesnay Falls trail on the edge of town.

Manitoulin Island
People here talk about “island time,” and there’s definitely a change of pace when you cross the swing bring into Little Current. Manitoulin is the largest freshwater island in the world. There are no large highways or railways and very little traffic generally, so a visit is always a really relaxing experience, even if you’re just there for the day. You’re spoilt for choice for scenic lookouts, beautiful beaches, and quaint towns and villages. One of my favourite stops is the village of Kagawong known for the Bridal Veil Falls and chocolate

Bridal Veil Falls, Kagawong

Bridal Veil Falls, Kagawong

So far I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of Canada and I’m impatient to see more! In my next post I’ll be looking at where I want to travel next.

When I’m out and about, I love to try different eateries. Here are some of my favourites.

White Owl Bistro (North Bay)
I always enjoy visiting North Bay for a stroll on the waterfront, then eating at the White Owl.  I love the cosy, classy atmosphere and they have a really interesting menu with choices you don’t typically see elsewhere. Just browsing the current menu makes me feel so hungry… curried avocado kale salad, roasted sweet potato and Portobello panini,  Thai wrap…

Spring Basil (Alliston)
Spring Basil was an unexpected find on the return leg of a trip to southern Ontario. If possible, we always like to avoid the main highways and meander on the back roads and this brought us to Alliston, close to Barrie. They have a huge range of veggie choices plus a selection of bubble teas, which I enjoyed trying for the first time.

ly tofu! Dinner at "Spring Basil"

Dinner at “Spring Basil”

The Keg (St Catharines)
I typically prefer to try independent restaurants instead of chains, but had to include this one as we’ve had many memorable meals there when visiting the Niagara region. The building is a converted mill, so it’s definitely not your typical Keg. I always used to order tempura snap peas and aspargus, but I think they’ve taken it off the menu now. Please bring it back!

Red Dog Grill (Whitefish Falls)
The Red Dog is popular with tourists and locals and it’s always nice to go back there each summer and chat with the owner. There are quite a few Tex-Mex choices on the menu to match the Mexican-inspired decor, as well as plenty of fish dishes. They also have beautiful artwork for sale displayed on the walls. The stunning local scenery attracts lots of artists to the area and there’s a big art show in Whitefish Falls every year.

The Red Dog Grill, Whitefish Falls

The Red Dog Grill, Whitefish Falls

Anchor Grill (Little Current)
Travel on a bit further over the swing bridge and you come to Little Current, the gateway to Manitoulin Island. I must have eaten at the Anchor Grill several times each year since I moved here, sometimes as a couple, sometimes with big groups, and the food is always fantastic. My husband is always on the look out for places that serve proper fish and chips (as opposed to fish and fries :) ) and this place definitely makes the grade. Plus they have always have several interesting veggie choices. If you’re lucky you can grab the prime seats for a waterfront view.

Jak’s (Sudbury)
Jak’s is a bit of a Sudbury institution and gets voted “best breakfast” restaurant every year in a local media poll. Friendly, efficient service and a good, unpretentious breakfast and lunch menu. Great for when you wake up feeling lazy (that would be me most weekends :) ).  It’s usually fruit and toast for me, but my husband enjoys some of the heartier options. And although I’ve never tried them, they always have a fabulous array of different sweet pies on offer.

Kinniwabi Pines (Wawa)
Fine dining in Wawa? Definitely! I’d been reading good reviews of the Kinniwabi Pines for years before we finally got around to trying it on the return leg of our Lake Superior Circle Tour.  It’s a beautiful restaurant and definitely a “fine dining” experience. It’s a very diverse menu including cuisine from Trinidad, Asia, and Europe. (I’ve eaten at both the #1 and #2 rated Wawa restaurants listed on Trip Advisor, and the Kinniwabi Pines should be #1, no question.)

View over the Michipicoten River from the Kinniwabi Pines

View over the Michipicoten River from the Kinniwabi Pines

The Norseman (Huntsville)
My husband and I visited the Norseman for a wonderful anniversary dinner way back before we’d even moved here. We were enjoying a winter vacation in Muskoka and thought we’d try the Norseman as it was close to the cottage resort where we were staying. I don’t think they’d ever had much call for veggie cuisine (at least back then), but the chef rose to the occasion and prepared some delicious dishes. The restaurant is part of the Walker Lake resort, so if you’re too full to move after your meal, you can stay over in one of the lakeside cottages.

Parlour Inn (Stratford)
Last year, we stayed and ate at the Parlour Inn right in the heart of Stratford. Very unusually for us, we actually made a reservation as we knew it would be busy with theatre goers, plus we had our own appointment with “Crazy for You” that evening and didn’t want to be rushing to get there. My dish of the night was a veggie chow mein with tofu. As befits a “vintage inn” (built in the late 1800s), the decor is beautiful with stained glass windows and intricate woodwork. I’d like to return out of season when it’s a little quieter.

Dinner at the Parlour Inn, Stratford, Ontario

Dinner at the Parlour Inn, Stratford, Ontario

Olde Angel Inn (Niagara on the Lake)
Now and then it’s fun to have a taste of the “olde country.” We’ve tried a few different British-style pubs, but my favourite was the Angel Inn. It’s no doubt packed in high season, but provided a quiet cozy spot for dinner during a winter trip. And the log fire was very welcome! Established in 1789 and rebuilt after the War of 1812, it bills itself as “Ontario’s oldest operating inn.” The menu is packed with traditional British favourite such as bangers and mash, Ploughman’s lunch, and Yorkshire pudding.

Next on my list to try is the Garden’s Gate Restaurant in Tehkummah on Manitoulin Island. Look out for a review in a few weeks.

Congratulations to Zoe Cremin, a software engineer originally from Ireland, who last month started working at Sycle.net Technologies Ltd. in Vancouver. Zoe’s case is special because she’s the first provincial nominee to become a permanent resident via Express Entry—the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) in this case.

The last month has seen immigration ministers from across Canada getting together to discuss economic immigration. As always seems to be the case, the focus was on ways to improve “labour market outcomes” for new immigrants and ensure that Canada remains a destination of choice for skilled workers seeking to relocate. $1 billion is being invested in settlement services across Canada during 2015-16.

Express Entry (of course) was discussed, as well as the continued importance of PNPs. The aim is to have economic immigrants make up 70% of all Canadian immigrants within the next few years, although no target date has been given. Currently this figure stands at 63%. B.C. Minister, Shirley Bond, is quoted as saying: “with one million job openings anticipated as a result of retirements and economic growth, the Express Entry program will be an important way to help meet our workforce needs.” The situation is likely to be similar across other provinces.

There’s also a push to increase the number of French speakers entering Canada. But for anyone thinking of moving to Quebec, a reminder that their immigration system is completely separate, so they weren’t involved in these discussions at all.

Coming months will see an ongoing series of consultations with the private sector, as well as continued close analysis of labour market data with regards to setting immigration levels. Does this mean that things will be changing again in the not-too-distant future, I wonder. Hopefully not too soon as we’re all still just getting used to Express Entry.

In other immigration news, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister announced that the 50,000th Super Visa has recently been issued. The approval percentage is high for these visas—80% approval and processed within 3 months! Definitely good news for anyone hoping to bring over parents and grandparents for extended stays.

Any finally, to Ontario where the Ontario Immigration Act has recently been passed. This establishes collaboration as a key goal in addressing labour market needs and successful integration of immigrants into all communities across Ontario. Partners will include federal and local governments as well as employers and the non-profit sector. The act also supports the expansion of Ontario’s provincial nominee program.

It’s good to see that economic immigration is high on the agenda right now and that all levels of government—federal, provincial, and territorial—are working together to seek improvements. If you’re thinking of making the move to Canada and have the necessary job skills and experience, now is a good time to be considering your options. Canada definitely wants you!

Over the last 8 months, I’ve learnt far more than I ever wanted to about Canada’s–and specifically Ontario’s–healthcare system: hospitals, home care,  the patient experience… not to mention the costs involved.

Back in October my husband Dave, who has type 2 diabetes,  suddenly found himself battling a badly infected foot ulcer He was signed off work and hooked up to IV antibiotics with regular nursing care at home. But the antibiotics weren’t helping and he was advised to report to the emergency room at the hospital.

After being admitted to hospital (after the expected wait of several hours), Dave was under the care of a vascular surgeon and placed on a stronger, different mix of antibiotics. But the infection was just getting worse. The surgeon advised that a partial foot amputation was the safest option to stem the infection This was a hugely traumatic thing to deal with, but with the possibility of the infection spreading beyond the foot and becoming life threatening, it seemed like the only thing to do.

Surgery was successful and after a week in hospital, Dave was discharged. Our daily life now required a lot of adjustments–accessibility had never even entered into our minds when we bought the house.  But at least he was back home and the healing process could begin.

But after a few weeks it became clear that the foot wasn’t healing properly. At a follow-up visit at the hospital, a lower leg amputation was recommended as the best available option and a date for surgery booked. As you can imagine, this was the lowest point. We tried to deal with it as best we could and there was plenty of very, very black humour flying around.

Over the following days I immersed myself in wound care research, looking desperately for alternative options. I came across many different treatments that hadn’t been offered to my husband; in fact they hadn’t even been mentioned. How could it be right that his surgeon just wanted to amputate without trying any of these, without giving things a chance? Dave too was having major doubts, not least because his home care nurse was seeing signs of improvement in the foot. So he decided to refuse the surgery.

Here we are 8 months later and the wound area on the foot has shrunk dramatically, although there’s still a long way to go. After relying on a walker and wheelchair for several months, Dave’s progressed to short walks on flat trails with a cane for support. I’m so proud of him for his determination and positive attitude through all this. We’ve also had a great back-up team: homecare nurse, chiropodist, and the support of family, friends, and work colleagues, who were really there for us during the worst times.

All of this has definitely been a learning experience.  So many people have told us that because surgeons are paid per surgery, they’re way too quick to operate and don’t have any interest in wound care. So amputation is–for them–the quick and easy solution.

The availability of healthcare and treatment options can also vary widely depending where you live. Had we been in Toronto, perhaps things would have been different. It seems also that Canada lags behind the US and the UK in terms of advanced wound care. Even living just 20 minutes out of town has an impact; it’s harder to get nursing coverage at weekends and public holidays because no one wants to drive out so “far.”

How much did all this cost us? The surgery, cost of medication while in hospital, and the hospital bed in a shared ward, was covered under OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan). Upgrading to a private ward or 2-person ward wasn’t covered, but we were able to claim this through my work benefits with Sun Life. These schemes typically cover your spouse and children for up to 80% of costs that aren’t covered on your provincial health scheme. Even with benefits, the cost of assorted prescription medications soon adds up.

We had to buy a walker after the initial free rental period, as well as paying for some adjustments for the bathroom. It may be the last thing on your mind during a health crisis, but keep copies of all your medical expenses and any costs involved in making accommodations at home. Try and get prescriptions for as much as possible as you may be able to claim the tax back on these costs later on.

We were able to claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits, but these only lasted 15 weeks, which is crazily short when dealing with a major health issue. Other options for disability benefits may be available after that (they weren’t to us), but are means-tested. To move onto regular EI benefits, you have to be certified as “fit to work” by a doctor and be actively looking for work.

If you, or a family member, has diabetes, check whether there’s a diabetic clinic in your area. If you have doubts about your family doctor–and after all this we had severe doubts–you can be signed off their list. Just make sure you request a copy of your medical records before you leave. No family doctor is better than a bad one. Dave is now signed up with a nurse practitioner at the local diabetic clinic and we’ll make use of walk-in clinics as needed.

Be sure to do your own research using reputable sources of information and above all, never be afraid to question, or ask for a second opinion.

More information

Medical expenses eligible for tax deductions

Disability tax credit

Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits

Disability benefits