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ETA

Are you planning to fly into Canada this year? If so, don’t forget to check whether you’ll need an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). These come into force from March 25th and will affect you if you’re traveling from a visa-exempt country.

Canadian and UK passports

Express Entry a year old

Did you submit an Express Entry profile in 2015? If a year has gone by since you sent it in, you have 60 days in which to re-submit your application. Any longer than that and you’ll have to send in a completely new application. The number of ITAs (invitations to apply) seems to have stayed fairly static at around 3000 per month. However, the good news is that the points requirement seems to have been steadily dropping over recent months and is now down to 453 points as of the last round of invitations on January 13th.

Home down payments

If you’re close to finalising your move (congratulations on getting this far!), you’ll want to be aware of upcoming changes in house down payment rules. Up until now, it’s been possible to buy a house in Canada with as little as a 5% down payment, but from February 15th, anyone buying a home costing over $500k will be required to place a 10% down payment on the portion of the purchase above $500k. The remainder will still require only 5%.

So what does this mean if you’re a new immigrant trying to get established in the Canadian housing market? The good news is that most prospective buyers won’t be affected. However, if you’re trying to get on the housing ladder in Toronto or Vancouver, it will have an impact. In these over-heated markets the average price for a detached house is hitting $1 million, compared to $455,000 for the rest of Canada. Here’s a currently listed million dollar house in Vancouver. Hard to believe, I know…

Million dollar house in VancouverOr maybe some million dollar condo living in Toronto is more your style?

condo

As usual I got distracted looking at house listings :) Hopefully when it comes to buying your new Canadian home, you won’t be having to look in the million dollar bracket.

With the new Liberal government now getting into its stride, and big challenges for the economy, it could be an interesting year in Canada. Look out for more changes ahead in 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Starting from March 25, 2016, visitors flying into Canada from a visa-exempt country, will need an ETA – Electronic Travel Authorization. Thankfully there’s an easy way to check if you need an ETA by going to http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp and selecting your country.

You can already apply for the ETA online, so if you’re planning to travel to Canada next year it makes sense to be organized well in advance. The application process doesn’t seem too arduous. You’ll need your passport details, credit card and email address and will have to enter the amount of money you expect to take with you into Canada. There’s a minimal processing charge of $7.00. The ETA is valid for 5 years, or until your passport expires and will be electronically linked to your passport.

The application form is available in both English and French, and help information is available in other languages at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta-start.asp

In most cases it should only take a few minutes for your application to be authorized, but if you need to, you can check your application status at https://onlineservices-servicesenligne.cic.gc.ca/eta/applicationQuery?lang=en&_ga=1.151351353.1236358645.1406818214

There are a few exemptions from the ETA: 

*US citizens,
*anyone with an existing valid visa,
*people arriving in Canada by sea or land where the usual travel requirements apply.

So all in all, nothing too much to worry about here, but definitely something to be aware of if you’re planning a research trip or vacation to Canada in the near future.

***Update***
The 6-month leniency period, due to end on September 29th, has now been extended to November 9th. Full details are available here.

 

This was really difficult. How could I possibly narrow this down to ten? But after much agonizing, here’s the list.

Cabot Trail
Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail is one of the classic Canadian road trips. Cabottrail.com   has a great video to give you a flavour of the experience, or you can read an article in National Geographic for a overview of a clockwise trip around the trail.

Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy on Canada’s east coast really is one of the country’s natural wonder’s. The 270km stretch of bay between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is bursting with UNESCO sites, national and provincial parks, and historic sites. It has the highest tides in the world, over 12 species of whale, and you can also walk on the ocean floor. If those aren’t enough reasons enough to visit, the Bay of Fundy tourism site lists another 49.

Pelee Island
I decided this had to be on my list. A 90-minute ferry ride from the mainland, Ontario’s southernmost point is known for its great beaches, warm climate, and its wine. The Pelee Island Winery is the oldest and largest estate winery in Canada. And it produces my favourite red wine, Monarch!

Port Perry
Years ago on a discussion forum I remember a prospective immigrant who had his heart set on living in Port Perry, just north of Oshawa in Ontario. I always wonder what happened to him and whether he made to Port Perry. Since then, I’ve traveled through this scenic town, with its beautiful Victorian architecture, but didn’t have time to stop. I hope to go back next year for the annual Brits on the Lake car show (love vintage cars) and perhaps stay at the Piano Inn.

Algonquin Park
This is cheating a little as I’ve already been to Algonquin Park. But I don’t really count a brief visit as a crazy tourist in a snowstorm. I want to really discover Algonquin by tackling some hiking trails and perhaps camping there one day too. Fall is the classic time to visit, but the busiest too. So perhaps a spring visit one year before the blackflies make their appearance.

Churchill
Churchill, Manitoba, on the shore of Hudson Bay, is often referred to as the “Polar bear capital” of the world. It’s one of a handful of places where you can observe these beautiful animals in the wild, in this case from the inside of a tundra buggy. It’s also one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately the best time to see the polar bears–October/November– doesn’t coincide with the best time for Northern Lights viewing, which is January to March, so it’s the perfect excuse to visit twice!

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) trio loafing, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Polar bears in Churchill. Image: National Geographic.

Vancouver Island and Vancouver Island
Vancouver, and–just a short ferry ride away–Vancouver Island, are always rated at, or near, the top in best places to live or best quality of life surveys. With their laid-back lifestyle, dramatic scenery, and fabulous climate, it’s not hard to see why. I need to go there – soon!

The Rockies
I know… “The Rockies” is a bit vague. But how do you pick which parts to visit when everything looks so picture perfect? If I ever have the opportunity to head west, I’d be doing lots of research beforehand. Or if I win the lottery I might take the Rocky Mountaineer :)

Okanagan
B.C. again! I’ve seen the Okanagan region described as the California of Canada. Lakes, hills, wineries, and lots of sunshine makes for a very appealing destination. Many immigrants–not surprisingly- have been attracted to this area. Its largest city, Kelowna, about 400km from Vancouver, is one of Canada’s fastest growing towns.

Gros Morne
I always picture Gros Morne National Park, as magical and misty and it’s apparently the case that rain and fog are fairly common conditions for summer visitors.  That doesn’t put me off visiting though. This UNESCO world heritage site on the west coast of Newfoundland is known for its dramatic landscape of fjords and mountains and the hiking opportunities look amazing.

Do I have your favourites on this list? If you’ve visited, or are living in, any of these places, do they live up to expectations?

This is the last of my “top ten” posts for now. It’s been a fun month with great weather, and lots to celebrate–ten years in Canada and the launch of “Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide.” My husband is also getting in on the act with the launch of his short story collection today! I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer will bring.

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.

In early October, my husband needed to make a stop in Waterloo to collect some Corvette parts. Rather than going there and back in a day (Sudbury to Waterloo is about four hours) we decided to make a weekend of it by staying overnight in Guelph. Although I’d visited the Guelph/Waterloo area before, I’d never had time to do any hiking there and was keen to try out some of the local trails as well as sampling the local restaurants.

After collecting the parts, we still had a whole Saturday afternoon ahead of us, so I decided we should head to the Elora Gorge conservation area, promoted in the tourist leaflets as one of the most scenic spots in Southern Ontario.

Elora Gorge Conservation Area

Elora Gorge Conservation Area

Access is regulated with barriers and ticket kiosks and costs $5.75 for the day for adults and $3.00 for under-15s . The trail network is not very extensive–just 3km in total–with lots of fences and warnings to keep away from the cliff edge. It was certainly very busy on the trails with a mix of locals and enthusiastic tourists photographing everything in sight, even the graffiti! If you’re not into hiking, many other activities are available such as camping, tubing, fishing, and a splashpad.

 On the menu for Saturday night was the Fat Duck Bistro in Guelph, a British-style “gastro pub.” Previously I’ve been to the Shakespeare Arms (within reasonable walking distance from the Best Western). They both have similar menus with hearty comfort food such as savoury pies and curries–the type of dishes you don’t see too often on a typical “Canadian” restaurant menu. In keeping with the British spirit, I enjoyed some Strongbow cider, made in my home county of Herefordshire.

For anyone thinking of moving to Guelph, our cab driver was very enthusiastic about the area, citing it as one of the safest places to live in Canada and telling us that they  typically don’t have much snow before January. She advised avoiding the downtown at weekends when the university students are around—which is probably good advice for anywhere with a sizeable student population.

We started Sunday with a driving tour on country roads – through Fergus and Arthur, then east to Erin and Mono Cliffs. The Hills of Headwaters area, as it’s branded, has beautiful scenery with rolling hills and rivers; it’s not hard to understand why so many Torontonians buy second homes in this area. If you want to check out some huge country mansions, just take a drive through the Caledon area.

Mono Cliffs Park

Mono Cliffs Park

Mono Cliffs Park was more my sort of hiking than Elora Gorge–longer trails and less crowds, although a popular spot for dog walkers and families enjoying the warm weather and fall colours. The somewhat optimistically-described “lakes” were more like pools it has to be said, but it’s a very pretty park and one I’d like to return to. Also, you’re not forced to pay for a whole day if you’re only staying a few hours.

We took a scenic route home, stopping off at an Asian restaurant in Alliston near Barrie: Spring Basil. There was a huge menu. After spending a while trying to decipher which dishes were vegetarian, I turned the page to find two whole pages worth of veggie fare! I also got to try bubble tea–a first for me. And my husband–not usually a tea fan–enjoyed it too.

 

ly tofu! Dinner at "Spring Basil"

Yes–it’s really tofu! Dinner at “Spring Basil”

The colours here in Northern Ontario are now categorised as “past peak,” but there are still opportunities further south to view some amazing fall colours. Checkout the Ontario Parks Fall Colour Report or the Fall Colour Progression Report for more information.

 

I just returned from a peaceful evening stroll along the beach at Windy Lake–an hour from Sudbury; it reminded me of how lucky I am to be living so close to so many beautiful provincial parks here in Northern Ontario.I actually feel quite guilty that I’ve not supported the parks as much as usual this year. So far I haven’t even swum in a lake and now I’m running out of time!

Fall colours at Killarney Park

Fall colours at Killarney Park

Normally I camp several times a year – a week’s trip to Lake Superior and a few long weekends, but this year we didn’t put the camper van on the road and I didn’t feel up to the challenges of tent camping. “Betty” has been sitting forlornly in the yard with a flat battery and I was even at the point where I was thinking of selling her next year. After all, camping is so much hard work, or so I told myself – packing, unpacking, cleaning the van…

For Labour Day weekend (the first weekend of September), my husband and I chose to rent a cabin at a small motel resort just outside Wawa. There was nothing wrong with the cabin, but I was surprised to discover that I really missed camping and the whole parks experience – the outdoor meals, meeting other campers and their dogs, and spying on the different RVs, because I’m always “shopping” for a new one (much like houses :)).

 

Wanapitei River,

Wanapitei River, close to home

If camping doesn’t appeal, don’t be put off the idea of visiting the parks. Passes are available for day trips if you want to hit the trails, paddle a canoe or just laze on the beach. And if you plan to be a frequent visitor, season passes are great value. There are also various roofed accommodation options available within some of the parks.

My first ever visit to Canada was during September and so I always associate this time of year with the magic of that first visit: crisp mornings and nights—perfect campfire weather, warm days and fabulous fall colours. I’m aiming to make the most of every day of good weather before the long winter sets in. And next year, I’ll definitely be back on the road in Betty visiting  my favourite campgrounds and exploring new ones. Only another eight months to go!

Sunset over Superior

Sunset over Superior

 

 

 

One of my 2011 highlights was a trip to the Niagara Corvette Club car show held annually in July at the Reif Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. After the previous year’s excitement of a day on a race track day at Dunnville, I wasn’t sure that this trip would quite measure up to that; but I was very happy to be proved wrong.

First of all, I have to put in a big plug for our hotel, the Four Points Sheraton in Thorold. My husband and I inadvertently found ourselves staying in the rather luxurious “Burgoyne” suite, due to a possible Internet booking mix-up (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). How much are we paying for this room???” It was definitely a lot of fun to live in such style for a few days, and overall I was very impressed by the hotel.

The hotel breakfast, however, proved to be quite a different story.  After being presented with an $80.00 bill for breakfast, which included a discount and a rubbery omelette, we thought it might be wise to venture further afield the following day. “The Early Bird” right on the Thorold/St. Catharine’s townline hit the spot, at half the price and with much better food.

As is inevitable, after polishing and waxing the car for hours, we’d had some rain on the journey to Niagara on the Friday. The water theme continued the next day at a very wet  Niagara Falls. Not unusual you might think – but as well as emerging soaking wet from the “Behind the Falls” tour, we later had to seek shelter in the welcome centre from a huge rain storm.

Car show

Car show at the Reif Estates Winery

Sunday morning was show time! The Niagara club does a fantastic job of organizing this event. On arriving at the winery – despite our somewhat late arrival after lots of car cleaning –  we were guided to our parking spot and made to feel very welcome. After a somewhat dismal start to the day weather-wise, it turned out to be hot and sunny – perfect for showing off all those beautiful cars.

The men in the group were very excited to see the range of Adam’s cleaning products on offer at the show, and we returned home with enough detail spray for the next decade, plus a big tub of Adam’s premium wax to try. Not to be outdone, the women spent a little money in the wine boutique – just a little… how many bottles was that again?…. Our survey shows that Corvette drivers are definitely red wine drinkers. The special Corvette red sold out during the show and the winery had to relabel more bottles.

We had time to take in the tour of the winery and enjoyed hearing about the history of the estate and the wine-making techniques. The Reif Winery is one of the oldest in the region (the first being Inniskillen) and it was interesting to see the eighty-year old wine barrels originally brought over from Germany, and still in use today. Everyone finished the tour in excellent spirits after enjoying the wine tasting session at the end!

Whether you’re entering your car in the show, or just spectating, I can’t recommend this show highly enough. Beautiful cars plus a gorgeous setting plus the chance to sample some wine definitely equals a good day out. I think this one might just become an annual pilgrimage!

 

Ever since my husband and I took our first camping trip to Lake Superior Park, we’d longed to travel  the circle tour right around the lake. The scenery along Highway 17 from Sault Ste Maire through to Wawa is stunning and we were impatient to see what the rest of the route around the lake had to offer. So back in summer 2009, we decided that this would be our much-delayed honeymoon. The circle tour is a popular route for RVs and motorbikes; but for us it had to be our Corvette.

A night in Paradise?

We picked Paradise, Michigan for the first night of our stay, just so we could say we’d “stayed in paradise.” Sadly it didn’t really live up to the name. Our Best Western Inn (now the Magnuson Grand Hotel Lakefront Paradise) was a comfortable spot to stay, but appeared to be one of the few businesses in Paradise that was actually open. There was a very big “closed” sign hanging over Paradise, and this at the height of tourist season too. This became a familiar theme throughout the rest of our journey in the U.S.: “for sale” signs lining the streets and businesses closed up.

Sleeping wolf

Sleeping wolf

Roads less traveled
 
Heading up Highway 61 towards Thunder Bay, we took a detour to the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota.  This was such a fun, twisty drive in lush, green countryside with towering evergreens. Ely appeared to be one of the most thriving places we’d experienced during the trip. We squashed our way into the “Chocolate Moose” café for lunch, then headed to the Wolf Center where we became members and learnt about the valuable work the Center is doing to support the wolf species.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to the Thunder Bay Inn – not found as you might expect in Thunder Bay, but in Big Bay, Michigan. Once owned by Henry Ford, the Inn was used in the 1940s for filming the James Stewart movie “Anatomy of a Murder.” The Inn served up a delicious lunch and we enjoyed looking at the display of old photos and press clippings relating to the movie.

Serendipity Cafe in Rossport

Serendipity Cafe in Rossport

Time for lunch

Food is always an important part of any ‘vette trip and both of my favourite eating spots were on the Canadian side of Superior. Even in the rain, the village of Rossport was still an attractive place to visit, offering two choices for lunch: the Rossport Inn (currently closed) or the Serendipity Café and gardens. We chose the latter. Unfortunately, as we discovered after we’d made our menu choices, most of the items weren’t available due to a power outage. The owners were coping as best they could though, and we still enjoyed the food, the beautiful front garden, and friendly cat.

My other favourite was the “Kinniwabi Pines” just outside Wawa, offering a wide range of international dishes and an elegance I hadn’t expected to find in this area. Rain had forced everyone inside, but for sunny days there’s a beautiful patio area overlooking the river and it’s another one on my list of places to return to.

Kakabeka Falls

Kakabeka Falls

There were many other highlights: Kakabeka Falls (the “Niagara of the North”), Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and the monument to George “Win one for the Gipper” Gipp.  I returned home with mixed emotions: saddened by the all-too visible signs of economic problems, but with some great memories. This one is definitely worth a repeat trip in the future.