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Today’s the day… ten years since I first became a Canadian immigrant and permanent resident! So in honour of that momentous day, I thought I’d share some of the most memorable moments of my life in Canada to date.

Welcome to Canada!
I became a Canadian permanent resident in July 2005. My husband and I landed at Pearson airport and were amazed at how quickly all the formalities were dispensed with. The immigration officials were more interested in the fact that we were moving to Sudbury rather than anything else!

My first glimpse of Canadian wildlife
If only I’d had my camera with me… not long after we moved into our Canadian house we took a walk up the bank behind the house that leads to a rocky ridge. From there we watched transfixed as we saw a bear lumbering around  in the bush below. Then just when we thought the show was over, a pair of moose galloped by. On a smaller scale, here’s Charles the chipmunk, a constant visitor during our first Canadian summer.

Sir Charles

Sir Charles

Corvette fun
We’ve had some fantastic road trips in our Corvette and met some wonderful people, both locally and further afield. But the moment that will always remain with me is seeing the look on my husband’s face when he took finally possession of his dream car in the winter of 2007. Yes, that’s right… winter…

1991 ZR-1 Corvette

My wedding!
My  husband and I were married in a gazebo overlooking Ramsey Lake in Sudbury. It had been a really wet September that year, but amazingly the sun came out to make it the perfect day. My Dad, bridesmaids, and I were driven to the park in a 1960s Chevy Impala, and our own classic car had to get in on the action too. Once we’d said “I do,” the nerves disappeared and I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

Wedding day in Bell Park

Camping in March!
2010 was the only year since I’ve been here that we’ve ever been able to camp so early. Killarney Provincial Park was taken by surprise too. The shower block wasn’t even open when we first arrived, but due to popular demand they opened it up earlier than normal.  Being able to enjoy breakfast by George Lake in complete peace and quiet was a magical experience and definitely one of my best camping memories.

George Lake, Killarney Park

George Lake, Killarney Park

 

Some Superior moments…

Introducing three generations of the Kelly family to camping at Lake Superior Park
At various times we’ve camped at Rabbit Blanket campground with my husband’s siblings, nieces, and his Mum.  Superior was my Mum-in-law’s first ever camping holiday and she was a bit apprehensive about the bears, so she was given the luxury berth in the camper van. It was really special to be able to share the Superior experience with them.

Swimming in Lake Superior for Thanksgiving…
When I returned to work after the Thanksgiving long weekend in 2011, people couldn’t believe I’d swum in Superior in October! It was a really warm fall that year following a very hot summer, so the water temperature really wasn’t too bad. The six-foot waves were an added bonus!

…and getting drenched on the Towab Trail
On one of our May camping trips to Superior, we hiked part of the Towab Trail as far as Burnt Rock Pool. We heard the thunder before we arrived there, but didn’t want to turn back. Burnt Rock Pool is a really picturesque spot on the Agawa River surrounded by towering cliffs. Sitting there on the rocks while the storm broke around us was an amazing experience. After that, it was a very long, wet walk back!

Becoming a Canadian citizen
Oh Canada! It was a really proud and emotional moment back in the summer of 2010 when my husband and I took the oath of citizenship at a ceremony in Sudbury.  We’d had to wait for this for several months after passing the citizenship test; apparently the citizenship judges don’t like coming up north too often :)

Summer in the screen room
I posted recently about our wonderful new screen room. Let’s just say the novelty hasn’t yet worn off and I’ll be spending as much time as I can in there this summer. And it’s fairly safe to say that tonight I’ll be sitting in there, raising a glass to the last ten years–and to the next ten. Here’s hoping they’re even better!

Bug free!

Bug free!

 

How was your Canada Day? Mine was mostly spent relaxing at home with a good book. I also walked on the trails at our local park. Even though the temperature only made it to 18, there were still plenty of families having fun on the beach, and even a few brave people in the water. With my ten-year Canadian anniversary coming up  on Friday, it seems like the ideal time to reflect on my top ten best things about living in Canada.

Long weekends
Long weekends are hardly unique to Canada, but somehow they always seem extra special here. The May holidays signal the beginning of the summer season and are the traditional time to open up your cottage/camp. By Labour Day weekend in September the good weather is coming to an end and it’s time to close everything up and put away the toys. Thanksgiving in October (earlier than the U.S. version) is all about the food and is almost like a practice run for the Christmas season. Don’t always count on getting a long weekend out of Canada Day as it’s always celebrated on July 1st regardless of what day of the week it falls on. Wednesday this year, but next year it’ll be a Friday-I already checked :)

Cottages/camps/cabins
Cottages, camps, or cabins (whether it’s “camp” or “cabin” depends on where you live :) ) seem woven into the Canadian experience.  So many people have good memories of “going to the cottage” as a child and often look to replicate that with their own children. We’re not necessarily talking cottage ownership here. Numerous properties are available to rent, or you might just know a family member or friend with a cottage…

Crow Cottage at Wawanaisa Resort

Crow Cottage at Wawanaisa Resort, Georgian Bay

Provincial and national parks
Canada has a whole network of national and provincial parks just waiting to be explored for the cost of a day pass. Or if you’re a regular visitor, season passes are available. Canada’s parks are a great place to camp, offering spacious RV and tent sites, and an increasing number of roofed accommodation options.

Lakes
I love being so close to the water. Here in Sudbury, there are over 300 freshwater lakes within city limits, one of which is just a 10-minute drive away for me. Travel a few hours further and I can reach Georgian Bay or the most majestic of the Great Lakes, my beloved Lake Superior.

Sunset over Superior

Sunset over Lake Superior

The Space
England was so crowded; it often felt like everyone was living on top of each other. There’s a lot more space in Canada, not exactly surprising as it has half the population of the UK and is the second largest country in the world. Here I can roam freely on crown land if I choose. There aren’t so many private/keep-out signs and many people don’t bother fencing their properties. I love the feeling of freedom here.

Distinct seasons
If you like some variation in your climate, Canada is the place to be. For sure, the long, cold winters common to many parts of the country can be tough to cope with. But the pay off for this is (usually) a guaranteed beautiful summer giving way to a relatively warm fall with its stunning display of fall colours.

Wanapitei River,

Wanapitei River, close to home

 

The people
Typically, Canadians are tolerant, friendly, and live and let live (apart from when it’s a case of supporting opposing hockey teams perhaps :) ). They also seem to have an unfailingly positive attitude towards life and take pleasure in other people’s successes.

Cost of living
Although there’s not too much difference in day-to-day expenses, I’ve found that some of the big-ticket items–houses, cars (and gas), furnishings, appliances–are considerably cheaper in Canada than in the UK. And although, in relative terms, I still earn less than before I moved here, the money seems to go much further. Here is “Betty,” my summer toy, and I know I’d never have been to afford to buy or insure her back in England.

Betty on a spacious campsite at Killarney.

Betty on a spacious campsite at Killarney.

Driving
Compared to driving in England, driving in Canada–at least in the summer– is a breeze (we’ll leave the topic of winter driving for another day…). Big wide open roads, no roundabouts (or very few), mostly trouble-free commutes–where I live at least. If you live in Toronto, feel free to disagree :) And summer road trips are so much fun.

The wildlife
So long as it doesn’t get too close. Since I’ve been here I’ve seen moose, bears, wolves, turtles, snakes, and our very own groundhog. Okay, perhaps he’s not such a welcome visitor… :)

If you’re already living in Canada, what are your favourite things? Or if you’re planning on moving here, what are you most looking forward to?

July 10th 2015 will be a really special day. It’ll be ten years since my husband and I became Canadian permanent residents and heard those magic words “Welcome to Canada!”To celebrate, I’ll be running a series of “Top Ten” posts across the month of July. Discover my top ten best things about living in Canada and my top ten best moments in Canada – so far!

Plus – I’m also excited to announce the launch of my new ebook “Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide.”

New ebook: Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide

Dreaming of moving to Canada? Not sure where to start? “Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide” is your quick reference guide to successfully moving to Canada and making the most of your new life. You’ll discover:

• The information you need in a clear, easy-to-read A-Z format
• Latest changes to the immigration rules
• Confusing acronyms explained
• Why you don’t need to hire an immigration consultant
• How to get the most out of your first few months in Canada

Whether you’re looking for information on immigration starting points, house hunting, finding a job, or daily life in Canada, “Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide” has it covered. Start making your Canadian dream a reality!

Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide is now available through amazon.com (http://amzn.to/1FkCAGq) and amazon.co.uk (http://amzn.to/1QBkyf8) or your local Amazon site.

And on top of all that, Wednesday will be Canada Day – giving us a mid-week break this year instead of a long weekend. Happy Canada Day!

If you’ve reached the point where you’re considering applying for Canadian citizenship, it’s important to know about some recent rule changes.

The most significant change concerns residency requirements. You now have to have been resident in Canada for four out of the six years before you apply–an increase from 3 years. Additionally, you have to be “physically present” for a minimum of 183 days per year of those 4 years.  So under the new rules, I’d have had to wait an extra year before applying (I became a Canadian citizen in 2010).

The language rules have become a lot stricter too. All applicants between the ages of 14-64 have to meet the English/French language requirements and pass the knowledge test. Previously the age range was 18-54. And use of interpreters is no longer allowed.

For full details of all the changes, go to http://bit.ly/1Cej8er. You can begin your citizenship application at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/citizenship/become.asp.

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!

Hard to believe that a month and a half ago there was still ice on the lakes. Here’s a shot of Ramsey Lake taken from Moonlight Beach near Sudbury on April 24th.

Ice on Ramsay Lake

Ice on Ramsay Lake

Since then we’ve already had temperatures in the low 20s giving us a very welcome taste of summer. So it was very timely to see some tips on sun protection in the current (June 2015) edition of Canadian Living. It helpfully answered some of the questions that have always confused me:

Exactly how much sunscreen should you use per application?
Answer: 2 tablespoons, including 1 teaspoon for the face.

Which comes first? Sunscreen or bug spray?
Answer: sunscreen, followed 15-30 minutes later by bug spray.

Thank you, Canadian Living! And speaking of canadian living, what could be more Canadian than lounging on your deck all summer long with a beer or two?

I’ve posted before about our screen room adventures. For this year we’d decided to try and resurrect our temporary gazebo, crossing our fingers that we still had all the bits we needed and that everything would still fit together after not using it for several years. But then we got to thinking… what if we bit the bullet and saved ourselves all that work… what if we went back to the idea of having a permanent screen room and hiring someone to build it for us?

And… here it is! Proudly presenting the Kelly family permanent screen room! Thank you to Mike Huzij of Aries Construction, who did a fantastic job for us. Bring on summer!

Bug free!

Bug free!

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

Express Entry is up and running! Back in November when I first wrote about this scheme, details were sketchy. However, the launch went ahead on January 1st as planned and affects the way applications are processed in the following immigration categories:

Federal Skilled Worker,
Federal Skilled Trades,
Canadian Experience Class.

Once you’ve applied for Express Entry,  your profile is valid for twelve months, after which you have 60 days to resubmit. Any later than that and you’ll need to send in a completely new profile. To be accepted into the “express entry pool,” you have to meet the requirements of at least one of the above mentioned immigration streams.

If you don’t already have a job offer from a Canadian employer, or a nomination from a province or territory (via the Provincial Nominee Scheme), you’ll also be required  to register for the government Job Bank site.

Once you’re “in the pool,” you stand a chance of being invited to apply for permanent residency. Regular “draws” will take place throughout the year to select applicants. Those invited to apply will be those considered the best qualified to match current labour market needs.

Candidates are ranked via the Comprehensive Ranking System. This is a points system based on education, work experience and skills, and language ability. The knowledge and skills of your spouse are also taken into account. If you’re a qualified candidate with a Canadian job offer, or you’re being nominated through the PNP, you’re in prime position and guaranteed the first chances to apply.

If you receive a coveted invitation, you then have 60 days to send in your application for permanent residency plus the all-important application fee. The promise is that “the majority of” express entry applications will be processed within 6 months. We will see!

Also new in 2015 – specially for all those millionaires reading my blog :) – is the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital program. The time-frame for applications is ridiculously short (Jan 28 – Feb 11), but only 60 immigrants are being accepted initially through this pilot scheme. If judged successful, it’ll then be expanded. Apparently the old scheme, rife with accusations of fraud, was labelled as “cash for citizenship,” so it’s not surprising they’re going for a relaunch.

For most of us though, Express Entry is the main focus and it’ll be interesting to see whether it delivers on its promises. Have you applied through Express Entry? Do you think it makes it easier or harder for potential immigrants to get into Canada?

I was reminded of the British pie obsession just recently when the CBC As is Happens radio show ran a piece about the World Pie Eating Championship in Wigan, England. There was all sorts of chaos as the contestants were forced to tackle non-regulation size pies. The shame of it!

When people talk about pies here in Northern Ontario, they are usually referring to freshly baked sweet pies– apple, blueberry, lemon, coconut… mmm! I remember stopping off for lunch at a Mennonite bakery last year in the Waterloo area. The shelves were overflowing with freshly baked fruit pies, and not surprisingly the line-ups were huge.

Sweet pies are big business here, but savoury pies or pasties not so much.  My local Superstore (one of the big grocery chains in Canada) has various pies in the freezer section, but it’s not quite the same as picking up a fresh pie or pasty from a bakery. They stocked proper pork pies for a while and every time they appeared I bought them up in huge quantities for my husband. He really misses his pies!

During holiday season, however, it’s a different story. For Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, enter the tourtière! Tourtière is a meat pie with a shortcrust pastry case, French-Canadian in origin.  Typical fillings would be beef or pork, often combined with potato, cinnamon and cloves, but the recipe has lots of regional variations.

My husband’s usual pie-making activities have been curtailed this season (more to come on that), so when I heard that tourtières were available to order from the student centre at the college where I work, I gratefully ordered one, sliced it up and stored it in the freezer ready for Christmas and New Year celebrations. I also prepared my veggie version: veggie ground round (mince), chickpeas and kidney beans mixed with gravy and veggies.

Happy New Year!

Festive Pie

Festive Pie

 

As I explained in my previous post, back in 2002 I fell in love with Canada and with the cottage experience. This summer I was able to return to where it all began: Wawanaisa Resort on Georgian Bay. Twelve years on, I was curious to see what — if anything — had changed there and whether this trip could measure up to those amazing memories of my first Canadian vacation.

I was pleased to discover that the resort was much as I remembered it. The Wiltman family, originally from Germany, is still running the resort and Peter and Dorte are just as kind and hospitable as ever. It was fun to catch up after so long.

This time around we stayed in Owl Cottage, one of several 2-bedroom cottages available at the resort. We really appreciated the baseboard heat (even though it was August, the nights were quite chilly) along with the ample cupboard space and big fridge-freezer. As well as the huge amount of food we took with us, I also had way too much fun shopping at Sobey’s in Parry Sound (we don’t have one in Sudbury) and took even more food back to the cottage. Note to Jamie Oliver fans: he–or at least his product range–is available in Parry Sound!

Owl Cottage

Owl Cottage

Peter now helpfully sends out a cottage inventory to renters, so you can easily see which essentials you need to pack. In addition to the items provided in the kitchen, we brought our small grill so I could easily cook my veggie burgers while the guys were barbecuing.

Supper on the deck

Supper on the deck

Wireless internet is now available at the park office if you  feel the need to connect to the outside world. And thanks to some creative cell phone “tethering,” it was also available in Owl Cottage during our stay. I’m not too sure what happened to the TV service though. The only time I switched it on, there were 3 channels all showing exactly the same thing: an England vs. Germany football match! We figured that Peter must have arranged this specially :-)

You can now pay for a boat ahead of time as part of a cottage/boat package, which was what we did. Sadly we didn’t manage to take advantage of it as we were busy doing other things on the one day of really reliable good weather. But the package is a good option for the many families who go there to fish and take their boat out very day.

Evening stroll on the dock

Evening stroll on the dock

We enjoyed some strenuous hiking during the holiday and must have hiked every trail at Killbear Park. We’ve camped there in the intervening years between cottage visits and also experienced a not-so-memorable winter trip which involved lots too much wading in very deep snow. The little convenience store close to the park where I found my spring roll supper is sadly no longer there, but there’s still an assortment of businesses in operation along the road leading to the park. One of my favourites is the Bread and Butter Cafe offering all day breakfast and cold beer. Perhaps not at the same time though…

And what about Parry Sound? We’ve been regular visitors over the years and with the gradual four-laning of Highway 69, it’s now an even quicker option for a summer day trip from Sudbury. Thankfully the town hasn’t changed too much, although the new construction on Bowes Street with all the usual suspects like Walmart and Home Depot coming in seems to have badly affected other businesses. The mall at the other end of town, which used to be a hub of activity, now seems to be almost completely empty.

There used to be plentiful free parking at the waterfront, but options are much more limited now. A huge area has been designated for the use of Island Queen customers only, so everyone else has to squash in where they can. Not a good first impression for tourists. That said, the waterfront is still incredibly beautiful. I love the scenic walk along the fitness trail to the town beach.

Our old lunchtime haunt, the Bay Street Café, is still there, but facing competition from an unattractive Boston Pizza just along the road. A better addition to the waterfront is Bistro on the Bay. I’ve not yet eaten there, but based on its many positive reviews, it’s definitely on the list. And while on the topic of restaurants, I can also recommend Lill’s place on Seguin Street, great for unpretentious home-cooked food and obviously a popular spot for locals as it’s been in business for decades.

Our week at Wawanaisa was so relaxing and just the sort of escape I was hoping for. It definitely proved to be a worthy successor to our previous visit. I hope to be back there someday.

Peace & tranquility

Peace & tranquility

Lake view

Lake view