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It seems like every time I’ve finally wrapped my brain around the current  immigration system, the Canadian government decides to tinker with the process some more. So it was with this year’s Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, presented on October 28th.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, reported that Canada plans to welcome 240,000 to 265,000 new permanent residents in 2014 with an increased intake of immigrants in the “economic” classes; up to almost one third of the overall total. It’s great news for people applying through the PNP and Canadian Experience categories as their intake numbers will be up next year.

Also announced was a brand new scheme which will come into force from 2015: Expressions of Interest or EOI.  Rather than sending in a fully-fledged immigration application, you will instead “express your interest” in moving to Canada, hence the name. At this initial stage, applicants  will provide information on their skills and experience. This information will then be  stored and ranked against that of other candidates. Only the best candidates will be invited to apply for a visa; “best” being defined as those candidates whose skills and experience most closely match current labour market needs in Canada.

On the surface at least, this sounds like a sensible scheme. Immigrants who arrive here with a pre-arranged job offer can expect financial stability and a much easier transition than arriving here without work. For so long there have been too many stories of well-qualified immigrants forced into taking  jobs as cleaners, taxi drivers etc. Maybe this new scheme can start to change that.

The potential downside is that applicants (or “expressors of interest”?—they need to work on that one) could be left in limbo in “the pool” for a long time, wondering if their application will be picked up or eventually kicked off the list. It sounds a bit like the old “we’ll keep your resume on file and contact you if anything suitable comes up” brush-off. With the current system, at least (eventually) you’ll get a definite yes or no.

Of course it’s too early to really dissect this when we have so few details. Will EOI replace all of the existing economic immigration streams or just some of them? Will it apply in Quebec too? We don’t yet know. But regardless, the introduction of this scheme is indicative of the increased emphasis on matching immigrants’ job skills with regional labour market demands.  The government’s message to prospective immigrants is clear: it’s time to think outside of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Be prepared for more changes ahead.

News Release — Planning for Success, Putting Canada First

 

There’s no snow on the ground (yet…), no Christmas music or elaborate light displays, but you can hardly move in my living room for gift wrap, brown paper and padded envelopes.   Yes, it’s that time of year when I’m frantically rushing to pack Christmas presents for the UK to make sure I meet the surface mail deadline (Canada Post 2015 holiday mailing dates).

Sometimes I’m organised and buy gift wrap, tags and cards in the January sales. This year I wasn’t, and was feeling increasingly desperate as I waited for Christmas merchandise to appear in the local stores. Thankfully Costco came to my rescue and I was able to buy a selection of huge gift tags (everything in Costco is huge) and cards. Thank you, Costco!

xmas tags pic

One tip if you’re mailing a lot of gifts: make sure you keep a record of what you’ve packed for each person. I’ve had the experience of arriving at the post office with my parcels, only to completely forget what is packed inside them. You’ll need to fill out “small packet” or “international parcel” labels with a list of items and their value. If you’re mailing several items at the same time, it’s useful to grab a supply of these ahead of time so you can arrive prepared. And the people behind you in the line-up will thank you too.

More and more though, I find I’m turning to the web for gift giving inspiration. Online gift ordering is so much easier and quicker and the postage charges are probably less than the cost of mailing a parcel. Plus—and this is a really big bonus—someone else does the gift wrapping for you! Here is a selection of companies I’ve used successfully to send Christmas and birthday gifts.

Flowers
Clare Florist
Flying Flowers

Speciality
Not on the high street
Puzzle Folk

Gift vouchers
Amazon – of course…

Food & drink
Betty’s
Cup of Tea
Hotel Chocolat
Good old M&S

Gift baskets
Clearwater Hampers
Hay Hampers

I hope this gives you some ideas for starting points. If you have any favourite places to order gifts, please share!

 

 

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 don’t remember ever making any special preparations for winter when I lived in England. Here it’s a very different story. Cold temperatures arrived early in Northern Ontario this year, with nights dropping to almost freezing in Sudbury by mid September. No! It’s too early! This has meant that I’m making my winter preparation task list much earlier than normal. If this is your first winter in Canada, here are a few things you might need to think about.

Snow removal
Get those shovels ready by the front door and if you own one, make sure your snow blower is working. I was caught out last year, so this year I had some my snow blower in the shop in August! Icy windshields (windscreens) were back last week and of course I couldn’t find my ice scraper. You’ll also want a container of ice melter to make your paths less treacherous to walk on. You may prefer to hire someone to clear your snow. If so, start looking early as many people who offer this service are fully booked. If you live in a rented apartment, this may be taken care of for you. And if you get little or no snow where you live, feel free to  ignore this section!

Digging out: my first Canadian winter

Digging out: my first Canadian winter

Keep warm inside…
Have your heating system inspected and serviced. Heating contractors get very busy at this time of year. I’m still waiting to hear back from our regular contractor. Not so many people service oil furnaces now, so I’m hoping I don’t have to look for someone else.

and outside…
Dig out the winter coats, boots, scarves, gloves, thermals… If you don’t own any (or can’t find them!), prepare for a shopping trip. It’ll soon be time to bundle up.

Getting around…
Winter vehicle maintenance is extremely important. Have your winter vehicle fitted with proper winter tires. Check tire pressure, oil levels and make sure your windshield washer fluid is winter grade. You’ll get through a lot of this very quickly. Also consider fitting your vehicle out with an emergency kit: food supplies, blankets, flashlights (torches), emergency flares, plus a shovel and tow rope in case you ever need to dig yourself out. If your area has really cold temperatures and you have to park your car outside, check to see if your vehicle is fitted with a block heater. You can plug this into an electrical outlet overnight to avoid problems with your car not starting the next day.

Winter driving

Don’t try and drive anywhere when it’s like this! (Insane British tourists near Algonquin Park, winter 2004)


…or staying parked

If you have vehicles you don’t plan to drive this winter, call your insurance company to remove the collision portion of the insurance. Then it’s time to “winterize” them. This also applies for garden equipment such as lawn mowers. If you still have gas (petrol) in the tank, add some fueld stabilizer such as Stabil, which you can buy at Canadian Tire and other auto stores. Remove vehicle batteries or keep them on a trickle charge. There’s nothing worse than trying to start up your pride and joy in the spring only to discover the battery is flat.

Outdoor clean-up
Clear any supplies from outside that might not survive the cold temperatures– car cleaning products, deck stain, paint etc. I’m no gardener, but I notice that lots of people protect their trees and shrubs with burlap or special tree wrap. I’ve also seen temporary “screens” used to shield trees that are close to the road.

And once all this is done, put your feet up and give yourself a well-earned break. Now you can start planning for the spring!

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

With current processing times for visa applications getting ever longer, it’s easy to understand why applicants for Canadian immigration become so disheartened. Having had a two and a half year wait between application and finally moving to Canada, I can certainly sympathise and remember all too vividly just how hard it was. The lucky few make it over earlier on temporary works visas, but this is just not possible for the majority. So what’s the best way of coping during the long wait and how can you make productive use of your time?

First of all, don’t completely put your life on hold. It might be several years before you get to Canada, and you can’t pin your whole existence on waiting for news. Use the time to catch up with friends and family you might not have seen in a while, visit all those places nearby that you always meant to see, but have never got round to. For anyone living in Europe, you might decide to take the chance to visit some European countries relatively easily and cheaply while you’re still over there. (European travel becomes a very expensive endeavor once you’re here.)All that said, you also need a balance with preparing for your future life in Canada.

Aside from possible vacations or research trips to Canada (everyone needs a break :)), try and save as much money as possible. My husband and I were relying on the equity in our house for our settlement funds, but ended up receiving a far lower price than anticipated. We wished then that we’d saved more and been far more focused on what was ahead of us.

Think carefully before buying new household items, particularly electronic ones. Ask yourself:

Will it work in Canada?
Do I really need it?
Would I take it with me?

If you have a house you plan to sell, start on any renovations early on and work on them in stages at your leisure. I’m speaking from experience here, as we ended up trying to get everything done on a crazy schedule in just a few months!

Ultimately, don’t ever give up. I reached rock bottom during the delay with our medical results, then again the following year when our house in England took so long to sell and my husband and I were living in different countries for six months. But I got through it, and so will you. For some of you, moving to Canada may still seem a very long way in the future, but you will make it!

As a longtime vegetarian, I was a bit apprehensive–from a food perspective that is–about moving to Canada. But In fact, I needn’t have worried. Around 4% of Canadians now follow a vegetarian diet and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected to find vegetarian ready meals and products.

Veggie ground round

Browse the aisles

Many grocery stores carry quite a wide range of vegetarian and vegan products. One of the more well-known brands is Yves Veggie, which offers a huge range of meat substitutes such as veggie bacon, turkey slices, and pizza pepperoni . These are readily available at most major supermarkets.  Gardein is another popular Canadian-based option and there are also “own-brand” options such as President’s Choice Blue Menu. Daiya “cheese” is also more widely available now. One tip: vegetarian mince (as I knew it in the UK) is known here as “Ground Round.”scallopini

Buy in bulk

Also check out Bulk Barn  It claims to be Canada’s largest bulk food retailer and has stores across Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island They have a wide variety of sauce and soup mixes, a veggie chilli mix and tofu, as well as vitamins, herbal remedies and natural skincare products. They also have a great range of teas, coffees and home baking products, so well worth a look.

Gardein-Beefless-Sliders1-295x288

Make your own menu!

Most restaurants here offer quite a decent number of vegetarian options, even in the smaller towns. And of course if you’re in one of the big cities, you’ll have no problem getting hold of all sorts of cuisine. Vegan is slightly tougher, but as plant-based diets are becoming more mainstream  I’m starting to see a few vegan options slowly creeping onto menus. There is such an emphasis on good customer service here, so even if you do come across a restaurant that doesn’t have any suitable options they are usually happy to make or adapt something for you.

Not long after moving to Canada, I ended up at Red Lobster for dinner. As the name would suggest, definitely no veggie options happening here! There was nothing on the menu I could eat, so I asked for a baked potato with a sauce and side veggies. They were quite happy to prepare this for me and one of the other diners actually ordered the same meal because it looked so good!

Join a group

There’s a large network of vegetarian societies across Canada that offer cookery classes and pot-luck suppers among their activities. Joining a local group offers an ideal opportunity to make new friends and find out more about the best places to shop  for veggie products. Here are a few links to get you started.

Vegetarians of Alberta 

Toronto Vegetarian Association
Organisers of the annual Vegetarian Food Festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre

Winnipeg Vegetarian Association

Ottawa Vegetarian Society

Vancouver Island Vegetarian Association

Vegan Dad – this was one of my favourite blogs. Sadly it’s no longer updated, but it’s still fun to browse the archives about this Northern Ontario Dad and his adventures bringing up his four children on a vegan diet.

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.