My Year in Canada: Introduction

An introduction as well as a preface? Boy howdy!

Why Canada?

Okay, so one of the questions you get when you say “hey, I’m going to Canada for a year,” is “Why Canada?”

Why Canada indeed?

When I was a kid there was this cartoon I used to watch, called The Raccoons. The Raccoons was a Canadian cartoon, set in a forest, with talking raccoons, an evil aardvark, and if I remember correctly, an alligator married to a chicken? The alligator may have been called John Knox. The end credits featured a really specially written kick-ass 80s pop song by Canadian Lisa Lougheed called Run With Us.

Yeah I know it’s kind of terrible, and I am the first person to deride the questionable tastes of the 80s, but I sincerely love this song with no hint of irony.

Anyway, I was an impressionable young child, and although I doubt I was aware of the Canadian connection back then, it left a lasting impression on me.

Years after, I became increasingly in love with the outdoors, and in particular, coniferous forests, mountains, rivers, that sort of thing. In my head that’s what all of Canada was like, just endless forests, mountains and rivers. Later I realised that wasn’t really true, and I narrowed that part down to British Columbia.

In a more pragmatic sense, I was just bored of Scotland. I was looking for a slightly different experience, but not one where I’d be completely lost due to the language barrier. Of all the English-speaking countries, Canada had been at the top of my hit list for years, with New Zealand in second. But I’m a coward, and I don’t really do impulsive things like get up and leave with no idea where I’m going.

At the start of 2011 I started looking into how a trip to Canada would work. But I was broke, and it seemed increasingly impossible. There were so many reasons why it wasn’t going to work, why it was a stupid idea.

And then, you know, life sometimes throws weird curve-balls at you. Sometimes you meet people who have this kind of magic and wonder in their eyes, and you start to realise that all the scary stupid obstacles in the way of your dreams are made out of fucking paper.

I was working in a job for almost six months, our contract had just been extended, and for the first time in a while I was able to live comfortably within my means and save at the same time. With some extra generous help from my ridiculously supportive parents and other relatives, I quickly realised things were actually on track financially.

The other part of this is that my dear friend Murray Barnes had been in a relationship with an American woman for several years, and after having travelled back and forth for a while, decided to man up and get married. The date was tentatively set for Summer 2012, and this lined up perfectly with my plans. It was almost as if everything in the Universe was conspiring to make the Canada plan not only plausible, but inevitable.

So there wasn’t really one good reason “why Canada?”, but there were a lot of little things that built up over time. And some of them were frivolous, but what was I going to do, stay in Scotland and bounce from minimum wage six month contract to Jobseekers’ Allowance to minimum wage three-month contract?

Why Vancouver?

Next question is, out of all the Canadian cities, why did I pick Vancouver?

I had heard a lot over the years about how wonderful a place to live Vancouver was supposed to be, how high the standard of living. I looked at some pictures on this thing we used to have called The Internet. I saw a city that looked like this:

It's not so much the city, it's what's around the city.
It’s not so much the city, it’s what’s around the city.

In addition, I was familiar with Vancouver’s ties to film and TV production, since almost all sci-fi shows and many movies have been filmed here, from the X-Files to X-Men. I had kind of imagined it might be a little easier to break into my chosen field of audio engineering, though I knew that’d be a long-term commitment.

In truth, I didn’t really do as much research beforehand as I should have. I had some vague ideas about what Vancouver was, but once I arrived, 50% of them turned out to be flat-out wrong, and 40% of them turned out to be somewhat inaccurate, but we’ll get to that.

I went to Vancouver for the wrong reasons, and if there is one thing about my time in Canada I regret above all else, it’s that I wasn’t able to get out of there as soon as the winter season ended.

I’m extremely selfish when it comes to where I live. I want it all. I want access to a city, and the culture that brings. But I also want to live in the countryside with lots of trees and hills. That, I have realised, is a pipe-dream. Such a city does not exist. Or if it does, I’ve never found it. When I was looking at Vancouver, I wanted it to be that place and to fall in love with it.


I applied for my Canadian work permit in March 2012, once applications had opened. The applications were still paper-based that year, and took a while to fill out. I needed to get a police check to make sure I wasn’t a criminal. Obviously I had to bribe the police not to mention the heroin smuggling operation I had been involved in some years prior…

No, I’m clean. My police check confirms I am either a law-abiding citizen, or that my criminal activities have thus far avoided detection.

That's me putting my future in the hands of the Government of Canada's International Experience Canada program.
That’s me putting my future in the hands of the Government of Canada’s International Experience Canada program.

Then a month or so after that I received word that yes, I had my work permit, and assuming I showed up at the border within one year, they’d let me in and let me work.

I continued saving money, and waited on word from Murray as to the date of the wedding. That was sort of up in the air for a while, but once the date finally landed in July, I could start booking flights and planning.

It turned out that US flights tend to be cheaper if you buy a return than a one-way, which I guess is meant as a disincentive for illegal immigration, but is actually a pain for anyone who intends to fly into one city and fly out of another.

I discovered quickly that the cheapest flights to America were via Iceland to New York, thanks to Icelandair. And cheaper even than that was flying to Iceland, staying there for a couple of days, and then flying onward. And hey, I was actually hoping to go to Iceland anyway because other than the whaling thing, I’m pretty much on board with Iceland culturally. Also:

This is Gullfoss, a waterfall.
Why would I not go see this?

I nailed down a plan whereby I would fly out of Glasgow to Iceland, stay for several nights, then fly to New York, stay for a couple of nights, and then fly to Atlanta for the wedding. And circumstances allowed me to stay with Murray’s family in a house they had rented outside Atlanta for the week after the wedding. That is literally as far as my plan went at that point. The rest was completely open.

So just to recap: I had decided to leave Scotland to live in Canada, with no firm plan about how or when or where I would arrive into Canada, or even how I would get out of Atlanta.

And I was completely okay with that.

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