Lessons from Away


Continuing on the immigration theme, did you know that Canada has the second highest population of foreign born citizens in the world? (Only Australia is higher.

The 6.2 million foreign-born people in Canada came from over 200 different countries: 58.3% from Asian countries; 16.1% from European countries; 10.9% from Central and South American; 10.6% from Africa.

Canada is also widely thought to be the second easiest country in the world to which to immigrate. Australia again wins out because they have a wider range of skills qualifications than Canada. Canada also has a greater disconnect between credentials and actual jobs.

Seventy percent of immigrants chose to live in either Toronto (40%), Montreal (14.9%) or Vancouver (13.7%).

Ottawa-Gatineau is home to over 200,000 foreign-born citizens.

One of them is Guillermo.  Some Ottawa bloggers have met Guillermo. He’s a charming young man who immigrated from South America to Canada some years ago with his family.

Guillermo maintains two blogs. On The Tired Prop he practices his English and rants and comments about every day stuff. His other blog, Los Ziegler en Canada, is in Spanish and has become a source of information and discussion for and with other immigrants and people wishing to immigrate.

Guillermos’s current project is a bridging exercise between native Canadians and foreign-born Canadians. His readers were recently asked why they chose to make Canada their home and whether this country has met their expectations: have their been any surprises or disappointments?

The answers are so touching I asked if I could quote some excerpts here (crudely translated by me using Google Translate).

Alfredo says:

My wife found a job without a problem. Equality at work is a reality here. She has had no difficulty because of her age, or the fact that she has children or because she is a woman

For me, Canada gave me back my family; gave me the opportunity to discover and re-invent myself; gave me the freedom to become a happy person. Thank you Canada for giving me the opportunity to be here.

 Jaime says:

Compared to the US, Canada allows you more freedom of thought; allows you to be proud of your country of origin unlike the US where you are expected to assimilate completely. In Canada people want to know about you and your country and can have an intelligent conversation with you about it.

Paola says:

We were expecting to have a hard time fitting in, re-adjusting and getting settled, but Canada proved us wrong in every single way. I was expecting friendly but distant people  – not the case. I was expecting to have a hard time getting a similar job  to the one I had in Argentina usning my experience and education – I got a job only 2 weeks after I got to Canada and in a better position.  And, I LOVE THE WINTER!! I still can not believe our luck.

Enzo says:

I had the chance to visit Toronto as a tourist. I literally fell in love with Canada, actually I think we had a mutual infatuation, to the point that I did not want to return to Argentina.

Canada has been extremely generous with me. I always have high expectations of this country, but Canada is always a step ahead of my expectations.

I now live in a country where my rights are respected (and my obligations enforced), people are educated, kind, respectful. I live in country where I make my living out of my hobby, and just for that I kiss the soil every time I return to this country after being away.

On Easter weekend, during a family dinner, someone asked me if I was thinking to retire in Argentina (because my money will be more profitable there). My answer was no. I never have never felt about a country the way I feel about Canada. No other country makes me feel this. I am here to stay (for good or for bad)

I also love the snow, driving in the snow, all the fuss about snow storms and then nothing happens. I LOVE IT!

It’s not all roses, of course. Some of the disappointments people noted were the poor quality of our roads (of all things), our health care system (no surprise), and our general lack of culture. Aside from some areas of Quebec, we apparantly seem to take little pride in creating beauty – in our architecture, our food, clothes,  lifestyle, etc.

I’m sure with the vast and varied foreign influences we welcome into the country, our culture will improve over time.  Adopting ethnic foods, clothing, art and even lifestyles cannot help but enrich our young country and give it dimension and beauty.

Just hearing from people who appreciate living in Canada so much already makes me see this country through different eyes.


27 responses to “Lessons from Away

  1. I would be inclined to think the majority of “new Canadians” end up in Toronto for some reason. Whenever you hear about a group of people, there always seems to be the note of “… and Toronto has the highest [ethnicity] outside of [foreign country]…”

    It’s interesting to see just how many people do make their way over here to start a new life – and bring their culture and of course, cuisine.

  2. If I was going to emigrate anywhere, it’d probably be western Canada. We’ve been to Canada 5 times since 1993 and we’ll probably be making an extended trip next year or the year after.

  3. Glad to hear positive experiences but the complaints are strange. True our roads could be better but have you ever driven in a foreign country? Yeah some other roads are pretty scary. Also, Quebec is NOT the only country with beauty in culture to offer. There is plenty of gorgeous architecture in other provinces as well as other very good distinctive aspects in our country.

  4. Hi XUP,

    Thanks for the note!

    Chris and others would be surprised on how many people lands at Ottawa-Gatineau each year and, of course, to Montreal. Do not forget that Quebec has a very convenient immigration policy and many not reaching the points in the fed process chose this option!

  5. I lived in Ottawa for three years and have also lived in UK apart from my native Asia. I have also traveled to quite a number of countries. For me, Canada is the best country to live in. It is more honest and more just than most.

    Among my well traveled friends, only one who has been to Canada thought that Finland was better. All the others also thought that Canada and Canadians are the best.

    If I was a Canadian, I would be very proud, just like what Enzo said.

  6. Chris – Actually, as I mentioned in the post 40% of immigrants to Canada chose to live in Toronto. It’s fairly obvious why a newcomer would choose a large city to live in. Resources, opportunities, ethnicity. If you were going to live in Russia would you go live in Moscow where they have a Canadian embassy, lots of English speaking people, classes for immigrants, associations set up to help immigrants find jobs, housing, schooling, a variety of foods and goods for sale, lots of employment opportunities, easy access to airports and other transportation to get back home or other points OR would you go live in some tiny village in rural Siberia where you will be very alone and isolated without access to anything remotely familiar or helpful?

    Mike – When you say Western Canada, do you mean Saskatchewan/Manitoba or Alberta and BC? Have you been to eastern Canada, too? Where will your next trip to Canada take you?

    Hannah – They weren’t really complaining, but the question was asked whether they are disappointed by anything and those things were mentioned. Perhaps they’re used to better roads where they come from, who knows? And the Quebec thing I think is more of an attitude – they are very European there. When you walk around Montreal you can see people make a lot of effort to dress stylishly, the food is outstanding, they deport themselves differently. As I mentioned in a blog post long ago – people look at each other, pay attention to each other, embrace and kiss when they meet, touch a great deal, they are fond of beautiful things which is apparent everywhere. It’s not so much “things” but a whole attitude.

    Guillermo – As I said, 200,00+ people who immigrate to Canada end up in Ottawa-Gatineau. And ya, our roads do get pretty crappy, especially in the spring.

    LGS – Why did you leave us?

  7. I have spent some time in Canada a few times in my life and love the beauty of the land and the friendliness of the people. More and more I am discouraged by America and the lack of tolerance for other cultures and people. I know that it is not everywhere, but it does seem that most any region you go to in the U.S., there is a number of people who have a hatred for a particular race or group. Perhaps it is just a few people, who are the most vocal, but it is a few too many.

  8. Unlike some of my countrymen and women, I welcome all immigrants to the USA. If it was up to me I’d open the borders and let anyone and every one in.

  9. XUP – Our travels take us more often to the mountain states and provinces. Four of our five visits to Canada have been to BC and/or Alberta.

    Our sole trip in the east was a day of travel in ’94 from northern Vermont to Buffalo, New York across via hwy 401. Other than fuel and food, we didn’t stop anywhere, as we had limited time before I had to be back to work. Our next trip will probably take us to Alberta, though it’s possible we may extend it and go all the way to Alaska.

    Our last trip was in 2001 as part of a month long vacation. Most of the Canada part of the trip was in Alberta, though we did cross over into BC and spent a couple of nights in a cabin near Valemount. That was a bad year for fires. The day we went out on the excursion on Athabasca Glacier the smoke in the sky was really blocking the sun. As a result, the wind pouring down off of the Columbia Ice Field was colder, I think, than normal, even though there were no clouds in the sky. We kind of expected the cold,so we were dressed fairly warm, though there were people on the excursion vehicle in shorts and NO jacket.

    If we were to emigrate, though, which we won’t, we would probably end up in BC somewhere near the coast.

  10. Savanvleck – We just seem friendly because we drink so much beer. Take our beer away and see how friendly we are! Ha. I’m sure we have our share of racists and xenophobes up here too, but I guess they know better than to be too vocal about it.

    Dr. Monkey – You should start your own country! I wonder what would happen if a country like the US or Canada did, in fact open their borders completely.

    Bandobras – Ya, that IS tragic.

    Mike – Eeek – your only non-west Canada trip was to Windsor, Ontario? From the little I know about you, I think you’d really enjoy Newfoundland and maybe Cape Breton or other parts of Nova Scotia. Perhaps one day you’ll turn right at the border instead of left? (everything’s far less expensive in that direction, btw)

  11. Family commitments and a sense of trying to be part of nation building and making a better place back in my own country were the reasons I left Canada. Would like to be back there one day.

  12. I was a smidge away from being a Canadian citizen- folks bottled it at the last moment- had it all arranged and then my Mum got cold feet and the deal was off. I often wonder what my life would have been like as Canuck. Maybe that’s why I am drawn to Canadian blogs…

    Anyway shall get a chance to see Halifax next week if my work visa arrives in time….

  13. Chris, I have to respond to your comment, since I just finished taking a class on immigration with Brian Ray at the U of O. You’re right in that the majority of new Canadians do end up in Toronto (~40%), but very significant amounts also land in Montreal and Vancouver. A lot of it depends on ethnicity… for example, Toronto has a relatively low African population compared to Montreal, as Quebec tends to target immigrants from French-speaking countries such as Cote D’Ivoire. Vancouver, on the other hand, has far and away the largest (per capita) Asian immigrant population. It’s a really fascinatingly complex situation in Canada, and though Toronto is the most important, with a foreign born population of 46% (more than any other city in the world), Vancouver with 40% (only behind Toronto in those same rankings) and Montreal at 21% can’t be ignored either.

    Of course the problem in Canada is the current demographic mismatch… about 75% of all foreign-born Canadians live in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, only about 27% of Canadian-born citizens live in those same cities. No other city in Canada even breaks having 10% of their population as foreign-born, the closest being Calgary at 9%. Right now, we need to figure out how to attract immigrants to settle in other parts of the country, so that all of Canada can benefit from immigration, not just our three largest cities.

    And I apologize, this comment got long… this is what happens when you set a geographer off.

  14. I’ve never been, but I understand it’s very cold and there are bears. I’m talking grizzly bears. It’s probably why no one wants to fix the roads or try to make the buildings fancy. “No time for details, just put the door on and let’s get the hell out of here. I think I smell salmon.”

    Grizzly Bears + Bad health care = Me staying put

    (oh, our healthcare also sucks, but our bears are much smaller.)

  15. My family arrived in Canada on my fourth birthday. My dad had 3 job offers: Denmark, Australia, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I often wonder what life would have been like if I’d grown up in Copenhagen or Alice Springs.

  16. Do you think they have to listen to us complain about the snow alot??

    It is great to hear of people who are glad they emigrated here. I do feel for those who are happy to be here, but have to go through flaming hoops to be able to practice their profession, for which they are perfectly qualified in their home country. I don’t really believe many of those doctors or engineers have such low standards that they would not be competent.

  17. You don’t really need me to say what I think about this topic do you? My only complaint is that when husband and I looked into the immigration requirements for Canada (many years ago now, pre-children) you had to get a certain number of points to qualify. One source of points was your profession or skill and there was a list telling you how many points each profession carried. We are both trained lawyers. Guess how many points that got us! I can give you a clue: bagpipe makers got 3. If you guessed that lawyers got about 3 less than that, give yourself a coconut!
    (Can’t say I blame Canada tho’ – I’m not that keen on lawyers myself!)

  18. XUP – Yes, someday we may make a trip to the “far east” of Canada and you are right about those being the kind of places we would enjoy. We’ll be heading east in a few days — all the way to the Atlantic — but we won’t be going very far north of the Mason-Dixon line.

    Of course, just like the Canada, most people in the US are descendants of immigrants. In one line, I’m only third generation, but in others, I can trace my ancestry back to the 1600s in the US.

    My wife, on the other hand, is 3nd generation in all of her lines.

    All of her immigrant ancestors to the US came from Quebec. They all ended up in Wisconsin.

  19. LGS – Ah well, you can always visit.

    MisssyM – Who do all the Scots go to Nova SCOTIA? How long are you here for and will you be doing any day trips to Ottawa?

    David – Thanks for the additional data. I think it’s going to be a hard sell to get immigrants to move to less populated cities for all the reasons I mentioned to Chris in my comment above. If I were immigrating to a foreign country, I’d want to be in its biggest city, too — at least at first.

    Mayopie – We also have moose and polar bears and Francophones. And I think you’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head about why our buildings and roads ain’t too fancy. We only have a couple of months construction time between winters.

    Alison – Interesting eh? I often wonder what would have happened if we’d stayed in Germany. When we went for an extended visit when I was 14 there was talk of moving back and I would have been all for it. I fell madly in love with the place and never wanted to leave. But I had to. Sigh…

    Violetsky – Yes, that seems to be a big issue — although not with the people on Guillermo’s blog for some reason. They seem to be very happy with their current jobs. It’s not like we couldn’t use a few more doctors and other professionals over here.

    Loth – You should give it another go. We still have a point system and probably not much use for people who are qualified in UK law, but you never know. You get extra points for kids, I think.

    Mike – I’ll be keen to hear what you think of the far east if you ever get there.

  20. I visited Vancouver a couple times and thought it was the cleanest and most beautiful city I had ever been to. I thought seriously about immigrating to Canada a number of times since I came to Seattle, but have always been warned against it because of the job shortage, then there is the whole cold weather snow issue and the French speaking people issue. Not to mention I am one of those really sterotypical Americans that I would probably be shunned.

  21. I’m a “foodie” so I’m just grateful for all the new and interesting restaurants that have sprung up here in Vancouver. I love Indian food, Japanese food, Chinese food, Mexican food, Russian food, French food — heck, I love food. Anything new and interesting can only be good.

    Immigration is not without its problems, though. It’s not all hearts and flowers. It calls for respect on both sides, and sometimes the boundaries get pushed. All in all, I think Canada is very good and quite welcoming to immigrants. And I find the health care in British Columbia to be amongst the best in the world, and new immigrants do get the benefits of that. I work in a large hospital setting and one of our mandates is screening of folks from other countries. They receive excellent health care, often for free.

  22. I’m grateful for my exposure to anyone who comes from somewhere else…love hearing about their experiences here and love to see their influences on our culture. There are many others like me. Can’t fix everything at once, though. I applaud Canada for its oportunity and welcome to others. It’s the way to go. Now, how can we fix everybody and everything and get peace on earth?

  23. OH MY STARS!!! Don’t get me started!! I could go on for days!

    This is exactly why in Helen World there is mandatory live in another country for 2 years. Then you can really find out what you like and believe!

    Truth be told never thought much about where I was from. Sure, I had no problem saying that I was Canadian, just never really thought about it! Now… I am more than proud to have my Canadian flag bumper sticker on our cars (and I HATE bumper stickers!)

    Love, love love Jaime’s comment!! I’ve been saying that for years! Freedom here is picking your own insurance for health care and getting your own pop at fast food restaurants!

    Funny thing is, I have heard numerous times that Canada’s healthcare is horrible but after living in the States for five and a half years we think it’s great!! It’s all about perspective!!! I will admit though I would love to live in Europe for a spell to get the as far to the left as possible experience as well!!

    Come on XUP, you know Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland! 😉
    Funnily enough Scotland has been bringing musicians from NS (specifically Cape Breton) over for years because they have the ‘old sound’ that they have lost.

  24. Cedar – We would never shun you or anyone like you. So far the only people from the US we’ve shunned is that ultra-crazy right-wing family of inbreds who race around all over the place trying to put an end to things like love and sanity. Also there are barely any French people in Western Canada and no one much cares there if you speak French or not. It’s really only important in Quebec and regions that border Quebec like: all of New Brunswick and the whole Ottawa/Kingston area. I’m not sure about the job shortages. I think we’ve got a better employment rate than the US – I guess it depends on what your profession is. I know we could use some doctors. Are you a doctor? Or could you play doctor if necessary? As to weather – I don’t think Vancouver is much different than Seattle. It’s probably the warmest area in the country. So, have I convinced you yet?

    Jo – I’m really grateful to immigrants for all the deliciousness they bring to our country, too. Can you imagine life without all the amazing ethnic foods we enjoy? My current favourite is Vietnamese. They’ve got some awesome Vietnamese restaurants in Ottawa.

    Lola – We’re working on it, baby. We’ve got lots of lovely ideas and our heart’s usually in the right place, but we need implementers. People who can cut through the bullshit and get stuff done. That sounds like Americans to me. Any takers?

    Helen – Ya I know. I’m also not surprised about the pipers. There are more bagpipes squealing away in Nova Scotia than there ever have been in Scotland. I’d love to life in Europe for a few years too, just to connect with some old world roots and absorb the ambience and attitudes of the people raised and bred there. And to eat, of course. They got some good eats over there. About the health care system – you’ve been away for a while and I think you’ll notice some changes when and if you ever come back – and not changes for the better.

  25. MisssyM – Who do all the Scots go to Nova SCOTIA? How long are you here for and will you be doing any day trips to Ottawa?

    – answer: not my choice- it’s for work. Still waiting on my work visa though- apparently I’d be fine if I made Stilton cheese or Harris Tweed, but you guys have plenty of your own corporate video directors, so I could be onto a loser. Ottawa will have to wait until a grand tour of Canada…working on it.

  26. MisssyM – Wow, how long would you be here that you need an enitre VISA? Will you bring the family? I assume you’re doing some freelance work for a company in Halifax? Is is Salter Street by any chance??