Moving to Canada

A traveler's search for meaning

7000 km (4350 miles), eight weeks, 5 time zones, two people, one car. Final destination: Toronto.

This was the nuts and bolts of our great Canadian adventure. And though the Cork man and I were setting off in a few months, that was about all we knew.

The rest was up to fate and whatever we would make of our new lives.

We were trading in our jobs in Ireland and moving to Canada. A journey that would begin with a two-month odyssey across the great continent, starting in the western seaboard city of Vancouver.

Why?

The decision wasn’t one taken lightly and certainly wasn’t received lightly.

Yes things in Ireland were bad – job loss, economic stagnation, cuts to public services – but both in our 30s and working, we were relatively unaffected.

We had no mortgage or debts and had very good jobs.

Most people were leaving Ireland because they had to, but we just wanted to. There was a big world out there and I for one didn’t want to wake up years down the line without having experienced some of it.

“Why Canada though?” was one of the biggest questions we were asked.

It was an easy one to answer. We could get visas to work there. It has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. And there’s grizzly bears. What more could you ask for?

The rough plan was to see as much of Canada as we could before arriving in Toronto to look for work. Once there, we would not only be living in a vibrant, bustling city, we’d have Quebec, Montreal, New York, Chicago, and Boston all within a day’s drive.

There was a big world out there and I for one didn’t want to wake up years down the line without having experienced some of it.

This was all the good stuff, but of course we were worried about the move. It’s not like were two spring chickens setting off on a backpacking trip, looking to pick up casual work. We had both done the traveling-backpacking thing already, and we were hoping to find proper jobs in our respective professions. Questions, usually after a good day at work, or a nice night out with friends, went through my head again and again.

Were we crazy? Would we have enough money? Would I get work as a journalist, him in software? What if we couldn’t find good jobs? Would I end up working in an Irish bar, and him on the buildings? Would we end up killing each other after two months in a car together? And more importantly, would our car, yet to be bought, even make it across the country in one piece?

There were a lot of uncertainties, given our limited budget and lack of income once that plane lifted off out of the Dublin airport.

Liftoff!

But fly we did on May 10, the thrill of the trip ahead pushing those worries away. Soon it was going to be just us and the wide open road.

Wd arrived in Vancouver like children on Christmas morning. There was one minor snag – we had a week to buy a used car and get insurance and registration, all for less than $4,000.

The city’s used car lots beckoned. But we decided not to let this get in the way of our stay in a city that really does seem to have it all: snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, sandy beaches, lots of green space, and a small-town hippie outdoorsy vibe.

We rode bikes at top speed through Stanley Park, 1,000 acres of greenery. We took a cable car to Grouse mountain, the city’s snowy peak. We trekked through as many attractions as we could. But there was no getting away from the task at hand.

A sojourn of contrasts to say the least, as one day we were tourists, the next dealing with secondhand car dealers ranging from the ignorantly indifferent to the creepily desperate.

We finally settled on the least dodgy option, a Suzuki dealership offering a guarantee on paper, for whatever it was worth.

Cash parted with, insurance and registration sorted, keys in hand, there was now no going back, and we could finally taste what the trip was all about: freedom.  And the sense of knowing there was nothing to worry about but which fork in the road to take or where to fill up on gas for eight glorious weeks. No work, no stress (unless the car broke down of course), and no problem if you do take a wrong turn and end up in god-knows-where.

The plan


We did have a rough plan of course, driving west to east through all of the provinces from British Colombia to Alberta to Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and finally Ontario on the mighty Trans-Canadian highway.

Canada had a lot to offer – more than we could ever fit in to our eight weeks, but we hoped to pack in as much as was humanly possible.

And we did.

Our travels took us from Tofino, on the western seaboard of Vancouver Island, to the ski (and party) town of Whistler back on the mainland. Then up into the magnificent Rocky mountains and the national park towns of Jasper and Banff, followed by the oil-rich city of Calgary, the wide-open plains of Saskatchewan, and onto the great lake of Superior.

There were many highlights along the way: drinking a cold beer on a rugged, log-strewn Victoria beach while watching a dramatic sunset with Washington state on one side, Vancouver Island on the other. Surfing and whale watching, mountain climbing, getting up early in the morning to go bear hunting (watching from a safe distance as opposed to actual hunting), and finally seeing grizzly bears – a mother and three cubs, ambling along without a care in the world, pretty much like ourselves.

As our time on the road drew to an end, the thought that it was all going to be over was gutting. The weather was blazing hot, we had fallen into a languorous and lovely routine of driving, sightseeing, picnicking, and then finding a place to stay for the night. The motels were cheap, the days long and eventful, the beers cold, and there was still so much of Canada to see.

Yes there were days when I was tired after a bad sleep in a crummy hostel or a long day in the car. There were nights when I longed for my own bed (until I remembered I didn’t have one) and a nice cup of Irish tea, but those kinds of feelings were short lived when I actually thought about what we were doing.

Our new home

And so the city of Toronto came ever closer on the map, and although there was a sense of sadness, there was the awareness that another very different chapter in our lives was beginning.

Toronto, though not a pretty city like Vancouver, was vibrant and happening we had heard, and it was going to be our new home.

Yes we had to find a place to live and get jobs, so no doubt there would be tough days ahead. But they were the very things that would make us part of Canada; not just travelers passing through, but immigrants starting a new life.

And guess what? Our little Kia Rio made it all the way, all 7,000 plus kilometers with not one single hitch, not even a tire change needed. Sometimes it really is the little things in life that make you happy.

Read more inspirational travel stories from normal people who have made travel a top priority and check out resources to help you do the same:

Photo credits: Dave Minogue, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

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