Advice, Expat Life

How easy is it to become a citizen of Canada?

Photo by K. Sheridan

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Oh, it’s so easy to move to Canada. They’ll let anyone in.”

I have, and it’s Canadians who say it. They were probably kidding, and it’s true that Canada is very welcoming to immigrants, but it got me thinking: Is it easy to become a citizen of Canada?

Let’s look at all the things you have to do before you can apply for Canadian citizenship.

One of the steps to become a citizen of another country as an adult is taking that country’s citizenship test.

When you’re already a citizen of a country by birth, the answers to questions on these tests are things you would have learned as a child, mostly at school, and you probably take them for granted.

But if you were quizzed on the spot (and you couldn’t ask Google!) would you pass?

Apparently, most Canadians wouldn’t pass the Canadian citizenship test.

At least, that was the headline circulating the media on Canada Day, which in case you didn’t know, is on July 1st.

There, you already have the answer to one of the possible questions on the Canadian citizenship test. You’re welcome.

Where did these results come from?

Forum Research asked 1,654 Canadians ten questions that would be found on the Canadian citizenship test and found that only 12 per cent of them got enough of them correct to pass the test.

I’m proud to say I don’t fall into this category since I got 100% on the test. But obviously that’s because I was required to take it so I had to study for it.

And in this poll, they only had to do 10 questions. The official Canadian citizenship test is a combination of 20 multiple choice and true/false questions, selected from a list of about 250 possible questions. You have to get at least 15 out of 20 correct to pass, and each person taking the test is given a different set of questions.

While I was studying for the citizenship test, I tested a few of my Canadian friends and they did pretty well. In fact, some of them helped me study by explaining why that was the answer.

I also did some practice questions from the Australian citizenship test and based on results, I would have passed. But I did get a few wrong. And I was born, raised and educated – including a university degree – in Australia.

So why is the citizenship test a requirement of becoming a citizen if so many current citizens don’t even know the answers?

Because becoming a citizen of any country is not as simple as just taking a short test.

It’s not like you just have to answer a bunch of questions correctly and voila, you’re instantly granted citizenship. It’s a long process that takes years.

The application itself takes one year to process and the test is only one part of it. I applied in October, and in December I received a notification that my application had commenced processing.

In February I received a request to get my fingerprints taken. Even though I had done that twice before, once for my second IEC visa and once for my permanent resident application, I had to do it again, because they don’t keep your fingerprints after they have cleared them, so it’s not like you can just ask them to “check the last one.” Believe me, I tried!

At the end of May, I received an invitation to take the citizenship test in the middle of June. It was scheduled for the same day as my graduation ceremony from the post-grad I had just completed at George Brown, but it’s pretty hard to reschedule the test (and my request to do so did not even get a response) so obviously I missed my graduation.

Once I did the test and completed the interview, the officer told me I would receive an invitation to attend an oath ceremony in around October. So that’s about a year from start to finish.

And that’s only one part of the journey to citizenship. First you need to be eligible to apply in the first place, which is a process that could take around 6 or more years.

Just marry someone!

Oftentimes when a non-resident is lamenting wanting to remain in a country they don’t have rights to remain in, people exclaim, “Just marry someone!”

Well, I’m sure you can predict what I’m about to tell you: Marrying a Canadian does not mean you automatically get Canadian citizenship.

The Canadian government explicitly states, ” If you want to become a Canadian citizen, you must follow the same steps as everyone else. There isn’t a special process for spouses of Canadian citizens.”

Want to know what it takes to become a citizen of Canada? Keep reading.

This information is outlined on several sites, including the Government of Canada’s site, but I’ll show you what each of these steps looks like and how I experienced them when applying for Canadian citizenship.

To be eligible to apply to become a Canadian citizen, you must meet the following criteria:

You must be a permanent resident of Canada

This alone requires an extensive application in which you are subjected to a lot of testing and background checks. You also need to be eligible to apply for permanent residency in the first place, and many people are not. Eligibility depends on many factors and vary person to person.

You also need money! The application alone is about $2000 Canadian dollars.

On top of that, the numerous tests and checks you have to do, depending on how many are requested from you by immigration, also cost a lot.

My application in total was about $6000 CAD.

You must have lived in Canada for three out of the past five years

Which means you will acquire a lot of knowledge and experience about the Canadian way of life, and you will learn so much about what it means to be Canadian; things you could never learn in a Citizenship test study book.

This also means you have to keep track of and recount your travel history to the day. Depending on your lifestyle, this may be a huge pain in the ass!

Even if you aren’t applying for citizenship, if you travel at all, I recommend you find a way to record and track all your trips. I have had to recount mine twice, and since not all countries stamp your passport on entry and exit, it can be hard to remember going back five or ten years! Going through your emails for past flight itineraries helps, but if you’ve also done land border-crossings, good luck!

You need to have been filing taxes while you’ve lived here

Living in a country means you will earn and/or spend money in that country, so you’re also contributing to the economy while you’re living here.

Paying taxes is another way to contribute to the economy and help the country to continue to supply services for citizens and residents. It’s kind of like investing in a country’s prosperity. So by the time you apply for citizenship you would have been “investing” in your life in Canada for a while.

You need to prove that you can communicate in at least one of Canada’s two official languages

If you’re 18 to 54 years old, you must show that you can speak and listen at a specific level in one of these languages.

This is done by taking a test at an approved testing centre, and it costs about $300.

I was born and raised in an English-speaking Commonwealth country, English is my first language and I have a bachelors degree from an Australian university with a major in English, but I still had to take a test to prove my English language skills. So there are no passes here!

You are also assessed on your English and/or French communication skills during your interactions with customs officials at the citizenship testing centre (such as the person at the front desk with whom you check in, and the test adjudicators).

Once you’re done the test, you have an interview with an immigration officer who checks all your documents and tells you the results of your test. In the interview, you’re asked a lot of questions and your language skills are assessed as you answer them.

The officer is behind a glass panel and the room is filled with people so it feels kind of like when you go through customs at an airport and they ask you questions before they let you enter.

There are also a bunch of reasons someone may not be eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship.

Most of them involve having some sort of criminal history, like being convicted of a crime, being on trial for a crime, being asked to leave Canada by a Canadian official, or having a citizenship application for another country refused, and other such things outlined by the Government of Canada.

So there you go. It’s not “easy” to become a citizen of Canada. They don’t just “give it to anyone”. So if you ever hear someone say that, you can just laugh in their face. Or show them this blog post!

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Stories

Food poisoning, Christmas and explosive underwear: that time it took me 35 hours to get from Toronto to New York. By plane.

With the amount of air travel that goes on these days, I’m sure many of you have at least one insane story about how a trip took several times as long as it should have, or something terrible happened with your luggage, or you happened to suffer the most dramatic injury or illness you’ve ever had in your life while you were travelling.

Well, up until the last few years when visa restrictions prevented me from travelling, I was considered someone who traveled a fair bit, and to this day, my most insane travel story remains the one about that time it took me and my best friend 35 hours to fly from Toronto to New York City.

This is another one of my posts that’s pretty long, but so was the trip, so let’s call it art imitating life, shall we? Great!

Back in December of 2009, three years before I decided to move to Canada, I got on my very first flight from Australia to Canada and the USA.

It was a massive Christmas holiday trip that cost around $10000AUD (cannot IMAGINE spending that much on a trip these days!) and followed a typical itinerary for an Aussie going to the the USA for the first time: New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles (including Disneyland), but with an added twist – Toronto, Canada.

My dream trip

This trip was a huge deal for me. Not only was it the first time I was heading to my top bucket list destination, but it was also the first time I would ever see snow! But I was mostly looking forward to seeing New York for the first time, especially during the holidays. I would feel just like Kevin in Home Alone 2!

Why did we add Toronto to the trip? Because I had friends there, and since it was the Christmas holiday season, I was dying to see a white Christmas, and I was assured I would if we went there.

We had planned to be in Toronto until Dec 27th. After that we would head to NYC for four nights, one of which was New Year’s Eve, then we would cross over to the west coast and go from San Francisco to Vegas to LA, including a couple of nights in Anaheim so we could do Disneyland and be sufficiently thawed out by the time we got on the flight from LA back to Sydney.

It all sounds perfectly normal, and do-able right? Wrong.

Little did I know that flying around the Americas during the holiday season is a logistical nightmare at the best of times, let alone when your travel plans are disrupted.

“…flying around the Americas during the holiday season is a logistical nightmare at the best of times, let alone when your travel arrangements are disrupted…”

And boy, did we have a disruption. On the last night we were supposed to be in Toronto, my travel buddy came down with a severe case of food poisoning.

The food poisoning

On Boxing Day we had gone up the CN Tower for the touristy thing and then taken in a decadent meal in the lower level restaurant. We all had the same thing, a burger, except for my travel buddy, who also ordered a Pina Colada. Well we don’t know if that’s what it was, but whatever she came down with had her vomiting every 20 minutes like clockwork for the next 24 hours.

She barely slept because she was throwing up all night, and the next morning we had to go to the airport to catch our flight, but she was in no condition to even get in a car let alone go through the airport process and get on a plane.

Cancelling our flights – BIG, but unavoidable MISTAKE

So we called the airline and cancelled the flights. “We’ll book on another one”, I assured her. I called our travel insurance company and told them what had happened and they said we could book another flight and they would pay “reasonable” costs – whatever that meant.

In case you weren’t aware, the flight time from Toronto to New York City is about an hour and a half.

Apparently watching Home Alone 1 & 2 five hundred times had taught me nothing, because of course, there wasn’t “another one” to book. At that time of year, you’re lucky if you find an empty seat on any flight.

But that particular year was even worse.

Explosive underwear: The almost terrorism

On Christmas Day of 2009, a passenger on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit attempted a terrorist attack on board just before the flight landed in Detroit. He had a very odd plan that involved trying to light his underwear on fire.

Well, obviously this put the United States on extremely high alert and for however many days afterwards, passengers were required to present their carry-on luggage at security where it would be searched manually.

The endless delays at security

You think security is slow on a regular basis? Imagine how much longer it took now that the handful of security officers working were required to open and look through every single bag and scrutinize every item each passenger was carrying into the cabin. Now imagine this at during the holiday season when most flights are at capacity. The travelers in the security line were all sitting on the ground because it barely moved.

This obviously caused delays and disruptions, caused bags to miss flights, and what have you.

No seats available

It was during this time that we were trying to find two seats on a flight from Toronto to New York City.

We looked at every possible option. My Canadian friends suggested “flying from the island”. I pictured a sea plane teetering off a jetty or something insane, but my friends were referring to Porter Airlines, which had begun operating off the Toronto Islands at Billy Bishop Airport three years earlier.

I checked and not only was each one way trip like $1200 (which the insurance company did not approve) but at the time, Porter only accepted bookings under Canadian and US passports. (This has since been changed.) We scrapped that option.

We finally got seats

Countless Google searches and phone calls later (there was no Google flights back then!), we finally found the only two seats available going from Toronto to New York City.

The flight departed Toronto at 9pm and had an overnight layover in Montreal, with the second leg to New York departing at 6am.

We went through the insane security lines in Toronto, which my travel buddy had to keep ducking in and out of to throw up. We arrived in Montreal bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived. My poor friend looked like she was going to die.

Sleeping at the airport in Montreal

Of course, it wasn’t worth getting a hotel for 6 hours (and we didn’t think to anyway), so we slept at the airport on benches made of marble that were lined up beside the windows. Outside, it was around -20 degrees Celsius and the stone-cold benches were not kind to us.

The check-in kiosks mockingly declared, “This kiosk is currently closed. Please come back after 3:00 AM.”

YES OK THANK YOU.
The uselessness of an airport after hours

Finally 3am rolled around and we took our bags to the counter.

And then we had ticketing problems

It was at this point that the check in agents discovered some sort of problem with our ticket, and somehow my travel buddy was cleared but I wasn’t.

At the time, I had no experience working for an airline so I had no idea what the issue was, or what they were talking about, so we waited helplessly while they figured it out. I can only assume the last minute booking wasn’t processed correctly and they were having issues with the ticketing or something.

The flight had also been delayed until 8am, so in actuality, we were lucky because it took them that long to figure out how to get my ticket to go through.

I don’t remember this clearly but my travel buddy made some sort of demand and they figured it out and we were on the flight.

We departed and were on our way to arrive at JFK by about 9:30 am.

The maintenance issue and turning back to Montreal

About halfway through the flight, we had a maintenance issue.

The flight attendant announced that we had a problem with one of the doors and we would be returning to Montreal.

Back in Montreal airport, we joined a long queue where one by one we were rebooked onto the “next available flight”. All around us people were making phone calls and speaking French which was kind of cool.

Our grounded plane with its maintenance issue

Getting rebooked via Cincinnati

Eventually it was our turn and we were advised that we had been booked on the next available flight, which departed at 4pm, made a stop-over in Cincinnati, and continued to New York, arriving at about 9pm.

Sleeping on the floor in Montreal again

Since we were already through security, there wasn’t much to do but hang out around the gates. So we set up camp and made Montreal airport our home for the next 6 hours. My travel buddy slept on the floor while I wandered around.

My travel buddy sleeping on the floor with our stuff

We finally got on the plane to Cincinnati, and after more security hell, boarded our last flight and made it to New York, where we had to go through US Customs.

Passed out on the flight to Cincinnati

Almost getting refused entry at the border

At that point we were so exhausted that we had barely any awareness of where we were or what we were doing.

The customs officer at JFK began the standard port of entry script, asking, “So why are you travelling to the United States?” Without even pausing I exclaimed, “Because we’re insane!”

My friend gasped and quickly explained that we were on holidays and we’d had a rough time crossing the border from Toronto and I was only kidding.

We are so lucky that he had a sense of humour, or at least understood the blunt Aussie one, not to mention knew what travelers had been through the past few days, because that could have gone a whole lot differently.

We finally arrived

We finally checked in to our hotel, which was near Macy’s, on December 29th at around 1am, almost 40 hours after we had left Toronto. We told the concierge about our travel ordeal and she said, “Wow. You’re lucky your luggage made it with you.”

Not sure I’ve ever heard a truer statement. How on earth did our bags make it through all that? Props to the ground staff that worked all those flights!

We missed two of our five days in New York, and we weren’t sure we’d ever have the opportunity to travel there again.

Remember, this was a time before social media was that big. You didn’t know what to expect then as much as you do now because you couldn’t readily find the answer from the 500K people that had gone before you and posted about it on social media. If this same situation happened today, maybe the outcome may have been different.

It also wasn’t that common to take long trips like this on a regular basis. It was more a once in a very long time thing, so we realistically may not have been able to try and come back to New York again to make up for the time we missed.

A lot of people who hear this story respond with, “Wow. It would have been quicker to drive.”

Yes. Yes it would have!

So next time you have a travel disruption, think of me and my 35 hour journey from Toronto to New York City.

Oh, by the way, it didn’t snow in Toronto that Christmas. It was one of the greenest Christmases they’d had in a long time. I also learned that Toronto doesn’t get that much snow compared to surrounding areas! New York often gets more than Toronto does apparently. It certainly did that year!

Luckily, I’ve lived here long enough that I’ve now had three white Christmases and that craving has been sufficiently satisfied. Now if only winter would end in January…

What was your craziest travel experience? Let me know in the comments!

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Food and drink

Canada’s most famous cocktail (Plus, the one drink you shouldn’t order in North America)

Canadians sure love their alcoholic beverages. Whether it’s a summer cider on a patio, a pumpkin ale in fall or a Christmas eggnog if you’re so inclined, there’s a drink for every time of year.

While their neighbours to the south are famous for their dirt cheap and widely available liquor, alcohol in Canada is still quite inexpensive when compared to Australia.

And just like Australia, Canada has many breweries, distilleries and wineries that make amazing craft beers, liquors and wines, including some limited-edition, small batch brews.

Everyone in North America: “Wait, WHAT? I thought Australians only drank Fosters beer!”

Sorry to crush your dreams (likely inspired by that one episode of The Simpsons where they go to Australia), but no, they don’t.

And don’t even get me started on knifey-spoony.

Now, back to what I was saying about CANADA.

You will never run out of options for alcoholic beverages here and you can look forward to different varieties at different times of the year.

But for a truly Canadian experience, you have to try Canada’s drink, the almighty Caesar.

If you’ve ever been to North America, or flown through there, you’ll have noticed that tomato juice is a staple beverage available everywhere.

So, it’s not surprising that tomato-juice based cocktails, like the Bloody Mary, are also a staple on a drinks menu.

The Caesar takes it a step further. A uniquely Canadian drink, it’s close to a Bloody Mary, but it has a lot more kick. Its salty, spicy flavour is super satisfying and even filling.

The recipe is vodka, tomato juice mixed with clam broth, lime, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

Clam broth? WHAT?

Okay, it sounds a little out there (and maybe a little gross to some) but it’s actually really good.

But don’t worry, you won’t see a bartender straining the juice from a pile of clams into your drink. There is a pre-mixed beverage used in most Caesar’s called Clamato, and it’s made by Mott’s.

Caesars are served in a glass rimmed with celery salt and usually garnished with one or more savoury toppings, like a pickled bean, a celery stick or some olives.

Adventurous bartenders are known to dress them up with all kinds of pickles and meats, and some of them are served towering with what looks like a vertical charcuterie spread.

I’ve even seen some that have an entire meal perched on top of them, including a full-sized hamburger!

The art of the Caesar garnish is almost a sport. Mott’s even held a Canada-wide competition to find the best Caeser in the country.

According to my sources, the Caesar is one of the most commonly-craved and sought after drinks by Canadians living abroad (especially in Australia), but since it isn’t really sold anywhere in Australia (except maybe Canadian-themed bars) Canadians make their own at home.

If that’s not your thing, no worries! There are plenty of options to suit your fancy.

But here is a tip for ordering drinks in North America.

If you order anything with lemonade, you will literally get lemonade

As in, freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with sugar. In Canada (and the USA) that’s what people will give you if you say lemonade.

But most likely, they won’t have it and they will look at you funny because they don’t realise you mean the soft drink, not something kids on TV sell on the sidewalk for pocket money.

If you want the soda, you have to ask for Sprite or 7-Up.

And don’t forget to tip! It’s the North American way.

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Money

What it’s like to live on minimum wage in Toronto

When I first moved to Toronto in 2012, the minimum wage in Ontario was $11.40 CAD per hour.

On January 1st, 2018, it was raised to $14.00 CAD per hour. It was set to be raised again on January 1st, 2019, to $15.00 CAD per hour, but our little buddy, the current Premier of Ontario, got that cancelled. Thanks champ.

Apparently fast food and coffee shop workers, retail workers, delivery drivers, airport workers, office admins, social media managers, program coordinators, transport workers, clerks, many other entry level jobs and even some semi-skilled jobs that people actually go to school for are just expected to live paycheque to paycheque.

Here is what life is like living on $14 an hour in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

At $14 an hour working full time, the annual salary ($14 x 40 hours x 52 weeks) would be $29,120 CAD before taxes and deductions.

After taxes and deductions, it’s $24,088, or $11.58 per hour, or $2007 a month.

Now, let’s crunch some numbers.

How much is your rent?

First of all, forget living on your own, ever. We already know the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in this city is around $2200.

Even if you found one of those hidden gem/pretend apartments/illegal basements on the cheap, the rent would still be roughly $1000 a month, which would leave you $1007 to live on for 30 days. That’s cool if you want to stay inside your home and never do anything ever, because you’ll soon see that $1007 doesn’t give you much wiggle room here.

The absolute cheapest rent I have seen advertised in Toronto is about $600. That’s for a room in a shared house and may or may not include utilities (water/heat/hydro) and internet.

Ok so now you have $1407 per month left.

Now you need to get around.

If you take only public transit, and never use cabs/uber, it’s $151.15 a month.

Now you have $1255.85 left.

You can skip the monthly transit cost if you own a bike and are willing to bike everywhere you need to go. But bear in mind that for at least 2 months it will be really hard/dangerous to bike because of ice and snow. If you’re working full time, you need to get to your job every day, so paying for individual rides 5 days a week will cost the same as a pass and limit you from travelling on your days off.

Considering land lines barely exist anymore, you’ll want to get a phone.

If you already own a phone (maybe some kind soul gifted you their old smartphone), you can go on a BYOP plan for about $40 a month. General data usage guidelines estimate that normal data users (email, social media, and web browsing – including using maps) should have about 2GB per month. Go over that and you’re looking at a hefty fee.

Oh, you were happier in 1996 and don’t want mobile internet? Okay. You still need to be able to talk and text. And if you hate people and want to live in a black hole, you can go phone-less.

But remember there is a huge correlation between loneliness and depression, so…. maybe reconsider owning a friendship device a.k.a a cell phone.

Plus, you will never be able to get out of your minimum wage job if you don’t have a contact number to give prospective employers. So, yes, you need a phone.

You won’t need to get your own home internet if it’s included in your rent.

So now you have $1215.85 left.

Hopefully you don’t have any other recurring expenses, especially not debts, to pay with this money.

How are you going to use the rest of your monthly balance?

Food?

Let’s say you were as cheap as possible with your food (based on 30 days).

  • Breakfast – 2 eggs : 12 eggs for $2.99 x 5 dozen a month = $14.95
  • Lunch: A peanut butter sandwich: 3 bags of bread (20 slices each makes 10 sandwiches for 30 days) at $2 each loaf =$6. One large jar of peanut butter = $5
  • Dinner: Baked beans. $1 per can per day = $30

Total per month on the most pathetic diet ever: $52.95

You now have $1,162.90 for the entire month. That’s $38.73 per day (based on 30 days). If you have to buy anything at all that’s not the basic survival necessities, or if you want to eat like you’re not in kindergarten, that figure quickly turns to zero.

What about doing something other than travelling to and from work, being at work, and going to sleep after work? Dare to dream!

Sure, you can do free stuff! But remember, it’s cold for 6 months here, so you have to find indoor free stuff. You can’t really hang out in parks much. Try the library… at least until they are no longer financially operable or they have to start charging people to continue operation, because our little buddy, the Premier, cut funding for those too!

But I shall demonstrate what having a tiny bit of a life looks like:

  • Order one pizza a month -$20 = $1,142
  • Have a “good” coffee once week -$20 = $1122
  • Meet friends for drinks once a month and have 2 of the cheapest drinks on the menu -$20 = $1,102
  • Buy a takeout lunch at work once a month because your lunch was gross/you forgot to pack/you were too lazy/your glass container broke/everyone else is going and you don’t want to be antisocial – $15 = $1,087
  • Wake up with a cold but can’t call in sick so must buy the cheapest cold n flu tablets and a packet of cough drops on the way to work – $11.62 = $1075.38
  • Sign up for Netflix because you’re bored as hell from not having a life -$9.99 = 1065.39
  • Have an emotional breakdown and eat a tub of Ben & Jerry’s because you’re so depressed about having no life – $7.99 = $1057.40
  • Get invited to a birthday dinner and drinks – $50 = $1007.40
  • Wear killer shoes to birthday and have to Uber home – $20 = $987.40
  • Join gym ’cause getting fat from all the pizza and ice cream and it’s too cold for four months of the year to go for a run – $20 a month = $967.40

Yes, according to this list (which is a little farcical but not totally unrealistic) you still have nearly $1000 left each month, but remember the numbers are based on the cheapest possible rent and phone bill, and a silly amount of food with no variety and very little nutrition.

What about actual necessities?

Toilet paper? Dish soap and other cleaning supplies? Laundry detergent? Toiletries? Personal care and grooming? Clothing? Medical expenses that aren’t covered by OHIP? Etc, etc, etc.

If you don’t see how difficult it is, think of it this way.

There’s the cost of living, and then there’s the cost of existing. Minimum wage pays you enough to exist. Not to live.

But I guess it depends on what you need to feel like you’re living. If you moved here on a working holiday visa, you may miss the holiday part because you’ll mostly be working to live.

But for others, this amount of money might be the best thing that ever happened to them and they’re incredibly grateful.

If you do manage to save some of this money, you’ll probably have to dip in to it at some point and it won’t be long-term savings. More like short-term back-up funds.

I will buy a house one day. I will buy a house one day. I will buy a house one day.

And maybe more than 3 outfits?

The world is your oyster. Toronto on a minimum wage? Not so much.

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Expat Life

Why I avoided Australians when I first moved to Canada

I bet you read the title and thought, “Um, who do you think you are?

Let me explain.

I read this post from The Betoota Advocate and they had quoted a representative from The Australian Bureau of Statistics who said the fact that only 1 in 30 Australian expats make friends with locals is pathetic.

That got me thinking about how I hear expats talk about how hard it is to make friends with locals when they’re on a working holiday. They often end up hanging out with other expats who also have an expiry date and soon leave them.

So they cycle through friends for the one to two years they’re there, and if they are lucky enough to transition to a permanent visa, find themselves lonely because all their expat friends have left. If they leave at the end of their visa, all they did was hang out with a bunch of people who were also foreigners.

Is there anything wrong with this? Of course not.

It makes sense, because expats flock to the parts of the country that are most famous and have the best resources for temporary residents. It’s also comforting to surround yourself with people who are going through the same thing as you are.

But are you really going to experience what life is like in your new country if you construct your life so that it feels exactly like your home country?

It’s kind of like learning a new language – you can study and practice it all you want, and know how to speak it in theory, but that can’t compare to immersing yourself in an environment where they communicate in that language.

That’s why when I came here, I decided that the best way to truly experience the Canadian way of life was to make my life fully Canadian.

That meant embracing everything Canada had to offer that Australia didn’t, including its people. It also meant avoiding parts of the country that have a huge concentration of Aussies, like Whistler. So many Australians go there that is has earnt the nickname “Whistralia” and they call Australians “Jafas” which stands for “just another f***ing Aussie.”

I did so because I thought to myself, I’m not going to move to the other side of the world just to feel like I haven’t left. I want the country to feel very different and new, and it won’t feel that way if I’m surrounded by Australians.

I was so excited by this new adventure that I totally embraced my new life in Canada and kind of ignored my life back in Australia. I didn’t keep up with anything that was going on back home and I focused fully on life in Canada. I figured it would always be there waiting for me when I went home.

Obviously I don’t have anything against Australians! I’m Australian, and I love my people, of course! I just think it would have been a different experience for me if I had closed myself off to building relationships in Canada by finding my Aussie tribe and relying on them to carry me through my time here.

I couldn’t avoid it forever though. After about five years I started to get really homesick and I wanted to be around Aussies again, and I ended up finding a couple of Facebook groups and of course met some cool ones living here.

But I’m glad that at first, my social circle was mostly locals because I didn’t have the Australian way of life influencing the experience I was having in Canada, and I could see what life here was really like.

I also didn’t have the cushion of having mostly Australian friends to see me through my time there, so it forced me to make friends with locals, no matter how hard it was. Because it can be hard!

If I didn’t, maybe my experience would have been totally different. Or maybe I just secretly loved being the only Australian amongst all my Canadian friends and I didn’t want to share the spotlight!

What do you think? Is it better to seek out familiarity in an unfamiliar situation, or dive into the uncertainty of a whole new world?

Let me know in the comments!

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Weather

When spring finally comes to Canada

The majority of Canada goes through some of the longest winter seasons in the world. If you read my post on what winter is like in Toronto, you may have gotten turned off the idea of living through that type of weather, and perhaps disregarded living in Canada (at least, somewhere other than British Columbia) altogether.

But if you can get through the winter, a lot of people think the wait is worth it, because spring and summer in Toronto are pretty incredible.

And even though half of the Canadian spring behaves like it’s still winter, there is a definite change in the air, literally and figuratively, as both the climate and its people shed the proverbial winter coat and welcome the long-awaited and well-deserved warmer weather.

Here are some things I noticed and love about spring that I really took for granted living in Australia.

The city comes alive

Toronto has a pretty big population (about 4.5 million) but it can sometimes feel like a lot smaller number because the cold season keeps most people indoors.

But on the first nice day in spring that falls on a weekend, all the outdoor spaces in the city that had been mostly abandoned all winter are suddenly bursting with hundreds of people enjoying the sunshine.

Even though the temperature on such days is usually between 12 and 16 degrees celsius, which might sound hilarious to an Aussie or anyone who lives in a warmer climate, these days feel incredibly warm and perfect compared to the seemingly endless days of temperatures below zero that precede them.

Image of children playing at High Park
Kids enjoying the playground in High Park, Toronto, in April.

Along with people actually being able to enjoy the outdoors, some things you didn’t even notice had disappeared suddenly reappear – like kids riding bikes, people driving with their car windows open and opening windows and screen doors in their homes, people doing physical activity in parks (like outdoor yoga), birds (and you start hearing them chirp again)!

You also hear lawnmowers, weed whackers (that’s what Canadians call whipper-snippers!), and unfortunately, construction starts up again. And because you’re able to open your windows after months of having them mostly (if not always) closed, a lot of familiar outdoor city sounds come back on your radar.

Colours reappear

They say April showers bring May flowers! (Although some years it rains through a lot of May as well). But all the rain has a wonderful side effect. Grass goes from being a dull dead brown to bright luscious green.

Here are some cool before and after shots

Plants come back to life and trees get their leaves back.

It’s something you really appreciate after staring at nothing but tree skeletons and dull, gray everything for so many months. And each day it changes just a little bit. You’ll walk down the same street every day for 2 months and it will look different every day.

The photos with snow might look like they’re in black and white but they’re not. That’s just how everything looks in the winter.

Flowers bloom, and Toronto, the city within a park, becomes a spectacular show of colour

And you get that one week where the cherry trees blossom

Cherry trees in High Park

No more ice

You can resume jogging! And running for the bus without falling over! And you can leave things outside and not worry they’re going to freeze! And you don’t have to salt, or shovel, or worry about ice causing issues from now until the end of the year! And your phone battery lasts longer because it’s not being drained by the cold.

Spring fashion

When it comes time to put away the hats and mittens, suddenly, colour comes back into people’s wardrobes. In winter, the city is a sea of people dressed in black, grey and other dark colours. From what I’ve observed, this is because:

  1. Winter coats get dirty, so if they’re colourful or light-coloured, they just get ugly and stained – and are difficult to launder.
  2. Winter clothes aren’t cheap and they take up a lot of space, so it’s easier to buy plain colours that match with everything. Most people have only one good winter coat that they wear all year and that goes with everything – hence the plain colours.
  3. When you shop for clothes in winter, the colour selection is so limited! Black, grey, dark blue, dark green, dark red, dark purple – that’s about it!
  4. Even make-up and nail polish is seasonal. People choose nail colours according to the season. I’m sure people do this worldwide but it caught my attention more here than it ever had before. I found myself doing it too. It felt weird to put on bright pink polish in January, or deep purple in July.

Spring cleaning is an actual thing

Because winter is so long and cold, with things mostly covered in ice and snow, you can’t do things like outdoor house maintenance for months. But once spring is in full force, you can clean your windows and screens, start fixing up the yard, wash all the soot, grit and salt off everything. Check out these grimey driveways before the spring rain (and some landscape gardeners) cleaned them.

You can also get back into that forgotten back shed and maybe resurrect your bicycle. It’s also when outdoor swimming pools start to come out of hibernation and garden hoses can start being used again.

People are happier

And nicer. And friendlier. It’s not that they weren’t before, it’s just that now the seasonal affective disorder has ebbed, and the temperatures are decent enough so that you can stand around without being uncomfortable. No more power walking with your head down and tucked under your hood to get out of the cold.

I find that I am much crankier in the cold weather because it’s kind of painful to be outside, so I get frustrated if anyone gets in my way and delays me from getting to shelter.

When the wind is blowing -22 at you, the only thing on your mind is reaching that doorway and getting the heck inside. In spring, people are out and about and enjoying the weather, and their demeanour and disposition reflects that.

The days get nice and long.

Finally, after all that doom and gloom winter darkness, a reward! Midway through spring, the sun rises around 6am and sets around 8:30pm. According to timeanddate.com, the latest the sun sets in Toronto in summer is around 9pm. In Sydney’s summer, it’s just after 8pm.

May is the time for seasonal things to get going.

Seasonal trailer parks open, camp grounds open, and general outdoor activities are put back in motion. Canada’s Wonderland reopens!

The entrance to Canada’s Wonderland.

Patio season begins

Welcome back al fresco dining. Now that the snow has melted off the outdoor tables, restaurants, cafes and bars can re-open their outdoor seating area for patrons to enjoy.

And so does cottage season

Going to “the cottage” or “the cotty” is a great Canadian pastime. A cottage is basically a holiday house to spend all the weekends of late spring, summer and early fall at. There is a huge range of options at different price-points, so most people who live in Ontario at least know someone with access to one of these, if not have one in their family, and inevitably you will get to spend at least one weekend of your time here “going to someone’s cottage”. If you don’t, you can rent one! But they tend to get booked through the winter so by the time the season starts it can be hard to find availability.

From what I’ve seen, they range in appearance and size from multi-room mansions right by a lake, with a private deck, to an actual log cabin in the woods (they can also be waterfront, or on hill with private stairs leading down to a body of water with a private deck, or close enough to some water). People also have their own trailers in trailer parks by water, each with their own decks. I’m sure there are many other variations I haven’t mentioned here, but you get the picture.

People sometimes go to their cottages in winter (some even live there year round) but from what I understand, most cottages, based on where they’re located and the roads they are accessed from, aren’t maintained in winter and so aren’t accessible while there’s snow on the ground, and when it melts, there are floods. On top of that, freezing pipes, insulation, heating, and all that jazz make most of them a seasonal thing. So, I guess that’s why May is the time they open again.

Baseball season begins and hockey season ends

My knowledge of sports is very limited, but these tie in with the season. Toronto has one of only 6 major league baseball stadiums with a retractable roof, the Rogers Centre (previously named the Skydome) which means that the season can commence even though the outdoor weather is unfavourable (for both players and spectators).

But this blog wouldn’t be complete without some of my famous “not so good” points, so here are some of the ones in spring

(This time I left them to the end. Maybe some of you didn’t read this far… hehe )

The enjoyable part of spring is very, very short.

It’s a very small window between the icy, raining, muddy, and/or flooding time and the muggy, sweaty, “get me out of this city” hot time. Ever seen this pie chart meme about seasons in the north?

It’s funny because it’s true.

When I first arrived in Canada, on March 22nd, 2012, my Canadian friends were going on and on about how it was 25 degrees celsius and they couldn’t believe it! I had no idea what they were talking about. I had just come off the back of an Australian summer and 25 degrees is the beginning of autumn!

Seven winters later, I totally understand why they were so excited about it.

In April of 2012 I witnessed three more light snowfalls and several days of single digit temps before it finally got warm at the end of May.

That 25 degrees day was that infamous one day in March where it’s really warm and you do get optimistic and think it’s going to stay warm, but sure enough you are hit with a few more weeks of wild swings between winter coat/gloves/hat days and rain jacket days, until around mid-May when you can safely put away your winter gear knowing for sure you won’t see it again until late fall.

(That meme circles the internet regularly. It’s all over Pinterest, Imgur, etc but I can’t find the original creator).

A screenshot of the weather on May 13th, 2019

Some years it’s still this cold in mid-may. If you are newer to the country, you will be amazed when you see a Canadian emerge from a building on an 11 degree day and hear them exclaim “It’s so hot out!” After a few years of living here, you’ll start thinking 11 degrees is hot, too.

Gnats

A swarm of them. The closer to the lake (Lake Ontario, or any other smaller lake in cottage country) the worse they get. When you’re outside, they fly into your mouth, your eyeballs, everywhere. I’ve had one fly into my eyeball while biking a few times. Sunglasses help.

In your home they’re attracted to light. Your porch lights will get swarmed, and if you don’t have screens, they fly into your house and swarm white lights too. It’s easy to get them to go away – just turn the lights off. The gnat season is only about a month until it gets too hot for them. Then you can look forward to mosquitoes (because you’re by a giant freshwater lake, of course!)

Construction

It’s often said that Toronto has two seasons: winter and construction. I guess this is true of any big city in Canada. Obviously in winter it is not possible to do roadwork, renovations, erect building and so on. But remember the winter weather lasts for more than six months, which leaves only around five months for the city to repair all the road damage winter caused, for people to renovate the 100+ year old building they just bought and for developers to build their 23rd condo tower. So just when you’re getting excited to go outside and enjoy the warm weather, be prepared to take it with a side of jack-hammering.

The damn wasps

These annoy me more than anything. Europeans wasps are an invasive species native to Europe Asia and Africa, but have invaded North America and other parts of the world where they do nothing but cause problems. They hang around all summer, and they behave like flies, but will hurt you a lot if they sting. When I say they behave like flies, I mean they buzz around your face, they go on your food, they swim in your drinks! They are attracted to sugar, so don’t be surprised if while enjoying that summer bevvy outside you suddenly have two or three of these little bastards climbing into it. It’s the one thing I truly hate about living here. They’re like the bluebottles of land. Ugh.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Apparently they are becoming more present in Australia but I never encountered one living on the coast of Sydney. While bees, which we actually need, are in decline, these little bastards that do nothing but terrorize people and destroy crops are multiplying like crazy and we all wish they would disappear and bees would multiply.

But these little annoyances are greatly overshadowed by the realisation that winter is over and summer is on the way!

Spring in Canada, albeit short and unpredictable, is a wonderful time of year.

It lives up to its reputation for being a season of hope and new life, because things really do come back to life here, and it is something to look forward to when the season of winter seems like it will never end.

Bring on summer!

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Expat Life

How a Canadian ad made me question my Australian identity

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Australia is pretty famous for its unusual and colourful slang. There are videos all over YouTube of non-Australians comparing or guessing the meaning of certain words Australians use – and they’re very entertaining to watch. But language is fluid and ever-evolving. Over time, new words are introduced while old ones are phased out.

If you’re an expat, this could happen while you’re away. And the longer you’re away from home, the more out of touch you’ll become. Unless you only surround yourself with people who are also from your home country (which isn’t too hard in some parts of some countries), you will adopt and get used to the language of the country you’re in and start to forget the one you left behind. It’s just inevitable.

Even if you think “people should just accept that you’re a foreigner and you talk funny”, and you try to maintain your “Australianisms” abroad, it gets old trying to explain what you mean and having every interaction interrupted with reactions to the fact that you’re different.

This is especially true in a work environment. You can’t insist on calling things what they’re called in your home country, even if it’s in the same language. You have to use the local terms, just like you would expect foreigners to do if they lived and worked in your country.

This kind of thing can cause issues on a bigger scale. Online news source news.com.au reported that Australian soldiers have been banned from using Australian slang around US troops because it caused a miscommunication. It’s the reason why certain industries, such as aviation, use standard universal terms and codes.

As an Australian who’s been living in Canada for seven years, I can attest to this. I’ve experienced first-hand the miscommunication that can be caused by using an everyday phrase in Australia to find that means something else entirely here. My brain has become a mish-mash of Aussie and Canadian lingo, and every year I notice more Australian words disappear from my vocabulary.

But in the past year or two, I’ve noticed more Australian-themed advertising pop up in this part of the world, complete with Aussie lingo. There are ads for Australian wine and footwear on the subway, and the didgeridoo appeared in a commercial for e-marketing, to name a couple. Some of the ads are great! They’re cute, clever and make home seem a little closer.

But some of these ads are using interesting versions of what I know to be Australian slang, and it’s making me ask: do Australians actually say these? Have they always said it, or is it new? Or is it just the North American twist being put on it that’s confusing me?

It’s gotten to the point where, even though I was born and raised in Australia, I’m questioning whether these are authentic Australian lingo or not.

And I’m not the only one. It’s throwing off other Aussies living here as well. Here are a few examples.

1. Calling Australia “Aussie”

I’ve heard some North American celebrities do this. I’ve always known “Aussie” to be an abbreviation of the word “Australian” . You can call someone or something “Aussie” or “an Aussie”. But you can’t call Australia “Aussie”. If you want to shorten Australia, it’s Oz. To me, it’s like calling the USA “Yankee” or Canada “Canuck.” I polled a group of Australians and got 60 responses. 92% of them said you can’t call Australia “Aussie”. That means 8% of them said you can! Which is it?

2. Calling flat whites “flatties”

Second Cup, a Canadian coffee chain, has been really trying with the Australian lately. First the meat pie effort, now this. Australians in Canada appreciate it. But I’ve never heard a flat white referred to as a “flatty”.

Second Cup Canada

To find out, a bunch of Aussies living in Toronto were polled, and out of 71 responses, only a few of them said they’ve heard Australians in some parts call a flat white a “flatty”. Is it true?

3. Saying “shrimp on the barbie”

This is the only one I’m sure about. Australians definitely don’t call them shrimp.

It’s prawn. PRAWN.

We can thank Paul Hogan and Jim Carrey for this delightful one. I wonder how much they both got paid for this abomination?

At least this Flight Centre Canada ad got most of the lingo right.

It’s amazing how the usage of word can be permanently altered because it’s used a certain way and that way catches on. I no longer trust my own knowledge of Australia and the North American influence in my life isn’t helping. I hope globalization and the need for a universal language doesn’t eradicate Australia’s unique slang. It’s one of our many amazing qualities. Any thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments.

The joys of being an expat!

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Holidays

Anzac Day in Canada

There are many Australians and New Zealanders living in Canada, which means you will find groups of them recognizing significant dates just like they would in Australia. ANZAC Day, April 25th (or the 25th of April if you want to write it the Aussie way) is one of them.

Here is a bit of information regarding traditions of the day as recognized in Canada, specifically Toronto.

Dawn services

There are dawn services held throughout the country. This year there was one in Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Calgary, Courtenay, Edmonton, London and Winnipeg. The one in Toronto is held by the Canadian Forces College. Information can be found on their site as well as on the Australian High Commission site.

Information sheet for Anzac Day dawn service in Toronto, Canada
Image source: The Canadian Forces College

Anzac biscuits

The lovely Cafe de Melbourne in Toronto serves Anzac biscuits all day for free on April 25th.

Cafe de Melbourne's facebook post about Anzac Day 2019 showing Anzac biscuits
Cafe de Melbourne’s Facebook Post

Too bad about the water shut down though. But that’s just your typical late spring Toronto – construction season has begun!

Of course you can make your own Anzac biscuits, in honour of the tradition

Finding golden syrup in Toronto is the challenging part. There are recipes that use maple syrup or honey instead, but I personally prefer using the real thing.

Where to find golden syrup in Toronto

Although we’re used to seeing the CSR syrup in the plastic bottle that looks like this

Bottle of CSR golden syrup
CSR Golden Syrup

The golden syrup you’ll find in Canada looks like this

Cans of Lyle's golden syrup from Toronto Canada
Lyle’s Golden Syrup

It’s called Lyle’s Golden Syrup and costs about four dollars. It has been found at the following locations in Toronto

St. Lawrence Market (in the basement at the international grocer)

Some locations of the major supermarkets stock it. It has been seen at certainLoblaws, Metro, Sobeys and No Frills supermarkets (in the British Section)

British specialty stores. Check out BlogTO’s 10 stores that sell British products in Toronto to find one near you.

And of course there’s always Amazon in a pinch.

There are tonnes of recipes for Anzac biscuits online, with the Canadian/US measurements and product names. I used this one and they came out great.

Homemade Anzac Biscuits

You can also make your own golden syrup for your Anzac biscuits!

Then they’ll really be authentic and from scratch. I haven’t tried it though. Here’s a recipe.

What else is on

Hemingways Restaurant & Bar in Yorkville also hosts an Anzac Day event with Toronto Rebels AFC, Kia Ora Canada – Toronto and Aussies in Toronto, three active Australian and New Zealand communities in Toronto.

Image of Anzac Day event hosted by Hemingways Toronto
Source: Hemingways Toronto

Even outside of Australia and New Zealand you don’t have to miss out on paying homage to the ones who gave us freedom with the other Aussies and Kiwis around.

Lest We Forget.

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Image of a Red Tulip chocolate easter bunny
Holidays

Is Easter even Easter without Red Tulip chocolates and a four day weekend???

Image of a Red Tulip chocolate easter bunny
Image source: woolworths.com.au

I know. Easter exists because of Christianity.

But it’s also a very chocolate-centric holiday, and one that Australians are used to having as a four day extra-long weekend from Good Friday to Easter Monday. It’s also the beginning of term one school holidays, and depending on your lifestyle, it might mean a trip to the Easter Show (in some parts) and/or a whole lot of church.

Canada recognizes Easter too, but it’s a little different here. Christians go to church, but it’s not school holidays and there is no Easter show.

But the one thing that makes me sad here is that there is no such thing as the beloved Red Tulip chocolate bunny in Canada.

I know. I cried too.

The presence of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate in North America is much smaller than it is in Australia and the UK, and the Easter chocolate market in Canada is dominated by Lindor, Ferrero Rocher and Nestle.

You see a lot of Lindt chocolate bunnies and Lindt eggs in different flavours, as well as Kinder Surprise eggs, Reece’s eggs, Oreo eggs and other flavours owned by these brands.

You can find a small selection of Cadbury Dairy Milk rabbits, but they’re imported from the UK.

You can also find Cadbury Creme Eggs and Cadbury Mini Eggs, and Cadbury solid mini plain, caramel and creme eggs . But that’s it for Cadbury here.

You can’t get Red Tulip (which is just Cadbury chocolate in a different outfit, in case you didn’t know), you can’t get hollow Cadbury chocolate eggs that are the same size as real eggs and you can’t get the gigantic hollowed out Cadbury eggs that Aussies so love.

No Cherry Ripe egg, no Crunchie egg, none of those.

In Australia, the supermarkets stock entire walls of Easter Eggs. Here the selection is a little smaller.

Shoppers Drug Mart has the best selection of Easter chocolates, but they are also pretty pricey until they go on sale.

There are also these really weird sweet marshmallow-y things shaped like chicks called Peeps and they are a staple over Easter. I think I tried them once when I first got here but it wasn’t my thing. My opinion when it comes to marshmallows is – if it’s not in a hot chocolate or a s’more, it’s not necessary.

Image of Peeps Marshmallows
Image source: ABC Action news

What about hot cross buns?

I could hear you asking! Thankfully, in Canada, there is a bakery chain called Cobs which is – guess what- the Canadian-branded version of Australian’s own Baker’s Delight! It’s a good place to go if you’re feeling homesick because it’s basically the same menu (with a few tweaks to cater to the Canadian market). And they make fresh hot cross buns every Easter. But only for that limited time leading up to and during the Easter weekend.

You can also get hot cross buns at some small non-franchise bakeries, as well as within the Loblaw’s chain of supermarkets. And if you can’t be bothered hunting for them, you can always bake your own!

The four-day weekend for Easter? Not a given!

Easter Monday is not a federal holiday in Canada! Only Good Friday is. Easter Monday is a provincial holiday. That means your workplace may not recognize Easter Monday as a holiday and you will have to work! And not get holiday pay.

Yes, I was gutted when I found that out as well.

Just another thing to get used to .

Happy Easter everyone!

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Language

Words that mean something totally different in Australia than they do in Canada (and can be very embarrassing and offensive).

WARNING: OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AHEAD

A lot of countries in this world speak English as one of their official languages. Yet each one has subtle differences in vernacular, turns-of-phrase and of course, pronunciation, thanks to the country’s geographic location and the culture of its people.

Take Australia compared to Canada (and North America in general).

You only have to watch a couple of hours of any American TV show or movie to learn that there are quite a few words that mean different things in North America than what they do in Australia. Some things are called by a different name, and some things mean something else entirely.

Australians are blunt, brash and tell it like it is. Canadians are more tactful, politically-correct and reserved. An Aussie’s forwardness can be hard for a Canadian to stomach.

Unless the Canadians you’re speaking to are familiar with the way Australians talk, which they will they find cute and explain away with “Oh it’s okay, you’re Australian”, our way of speaking can be downright offensive to the average Canadian. Aussies overseas don’t realise that what they’re saying can mean something totally and completely different to what they’re used to it meaning back home.

So soften the blow and avoid the faux pas with this list of things you should definitely not say to Canadians, and ones you should know the meaning of when a Canadian says them to you.

The “C” word.

I’d say this is the most important one. This word holds a lot of weight here and you will rarely find someone in Canada who isn’t appalled when they hear someone use it. It is considered to be the filthiest word imaginable. Very unlike Australia, where it can be used positively as well as negatively, and is thrown around in casual conversation like it’s nothing.

Generous use of the “f” word

Choice phrases Aussies say like “Fuck me dead”, “Cant be fucked”, “Fucked if I know”, etc would never be said here.

The shits

Any variation of this such as: “I have the shits”, “You’re giving me the shits” “They cracked the shits” etc. Well here’s an eye-opener: having the shits in Canada means you have diarrhea. So stop using this phrase as soon as possible because you can see how it would be confusing. Imagine telling your co-workers something like “The boss is giving me the shits today.”!

Thongs

An oft-mentioned one, but still needs to be here. Thongs are underwear here. So don’t be referring to anyone’s summer footwear as “thongs”. (Thankfully, it’s only hot enough to wear thongs here for about 3 months so you don’t have a huge window to make this error).

Cow

Calling someone a cow in Australia means they’re being rude or mean. Calling someone a cow in Canada means they’re very overweight.

Wanker/Tosser/Prick

Not that rude or offensive but a dead giveaway that you’re not Canadian. You will mostly hear people say “asshole” here. Sometimes “jerk” or “douchebag” if they’re trying to be a little less filthy.

Remember how I said Canadians are more politically correct?

Some names for things in Australia are tied to a race where the Canadian names aren’t.

Mexican Wave

In Canada it’s just The Wave

Want to play a game of Chinese Whispers?

It’s called Broken Telephone in Canada

But Canadians aren’t entirely innocent!

Here are some funny ones Canadians say that mean something a bit more vulgar back home.

Double-fisting

In Canada, this refers to being in possession of two alcoholic drinks (or anything that you have two of), one in each hand, that you plan on consuming yourself.

Yep. Very different meaning. Australians know what it means down under. I’m not gonna paint a picture for you. This blog is not R rated.

Fanny

In North America, this is your behind or bottom. A bum-bag is called a fanny pack here. Again, not gonna write what Australians use it for.

Root

This is not a dirty word in Canada. In fact, it is the name of a popular clothing brand that has been around for decades. So you will see people wearing shirts that say ROOTS on them. Try not to giggle since root means have sex in Australia.

Canada, I never!

Randy

Randy is a name in this part of the world! But in Australia, it means horny. Sorry to all people named Randy. We’re really very sorry.

Pissed

Pissed in North America means angry. Pissed in Australia means drunk. You also don’t “take the piss out of” someone in Canada. You make fun of them.

What are some others that have taken you by surprise? Or ones you’ve let slip and gotten a terrible reaction? Let me know in the comments!

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Advice

3 things you need to do as soon as you arrive in Canada

1. Get a SIN.

It stands for social insurance number. It’s similar to a Tax File Number, and is your most unique identifier. You can get one at the airport after you are granted your work permit by the border control officer. If you don’t, you can also walk in to any Service Canada location and get one. You don’t need an appointment, but you will need to bring your passport, your work permit/visa and any other forms of identification you have (even if they’re not Canadian).

2. Open a bank account.

The big banks here are:

All of them have “newcomer to Canada” account offers, some with perks like no fees for the first year and a newcomer’s credit card. You will need to go into a branch to open them. Again, bring your SIN and all your identification, as well as your work permit.

There are also two online, branchless banks here that don’t charge account fees.

You can’t get a credit card here without a credit score, which you can’t get without a credit card! Or some form of credit history showing you pay bills on time. If you’re new to Canada, you won’t have that yet. A newcomer’s credit card is one option. The other is to get a secured credit card such as the guaranteed Mastercard from Capital One. You pay a deposit and are given a credit card with a very low limit. Once you have proven that you are a responsible credit user, your deposit will be returned to you and you will get an offer to increase your credit limit.

3. Get a phone number

As a newbie to Canada, you will not be eligible to apply for anything that requires a credit history, because you won’t have one yet. That includes post-paid cell phone plans. It’s because without a credit history, companies don’t know if you’re reliable and pay your bills on time. So unless you can get someone to open one for you under their name, you’ll have to go with pre-paid, which isn’t a big deal as most companies have better deals if you bring your own device. Check out:

Prices vary differently between each company. And be aware that each different province/territory will have a different pricing system for phone plans , even with the same company.

Once you’re all set up, you need to find somewhere to live. Read next: Home Sweet Home: Finding Housing in Toronto

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Advice

The top things to pack when you move from Australia to Canada

When Aussies are preparing to move over here, a question that is commonly asked is “What are some absolute essentials to bring from Australia when you move to Canada?”

Honestly, the answer is nothing. Canada will have pretty much anything you need, but it will be different brands or look different. But there’s hardly anything you can get in Australia that you can’t get here. You could technically come here with just the clothes you’re wearing and your passport, then head straight to the mall (or even order online) anything and everything you can think of to get you started – from furniture to underwear!

Prices here for a lot of things are really similar. Some things are more expensive, but some are cheaper, so overall, it ends up being similar.

But you might find that you don’t like the Canadian version of some of your personal favourites, so take advantage of the generous North America luggage allowance and load up on them!

Even though a lot of the things you will need are available here, unless you’re coming with endless amounts of money, it’s a good idea to bring as much as you can to get started (and not spend your fun money on things you already own but left in Australia). On flights from Australia to North America, your luggage allowance is two bags at 23kg each. That’s almost 50kg of stuff you can move over, included in the price of your ticket. Take advantage of it.

Aside from that, there are some Aussie goodies you’ll want to bring with you because you won’t be able to find them here (or if you do, they’ll be really expensive).

1. Vegemite

Vegemite on toast

I’m aware not every single Australian citizen enjoys Vegemite. But in both the Aussies in Toronto and Aussies in Canada Facebook groups I am a member of, it is one of the most frequently asked questions. Previously fairly easy to find, it was recently pulled off the shelves and now people are clamouring for it.

It’s bad out there, guys.

But please do yourself a favour and pack the ones in the plastic containers. Unless you are a packing wizard, it’s likely the glass jars won’t hold up in your luggage. I’ve seen quite a few tragic stories of Vegemite jars travelling across the Pacific only to arrive as a gunky heap of broken glass. R.I.P.

2. A cell phone

Because buying one one on a plan is expensive here. You’re obviously going to come here with your own cell phone from home anyway, but make sure it’s a good one that you’ll want to keep during your time here. Don’t be planning to buy a better phone when you get here thinking it will be cheaper. It’s obviously a lot cheaper to go on a “bring your own device plan” especially for iPhones.

3. Lucas Paw Paw ointment

Lucas paw paw ointment

If you’re a devoted paw paw user, like a lot of Aussies are, be aware that it’s not available here (and is a god send for those chapped winter lips!) If you’re already here and you’re sans paw paw and desperate, you can order it on Amazon for a hefty mark-up.

4. Snow/Winter gear

But only if you already own it

If you are someone who goes to “the snow” in Australia and has your own collection of proper winter gear, and you are planning to continue doing winter sports when you arrive in Canada, bring it with you. Otherwise buy it when you get here. Not only is it much more affordable here, you also won’t be taking up precious space in your luggage on the trip over.

5. Aussie foods you love.

While some things are starting to appear on Canadian shelves, there are other things you’ll start craving that you won’t be able to get here- think Milo, Allen’s Lollies, Twisties, Cherry Ripes, Picnics, Shapes, etc. (Note: you will see tins of Milo on supermarket shelves but it’s imposter Milo.)

some Australian snack foods

6. A voltage converter

Not just an adapter, but a converter, unless you want to blow up your single voltage devices. The voltage in North America is only 120 volts versus the 240 volts in Australia. I did not know this and upon arrival I immediately destroyed my $300 Parlux hair dryer (and my not so expensive Babyliss curling iron). Oops. Thankfully my laptop survived.

Even then, voltage converters are generally better for short-term use. If you use your hairdryer several times a week and you stay here for 2 years, you’re not going to want to rely on a voltage converter. I’ve heard stories about devices not operating as well as they used to while using them through a converter. It’s better if you purchase appliances that are dual voltage (this way you can take them back home and use them there with just an adapter) or purchase new appliances that are rated for the North America voltage . Thankfully, compared to Australia, many of these appliances are reasonably priced for decent brands.

7. For the ladies – Bonds undies.

Okay, this is a weird, very specific one, but it’s really hard to find 100% cotton women’s underwear here for some reason! I have seen a lot of men’s underwear that is 100% cotton in many places though. But for women, it’s a lot of microfibre, or lycra, or 96% cotton/4% spandex, or something else. Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, and feel free to correct me, but I’ve been here for 7 years and I still haven’t found them – not in La Senza, Victoria Secret, La Vie En Rose, Walmart – anywhere. I gave up looking after a few years. Maybe that’s why. Anyway – if you love your Bonds undies, bring several!

So there you have it. Seven things you definitely need to include in your “I’m moving to Canada” packing list!

What else would be on your list? Let me know in the comments!

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Australia flag Canada flag Differences between Canada and Australlia
Culture

Random differences between Canada and Australia that are weird, confusing or just bloody annoying

A lot of people have told me that Australia and Canada are exactly the same, only one is hot and in the southern hemisphere, and one is cold and in the northern hemisphere.

But anyone who has experienced both countries knows that this isn’t true. Canada and Australia are very different from each other.

Sure, we are both colonies of England, we have a similar parliamentary structure, similar schooling system and a similar quality of life, but that’s where they stop being the same.

Even the English spoken here is not exactly the same!

So we polled a group of about 2500 Australians living in Toronto, Canada, and here are some of the things they think are weird or different here.

The banking system is a little different

Most unlimited every day bank accounts have a fee of $10 to $15 a month, with some charging thirty dollars a month, unless you go with an online-only, branch-less bank.

Cheques are still commonly used, so make sure you know how to use them. Especially for rent, and sometimes even to pay you for doing work. And a lot of places still make you physically go to the office to pick them up so you can deposit them.

Source: Royal Bank of Canada

(I reckon they’re hoping some of their employees won’t bother making the trip and will just miss out on their pay). Not a chance, especially in this paycheque-to-paycheque city.

EFTPOS is called “debit”, and your regular every day account is called your chequing account, not savings. I took me about two years to stop automatically pressing savings on the debit machine (and I still sometimes do it when I’m tired/rushing). Check out this helpful write up from RBC on how banking works in Canada

And you still have to specify to the cashier whether you’re paying with debit or credit here. Because it’s nice to slow down and chat with strangers sometimes.

Source: investwisely.ca

They have strange ways with electrics

Powerpoints are called power outlets and they don’t have on/off switches. This is strange for Aussies, since we are taught to turn the outlet off before plugging in/unplugging an appliance.

Sourve: Home Depot Canada

I guess that’s handy when you go on vacation and don’t have to worry about switching them all off to save money. It’s not so handy that the risk of electrocution is real, but no one seems to care over here, and you know. When in Rome….

The switches are only for lights, and in a lot of buildings, they are gigantic. They’re good if you have your hands full and want to turn the light on with your elbow. Or your nose… Don’t act like you haven’t done it!

A lot of living rooms don’t have ceiling lights (but there might be an outlet controlled by a switch by the front door, into which you can plug a lamp and use that as your living room lighting. Fine, I’ll bring my own lamps then!

“Toilet” is a dirty word

It’s washroom or bathroom, thank you very much. If you ask someone where the toilet is, they will look at you funny. Even toilet paper has to be called something dainty like hygienic tissue. No dunnies over ‘ere!

But then when you go in to the bathrooms, there is a huge gap in the doors in of the stalls! Like, big enough that you can make eye contact with someone standing outside. What happened to the dainty, hygienic tissue business? What does it matter when everyone can see your business?

Prices are just outright lies

Nothing costs what it says it will cost, because you have to remember to add taxes (and sometimes a tip) to the advertised price. And merchants don’t always remind you because it goes without saying over here. So, for example, when you sign up for $10 a month gym membership, it’s really $13 a month including taxes.

But…. service quality is much different here. people really wait on you in retail and dining establishments, and that level or service is expected here. So don’t be surprised to see someone kick up a stink here when they’re not satisfied with something they’re paying for. Enjoy working in customer service for $14 an hour, folks!

Taxes and voting are different

The tax year is aligned with the calendar year, whereas in Australia it’s July to June. Australia, explain this one? I found some “theories” but nothing concrete.

Voting is optional but it’s on a weekday, forcing people to make time before or after work. No sausage sizzle or cake sale to make it fun either. Canadians are missing out on the inspiration of the democracy sausage!

Telcos rob you absolutely blind here

Want the latest iPhone?

(Of course the prices don’t include tax)

Phone calls between mobile phones out of the city you’re in are classified as long distance and cost more money.
Depending on your phone plan, you could be charged for incoming calls as well

Source: Bell Canada

Phone numbers are the same length and format whether it’s a mobile or a landline, and they all have an area code specific to the city they’re in. This is across all of North America. So you won’t know whether the number you’re calling/is calling you is a mobile or a landline.

And things are okay here that were outlawed or changed in Australia decades ago

Like they still use Styrofoam packaging in takeout foods

And businesses will ask you to fax them documents! For example, insurance companies. So you have to go to Staples (or somewhere) and pay like $3 to send a fax.

In some provinces, wearing bicycle helmets is not mandatory for adults. Here are the current laws for each province:

  • British Columbia: all ages.
  • Alberta: under 18 years old.
  • Saskatchewan: No law.
  • Manitoba: under 18 years old.
  • Ontario: under 18 years old. .
  • Quebec: No law.
  • New Brunswick: all ages.
  • Nova Scotia: all ages.
  • Prince Edward Island: all ages.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: No law.
  • Yukon: No law.
  • Northwest Territories: No law.
  • Nunavut: No law.

There aren’t many different “bottle shops” in Ontario, and they have limited hours. There’s the LCBO, The Beer Store and Wine Rack. Some grocery stores are now selling limited selection of beers.

But it’s okay for other things to run late

Retail stores don’t open until 10 or 11am but stay open until 9pm every weeknight (which is actually super convenient and I don’t know how Australian retailers stay in business when most of their prospective customers are at work while they’re open). You can have a 9-5 job in retail in Australia, but not in Canada.

If you have kids, and you put them in after school activities like sport, they run late on weeknights, sometimes until 9pm.

But don’t you dare be late for work!

Many workplaces make you sign an agreement upon hiring that if you’re late a certain number of times per year, (mine was seven) you will be terminated. Many others sneakily track your arrival and departure times and if they notice a pattern of lateness, even 5 minutes, they will eventually present them to you as an reason to terminate your employment.

Canadians don’t like to wait

Canadians think a 5 hour flight is long. Most of them practically keel over when you tell them how many hours you spent inside an aircraft to get here.

When in line at takeaway places etc, people leave a huge gap between the next person and the counter. Don’t yell at me when I don’t realise you’re in the line ALL THE WAY BACK THERE.

People speed in Ontario (and surely other parts of Canada). If you’re only going 120kph on the highway you’re probably driving slower than everyone else.

And the road rules are weird (and dangerous)

Pedestrians also always have the right of way and are given crossing rights at the same time that cars are trying to turn into the road they’re crossing. This creates traffic and causes more people to be hit by cars.

In Ontario, you can turn right at any red light. Pedestrians play chicken with impatient Toronto drivers because it takes an hour to get anywhere (and driving a BMW makes you feel powerful I guess).

And other unusual cultural things

College sports are a big deal here. A lot of money is invested into them and they have a large following.

Canadians love putting their flag on everything and are proud to wear Canada-themed clothing (especially Olympic gear) and it’s not considered racist or bogan (redneck).

A lot of houses don’t have fences in their front yard. Not all, but a lot.

Canada can’t decide between the imperial and the metric system. Body weight and weights at the grocery store are expressed in Imperial, but the scales are in metric. So are measurements of length, height and are, except for travelling distances and speed limits which are in kilometres. Weather temperatures are in Celsius, but the temperatures for swimming pools, hot tubs and ovens in Fahrenheit.

Source: Loblaws

People walk around holding hockey sticks like its nbd. Like even at the grocery store. Or using them to decorate. Like this flagpole.

The shower/bath combinations are confusing. Do I push it? Pull it? Press it? Lift it? I JUST WANT TO TAKE A SHOWER.

Interesting food choices

People eat their pizzas with dipping sauce. There is a whole article dedicated to how it became a thing.

Raw broccoli and cauliflower to snack on is everywhere

They also put mustard and hot sauce on everything. at diners, bars etc when they bring you condiments it’s usually mustard and hot sauce.

And when you order something like sandwich and it comes with “a side of chips”, they actually give you potato chips. And a gigantic pickle. North Americans love their pickles. You won’t find the pickle from a McDonald’s burger flung against the wall in the restaurant like an abhorrent intruder.

So there you have it. We obviously didn’t get all of them ( not even close) but these are some of the ones we thought of!

What about you? Have you noticed any weird, different or bloody annoying about Canada? Let me know in the comments!

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Advice, Weather

How to Dress for a Canadian Winter

Dressing for Canadian winter
Photo by Victor Duarte on Pexels.com

Well if you read my post about what winter is really like in Canada, you’ll have figured out that you need a whole lot of winter gear to survive it. So here is the ultimate guide to everything you need to dress properly for a winter in Canada!

When you think subzero temperatures, I’m sure your instinct is to go for the biggest, wooliest, puffiest winter clothes you can think of to shield you from the elements. But this just isn’t practical in a crowded city like Toronto. Sure, you need proper winter gear, but you can ditch the huge puffer jacket, the two-metre-long woollen scarf and massive knee high snow boots.

Instead, opt for layers of high quality materials. Wool, silk and polypropylene are your  friend.  Cotton outerwear is not advised: save it for summer. Jeans are also the best way to freeze, unless you wear leggings or thermals underneath them.

Unless you live on the west coast, you won’t see temperatures above 20 degrees for about seven months and your wardrobe needs to reflect this.

First you will need a good jacket

What is “good”? For me, it has to be down-filled, thin and lightweight.

I know, there are ethical concerns about animal cruelty here. But there are companies that source down and feathers humanely. And I tried polyester-filled jackets. They just didn’t cut it. The wind ripped right through them, while also making me overheat and sweat. Very uncomfortable. So now I won’t buy a jacket unless it is 100% down filled.

The weight of the jacket is important, because there is nothing more exhausting and uncomfortable than lugging a heavy jacket as well your hat, scarf and gloves around a mall. A thin jacket is ideal because it’s easier to carry and store when you’re not using it.

It also needs a good hood.

I find those jackets with the huge, fur-lined hoods look good, but are an absolute pain in the ass.

First, you don’t need all that bulk. It’s the most annoying thing when you step inside and have to take off your coat and carry it. It’s like carrying an unrolled sleeping bag around.

Second, there are times when you don’t want your hood up. And the minute you get close to someone or something, your hood is bumping into them.

Third, those fur linings are useless. All the do is tickle and annoy your face, and allow snow and ice to stick to them. I find them pointless and as soon as a buy a coat I take them off, as they’re usually detachable. This winter I finally discovered the “pack-able” down jacket and it’s the best thing I ever bought. It’s warm, waterproof, blocks wind and folds/rolls into a tiny thing that you can shove into your bag. You don’t boil when you step inside so you can usually keep it on for your entire trip on transit or while you’re indoors for brief periods.

Fourth (yes I have four things to say about hoods!) it is very annoying when your hood covers your eyes but has gaps on the sides. Not only can you not see, but the freezing cold wind will get in and burn your face. So make sure your hood can cinch closed to stop wind from getting through, that you still have room underneath it for a hat and that it hugs your face instead of flopping down over your head and covering your eyes.

Second, you will need good winter boots

I’m not talking ski boots here. You can wear them if you wish, and people do, but I don’t think you need them.

The number one concern is their sole. Do they have good grip?

My first winter, I bought $200 knee high fleece lined waterproof Pajar boots. They were warm – too warm – and slippery. It took me a few winters to learn that in Toronto, you don’t need snow boots because you won’t generally be wading through knee high snow. This isn’t Thunder Bay.

Instead, you’ll be stepping and sliding around on slushy, half melted, dirty snow that has been mixed with salt and grit and soot.

What you need are boots that are waterproof, with good thick wool socks, that will keep your feet dry, stop you from slipping and won’t make you overheat when you go inside.

In situations where you will be mostly inside, such as working in an office, it’s best to keep a pair of indoor shoes that you can change into.

You won’t be able to work inside with boots on all day. It gets too warm. Plus it’s not professional attire. Most indoor places have an area for outdoor shoes, where you can take off your shoes and let the snow and salt drip off them while you wear your clean indoor shoes inside (and keep the floor clean and dry).

I’m obsessed with Timberland teddy fleece boots and I buy a new pair every year. This is not a sponsored post, but I find them very comfortable for walking long distances, they’re warm enough without being too hot when you’re inside, and they have decent grip. I haven’t tried every single boot that’s out there, but I’m a “if you’re on to a good thing, stick to it” type of person. The only downside is that they’re lace-up boots, which means they take time to get on and off – annoying since you’re expected to remove your shoes half the places you go. There are plenty of other winter boots that are zippered or slip on.

It’s a good idea to buy ice grips.

Even the best-soled shoes won’t save you from icy sidewalks. Temperatures fluctuate in Toronto winters. Some days are -30, some days are +11 and everything in between. Because of this, snow melts and refreezes, and you get a lot of icy walkways and most shoes have rubber soles which are slippery. You will slip and fall if you step on ice, which you often can’t see until it’s too late. A lot of people slip on ice in the winter and get wrist injuries and even concussions. Ice grips that you attach to your shoes will help you not to fall.

Socks

If you’re wearing really good socks, then you can survive most of winter in average fall boots. Wool is the best option here, but if you’re allergic, look for non-wool thermal socks (but make sure they fit into your boots if they’re the really thick kind).

Then you need wool, wool and more wool

When I discovered this, I bought wool everything, and that’s all I will wear in winter. Wool socks, wool hats, wool gloves. Everything else was a waste of money and did nothing to keep me warm, and I was miserable.

My sincerest apologies if you are allergic to wool, because that is the one and only thing I found that would keep me warm while regulating the heat so I didn’t end up sweating and then freezing.

And a good scarf

A scarf is useless if it’s not worn correctly. It is not a fashion statement here, it is an necessity. It’s purpose is to keep the space between your coat and your ears covered and warm. It should not be too long or thick. You want to be able to wrap it around your neck then tuck the tails into your coat and zip your coat closed. Infinity scarves are great for this because often the tails of your scarf get caught in your coat zipper.

On the coldest days, the scarf alone will not be enough, nor will zipping your jacket all the way up. You need the double-layer protection.

Long-haired people, watch out for your hair getting caught in your zipper too. OUCH. You’ll want to have your clothes on correctly before stepping outside, because it is no fun if you get out there in the cold and your fumbling with your hair, trying to tuck it under your hat, away from your face, away from your zipper, with the wind whipping everywhere, all with gloves on.

It would be wise to invest in a face mask

Or, you can use your scarf. If you’re wearing it correctly, you should be able to pull it up out of your coat and over your nose. But there will definitely be days where you need to cover all of your skin except your eyes, because it gets that cold. A face mask doubles as a neck warmer, so in theory you can ditch the bulky scarf. I found I always needed both.

Gloves

I found the standard polyester finger gloves okay for the tail end of the season, but when it’s below zero, my fingers hurt when I only wear those. The problem with gloves is that you also need dexterity while wearing them, to do things like unzip your coat, get your keys out, unlock your phone, use your wallet, etc etc. I found the mittens with the flip top finger cover the best. They keep your hands warm but you can free your fingers for a minute when you need to do something.

Ok but what do you actually wear under all that?

Everywhere you go will be heated indoors, to around 20 to 23 degrees. Some people keep their homes a little cooler, and some warmer. So you have to figure out something that will keep you warm while outside but comfortable while inside. I’m usually okay in jeans, a cotton tank top and a wool sweater inside. But be prepared to take your shoes off indoors. If you’re okay walking around barefoot you can do that, but I hate it. I always take slippers with me and change into those. Your legs will be cold if you are only wearing jeans when you are outside, unless your coat is ankle length. I get around this by wearing thigh-high wool socks over my jeans on the coldest days. When I’m inside I can fold them down or take them off. Thermals underneath work too if your jeans are baggy.

If you’re going out to a party or a club, simply wear your outfit of choice under your winter gear, which you will take off and store while inside, either in a designated coat check (sometimes for a fee, or at least a tip), or on a huge pile of everyone else’s coats. You can put your hat and gloves in the pockets and shove your scarf in the hood (or around the coat hanger in coat check).

So there you have it. How to dress for a Canadian winter, from this frozen Australian.

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Weather

What Winter in Canada is Really Like: All the things you have to deal with in winter!

Moss Park, Toronto, Canada – December 2018

Canadians love to talk about the weather. One of the most common questions I get asked is, “What’s the coldest it gets in Australia?” When you live through a few winters here, you understand why.  I think they ask because:

  • they dream of living in a snow-free land or;
  • they know an Australian winter is a walk in the park compared to a Canadian one. 

And it is! I’m from the coast of Sydney, Australia, where winter looks like this picture, and I rarely experienced anything colder than 8 degrees celsius.

But even if you’re from the coldest parts of Australia, I will tell you straight up:

You do not know what winter is until you’ve seen a winter in Canada

What’s the big deal about winter? It’s cold, and it snows, right? Snow is beautiful!

Snow is beautiful. But there’s a lot to living in this climate that you don’t realize until you actually have to do it. I’m sure you understand that it’s very cold, but what does that actually look like?

Let’s talk about time.

Even though winter proper is three months long, the cold seems to go on forever

And I’m only talking about Toronto, which is said to have a mild winter compared to other parts of the country. It gets so cold here, that you will start thinking zero to two degree days are downright balmy compared to -20. Never in my life did I think I would be calling zero degrees warm. But Canada does that to you. 

Here is a rough timeline of the cold season. All temperatures are in Celsius. 

Fall officially begins Sep 21st. By the middle of October, the temperatures are  already in single digits. So it’s only midway through fall and it’s already colder than a “freezing” day in Sydney.

October is the time to bring your hats and gloves out of storage, but you won’t need a winter coat just yet. It’s a beautiful time of year with all the leaves changing colours. The many parks and trees in Toronto put on quite a show.

Halloween is chilly, so don’t think you can strut down the street in a barely-there costume, because you’ll freeze. As such, onesies are a big hit here.  

November is similar, and you might see snow, but it doesn’t usually dump piles just yet. You can still spend time outdoors without a full winter wardrobe.  Trees lose their leaves by the end of November.

Winter officially begins December 21st. It’s usually around -5 to -15 for most of December. You may or may not see a white Christmas. I’ve seen three in seven years. 

January and February are the coldest months with the most snow. For a few weeks it will hit around -25 to -40 with the wind chill. Snow falls at least once a week and there will be a few ice storms. 

By March, everyone is sick of winter, ice and snow and just wants it to all go away. But it doesn’t really until late May. People forget that every year and are always surprised/annoyed by the last few snowfalls that happen in spring. That’s why the city by-law says that indoor heating has to remain on until June. JUNE.

That’s more thansix months of cold weather, with three of those months being extreme. But being cold is just the beginning….

With the cold comes ice and freezing rain

What is freezing rain? It’s when the temperature goes above freezing and then rapidly drops back to freezing, resulting in rain that instantly freezes when it hits a surface. In a matter of hours, roads, buildings, trees, electrical poles, footpaths, cars, benches, railways, streetcar tracks, traffic lights, you name it get coated in a thick layer of ice that remains frozen.

Depending on the severity of the freezing rain, the result can be anything from the roads and pavements being slippery, to trees breaking and falling on power lines, cutting power for days. If you have electric heating and hot water tanks, it’s a miserable time to not have electricity.

Temperature fluctuations result in “freeze and thaw” events. This is when snow melts a little and then freezes as ice. There will be snow on the ground that has layers of ice underneath. As it starts to melt, the ice is exposed and it’s really impossible to walk anywhere that isn’t salted by the city. The further away you live from downtown, the worse it is.

I couldn’t walk around the courtyard in my apartment building for almost 2 months this winter because it was covered in ice.

Freezing temperatures means a risk of pipes bursting.

When this happens, the water goes everywhere and freezes all around the site. I’ve been evacuated from two buildings because of a burst water main. So if you own a home here, you can’t just take it for granted that you can go on vacation and come back to find your property in the same condition. You have to take preventative steps like draining pipes and draining hoses before you leave.

Garbage bins freeze shut!

So do windows, doors, locks, gates, bike chains – basically anything with leverage that’s outside.


Travelling by any means becomes a challenge

Ice-covered walkways are slippery

Walking is difficult because you can’t always see the ice, so you have to walk
slowly and carefully to make sure you don’t end up on your butt or with a fractured wrist. The leading cause of hospitalizations for injuries in Canada is falls.

Sometimes footpaths get buried

But if you don’t walk on them, you have to walk on the busy road beside them. Street corners are the worst, because that’s where the snow gets piled up the highest. It can be hard to use the crosswalks because there’s so much snow in the way. Good luck if you have a stroller, a wheelie bag, etc.

Driving is also a hazard

Most public roads are well-salted and cleared by the city. Driving is worse while the snow is actually falling. Visibility is limited, and the white lane markings (genius to have them the same colour as snow!) are completely invisible while it’s snowing. You basically have to follow the car in front of you and hope they’re keeping in their lane.

Late for work?

You will be after spending 20 mins digging your car out of the snow!

If you don’t have underground parking, you must allow extra time to dig your car out of the snow that accumulated on/around it while it was parked.

(PS. Don’t keep anything in your car that you don’t want to freeze. I watched a poor lady try to thaw out her 5L bottle of laundry detergent after it was in her car for 3 days…)

Get ready to freeze waiting for public transit.

Thank goodness for transit apps. You soon learn to use them to minimize time spent standing outdoors freezing waiting for the next one. Even 5 mins is torture when the wind is blowing -25 degrees at you.

Transit functions fairly well considering, but on bad days, buses do get stuck in snow, and streetcars do malfunction because of ice buildup on the tracks.

Taxis/Ubers/Lyfts are available, but demand is high and they are not immune to getting stuck, so if you do manage to get one, be prepared to shell out coin.

But you bike to work, so you’ll be okay

Nope. Cycling is possible but I, like many others, avoid it at all costs when the temperature is below zero. Even though the city does salt the bike lanes along with the road, you inevitably encounter patches of ice somewhere along your journey. Plus the salt destroys your bike.

It took a near miss and then an actual fall on ice to stop me from biking when it’s freezing. Bikes tend to get abandoned in the winter, except by hardcore cyclists. Not me!

Don’t even get me started on air travel

I’m surprised aircraft get off the ground here at all. Ice on the runway, freezing rain, low visibility, etc etc. The Eastern Seaboard is notorious for its bad weather, so extensive flight delays and cancellations are just expected here.

Salt destroys things

This car was black!

Salting of surfaces is necessary to melt snow and ice so that vehicles can safely drive on the roads and people can walk on the footpaths. The problem is, it eats away at things such as asphalt, metal (look forward to rust on your car, just like living by the ocean), destroyed bike chains and shoes.

By the end of winter, the roads are a torn up mess and have to be repaved often. If not, they’re left a mess and driving, walking and biking on them sucks.

Many things are “seasonal” and put on hold until Spring

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • gardening
  • yard work
  • renovations
  • construction
  • picnicking, outdoor parties, al fresco dining
  • outdoor sports like baseball, golf, tennis, etc
  • camping
  • just being outside in general

Oh, you wanted to enjoy your backyard? Sorry, you can’t. It’s buried in snow

If you celebrate Christmas, it’s more common here to have an indoor Christmas dinner, rather than an outdoor Christmas lunch like we do back in Australia. I suspect this has something to do with not being able to barbecue…

You can kiss having New Year’s Eve parties outdoors goodbye. Unless you like standing around freezing, in which case, New Year’s Eve at Nathan Phillips Square welcomes you.

So get used to that indoor life

Because even if you are brave enough to spend time outside, it will be hard to find other people who want to join you.

As well as the indoor heating

Indoor spaces are heated to about 23 degrees. This is necessary for survival, since you would actually freeze to death if it wasn’t. But there is some adjusting to this.

In buildings where the property controls the heat, it can sometimes be too hot. You can open a window but that just makes the heat blast harder to maintain the pre-set temperature. Because you can’t open the windows, and you spend most of your time indoors, you breathe mostly recycled, stale air.

Indoor heating makes it difficult to gauge what the weather is like outside because you will be comfortable in very little clothing. So you have to wait until you’re just about to leave before you bundle up and put your shoes on, otherwise you will get too hot walking around your indoors in all your winter gear. So allow a bit of extra time for that before going out, because getting ready to leave the house is a task.

You can’t just walk out in your indoor clothes. You have to make sure you’re properly dressed and protected for outside conditions. Your weather app becomes your best friend.

You have to figure out a way to dress for both inside and outside conditions, so you can be warm outside but are able to remove and carry most of what you’re wearing once you get inside. You soon learn that huge bulky coats, scarves and boots are overkill and hard to deal with on a crowded public transit vehicle or in a busy mall. Learn more in my post How To Dress for a Canadian Winter

You have to watch where you place your furniture and belongings in your home, so as not to block heating vents/melt your stuff.

Winter dries everything up

Indoor heating makes the air very dry. For the first few years, when I woke up in the morning, I felt as dry as I do on long haul flights. The air gets static and you get shocks when you touch things. Your hair and skin get more dry than usual, especially if you take long, hot showers. A humidifier helps.

The water that comes out of the faucets is frigid, so when washing your hands , you have to mix hot and cold water so your hands don’t freeze. It becomes a habit, and now when I go home to visit my family, I get lectures for unnecessarily using hot water. But constantly using hot water contributes to dry skin. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!

Winter clothing is an expense

You need an entire winter wardrobe to get through the winter, and that comes at a price. Since winter clothing is a necessity here, it’s much cheaper than it would be in Australia, but you still get what you pay for. While you don’t need a $1000 Canada Goose jacket, you still need to choose quality gear or you will be miserable when you’re outside if you’re not wearing the right clothes.

Winter affects your mental health

I feel it is important to include this one, as it is something you may not realize is even happening to you. Coming from Australia, the land of sunshine and long summers, to the exact opposite of that is a shock to the system. It’s that fact that you’re not able to spend as much time outside, and that everything natural (except for the evergreen fir trees) loses its colour, and that the days are so short. The biggest factor is the lack of natural light.

Winter will give you a Vitamin D deficiency

Generally, there aren’t too many sunny days. The sun will peek through now and then, and only on the days when it’s really really cold.

Even if you are an Aussie who spent most of their time indoors in Australia, you still got sun exposure inside buildings and vehicles because of windows and the fact that part of your skin, even if it’s just your forearms, was usually exposed. Here, because buildings are designed to retain heat, they have less windows. The daylight hours are also so short that it’s possible that your skin won’t never see the sun for six months.

Depending on the type of work you do, you could spend most of winter in the dark. Say you get a 9 to 5 job. The shortest days of winter are 8 hours long, because the sun rises at 8am and sets at 4pm. If you leave your house at 730am, it’s dark. You get on the subway, you’re in the dark. You arrive at work and you scurry from the subway station to your office – maybe you’ll get a glimpse of the sun.

Your office doesn’t have windows so you’re inside with artificial lighting. On your lunch break, you brave the cold to stand in the sun, only it’s too cold to stand there for long, and you’re covered head to toe anyway. You finish work at 5pm and it’s dark.

That leaves you with just the weekends to seek out the sun, and there’s no guarantee it will show up at all.

Unless you’re super brave and love the extreme cold and want to go out there no matter what, you’ll find yourself spending most of your time inside.

Wildlife disappears

Well, almost. Especially by January and February, there’s not a creature to be seen. You forget that you haven’t heard a bird chirp for months until they start to reappear in spring, around mid March/early April when the snow starts melting.

This is what I call the big tease after the big freeze

A beacon of hope! The snow is melting!

Which means flooding

And mud. Lots of mud.

As the frozen ground starts to thaw, it shifts, and the frozen piles of snow and ground water melt and can seep into lower levels of buildings.

It is common for basements to flood during this time, unless the owner has a flood management system in place.
If you live in a basement apartment, or keep a car or a bicycle in an underground space, be aware of this.

You start to get some warmer days, a sunny 5 to 10 degrees, but Jack Frost still has a few snow storms left in him. As I said, it doesn’t consistently stay above 15 degrees until late May/early June.

Watch your head!

You will see these signs all around the city as melting snow starts to fall off the roofs of buildings. At least they’re nice enough to warn you.

Watch out for dog poo!

Grassy areas become a soggy mess, and several piles of dog poo that owners buried in the snow (instead of picking them up) make an appearance.

Ok, so what’s good about living in winter?

I know. I’ve made it sound like living in winter is hell. So I guess I should point out some of the positives of it:

Winter is magical

It really is a sight to behold. When the city is blanketed in snow, or you look closely at the pretty formations of ice crystals, it’s quite gorgeous and fascinating.

Free ice skating!

Coming from Australia where entry to a rink is about $25, it’s amazing to see how many free outdoor rinks there are in the City of Toronto. Many of them have facilities such as indoor change rooms. You just bring your own skates and go for it!

Not to mention….

Less sun damage: You might go back to Australia looking 10 years younger than your mates because you haven’t had as much UV exposure

No bugs. They all go dormant in winter. There’s not a roach or a fly or a mosquito to be seen. You may see tiny (by Aussie standards) house spiders and centipedes in damp areas (mostly basements), which are harmless but look absolutely terrifying with their ridiculous number of legs.

If you identify as female, and you wear clothes marketed to people who identify as female, you will suddenly be blessed with pockets thanks to your winter coat. It is possible to leave the house without a purse!

The “hibernation-friendly” weather is conducive to studying and shift work. It’s very easy to fall asleep on command, or keep your head in the books in the dark and dreary months, because you’re not really missing much outside.

But the biggest thing about the weather here is…

It really makes you appreciate good weather. I never took hot weather or the beach for granted when I lived in Australia, but now I really understand how it feels to be deprived of sunshine and the outdoors and I feel so grateful when summer comes and we can embrace the outdoors again. I don’t think I have ever been so excited to be able to keep my windows open. And I promise I will never say “I’m freezing!” while back in Australia, ever again. (But I will definitely give Australians a hard time when they dare to complain about the “cold” in front of me).

So now that you’ve read all this about winter, do you still want to live here?

Have I scared you off, or are you even more up for it now? Let me know in the comments, and share with your friends who swear they prefer cold weather!

Read next: How to dress for a Canadian winter!

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Housing

Renting an apartment in Toronto: what you need to know

So you’re moving to Toronto, eh?

Obviously you will need somewhere to live, and unless you have at least 500K lying around, you’re going to be renting.

I moved to Toronto in 2012. It’s now 2019. In those seven years, I moved nine times and in that time, the rental rates across the city have literally doubled.

After trying to find an apartment and going through the process many times, I learned a thing or two to share with you.

So I’m going to explain what the rental market is like in Toronto, because when I moved here, I had no idea what to expect, and I wish I had known so I could make better decisions.

Before I begin, I want to point out that while in most of my posts I compare Toronto to Sydney, Australia, in this post, I’m not comparing Toronto to any other part of the world, or to any other city in Canada. I’m only talking about the rental market in Toronto.

So what are you in for when looking for an apartment in Toronto?

There are some cities in the world where the population grows at an exponential rate compared to other parts of the country, and the housing market cannot keep up.

Toronto is one of them and it can be really hard to find an apartment here.

What makes it hard to find an apartment in Toronto?

Availability

Toronto is in a housing crisis. The average vacancy rate in 2018 was less than 1%. Buying a property is out of reach for many Canadians, so renting is the only option.

Affordability

The soaring rental market in Toronto has been making headlines in popular online media sources such as The Huffington Post, who published an summary of rental prices from Padmapper that pits Toronto as the Canadian city with the highest market rent rates, with a one bedroom now at a median price of $2260. That was after rental rates jumped 11.9% in one year.

The City of Toronto publishes a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) that lists the yearly average market rents in the city of Toronto.

The 2019 report lists the average for a 1 bedroom apartment at $1270 per month, but that’s taking into account all the renters that are paying lower than market rate for various reasons, which I will get into further in this post.

So if you look up 1 bedroom apartments for rent in Toronto, all over the city and the GTA, the rental prices you will see tell a very different story.

Location

I hear a duh coming. But Toronto is huge and has poor transportation infrastructure for its size and population.

Because of this it takes a long time to get around. It has personally taken me one hour to go three kilometres on a bus going across the downtown core in rush hour, with the first 600 metres taking 20 minutes. I am not even slightly exaggerating.

The streetcar is even slower. It’s faster to walk or bike of course, but in this four seasons country, you won’t want to do that year round. And there are parts of this huge city that aren’t bikeable, so unless you live in the downtown core, that’s not really an option.

To avoid a four hour daily commute, and since half the city is serviced by buses and streetcars, which get stuck in traffic and require you to make at least one transfer if you’re coming downtown, the ideal location for commuters is either within walking and biking distances, or right near a subway station, and therefore there is a lot of competition to live in areas so that your commute to work won’t take up most of your non-working hours.

The condition of rental properties, including illegal rentals

Just like any over-crowded city, “affordable” rentals are often in bad condition. There are many landlords with set-and-forget rental properties. They get desperate tenants into their rundown properties and do nothing but collect their rent cheques – often in cash (perhaps so they can evade taxes??)

And in Toronto’s almost impossible market, many middle class citizens earning an average wage find themselves in these rentals.

As a full-time worker earning more than minimum wage, I personally have lived in rental properties with problems such as:

  • Mould
  • Flooding
  • Cockroach infestations
  • Mice infestations
  • Foundation problems
  • Electrical/wiring problems
  • Plumbing problems
  • Insufficient heating
  • Psychotic superintendents and/or tenants
  • Landlords that break the law and/or mistreat tenants
  • Smoking and illegal drug use and dealing on or inside the property.

It should go without saying that every apartment I moved in to was absolutely filthy and it was left up to me to scrub it down, from the range-hoods that were caked with the grease of the 65 tenants who had used them before me, to the dead cockroach bodies that were hiding in the backs of kitchen cabinets and made an appearance once the previous tenant had removed their belongings.

A lot of them also come with bunch of unreasonable rules put in place by the landlords (which is totally illegal) like:

  • no overnight guests (a.k.a your boyfriend or girlfriend can’t stay over)
  • no “heavy cooking” (a.k.a please only eat takeaway because the stove uses a lot of electricity)
  • no shift workers
  • laundry can only be done at certain hours
  • if you leave dishes in the sink for more than 24 hours I will charge you $20
  • If you use an air conditioner in the summer it’s an extra $50 a month

Sure, I could have spent a little more on rent, but I wouldn’t be able to afford much else. Like, food. And transportation to and from work. You know, the luxuries of life.

And landlords can get away with it because of the market. There is of course a social justice tribunal of Ontario, the Landlord and Tenant Board, that is there to deal with issues like these, but anyone who has dealt with them (myself included) knows that their existence is about as comforting as missing out on something you were really looking forward to and having someone say, “It’s okay, we can do it next time”.

Disorganized landlords/hard to get a response

Because the demand for affordable housing is so high, when you respond to an ad, you’re likely one of thousands of respondents that completely overwhelm the ad poster. If you don’t happen to see the ad and be one of the first respondents, you might get ignored.

Some landlords are organized and send the same blanket response with one to three “open houses” that you can attend. If you’re not available at these times, the landlord won’t usually accommodate you, so you miss out.

For individual showings, if you do get a response and are invited to see the place and you don’t decide then and there that you want it by handing over your first and last month’s rent and/or signing a lease, you will probably miss out.

I’ve had showings cancelled before I even got to see the place. I have also arrived at a showing only to be told they rented it to the person before me and I got turned away. I’ve even had landlord’s forget they were supposed to meet me (even when I confirmed/reminded them beforehand) and I found out when I got there that they weren’t coming.

For someone without a car, this is super frustrating.

But it’s a landlord’s market so that’s how it goes.

Rent control

What is rent control?

Rent control is a regulation that governs how much landlords can increase the rent for existing tenants.

I know quite a few people who have been living in the same place for a decade, either alone or in a shared housing situation, cycling through roommates while becoming the unofficial “head tenant” and thereby feel they have the right to call the shots, to keep their rent controlled places.

Earlier this year, BlogTO wrote about a pair of renters who were paying only $904 for their entire two-bedroom apartment in a building where one bedroom units “now cost at least $1,900”. The reason they were only paying half the market rent is because they signed their first lease in 2011 and as of then, the unit was subject to rent control.

Last year City News interviewed a tenant who told them he was paying $657 for his apartment in a building where one of neighbours was paying $1300 and another was paying $2000.

The jury’s out on whether rent control is a good thing or a bad thing. If you happen to have timed your life so that you moved in when rent was actually reasonable, and you were able to hold on to your place, you are now paying one third to half of what your newest neighbours are paying.

But some argue that rent control is bad for the economy. Well it’s definitely bad if you really want to move in to a neighbourhood but you cant find an apartment because rent-controlled tenants won’t ever move out. People have torn personal relationships apart to keep their rent controlled place.

Renovictions

Landlords have found a loophole to rent control. They evict a tenant for the purpose of renovating an apartment, and when the apartment is done, they re-list it for market price. As you can tell from the rent control examples, in some cases the landlords are able to triple the monthly rent.

This isn’t actually legal though, and a tenant can fight it.

But if the landlord really wants you out, they will find another way to make you go. Tenants who are paying rent controlled prices have told stories of being mistreated, or having their apartment fall into disarray in the hopes they will get fed up and move on. But when they potential rent increase you are facing is around $1000 a month, that’s easier said than done.

Read some stories in this article from Now Toronto: How Toronto landlords use renovictions to force out tenants

All these things have made searching for an apartment in Toronto somewhat of cat fight.

When looking for a place, you have to watch rental listings like a hawk. You pretty much need to be the first person to respond to an ad, and show up to the viewing with all your documents in order and your cheque for first and last month ready to offer the landlord on the spot, or you risk missing out.

Some landlords don’t let you get ahead this way, and they will hold an open house at a few pre-arranged times, and then consider all applicants before making a decision.

Treat looking for an apartment like a job interview. When you respond to listings, write a response that reads like a cover letter. Show up early, be well-dressed, make a good impression, and be ready with your credentials on paper. And money. All your money.

Types of housing in Toronto

So now that you know what the Toronto rental market is like, I’ll tell you about the different types of housing you’ll find for rent in the city of Toronto. I have not included average prices because in this market, they are increasing month after month.

Condo towers

Short for condominiums, these are high-rise buildings with shared amenities. They can be around 50 stories high, and the apartments tend to be small in size. Average for a 1 bedroom is around 550 square feet

They are the most expensive rentals in Toronto, because they are usually newer buildings and come with amenities, such as a fitness room, games room, rooftop patio with BBQs, theatre rooms and swimming pools, which are funded by maintenance fees, and most landlords would cover those fees by including them in the rent.

There are large clusters of condos on The Waterfront, in Liberty Village and King St West, at Yonge and Eglinton and in the Canary district, to name a few.

Pros

Modern and in good condition, condo buildings come with amenities for your enjoyment. You actually get what you pay for.

Cons

They’re tiny, with tinier balconies. They’re built as little cities, so living in a condo you’re in a glass-tower jungle with not much green space (apart from the newest developments which are mandated to have a green space on their rooftops). And every cluster of condos is under development, so if there isn’t a building going up next to yours, there will be soon.

Best place to find condo listings: Condo.ca or realtor.ca, as well as kijiji.ca

Purpose-built rental apartments:

These are low to high rise apartment buildings where all of the units within them are rentals only (not owned) and managed by the company that owns the building. They are usually older buildings that were built in the sixties, seventies and eighties.

There are a lot of these in neighbourhoods like Parkdale, Thorncliffe Park, Don Mills, Scarborough and The Beaches

Pros

More affordable than condos, and the process to rent them is very straightforward. As long as your financial history checks out, you’re pretty much guaranteed an apartment if you apply. Everything is done by the book.

Individual apartments are also a lot bigger than in these buildings than they are in condo towers. The average size of a 1 bedroom in these buildings is around 750 square feet, with decent sized balconies. In a condo, it’s about 550 square feet for a 1 bedroom, and there are balconies that are only big enough to fit two people on them.

Cons

They are older (1960s) and lot of them are in poor condition. Depending on the company, they are either constantly undergoing repairs and upgrades or just falling into disrepair. Just read about the cockroach and bedbug plague that Parkdale has been famous for, and the debacle between Minto Properties and their tenants in Flemingdon Park.

In the last few years, many of them have been undergoing renovations because as the market gets more expensive and newer tenants are paying higher rents, they are getting the funds to upgrade them.

While this is good news in some ways, it’s not if you already live there and they happen to be renovating the unit above you, beside you and below you all at the same time. Working from home, anyone?

Some of them come without balconies which isn’t a big deal in the winter because it will be too cold to go out there, but you’ll miss it in the humid, sticky Toronto summers.

Best place to find purpose-built rental listings: directly on the website of the management company.

Other apartment buildings

There are apartment buildings that don’t fall into the condo or purpose-built rentals category. These tend to be older buildings where the units are individually owned and some are rented out. They don’t have any extra amenities and very often come without balconies.

There are many of these in Forest Hill and The Beaches

Best place to find apartment building listings: realtor.ca, kijiji.ca, padmapper.ca, craigslist.ca

Basement apartments

What is a basement apartment?

In a climate like Canada, all buildings must have basements for structural and engineering purposes. When the ground freezes in the winter, it expands and then contracts when it thaws, causing shifts in building foundations. Basements help preserve the structural integrity of the building.

The advantage of a mandatory basement is that it adds one more storey of space to a building. So people figured out that if you finish a basement, it becomes a liveable, useable space as opposed to an underground cellar-type area. People also figured out that if they fit a basement with a kitchen and a bathroom, it becomes an extra apartment that they can rent out to subsidize the cost of their home or just make extra money. The equivalent in Australia would be a granny flat.

They are found in areas where there are a lot of free-standing homes, with many of them being very close to downtown.

There are several requirements a basement apartment must meet to be a legal, rentable space, so make sure you read up on it before you agree to rent one.

I’ve seen an array of basement apartments.

Some are large with high ceilings, are freshly renovated and get a decent amount of sunlight for an underground space.

Others are small, old, with low ceilings and have a damp, musty feel. They may also only have one tiny window which is level with the ground outside so if you turn off the light, the apartment is all but pitch black at any time of day.

Some are totally illegal, and some are advertised as “apartments”, when in reality, you’re just living in someone’s basement and are expected to give them access to the it whenever they need it.

I looked at one where the owners wanted full access to the washer/dryer, as well as the storage closets, and they wanted to keep unused furniture down there, under the guise of offering a “furnished” apartment. Plus, they were charging more than a real apartment in a building in the same area was going for! No thanks!

But people will pay it and agree to live under those conditions because of the tight market, and boy do landlord’s know it.

Pros of living in a basement:

They are cheaper than above-ground apartments.

They can be more quiet than a street level apartment. They are cool in the summer (but can be colder in the winter). They are great for people who like to sleep a lot as they get less sun than a street level apartment.

Cons of living in a basement:

They don’t get much sun, and in a part of the world where exposure to sunlight is already lacking because of the winters, living underground is not ideal if you love your home to be filled with light. Even if you get a bright and airy basement apartment, it will still get less light than a street level

Mould is a real concern in basement apartments and so is flooding, especially in the spring when the snow and ice start melting.

The furnace that heats the house and the hot water heater are often in the basement, so you will be sharing your space with them (and the noise they make).

The household laundry room is also usually in the basement. Depending on the setup, some landlords expect the basement tenant to share the laundry with the tenants upstairs (or the homeowner) which affects your privacy as the basement occupant. Other landlords provide the upstairs with their own laundry so they basement laundry is solely for the basement tenant.

Where to find basement apartment listings: kijiji.ca, craiglist.ca, viewit.ca, Facebook marketplace, Padmapper.ca

Converted Victorian rowhouses and mansions

A row of Victoria mansions in the Annex
A row of Victorian mansions in The Annex

There are some neighbourhoods that are on the edges of downtown Toronto that are entirely Victorian mansions. I’m talking over a century old, three to five storey, massive Victorian era homes. These houses are far too big for the modern family, so they have mostly been converted into several small apartments and/or rooming houses.

Pros

In my opinion, these most gorgeous and unique apartments you will find in the city. They have plenty of character and are in beautifully kept, quiet neighborhoods with tree lined-streets. Some of them come with darling balconies. They’re what I imagine when I think of North America.

Cons

Very competitive because there aren’t many of them, especially in the Annex, and they are often just as expensive as condos but without all the amenities (you’re paying for the neighborhood).

The mansions are very old (100+ years) so there can be issues around an ageing building (eg. mould, electrical problems, heating and cooling problems, general wear and tear, that “old house” smell) and need a good generous owner landlord to keep them maintained well.

Some of the houses are also five stories high (including the basement ) so you may have to climb one to three flights of creaky, narrow stairs if you aren’t on the main floor. Grocery shopping and moving in and out is hard work.

Many of them don’t have laundries or the laundry is in the basement (another trip up and down the stairs carrying things)

Not to mention the higher floors get stiflingly hot in Toronto’s humid summer (especially the top floor) so you need a window air conditioner, which increases your electricity (hydro) bill. Not to mention getting that thing up the stairs in the first place!

Found in the Annex, Little Italy, Parkdale and Riverdale

Where to find converted Victorian mansion listings: kijiji.ca, viewit.ca

Room rentals and rooming houses

This is a setup where you rent a room in a house the owner lives in and shares with you, or you rent a room with other tenants who are also renting rooms and you share the kitchen, bathroom and other common areas. Sometimes they are total strangers and you don’t meet them until you actually move in. This setup is illegal unless:

  • All the tenants are on one lease, or;
  • the dwelling is licensed as a rooming house or;
  • you share a kitchen and bathroom with your landlord

I’ve definitely lived in more than one illegal rooming house.

Other times they are a group of people who all met and agreed to live together, and have had someone move out and need to fill their room. All the occupants would be on one lease.

Pros

  • Cheapest option.
  • Great if you’re new to the city and want to meet people – the other occupants can be a source of instant friends if they’re cool people.
  • Some rooms come furnished which can be a great starting off point for a new arrival.
  • They are easier to obtain because the owners aren’t as strict with requirement (such as needing a credit history, which newcomers wont have.
  • Some of these living environments can be really fun and social, and you may never have issues with the property or your roommates the entire time you live there.

Cons

  • As mentioned, these types of rentals are often illegal.
  • You never know who you’ll be living with or what their habits or lifestyles are like (this applies whether you get to meet them first or not).
  • You deal with the owner and often don’t even get to meet the other people you’ll be living with. You might get a vague description like, “Oh – you’ll be living with two males. I think one works at Starbucks and the other one is a D.J.
  • It’s up to these total stranger tenants to agree on things like whose turn it is to clean the bathroom or buy toilet paper
  • Because the market is so tight, and in a lot of cases if you don’t say yes and sign a lease on the spot or at least within 24 hours, you’ll miss out, you have to take these descriptions at face value and hope for the best.
  • The landlord has rented to so many people in their career that you’re basically treated like a number.
  • It can be hard to get them to care about do repairs in a timely manner. Some of these homes are completely rundown and in dire need of some TLC but the landlord doesn’t care about them and just wants their rent checks. But the upside is those rooms will be really cheap.

Where to find room rental listings: Facebook marketplace, Bunz home zone, Kijiji.ca, Craigslist

Pretend apartments

Okay, that’s not their official name, but these are rentals by private home/building owners that aren’t really an apartment but are made to look like one.

Basically property owners with a bit of extra space are milking the fact that the people of Toronto are desperate for affordable housing, and they take a random corner of a property they own and put it up for rent.

Some of them are okay, like you would get an entire floor of someone’s house. Others are pathetic, and falsely advertised, and you don’t find out until you get there. More than once I have shown up to view one of these “apartments” only to find out that it was actually just a room on the second floor of a house, with a private kitchen, but you had to share the bathroom with another tenant. To get upstairs to your semi-private apartment, you had to walk through the bottom floor of the house where the owner lived with his grandmother (in one specific instance).

Imagine the awkwardness of, say, walking in at 1am on a Saturday night with a date? It would be like living with your own parents. And I can guarantee you, it wouldn’t be long before they started acting like your parents. And they would get away with it, because it’s not even a proper rental in the first place.

You would end up moving out to save your sanity, and be back in the housing market, only rents would have gone up another $500 a month in the year that you spent there (because of course, you signed a lease to live in this pretend apartment).

Pros

Some of them are well below market rent

Cons

Like room rentals and rooming houses, you have to deal with a lot of things that you wouldn’t in a proper rental.

Find them on: kijiji.ca, craigslist.ca, Facebook Marketplace

Watch out for these red flags when apartment hunting

A listing appears over and over in your search

If a place is on the market for more than a month or you’ve been looking for a while and keep seeing the same place again and again, that can be a red flag. It indicates a high turnover of tenants. Sometimes this is simply due to people upgrading or moving out for life changes, but it can also point to issues with that rental.

Do your research by visiting the property beforehand and try and talk to residents and ask them about their experience living there. You can check online to see if there are any scathing reviews, but in my experience, these aren’t so reliable.

For example, I found nothing on a house I moved in to that turned out to be riddled with roaches, but I found terrible reviews about the building I live in now and have had none of the problems described in the reviews.

Scams

Here’s how to spot a scam

  • The listings that seem too good to be true, in terms of price and location. They are usually a lot cheaper than the average rent for that area
  • Legitimate listings will give the nearest major intersection, whereas scams will give the entire address including the postal code
  • Scams will talk more about the neighbourhood than the actual apartment
  • The pictures look like they are all from a different apartment buildings

If you do unwittingly respond to an ad and it turns out to be scam, you will get an email that has a heartwarming story about a reverend and his wife looking for an honest tenant but they are out of the country etc etc, and you need to pay them online to get a key – or something to that effect.

Never, ever put down money for a rental until you see the place with your own eyes and get a lease agreement in writing. Ontario now has a standard lease that a landlord must use.

So now you know exactly what the rental market is like here. It’s something to seriously consider before moving to Toronto. Of course, it’s not impossible to find a nice place if you have a decent income and are willing to put in the time.

But if you’re on a working holiday, with a modest amount of savings and you score a halfway-decent job here, but you don’t want to spend it all on your rent, this is stuff you need to know!

What has renting in Toronto been like for you? Let me know in the comments.

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