Back in the CSSR*

After spending just one week in the States, it’s good to be back in Canada.

I literally felt the muscles in my shoulders and neck relax as I passed through the Passport Check in Vancouver. It’d been a smooth border crossing, starting with the ability to fill out my Customs Declaration completely online, before I even got on the flight. So when I landed in YVR, I only had to go to one of the (many, open) kiosks, have my photo taken, and bring the printed receipt plus my passport and work permit over to the nearest Border Services Officer (no line, no waiting this time). Said Officer chatted me up as she checked over my documents, and sent me on my way with a “Good luck!” (in my work).

Contrast the experience of flying into the US, where I had to go through security twice, then fill out a customs declaration on the spot, then get interviewed by a border guard who growled at me while eyeing me suspiciously. Brrr.

I was supposed to catch a connecting flight from Vancouver to Victoria, which left me with three hours to kill in the airport. But when I reached my gate, I noticed an earlier flight (which I didn’t think I’d make, and thus didn’t book) hadn’t boarded yet, and was leaving in half an hour. On a whim, I walked up to the desk and asked if they could get me on that flight. Without rolling her eyes, or sighing, or telling me there’d be fees involved, the agent just said “Sure,” found me a seat, and printed out a new boarding pass right there!

From the Victoria airport, I decided against waiting for the first bus, and instead walked for about 15 minutes through forested parkland and farm-lined roads before coming to the main exchange, where a five minute wait had me on a bus heading directly downtown. The view from the bus stop was so good I had to take a few pictures; the shot at the top of this post is one of them. Forty minutes later, I was back at the apartment, safe and sound.

I’ve spent a lot of time knocking the Canadian Healthcare system here, and it has been the most surprising and frustrating part of the move. But so many things are better here than in San Diego: The roads are better maintained, the buses are cleaner, bigger (they have double-deckers here), and run more frequently. People are friendlier, as the cliché goes, but more than that, they seem genuinely interested in helping. Whether that’s the ICBC clerk giving you your driving exam, or the passenger next to you on the plane whom you solicit advice on local hikes from. That attitude extends into infrastructure — the roads, yes, but also even the water fountains are better designed, having spigots at the top now for easily refilling water bottles — and the way events are run, like the ASL interpreter at the Canada Day celebrations.

In short, I can relax in Canada because I feel I don’t need to do everything on my own, here. There’s help available (for the most part, see healthcare) if I need it. And that makes all the difference.

*Not a political comment, just a play on The Beatles’ “Back in the USSR”

Why Victoria?

Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal…These are the big, bustling, Canadian cities that most folks have heard of, the ones that most new immigrants head for.

So why did I choose to move to Vancouver Island, instead of Vancouver?

To be honest, after living here full-time for just a few weeks, my reasoning is already shifting. As the Oracle says in the Matrix:

…you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it.

But! I’d like to set down my original reasons for picking Victoria, in the hopes that my research can benefit others who might be contemplating a move to Canada.

Our Requirements

My work is remote, so in theory we had the whole of Canada to pick from. In practice, though, we had several constraints on where we could live.

No-go Ontario

Our first, oddly enough, was our dogs. We have two of them, one a German Shepherd/Lab mix, the other our “pocket pitty,” a 45-lb pit bull mix.

It’s the latter that gave us the constraint. You see, the province of Ontario has banned pit bulls, full stop. You can’t breed them, you can’t bring them into the province, you can’t keep one as a pet. If they think you’ve got a pit bull, they can seize it, and make you go to court to prove it’s not a pit bull. If you fail, they kill it.

This is a ridiculous law, and I hope it gets repealed soon. Most dog bites are from small dogs, who (obviously) are more likely to feel threatened by people and thus lash out. Pit bulls themselves were originally bred as “nanny dogs,” to watch over children. Children.

Anyway, since we’re looking for somewhere to live long-term, even if we weren’t going to bring the pups up immediately, there’s no way we could settle in Ontario. So Toronto, Ottawa, all those communities were out.

Non, merci, Quebec

Ok, so what about Montreal? Or Quebec City? The home of poutine, what’s not to like?

Here we had two more constraints, both related to my wife.

The first is that she’s got Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). Basically, the words you say aren’t the ones she hears. It’s like she has an autocorrect constantly running in her head, and it’s just as inaccurate as the one on your phone. So the prospect of having to brush off (and perfect!) her high school French was daunting. I speak French, so could help her out, but who wants to live in a city where you have to depend on someone else all the time to get basic things done?

The second constraint was simply the weather. I know, everyone knows it’s cold in Canada, and my wife’s no wimp. But she had major jaw surgery twenty years ago, and still has metal screws in her face (under the skin, goodness). In cold weather, those screws hurt.

So Quebec was out.

The Rent is Too High

That left British Columbia. I know I’m skipping over the Maritime Provinces — see the problems with Quebec, above — and Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba — ditto, with a side of “I’m from Texas, I don’t need to live in Canada’s version.”

We looked at a couple of different cities. There’s Vancouver itself, obviously. Further east you’ve got Kelowna and the Okanagan, and Kamloops north of them, both regions that are supposed to get less rain than the coast without the severe winters of the eastern provinces.

All three were enticing, but here again, we had constraints that narrowed our options for us.

For one, the plan shifted from both of us going up at the same time to just me, so my wife could stay behind and move her mother up to San Diego (that’s a whole other blog post). Naturally, she would keep the car, not only so she could get around San Diego, but also because our vehicle — a 2021 Chevy EV — is currently under recall for battery issues. And you can’t bring a car into Canada if it’s under recall.

No vehicle ruled out anything that’s not sufficiently urban to have a walkable downtown core. So Kelowna and Kamloops were both out, as being too car-dependent.

That left Vancouver, and though I’d heard good things about the city, I soon discovered one thing everyone said was completely true: The rents are absurd.

Not so absurd that there are a lot of places available, mind you. I started checking rental sites — a half dozen or so — multiple times a day, looking for units in areas where we thought we’d want to live. If anything came up at a reasonable price, it was usually gone by the time I contacted the building manager. Anything that lingered was out of our price range.

We had an extra set of constraints there, because we wanted to keep the house in San Diego (so my wife’s mother could live there). So we had to be able to afford both the place in Canada and the house in SD. Our already tight budget got tighter.

I was starting to despair of finding a place in time, when I got the idea to look at Victoria.

The Obvious Choice

And I’m glad I did. Victoria ticked all the boxes: Walkable downtown core, where I could get all my chores done on foot. Reasonable rental prices in modern buildings, so we wouldn’t break the bank. Available units, so we could move in when we wanted. Close to Vancouver, so in a pinch I could commute to network up there. And far enough south that it’s the only weather station in Canada to record a winter without going below freezing.

So Vancouver was out. Victoria, and Vancouver Island, were in.

Better All the Time

In hindsight, the choice was obvious, but at the time we fretted. We’d never been to any part of British Columbia, so we were judging everything from other people’s reports, scouring Google Maps, and watching video walk-throughs sent to us by building managers.

Since coming here, though, I’m glad we picked Victoria. Vancouver is gorgeous, but so big and expensive. Everything feels so accessible here; I can walk out my door and fifteen minutes later be in a park with bright flowers and tall trees, where the sounds of the city vanish. Or go down to the coast and gaze across the Strait at the Olympic Mountains. Or pop into one of dozens of coffee shops for a warming cup.

So if you’re looking to make the move to Canada, I urge you to do your research. Have a look at the laws of the province, to see if any are going to rankle. Set a strict budget for renting, and stick to it. And have a look at cities outside the big ones; you might find something smaller fits you better.