Almost without me realising it, my first Canadian anniversary came and went recently and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to look back on the past year and reflect on how it fits into the story of Tristan Yeats. My life in Canada so far has not been dramatically different on a day-to-day basis from my life back in Canberra. Nonetheless, my first year has certainly been a significant one for me and hopefully this post will provide you a little insight into this.
How did I end up here?
I’ll start with some context on how I ended up in Toronto last November. An opportunity presented itself in 2015 for me to take up a position in the Markham office of GHD, the company that I have worked with for the past nine and a bit years. Conveniently, this dovetailed nicely with one of my long time personal goals to experience living and working overseas. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity and so it was that on 23 November 2015 I hopped on a plane at Canberra Airport to begin my new life in the Great White North.
That describes the immediate lead up to getting me to Canada, but the full story goes a little further back than that. I’ve been a fan of travel for most of my life and took my first overseas trip with my family all the way back when I was a cute little blonde haired four year old.
Since then, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to explore and experience a good slice of what the world has to offer across five continents. Despite this wanderlust, however, I have only ever called one place home, which would of course be my hometown of Canberra. Now, Canberra is a great town and I could have happily continued that life for many years to come, but as I said a few years ago at Mum’s 60th birthday in response to the question of where I wanted to be in 10 years’ time: “I would be happy to be back in Canberra but I don’t want to still be in Canberra”. Those might not have been my exact words but hopefully you get the point.
I think Canberra will always be my hometown whether or not I end up there in the long-term, but if at Mum’s 70th birthday dinner I do find myself living back in Canberra, I think I will appreciate the City that much more for the time I will have spent living here in Toronto.
Now that I’ve taken care of my origin story, next up is a look back at my first weeks and months getting settled and set up in Toronto. My initial transition was made easy by the fact that my work set me up with a serviced apartment and a rental car for my first month in town, to give me a chance to make my own longer term arrangements. I must admit, it was a pretty sweet setup, I had my own spacious apartment complete with cable TV and the biggest washer/dryer that I’ve ever seen outside of a commercial laundry, and all within about a five-minute drive of work. The short drive, on relatively quiet roads, came in particularly handy for my first few days as I had to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time in my life.
Getting set up was a new experience and challenge for me, not so much the overseas part but the setting up from scratch like an adult part. One big advantage of staying in your home town is the safety net you develop (consisting largely of your parents) to bail you out when you’re in a bind or, in my case, to help you to avoid even getting close to that stage. The point is, I’ve never been in the situation of facing a deadline to sort out my life or be out on my arse. So, while I at least had a month to get things organised, it was still a pretty stressful first few weeks with nights and weekends occupied by trawling the internet and driving across town in search of a suitable place to call home, all that little bit more difficult with my trusty sidekick, Cindy, still back in Canberra.
Fortunately, it all worked out well in the end. I managed to whittle a long list down to a choice of two and Cindy was even able to make it over for a visit in time to see them in person and help make the final choice. Once all the paperwork was signed, deposits paid, etc. we packed our bags, said goodbye to our cushy temporary digs in Markham and drove the 28 kilometres to our cosy 1+1 Yorkville apartment.
After setting up our furniture, consisting entirely of a blowup mattress, we had just enough time to pop down to the local LCBO (the provincial government controlled bottle-o) before their 6:00 pm New Year’s Eve closing time for a bottle of bubbles to celebrate our new home and to ring in 2016 in (somewhat Spartan) style!
Thankfully, over the next couple of days we were able to supplement our blowup mattress with an actual bed and a couple of second-hand bar stools to tide us over until the rest of our stuff got shipped over a few months later.
Having Cindy with me for Christmas and New Year’s was great and really helped to make Toronto feel a bit more like home. Alas, it was only to be short-lived as she still had to go back home to finish wrapping up the many loose ends of our Canberra life before she could make the move here properly. So, shortly after celebrating Cindy’s 30th birthday together, we parted ways once more and it was back to the solo life for me with one last job to take care of before I could declare myself officially settled. That final task was to get my hands on my own set of wheels.
If you’re lucky enough to live and work within reach of the subway, you can quite happily survive in Toronto without a car – frankly, you’ll probably get from A to B quicker without one. Commuting from Downtown Toronto to Markham on a daily basis though is not a journey that you want to be doing by public transport if you can avoid it, so going carless wasn’t ever going to be an option for me.
One clear advantage that North America has over Australia is that cars are much cheaper over here and you can literally get free (i.e. 0%) financing so it can be very affordable to get your hands on a brand new car. Unfortunately, as a newcomer without a local credit history and only temporary residential status, it was not quite so straightforward and, as January wore on, I was starting to worry that I would be stretching the friendship if I had to hang on to my work funded rental car for too much longer. After a few false starts and one ‘done deal’ that subsequently fell through, I was starting to think I might have to give up on getting my first ever new car and lower my sights. But, just as I was starting to lose hope, I finally managed to find a willing dealer and on 21 January 2016, I drove away in Cindy and my first ever brand new car, our very own Baby Jeep (Jeep Cherokee), and I could finally relax and settle in to getting to know my new home.
My (our) life in Canada
For this section, I want to look past the usual Canada vs. Australia comparisons and avoid turning this into a checklist of things to do in Toronto. Rather, I would like to focus on our day-to-day lives.
It might not be a great surprise to a lot of people when I say that, culturally, life in Canada is remarkably similar to life in Australia. That said, just getting to know a new, and much bigger city has been a great experience for me. Even though I’ve done a lot of travel and visited a whole range of cities around the world (including Toronto), this is the first time I’ve actually settled in a city other than Canberra for long enough to properly get under the surface. Toronto is a big city and I can’t pretend to know it well but I think I’ve done an okay job of at least getting to know the downtown area pretty well and it’s interesting how your perspective changes as you get more familiar with your surroundings. For example, there are places around town where we often find ourselves that, when we first got here, seemed like grand expeditions into the heart of the urban jungle but now are just a casual stroll down the road.
Beyond exploring the new city though, one of the things that I have enjoyed the most in my time here so far is what I would describe as the simplicity of our life over here. The same day-to-day responsibilities of adult life (work, bills, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.) still, of course, exist here but it feels, to me at least, that being on the other side of the world in a city full of strangers comes with a greater sense of freedom compared to life back in Canberra. For one thing, knowing that this is most likely just a temporary stopover in the overall course of my life, there hasn’t been the same worry about keeping up appearances and maintaining my reputation while here, as I know all of that will be waiting for me when I eventually head back home to Australia. This move has provided an opportunity for me to, in a way, hit the reset button on my day to day priorities and take a bit more of a relaxed approach to life. I’ve even revived my basketball career, after more than 16 years on the bench, by joining a local social competition. My skills may not be what they were back in my glory days but I’ve at least remembered enough to not embarrass myself on the court (most of the time) and I look forward to my Monday night matches every week.
Leaving behind our social and family networks has also been something of a freeing experience. I can only speak for myself here of course, but I feel that when it’s just me and Cindy against the world, it makes the time we spend together even more special. I really feel that this experience has helped to build a strong foundation in the first year and a half of our married life that will hold us in good stead for years to come. This isn’t to say, of course, that I don’t appreciate and miss all the friends and family I’ve left behind in Australia, although I know I leave a lot of room for improvement when it comes to keeping in touch and maintaining those relationships. Ultimately, however, the physical separation of my life here gives me more freedom to just be myself, but at the same time, everyone is still as close by as ever and all it takes is a quick Facetime call and they’re here in the room with me when I need it.
Where to from here?
At the end of the day, Year One hasn’t been perfect. Like anywhere in the world, there are always going to be things you like and things you don’t and Toronto is certainly no exception. However, overall there is certainly far more to like about life here than not to like and I reckon Cindy and I have done a pretty good job of getting out there and having a fair crack at what the city has to offer. That said, there is still plenty of room for improvement to make sure we maximise the opportunities that are open to us. One aspect that I definitely think we can improve on is to plan our free time and to explore further beyond our local area than we have done so far. I also need to pick up the slack and try to broaden my social network and better get to know some of the locals. Finally, and most importantly, we need to get to work ticking off items on our bucket list.
But not to worry, Year Two is just beginning and I look forward to reporting back this time next year to see how I’ve done.
The featured image for this post is of one of the first purchases I made when I arrived in Canada (and during my first snow storm)!
Keep up to date with our adventures by liking our Facebook page, Up Late with Tristan & Cindy.