Send us your stories of life in Quebec. What did it take to make you leave Britain? Did it all go according to Plan? Did it take long to settle in? What about the kids, what are they up to? What are you doing now?
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I am not exactly British, but I did live in the U.K. for 15 years before following my husband over here after pharmaceutical company offered him a transfer to Montreal 16 months ago. I am originally Australian, moved to the U.K. in 1992 and then after 4 years met my husband and the rest as they say is history.
We are now facing a new and interesting challenge, my husband has been offered a permanent position here in Montreal, and I am not at all keen as I have gone from being a top performing medical sales person to being unable to secure any type of employment. We have not accepted the permanent position for my husband due to my situation, and we have to give some sort of answer by the end of December.
So far I have come up against Agencies telling me that without French I am unemployable due to the Language Police! (Interesting they can talk on the phone and eat their lunch whilst driving a vehicle, not wear helmuts when riding bikes and if only someone would please tell them what the indicators on their car are for, I would be a happy woman, yet to not be able to speak Quebecios is like a crime, please can someone explain this to me). A couple of years ago I was offered a job in Munich, I told them that I could not speak German, to which they replied "English is the universal language so don't worry about it". O.K. Mick I am off my soap box now, but I have to say that I totally agree with your observations here in Quebec, there is a real pool of talent just sitting around whilst their spouses go off to work, not being utilised.
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From: Sue Bramfitt-Reid, Program Director, Literacy Unlimited
Literacy Unlimited a Sanctuary for Ex Brits!! www.literacyunlimited.ca
I arrived in Canada five years ago to the shock of not being able to find a job after 23 years in the British Education System. I had always worked so I felt a bit traumatised to find that my skills were just not appreciated here in Quebec. I am not a quitter so I made huge efforts to find work in the voluntary sector. I worked at Dix Mille Village in Pointe-Claire village for a while, but shop work and circumstances cut this short. I then made numerous phone calls not many of which called me back, then I tried working in a school medical room, and the West Island Hospice. I even looked after two young French girls whose mother was at work. I must have been the most qualified child minder ever!! I have to say although I met some nice people nothing felt like it really fitted with my personality, my qualifications or me. I was losing hope of ever fitting in when an acquaintance suggested that I call Literacy Unlimited, which was a mainly English-speaking organisation that was always looking for tutors and general volunteers. I thought with my education and counselling background this may be just what I was looking for.
I only had to make a call to Kate the then Executive Director and I knew almost straight away that this might be what I was looking for. Kate was so enthusiastic about my qualifications and experience and wanted me to come for an interview almost straight away. As they say ‘and the rest is history' I came to Literacy Unlimited just over three years ago initially as a volunteer in the office. It was great; the people were friendly and most importantly my skills were appreciated and put to good use. The organisation is basically run with volunteers who take part in a weekend training to help equip them to teach adults who have failed in the education system to read and write in English. I took the training and became a tutor. I met lots of interesting people on the training from all walks of life, having an education background is not necessary to be a tutor just an enthusiasm for helping people. I got my first student and loved doing what I had always done - teaching. Then as luck would have it the job of Administration Assistant became available and I knew that I could do the job and make a difference. I was interviewed and got the job. I loved it and got really into initiating systems and organising the office. I also got a thorough knowledge of the organisation and the people who help to make it so successful. It won't come as any surprise that there were many Ex Brits working within the organisation, either as volunteers in the office or, as tutors to adults. In fact the President of our organisation is an Ex Brit who worked at Rolls Royce until his retirement.
A short time after I got the job as Admin Assistant another Brit volunteered to help in the office and we worked together on many projects. I did the job for a year and saw a couple of Program Directors come and go. I then decided I would apply for the job of Program Director, as much of the work is very much within my area of expertise. I was very fortunate to get the job about 18 months ago. I truly love my work, the volunteers are amazing and the students who often have the most awful stories regarding their lack of education are an inspiration. I have found my niche in Quebec and I feel fulfilled and happy at last. My friend and neighbour Suzanne said to me when I was at my lowest whilst trying to find work ‘Never give up' I didn't and here I am telling others my story!
We are always looking for volunteers here to work in the office, do short term project work, or to train as tutors, so if you are interested give us a call at:
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From Anne in Pincourt:
I first came to Montreal on a student exchange trip in 1974 and attended high school at Centennial High on the South Shore for three weeks, combined with trips to New York, the Laurentians etc.
Three years later, having left high school in Scotland and working as a clerical officer for the civil service (yawn!) and at a bit of a loose end, not sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I decided to return to Montreal, for a year (famous last words) work and see a bit more of the country. Six months in to my year, I starting dating a Canadian (now my husband). After six months, my work permit had expired and I had to return to the U.K. to apply for landed immigrant status.
Being head over heels, I went back and started proceedings to obtain my papers. Grew bored of small town Scotland after a few weeks, and moved down to Brighton where I started working for the American Express European Headquarters, as well as three nights a week in a funky little restaurant staffed by a various assortment of eccentrics and personalities. Loved it! In fact, I started to get quite settled and it wasn't long before my boyfriend picked up on this and before I knew it, had booked himself on a flight to Heathrow, arriving New Year's eve (aw! dead romantic!) Anyway, after rekindling the flames, (and turning down a marriage proposal!) I finally, after six months had all my papers in place for my return to Canada.
Arrived back in January, and almost got back
on the'plane!! Minus 20, snowstorm, icy roads, brass monkeys laying at the
side of the road clutching their - well, never mind! - what a welcome.
Still hate Quebec winters. Have often thought we should have done it the
other way round, and my husband move to the U.K. He loves all things British
(not just me) and definitely 'gets' the British humour. He's a bigger Monty
Python fan, Black Adder etc. etc. fan than I am and loves a pint of good
British beer. Anyway, 27 years later, I'm still here, work as a chef,
mother of three boys and still miss the U.K. so much. Thank God for BBC
Canada! Have to get my regular dose of British humour. Combined with
regular visits to the Bramble House, I manage to keep smiling.
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From Mick in St-Lazare:
Our story began in 1992 when we found out that our first child was on the way. We decided to celebrate by going on an exiting holiday. I had a cousin in Toronto, whom I had never met, so I contacted him and arranged to stay for two weeks. Needless to stay we had a great time staying in Mississauga and visiting Toronto, Niagara Falls and Montreal. We could have emigrated there and then but there was the little matter of six years left to serve in the Royal Navy.
Six years later....
I left the RN and decided I needed to get some civvy qualifications so enrolled at Nottingham Trent University to study Civil Engineering. By now we had two boys and during my time at university our daughter was born. After gaining a degree I worked as a Structural Design Engineer for a while but was starting to get "itchy feet"; you know the old "there's got to be more to life than this" scenario.
My wife and I had spoken a few times about a possible move to Canada and started looking into the possibility. We filled in the online test but found we did not have enough points to apply. We both have degrees, have been working from the age of 16, have money to bring with us and kids to add to the future economy of Canada. We had thought, being a Commonwealth country, that Canada would be relatively easy move to. We were disappointed and could see that the only way to gain extra points was if I could get a job offer from an employer in Canada. So, after three years in the cutthroat world of structural design in England, I left my job and made my way to Toronto. My cousin was kind enough to look after me for the first week in Mississauga and then he found me a room in a house to the East of Toronto near "The Beeches". I tried in vain for six weeks to find employment by which time my wife had had enough of being alone so I went home.
However, while I was in Toronto I found out that the Canadian government had lowered the point's threshold for applications for residency. Something about the immigration consultants bringing a class action against the government because the points required had been set too high.
As soon as I got home we started our application for residency (The Canada application not the Quebec one) knowing that it would take at least two years to come through. So, I got another job and prepared to wait it out.
2 months later....
My wife happened to be talking to a friend over a drink and she said the life changing sentence "Did you know that our old boss works somewhere in Canada?" They parted company with the promise that she would try and find some contact details. A few days later we received an email address for a company in Montreal. Gulp! Our application was not for Quebec. Anyway everything went pretty quickly after that; a couple of telephone interviews, an interview with the boss in London and a trip to the company for more interviews and we were on our way. In the meantime we sold our house and most of our possessions in anticipation of the move. We set up a bank account in Montreal and started transferring money across. Our eldest son was just coming to the end of his junior school education so we waited for him to finish and moved across in July 2004.
What I haven't mentioned is the fact that in the year before we moved we had been burgled twice; once I awoke to find a man in the bedroom stealing a jewelery box and the second time the garage was broken into. Also, my wife had been parked near a school field and had just got out of the car with the children when a lump of concrete was thrown crashing through the side window. Get the picture?
Our first month was spent living in the Travelodge, Dorval. Soon after we bought a house in St-Lazare and moved in on 6 September 2004. Since then our kids have settled in very well and are all in local schools, sports teams, dance group etc.
Having changed roles, my wife and I have found things a little more difficult. With 12 years in the Navy, eight of which were as a commissioned Officer, a first class degree in civil and environmental engineering and experience as a structural design engineer I thought that it would not be too difficult to find employment. How wrong I have been, not so much as a reply to an application have I had. Oh well, I'll keep plodding on. At least I have had time to settle in and familiarise myself with my new surroundings. My wife however has not. She started work soon after we arrived and is finding it very difficult to adjust to the nineteenth century working practices employed by her company.
We have always worked to live in the past but Canadians seem to be happy to live to work. The first year having to earn the right to take leave then a ridiculous amount of time off after that, the overwhelming amount of work, the lack of support and the inevitable language barrier have all taken there toll. So much so that our time here is under threat and if nothing changes soon we may be on our way.
Having said that, our patience has finally paid off and our passports are currently in London having our permanent visas inserted. We should be residents soon so if we do have to up sticks we have the option of trying our luck in some other part of Canada. Of course we face another problem now of having to send our children to French speaking school (Is there a human rights and a discrimination issue here?).
What has made things so much easier is Microsoft Messenger. As soon as we could we set up a high speed internet connection, a web cam and a microphone. This is a great way to stay in touch and almost be transported back for a while. It is also great for grandparents who can watch their grandchildren grow up in real time rather than by photograph. For us it has been a godsend.
Our overriding reason for leaving the UK was the pursuit of adventure and the chance to travel in North America. I love our house and I love living in St-Lazare; if only it were that simple. The adventure continues....
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From Alison in St-Lazare:
I arrived from the UK a couple of years ago with my family and below are some of the reasons I like it here.
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We came here almost nine years ago - after the ruination of British society and the me-first attitudes that followed the years of Thatcher/Major conservatism we had itchy feet anyway and the chance of a better job in Montreal sealed the deal. We never looked back and are now real Canadians with the passports to prove it. Having said that we still have family and lifelong friends in Britain whom we miss, but life is good here and there is no way we would ever go back (couldn't afford to anyway - have you seen house prices over there lately compared to here?). In an emergency the UK is only a day away and, from experience, the sensitively managed bereavement fare facility on Air Canada - don't try calling BA, they just shrug - guarantees you a seat on the next plane from Trudeau Airport at a pretty good discount, so being out of touch isn't all that much of a problem.
What we do find in our visits back to Britain, even in such a short period, is that the place is each time more crowded, more busy, dirtier and way more aggressive than anything around here. Nice as it is to see old friends and visit old haunts it is always such a relief to get off the plane in Montreal and know that you are home again. People here smile at you (in both official languages) and will usually go the extra mile to be helpful and welcoming; we can count bad experiences on the fingers of one hand. There's a more relaxed pace of life here on the whole and whatever is said about the local homicidal driving habits how many of you have tied driving in the UK recently - that's really scary.
Most of the complaints I read here - and have heard from other expats over the years - centre around winter and language. Maybe we've been lucky in this respect, but neither has been difficult.
Winter - someone once said that there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing and that sums up the climate. Better by far to have cold, crisp, sunny winter days in a city where they clear the roads and you can fit winter tires to your car than to have to suffer endless grey skies and drizzly gloom with the entire nation grinding to a halt as soon as two snowflakes fall. Winter's not a problem - it's a pleasure in fact .... until March arrives, that is. They call it the "mucky month" and it is foul. Slush, mud, damp and piles of thawing dog feces - that's the month to visit Britain where the daffies are starting to show and the prices are as low as they'll be all year.
Language - speaking as someone who is linguistically challenged, who failed O-level French five times (is that a record?) I ought, by rights, to have problems here but we never have. When we arrived we were fully aware of the fact that 85% of the population speak French as their mother tongue and decided to dive in and see what happens. We used to visit France every year on holiday after all and managed somehow, how difficult could it be? Well, as with most things, if you meet folk half-way the problems melt away. A smile and a bonjour work wonders for the first few months while you take French classes (John Abbott courses are good), you try to communicate with your colleagues or people you meet in clubs and pubs and the IGA, you listen to the radio/TV and struggle through the local papers (La Presse is a much better newspaper than the Gazette and, funnily enough, has more UK news in it too) and eventually you find that it starts to make sense and you can communicate. We are by no means fluent, never will be at our age, but language is not a barrier. As for kids going to French schools - what wouldn't I have given at school-age to have the chance to learn a second language. A fabulous opportunity.
On the political side of the language debate I know many people see the laws as discriminatory but I think that's wrong. Quebec people are as proud of their language and culture as we are in Britain of ours - the difference is that they are surrounded by a sea of English and so have taken the decision that the face of Quebec shall be French and the common language of discourse shall be French .. well in Britain we do that for English so what's the difference? At least here in Montreal if you approach a fonctionnaire and ask if the conversation can be in English you get a positive response - try doing the equivalent in Basingstoke if English isn't easy for you! Anyway, it's not as if the French face of Quebec should be a surprise to people coming here.
Clearly, we've bought the package and like it here. Well, mostly but it does have its downsides. Not enough vacation leave for a start and a government that kow-tows to the Americans (just like in Britain), awful road maintenance, high taxation and no Sale-of-Goods Act but there's space, freedom, nice people, maple-syrup, wilderness, bears and wolves within an hour's drive, tolerance, multicultural acceptance, wonderful restaurants and farmers' markets and just a better way of life and standard of living all round.
Meet Canada half-way and you'll love it. Fall into the trap of making comparisons and you will never settle. It is different, it is foreign but that's why we all came here isn't it?
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