Now that I’m back and adjusting – slowly – into UK life again, I thought it was about time to pen a few thoughts on leaving Canada, after living in Toronto for the past two years.
I’ll be honest: I had always liked Canada, but I wasn’t exceptionally excited about moving to Toronto itself. Of course, I was over the moon to finally get to live in the same country, let alone apartment, with my American boyfriend (if you’re new here, we had been doing long distance between London and Boston for over two years prior to moving to Canada). We had visited a few cities in Canada before (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) and Vancouver was definitely what matched our personalities more. Those mountain and sea views, outside-of-city hiking/nature and laid-back lifestyle are things that will always speak more to us. But while I was on a Working Holiday Visa and could go anywhere, Alan was transferred by his company, whose only office in Canada was in – you guessed it – Toronto.
Learning to love a new ‘home’
I didn’t like Toronto at first. I found the people rude (not at all the nice Canadian stereotype I had been fed!) and didn’t find it to be a very unique city – I’ve been very spoilt with cities, living in both London and Melbourne, two of the greatest cities in the world (in my humble opinion). Over time, however, and after moving to a great neighbourhood, the city grew on me. We lived most of the time in Old Town, close to St Lawrence Market, so we were very inner city and were definitely paying a lot for our tiny, 19th floor apartment (although now, just two years later, you’d be paying a hell of a lot more! Toronto rent is insane). But, it was enough for us and our two beautiful adopted cats, it had stunning views, a balcony to soak in the rays and watch the sunset and great transport links.
A lot of why I ended up loving Toronto is down to that apartment on George Street. We had our local haunts: Pacific Junction Hotel for casual drinks, DW Alexander for creative cocktails (and a bar staff that we ended up getting to know a little too well) and FAMO for delicious sandwiches. And we had our general favourite Toronto places like Bellwoods Brewery for the best craft beer and patio with a perfect aesthetic and WVRST for insane sausages and the best maple rosemary ice cream. The fact that somewhere initially completely strange and foreign to me became a source of such familiarity, a place I sort of ‘mastered’ living in, in a way, AND enjoyed it, is a huge accomplishment for myself… and I suppose to Toronto and Canada itself.
I didn’t always have an easy time living in Toronto for other reasons, too – I did not enjoy the job I got when I first moved out there, even though I’m insanely grateful that there was one waiting for me when I arrived. But I am a full believer in doing something you love, at least just a little bit, and I didn’t. So once my contract was coming to end (I was covering maternity leave), I knew I had to get out – unfortunately, I spent far too long afterwards unemployed, trying to convince companies to take me on even though I had a time sensitive visa. Top tip: perhaps don’t do this, searching for a job over halfway through your Working Holiday Visa won’t reward you with the best results, especially if you’re going for something professional rather than a casual retail job or similar. Or at least, search for jobs a few months before you plan to leave your current job to assess how the job market in your industry is doing.
Canadian life falling into place
Luckily, I eventually got a job I loved, at a wonderful company, and everything about Canada just seemed to slot into place. It’s strange, two years seems like a long time, but it can honestly take around this length of time to even start getting integrated with a proper social life and routine, particularly if you’re not a student or working in Banff/Whistler/wherever on a ski season. By 2017, with 6 months left on my visa, everything was perfect. I had travelled to a few places in Canada already and so the country had well and truly won me over, I had experienced every season and had plans in the works to finally go to the stunning Canadian Rockies and return/explore more of the west coast. Toronto was entertaining, with days I’d spend exploring or having a few too many drinks with my boyfriend or brunching and drinking with my friends from work (drinking was clearly a big part of my time) and getting into typically Canadian/Torontonian debates like which is better, east or west (my answers: west for the country, east for Toronto but with some select west exceptions) and generally having a blast at work itself.
I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine here in London, who also happened to spend two years in Canada: is it better to leave a country you’ve been living in on a high note, loving the life you’re having there, or a low note, being a bit miserable/saddened with your situation or not having the best time? I certainly had highs and lows, and it has given me real mixed emotions about leaving (I explain why I am in fact moving back to the UK in my post announcing that I’m leaving Canada) and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t once second-guess my decision – in fact, sometimes I still do, as I try to set up a life here in London.
But these amazing memories and feelings I have been left with as I departed Canada, the ones that will stick with me most, are ones I wouldn’t trade for anything, even if this high comes with the trademark bittersweet note. It hurts to leave such a beautiful country like Canada, it really does – and with it, I’ve left incredible friends and my lovely boyfriend (he’s staying put while I set things up in the UK and work on getting him here… it would take too long to explain right now, but we’re still together and doing temporary long distance – stay tuned). It reminds me of how I felt when I left Australia after studying in Melbourne for six months, but isn’t this what life is all about? Having an adventure, learning a bunch about others and yourself, experiencing new places and feeling things?
So, one beautiful Canadian chapter has ended, but that’s exactly it – a chapter. The story goes on, and who knows, maybe I’ll end up in Canada again someday sooner than you think.