Category: lifestyle

Thoughts from a new Canuck

Canucks at home
Home of the Canucks

I met a fellow Brit this week. Sarah has been here two months so was a great person to question about first thoughts on life in Canada.

Sarah is from London, so her first thoughts were on the size of Vancouver. She said it is both a big city and small at the same time. We met in the Cambie area, and she told me that it seemed strange to be in a suburban area and yet only be 10 minutes from downtown. All around us were homes, on quiet tree-lined streets, or condos on the main ones. The buses or the Canada line sky trains were an easy way for her to get around.

Sarah found it pretty easy to settle in. She couldn’t believe how easy it was to get her bank account set up. She found it strange that the bank tellers would chat to you about just about anything. She missed some of the things about British bank accounts, like the ease of setting up standing orders and direct debits yourself. [Some online banking here requires you to go into the bank and get the payee set up first.]

Getting her BC driving license was a breeze too. [For those who don’t know British driving licenses can now be exchanged for a BC one without the need of taking a test].  Sarah doesn’t plan to drive regularly and is planning on buying a bicycle instead. She thought Vancouver was a bike friendly city. [Which is good as that is what it is trying to be!]

The size of the cars here was something she’d noticed. Sarah actually thought it was funny that Vancouver prides itself on being green and recycling etc, but most cars on the road are huge. In London cars are small but in Vancouver the majority of vehicles you see are trucks, SUV’s, minivans and plain big cars.

One thing that surprised her was the number of crazies and crack heads that she saw in the downtown Eastside. [This area is notorious for its concentration of down and outs.] For Sarah it was a surprise partly because she is renting in Gastown and so is quite near the downtown Eastside. She did say that it was probably good that these crazies were all in the same place.

I asked Sarah about the cost of living compared to England. She told me that the cost of food was higher than she’d expected. She’d found steak to be cheap and had feasted on steak for a few days before deciding on a better balanced diet. Eating out was definitely cheaper she thought.

Sarah is a fashionable young lady and she was horrified by the lack of fashion sense she’s seen. She was particularly struck by the combination of “fashion” items that she sees. For instance mixing yoga pants with cowboy boots, leather jacket and bling! She said there are outposts of style like the sign she saw in a Gastown shop that said “yoga pants are not pants”.

Sarah was surprised by the city’s obsession with hockey. Seeing the streets full of fans in their hockey jerseys is quite a sight. In London football [soccer] fans may support one of dozens of teams, but in Vancouver it is only the Canucks. [The Canucks say that we are all Canucks and it seems Sarah finds this to be true.]

Sarah recently went up to Whistler for a couple of days. She went with a group of new friends and had her first go at cross-country skiing. Sarah wasn’t sure if she enjoyed it since it was both hard and a bit scary, but she loved being out in the snow. She said it was hard to believe [as we sat outside in the Spring sunshine] that only a couple of hours away you could be skiing.

Like many new arrivals, Sarah is enjoying exploring the area. And she is expecting her parents to come visit this summer. By then she should be ready to give them a guided tour.

[I’d love to hear other people’s experiences of arriving in British Columbia.]

What’s the deal with Dill?

Jars of Dill Pickles
There is a dill pickle waiting for you

I had tried dill before we moved to Canada, but I’d never known that it was such a staple of Canadian cuisine. You get dill pickles, in the form of a very large slice of pickled cucumber, served with your sandwich, burger, or practically anything else.

Not enough dill for you? Well, there’s dill as a herb on your salmon, dill as a flavour in your chips (crisps to the English), and also in your pasta.

And dill is not the only food that is featured in Canada. Cinnamon is another. OK, it is a spice but especially around Halloween it gets everywhere. It is in your muffin, latte, pumpkin pie and even, most horribly, in your oatmeal (porridge).

There also seems to be a secret list of approved vegetables. These vegetables will be the only ones you find on the menu and are always available in the supermarket. Broccoli, spinach, asparagus and mushrooms make the list. Artichoke hearts make it, but the rest of the vegetable is rarely seen. I believe the list makers started out with good intentions: “these are all foods with health giving properties”. But now it is pretty hard for other veggies to gain a place on your plate, or a prominent place in the supermarket shelves.

There are other foods that you may find your kids eating. The top two are both known by their acronyms: PBJ and KD.

PBJ is a Peanut Butter and Jelly (Jam) sandwich. This is a taste that I acquired young, since my mother was Canadian. Now it is the sandwich that our kids go for whenever they’re in a hurry, or want a comforting meal. Often the PBJ is upgraded by adding a banana.

KD is arguably worse as it is used for Kraft Dinner. This is a meal that teenagers, particularly boys, favour. It is basically macaroni cheese from a box. It is easy to prepare and you can keep a case of them in the house ready for any hungry, roaming teenagers. They will devour the stuff.

One amusing sport to try is to see how many Canadians will eat Marmite. This peculiarly British spread is salty, dark and nutritious. It is also entirely repellent to all Canadians. Clearly they were not brought up on Marmite soldiers. I guess it just goes to show you what you eat is based on what you got to know as a kid.

I hope you all get to love Canadian cuisine and can forgive the Canadians for their quirks.

If Vancouver is so liveable, why do snowbirds fly away?


West Vancouver - Eagle Harbour Beach
A beach in West Vancouver

Once again Vancouver has been rated as the most liveable city in the world by the Economist. This is the fifth straight year that Vancouver has come out top.


According to the Economist “Cities that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. This often fosters a broad range of recreational availability without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure. Seven of the top ten scoring cities are in Australia and Canada, where population densities of 2.88 and 3.40 people per sq km respectively compare with a global (land) average of 45.65 and a US average of 32”.

So Vancouver’s relative low population density is a factor. As a former resident of London, England, I sometimes wonder where all the people have gone. The city is busy, and over the years we’ve lived here I have begun to complain about crowds and congestion, but it is nothing like any major European city.

I wonder if the snowbird is part of the reason for the lack of people? A snowbird is someone who travels to warmer climes in the winter months in search of warmth and sun. I’d say from a poll of friends here that Hawaii, Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada are the most popular destinations.

We are still happy enough to stay in Vancouver through the winter. The weather is pretty mild compared to most of Canada. This year it has been milder than most of Europe too. We do get rain, which usually means snow on the local mountains. And in between the snow there’s sunshine. Sometimes, like this week, it has been very bright.

Victoria and Vancouver Island are also places that snowbirds from the Prairies choose as their wintering grounds. Many retirees will come for 2 or 3 months to miss the harshness of those Prairie winters. If you come from here, your choice of warmer destinations may well be Hawaii and the like – it’s all relative.

Where’s my cheese?


Canadian cheese is not only cheddar

When we lived in the UK and cruised the cheese counter, we often chose Canadian cheddar. It’s a good choice if you like a sharp, strong tasting cheddar. And it was fairly reasonably priced too.

Roll on a few years and several thousand miles and here we are in British Columbia wondering where did all that great cheese go to? The choice in most supermarkets is pretty woeful. Large bricks of orange cheese with no flavour are the norm.

There are artisanal cheeses, produced by small dairy farmers, and many of them are quite good. I like the ones produced by the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks on Vancouver Island. Their brie is very acceptable. And I do like to support the local farmers, so something from Parksville is ticking the local box too.

Quebec has a great reputation as a producer of cheeses. You will not be surprised to find their cheeses share a certain French flavour – with enough variety of texture, colour and smell to satisfy most tastes.

My preference is for stronger tasting hard cheeses, like the mature Canadian cheddars I was used to buying in Tesco. There are some available here but, unless my memory is at fault, few have the oomph of those ones I used to buy.

Oddly enough, to  my mind at least, Costco has proved to be one of the better sources of cheeses. There usually have the Balderson aged cheddar, which is pretty good. They also carry a wide range of other cheeses, suitable for stocking the cheese platter for your next dinner party.

When you are looking for something more interesting in the fromage department, then avoid the supermarket chiller cabinets because they tend to be full of the bricks of orange and yellow shrink-wrapped taste-free cheeses. Instead, set your cart off in the direction of the deli section. Most supermarkets keep their more interesting cheeses in amongst the sliced meats and ready made salads. Wholefoods also carry a good range of cheeses and one of my favourite cheddars (from Neals Yard in London).

Sigh. Well you can’t have it all, right?


In search of the active lifestyle



Surfer in Tofino, British Columbia
How about learning to surf?

I hear so often from people planning to come to Canada about their hopes for an active lifestyle. So is this a realistic expectation of your new life in Canada?


Absolutely it can be! Like most things it depends on you as you could come here and settle down on the couch to watch tv. Mind you spending any significant time watching north American tv is likely to drive you out of the house.

Actually there are a lot of other factors that will encourage you to get out there.

Firstly there is the beauty of the landscape, mountains, ocean, forest and trails which are a draw in themselves. What’s not to love about the outdoors, right?

Secondly Canada does offer a huge variety of activities that you may not have had the chance to try before, so if you want to try something new there’s bound to be something that will appeal. For example you could try skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, trail running, hiking, snowshoeing, surfing, swimming, kite boarding, roller blading, sailing, fishing, wake boarding, salsa dancing, mountain climbing, zip lining, curling, ice skating, hockey, yoga, mountain biking to mention the ones that come to mind.

Extra encouragement, if it is needed, comes from the numerous “learn to” courses that are on offer. Last week I was in the supermarket and met an English family who’d recently arrived. Their son was wearing his snowboarding gear as he’d just come down from Cypress Mountain where he’d been on a snowboarding camp. There strong English accents were proving difficult for the checkout girl to understand but in other ways they were already becoming Canadian.

It reminded me how much we, as a family, have stretched ourselves since we came here. Between us we have learned to snowboard, ski, surf, sail, snowshoe, ice skate, roller blade, do yoga and cook! Not all of us and not all at the same time of course.

We are continuing to do more, as Sue and I have just signed up for the Sun Run training camp. We will be building up our running skills so that we are ready to take part in April’s 10k Sun Run.

This week I was talking with someone in the UK about their plans to move to Victoria. Part of the reason they’d chosen Canada was that they saw it offered the opportunity for their kids to grow up with wide open spaces that they could explore. Canada still has huge amounts of open spaces and there’s not much to stop you from getting out and enjoying them.

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