Tarryn, a 20-something South African expat who moved to Calgary in 2019, shares some wonderful insights about her life in ”Cow Town”.
When did you move to Canada and what made you choose Calgary?
I left my home in Johannesburg and landed in Vancouver on 24 April 2019. Long story short, my whole life and immigration plans changed drastically just before I was set to fly to Canada. I had no idea where I was going or if I even still wanted to leave South Africa. After some convincing from family and friends, and putting “big girl panties on”, I hopped on a plane to Vancouver. My plan was then to travel around Canada alone, to see where I’d like to live eventually and backpack through Europe for a few weeks, before settling down back in Canada. For three months I journeyed from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, Whistler, Toronto, Ottawa and to Montreal, staying at friends and offering house sitting services through House Sitters Canada along the way. I really did love all the cities and towns I had visited but was still very unsure where I wanted to settle. Every place had its pros and cons! Vancouver was pretty in some places and close to my friends, but it felt so different and far away from SA. Toronto was exciting and busy but after six weeks of staying there, the hustle and bustle was far too much for me and I wanted out. After that I left for my European adventure.
I was at a hostel in Venice when I received a call from a recruiter I had reached out to in Canada, as she had a position available for me to interview at a firm in Calgary. “I have no idea what Calgary is even like, nor where exactly it is” I responded, but told her I’d let her know. I then walked out the hostel, jumped onto a water taxi and sat next to a lovely couple who turned out to be from Calgary. I thought, “what are the chances!? It must be fate” and took the risk and flew straight from Europe to Calgary. Pretty much from the get go, I fell in love with the city, the mountains, the lakes, the people and reconnected with my friends from the Venice water taxi. I guess you could say fate brought me to Calgary, but decided to stay because of the beauty, friendliness and small town (yet not too small) feel. I flew my dogs (pug and yorkie) over to be with me in December 2019.
Where do you live in Calgary? What do you like best and least about your neighbourhood?
I live in the North West quadrant, in the suburb of Mount Pleasant, with my Canadian boyfriend who I met here. It’s voted one of the best suburbs to live in Calgary for people working downtown. I love the friendly, clean, suburban feel and the easy transit on the bus to get to work every morning. The houses are extremely neat and tidy, some old bungalow-styled houses mixed in with much newer revamped townhouses. In the area there are grocery stores, cute coffee shops and trendy restaurants and pubs. I live steps away from beautiful Confederation Park, which is an amazing place to take the dogs, walk around, bird watch and picnic. I guess if I’m picky, the lack of privacy and small back gardens are a downfall, but South Africans need to remember that hardly any houses outside SA have luxurious big back gardens! I’m very happy here.
If you could live anywhere in the city where would it be and why?
Just outside Calgary is a beautiful town, only 15km west of downtown, called Cochrane. The town consists of residential houses as well as larger acreages and farms. I believe it is the perfect location, being about halfway between downtown Calgary (relatively easy commute) and the beautiful National Parks mountains and lakes. I’d like to live there on an acreage one day, and live more away from the hustle and bustle of the city. When I first arrived in Calgary, I joined some friends at the local family rodeo in Cochrane and absolutely fell in love with the look of the town and community feel. Kids grow up with such freedom and appreciation for animals and nature. Most acreages have a full view of the spectacular Canadian Rockies.
What do you love most about Calgary?
- The proximity to the mountains, lakes and wildlife.
- The country western culture here, earning Calgary the nickname “Cowtown”.
- Trendy bars and restaurants.
- I feel very safe here.
- The cleanliness throughout and the modern feel downtown. Parks and common areas are kept immaculate. I love the Calgary Tower – it is so iconic and completes the city skyline.
- Large-scale events are always happening here. I have been to watch the Calgary Flames and Calgary Hitmen (ice hockey) as well as the Stampeders (football) live. Many music concerts and other events and expos travel to Calgary. Calgary also has the legendary “Calgary Stampede”, rated “The Best Outdoor Show on Earth”. This 10-day long July rodeo festival brings in many tourists and is great fun for all.
- The very friendly people in general.
- The perfect sized city (Downtown reminds me of a slightly larger Sandton CBD).
- The work culture is so different to Johannesburg. Definitely not as stressful and cut-throat. I feel companies have a more team orientated vibe and treat employees very well
- Reliable and affordable transport. I also love the Plus15, a network of “indoor sky tunnels” joining all the buildings downtown. You can walk 18km around downtown without having to step foot outside. This is extremely helpful in the winters and gives you a chance to explore the city.
What do you like least about the city?
I’ve had to think long and hard about this response, but the truth is I don’t think there is much improvement needed here in Calgary. A stronger local economy and more jobs would be welcomed. The weather is slightly harsher here than in other parts of Canada, but I honestly haven’t battled too much.
What has been the most challenging part about moving to and living in Calgary/Canada?
I moved here alone which has been hard, because I miss my family and close friends terribly. However, that has nothing to do with Canada as a country. The immigration, in general, is very challenging, but very worthwhile in the end. You will literally have to set up your whole life from scratch. Whether you choose Calgary, Toronto, New York, Sydney, Hong Kong or London, it is going to be challenging in one way or another and there’s little you can do to avoid it. One of the hardest parts is having to build a credit record, I believe.
What do you miss most about your home country?
Mostly I miss my family and friends. I always say that I’m “people sick” and not “home sick”. I miss the heat, but summer is on its way here. I miss Woolworths, nothing compares here.
Have you found it easy to meet new people and make friends?
Yes and no. South Africans are more interactive with their friends and family than any other people in the world, I believe. I have a wonderful bunch of South African friends and a few Canadian mates. Out of all the places in the world I have travelled, I think Canadians are the most like South Africans overall. We both love sports, love the outdoors and love to socialise and braai/barbeque.
What’s the general lifestyle like in Calgary?
I grew up in Johannesburg and so Calgary in comparison is relaxed, yet it does maintain the corporate feel downtown on a smaller scale. Most Calgarians flock to the mountains on the weekends to enjoy nature and the outdoors. All age groups, from toddlers to elders, partake in hiking, skiing, toboggining, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, kayaking, trail running, mountain biking, fishing, camping and much more, which is wonderful to see.
What are entertainment options like in the city? Any great nightlife spots, restaurants, bars you like to go to? Any hidden gems you’ve come across?
I really am impressed with the Calgary nightlife and entertainment options. For a smaller sized city, it has so much to offer.
Favourite cocktail places: The Wednesday Room and Cactus Club, both on Steven Avenue.
Favourite bars and pubs: Free House in Kensington and National on 10th Avenue.
Favourite places to eat: Native Tongues, Get Smoked, Madison 12|12 and Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey.
Best areas to head to for entertainment: 17th Avenue and Steven Avenue in downtown are very festive streets filled with cools restaurants and bars. The city often holds special events on these avenues. Kensington is a quaint area too with very interesting restaurants. Inglewood is a trendy, up-and-coming-area with great cafés
Is Calgary a family-friendly city? Do you have any suggestions for great things to do with the kids?
I think its extremely family friendly. Kids have the option to get involved with nature in the parks and woods, partake in club sports, attend the libraries, swim in the indoor aquatic centres, and much more. In winter I would suggest finding a local park where the residents and city officials have created little ice rinks. Its great fun to skate around and learn to play some ice hockey. In summer I would suggest hiking and biking. Most trails are very kid friendly. Kids have a lot more freedom here and are safe to wonder around to parks and friends houses when they are old enough. The city holds many family-friendly events for the kids to get involved with.
How easy is it to get around in Calgary? Do you need a car or does the city have a good public transport system?
The city has great public transit to get to and from downtown, however I believe you need a car if you don’t stay in the downtown core. You will need a car to get to the mountains and to explore the beauty Alberta has to offer. Shops and restaurants in the suburbs aren’t always walking distance away and waiting for the bus in minus 35-degree weather is extremely unpleasant.
How have you found the cost of living in Calgary compared to your home country? What do you find expensive or cheap in particular?
Compared to other places I’ve visited in Canada, I do think Calgary is more on the affordable side. For me, I probably find it slightly (not much more) expensive than South Africa overall. When you earn in Canadian dollars, though, your salary will compensate for the slight increase in costs and much more. I feel I am better off financially here than I was in SA. I just submitted my tax return and based on my current salary, I pay less % tax here than I would in SA earning the same Rand equivalent. (i.e. tax in SA was slightly higher for me).
Expensive exceptions: Drinking and eating at restaurants, anything alcohol related, cell phone data, car insurance, airfares within Canada, parking fees (especially downtown), house sitters, cleaning services.
On par: property to rent or buy (compared to Sandton and Cape Town), basic groceries, beauty products, optometry, basic clothes, my Chartered Accountant membership fees, veterinary bills, tourist attraction activities, events.
Cheap exceptions: using public transit, free healthcare, basic household furniture and appliances, televisions and laptops, prices of cars, gas/petrol, motels are great quality for the price you pay, great quality winter clothes, brand name clothes, items that can be bought on Amazon.
What’s the economy and job market like in Calgary? Did you find it easy to find a job?
I am a Chartered Accountant. I got the second job I interviewed for. It took about a month for me to get a job. However, because Calgary is predominantly focused on the oil and gas industry, the job market has seriously taken a blow following the oil price crash and COVID-19. You probably could find a job in another city quicker than in Calgary, but taking longer to find a job is so worth the price to pay for an amazing life you can live here.
How have you found the corporate/work culture compared to back home?
My work stress levels here are much lower. Companies treat their employees very well and I feel the work culture is very friendly and warm, but still hard working. I have friends in Toronto and Vancouver and their work life balance definitely isn’t as great as mine here in Calgary. Everyone does their bit and teamwork is very important. The CEO works as hard as the junior members and there is little sense of entitlement amongst the executives. All management in my company are extremely approachable and understanding, especially if you pull your weight to make the company succeed!
Do you have any other tips or insights you’d like to share with someone planning a move to Calgary?
Just get on that plane and do it!!! Try not to overthink every single little thing or try plan for it to go perfectly smooth. At the end of the day, reading thousands of forums and asking a million questions can only prepare you so much – the rest you just have to experience yourself! And, oh how fun, scary, exciting and daunting the move is. 😊
It’s helpful to join the South Africans in Calgary Facebook group – every member is so eager to help you prepare and help you when you land here in Calgary.
It’s so great to hear what expats have to say about life in Calgary and we love hearing from other expats. If you’d like to share your insights, please contact us!