Wayne and Leanne moved from Pretoria to Calgary in early 2020 with their two kiddies. They share some of their family’s first impressions of life in Canada.
When did you move to Canada and what made you choose Calgary?
We departed O.R Thambo International Airport on 17 January 2020 and arrived at Calgary International on 18 January 2020, so we are still very much newbies to the city.
I had a friend in Edmonton that had moved about eight years ago and every two years her family and her would come back to SA to visit their family. We would meet up and she would tell me all about her life in Canada. I told her our intention to move to Canada and said we weren’t quite sure of the where yet. She then told me more about her city, but said that Calgary, which was about three hours away, was a bit newer, and there were a few more opportunities (at the time). After that visit, I researched Calgary and my husband and I fell in love with it. It ticked all the right boxes. Smaller town to the bigger Toronto and Vancouver – which to us meant being more family-friendly, easy access to the mountains for weekend adventures, and property prices were doable.
Where do you live in Calgary? What do you like best and least about your neighbourhood?
We live in the South West of the city. When we arrived in Calgary we stayed with an amazing couple – their neighbourhood was so lovely and in the two weeks that we stayed with them we got to know the area, we also had friends that prior to leaving SA we got to know quite well. Our friends had told us about the neighbourhood, the schools that where in the area and basically that it was pretty awesome. And once we had seen it for ourselves and experienced it, we too saw its charm. The best part about the SW is its accessibility to the mountains, we absolutely love taking day trips to Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore – absolutely beautiful little towns that really make you feel like you’re in a movie. Another aspect we love about our neighbourhood is the accessibility to parks, and it’s also in close proximity to the woods where we enjoy regular walks.
What do we like least? Well there is a lot of construction at the moment on the roads, but that’s all really. It’s a really great place to stay.
If you could live anywhere in the city where would it be and why?
We have pretty much fallen in love with the SW and the particular area we live in – we think we have found our ideal location. We might, however, at some point need to move to a different area within the SW as the children get older.
What do you love most about Calgary?
There is so much that we love about this city, but if we had to chose just one thing, we absolutely love the architecture. Calgary is a young city but as you discover the magic of this city you can see through its architecture the different styles of construction. From the Peace Bridge, Studio Bell to the Central Library of Calgary, it truly is a beautiful city.
What do you like least about the city?
Because we have only been here close to four months there is nothing that actually comes to mind at this point.
What has been the most challenging part about moving to and living in Calgary/Canada?
Moving to Canada – the most challenging part about moving to Canada is leaving family and friends behind, as well as deciding what you will take and what you will leave behind. We decided that we would only take what we could on the plane – we had a lot of sentimental stuff but realised that if we were to start this adventure why not start afresh, so that meant cutting down, and cutting down a lot – it took months to decide what was going to come and what was going to stay.
Challenging things about living in Canada – something small but important – was getting to know the Canadian brands. When you first enter a store here and you’re setting up your living space and you need cleaning detergents you automatically find yourself looking for Omo, Handy Andy and Jik. I felt completely lost when I got to the cleaning aisle… looking for what must have been a good half an hour I managed to find products that could do the job I needed them to.
Another challenge was the amount of layers of clothes to wear, especially having two little ones (a daughter – 18 months and son 4 years at the time), it was difficult to see if they were warm enough or too warm, but the nice thing with friends we had made over the SA forums this was quickly sorted out.
What do you miss most about your home country?
We think the hardest part, and we’re sure many expats can attest to this, is that you really miss your family and friends – but if you are going to make the move its important to always remember the “why”. We also do miss some of the food products back home and our local hang out spots. The weather in Canada has been an adjustment as we came from Gauteng so many hot days to many cold days proved to be a bit difficult, but you do adjust and you find the beauty in each passing season. Spring is finally here in Calgary and the dull winter colours are departing and letting way for gorgeous greenery and the animals are definitely becoming more visible – Calgary definitely does reveal itself in layers and just when you think wow this place is spectacular, it shows you more.
Have you found it easy to meet new people and make friends?
We have made a ton of expat South African friends in the last three and a bit months of being here that we actually had become friends with prior to arriving in Calgary via the SACanada forum and South Africans in Calgary, among a few other online forums. We are so incredibly grateful to the South African expats we have become friends with as they have definitely made this transition so much easier. In terms of Canadians, unfortunately we never got to meet a lot of Canadians before the Covid-19 self-isolation guidelines came into place. But from those we have met, they have been extremely friendly and helpful so we are definitely looking forward to meeting more Canadians when this virus eventually clears and, of course, having a lekker kuier with our South African buds.
What’s the general lifestyle like in the city?
From what we have experienced, the lifestyle is generally quite relaxed. People in Calgary really appear to have a good work/life balance. As you venture into the core city of Calgary you will see people really dress nicely for work and are quite corporate, but then after work the city becomes alive as people relax in social settings. As you enter the weekend you see the city dwellers in active gear running around and enjoying the city. If you venture further out on weekends you will see people cycling, hiking and enjoying the national parks. Each season brings about different activities and Calgary definitely caters to all, from recreational centres to community ice rinks to football fields and tennis courts, and lots of playgrounds and pathways.
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?
We were very fortunate to have spent a great night out with friends at the Calgary Glow festival before the impact of Covid-19 really hit, and on that night we went to a lovely little place called the Social Haus – it had a great vibe and we all got to relax and have some fun. We have also been to a place called Leopolds Tavern, which was so fascinating in its décor; good food and can only imagine turns into a great hang out spot at night.
Is Calgary a family-friendly city? Do you have any suggestions for great things to do with the kids?
Calgary is definitely a family-friendly city. There are so many playgrounds and parks – children also have a multitude of activities they can do from going to public libraries to museums. One of our favourite spots is Devonian Gardens where in the winter kids can play at an inside playground. What we love to do with the kids is go tobogganing in the winter. There are so many great places around to do it, and if you want to dedicate a day to doing this activity with them, the Nordic centre near Canmore is a great place to do so.
How easy is it to get around in Calgary? Do you need a car or does the city have a good public transport system?
Because we have two little children we bought a car as it was just easier for us to get around and not have to worry about them running off in all directions, and especially for those unexpected nappy changes and a the tight feeding schedule of our daughter. So for us, a car was the easiest. We have, however, been on the train and it was very well run and a pleasant experience.
How have you found the cost of living in Calgary compared to your home country? What do you find expensive or cheap in particular?
Technology is definitely a lot cheaper in Canada than in South Africa – we bought a Canon printer for $50 whereas in SA you would probably pay close to $200. Cars are also a lot cheaper – that is, however, with the exception of insurance. Be prepared to pay a lot for your first year of car insurance. Food is slightly more expensive, but we found that we are able to come out with the same sort of monthly budget. Take-aways are expensive in our opinion – but there are coupons that get mailed to you from different franchises and they make a huge difference. You can also sign up to websites where coupons are available. Its more effort but you will thank us later. In terms of clothing, we haven’t bought much here except jackets – our advice would be to wait for seasonal sales where you can get some good deals. On that note, however, buy your jackets and winter shoes here – they definitely know how to cater for the winters they experience and many SA products just won’t really do the job when you find yourself in -20 degrees.
What’s the economy and job market like in Calgary? Did you find it easy to find a job?
The job market in Calgary when we arrived was quite low, but now that Covid-19 has hit one can expect it to get a bit worse. Wayne was very fortunate and was able to find employment within two months of being in Calgary after filling out many many, many applications and going to quite a few interviews (Be prepared to have multiple interviews, in some cases five interviews before an offer is made).
How have you found the corporate/work culture compared to back home?
People are very respectful of one another and appear to have a good work/life balance, which is refreshing.
Do you have any other tips or insights you’d like to share with someone planning a move to Calgary?
One of the biggest things we can impart with is, is ask South Africans living in Calgary already of their experiences and also their advice if you find yourself unsure of things. This has been something that has really made our lives and settling in the city so much easier, and we have made the most incredible friends – South Africans tend to understand your starting point, your humour and also what you have given up to get here. We could not have made it this far without the support we received from our SA friends. But also, don’t be afraid to integrate yourself with Canadian culture, this country is so incredibly amazing and everyone you meet is so incredibly friendly – everyone here just wants the best for everyone, which is so beautiful.
The move to Canada has been such an incredible adventure thus far. Enjoy all your experiences and embrace your new life here!
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!