From Cape Town’s southern suburbs to Calgary’s deep south, Greg and Juli moved to Canada in 2018. They have certainly embraced the Canadian lifestyle and enjoyed lots of family adventures in this beautiful city they now call home.
When did you move to Canada and what made you choose Calgary?
We arrived in Canada on Feb 28th 2018 late at night after a 35-hour journey. We chose Calgary for a few reasons. Although it is a very snowy city in the winter, we knew that it is dry, which makes the snow enjoyable. We also knew that Calgary had the sunniest days in Canada. Sun makes the winter much more enjoyable too. We also have Greg’s extended family living here. And, of course, one of the biggest reasons, Banff and the Rocky Mountains close by.
Where do you live in Calgary? What do you like best and least about your neighbourhood?
We live in the “deep” south of the South West quadrant. What I like most is that the weather seems to be milder down here. We have a few parks down the road from us. The school is small and lovely. All the shops we need are close by, and it is close to Fish Creek Park, which we love.
What we like least. Our immediate neighbourhood is not very social. I envision neighbourhood kids playing in the road while the parents have a wine by the fire. But our neighbourhood isn’t like that unfortunately. Some really are though!
If you could live anywhere in the city where would it be and why?
I do like our area and I could be quite happy staying in the neighbourhood, but just moving a little west of where we are now. Alternatively, we would look at Sundance, upper Millrise, Evergreen and Woodbine areas if we were to buy a house.
What do you love most about Calgary?
How it feels like a small city with a mountainous country vibe. We don’t like big city hustle and we don’t like small town either. Calgary is a perfect in between.
What do you like least about the city?
Calgary is seen negatively by a lot of the country due to the oil and gas as well as the almost “hick” country image that it seems to have. I don’t like that stigma we have.
What has been the most challenging part about moving to and living in Canada?
I mean, I want to say getting used to snow in the winter. But that hasn’t been that difficult. The hardest part for us is missing family. Not knowing when we can give our moms a big hug. Not knowing when our kids will get to play with their cousins or if they ever will. Knowing the kids won’t really get to know their grandparents or aunts and uncles. Feeling forgotten sometimes. That has been the hardest part.
What do you miss most about your home country?
The warmth of the African sun. It gets hot here in summer but it isn’t the same type of warmth. And the beach.
Have you found it easy to meet new people and make friends?
Honestly, we have found it much easier than we ever thought it would be. We have quite a few Saffa friends, which is inevitable and really nice. But we have found a few Canadian families that we have truly bonded with as well, which has been such a pleasure. The friendships we have made here have made us feel connected and busy!
What’s the general lifestyle like in Calgary?
I find that the general lifestyle is busy. People are always doing stuff. Families go ice skating, skiing/snow boarding, hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, camping, hunting, fishing. I mean, these people do it all and they take their kids along. It is fascinating and awesome and we are trying to keep up. They also never let the weather affect their plans.
What are entertainment options like in Calgary? Any great nightlife spots, restaurants, bars you like to go to? Any hidden gems you’ve come across?
We are not into nightlife vibes really. We have enjoyed Steven Avenue in the city centre for a night, out which was fun. Watching a Calgary Flames hockey game is cool. But mostly at night we would do festivals like Christmas lights in Okotoks. We enjoy going to Ricky’s restaurant and good old Boston Pizza too. One day I would love to try the restaurant up in the Calgary Tower and there is the Bow Valley Ranche restaurant that I’d like to try as well.
Is Calgary a family-friendly city? Do you have any suggestions for great things to do with the kids?
It is extremely family friendly. Indoors, you’ve got libraries with play areas, leisure centres with swimming pools, ice rinks, climbing walls, kid’s gym classes. Museums, play places, science centre, the Zoo, play parks like Calgary Farmyard and Granary road. You can take the train to the city centre and ride electric scooters, walk around, play grounds everywhere, visit a festival of which they have plenty. Then of course there is the outdoor ice rinks, toboggan hills, Canmore, Bragg Creek and Banff down the road, and beautiful parks. Honestly, the list is endless.
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 public transport is great, but the bus systems can be frustrating if you want to use it for work. I found myself hanging around for 20 minutes in a polar vortex because I missed the bus by half a minute (the train was delayed), watched it drive off and had to wait 20 mins for it to return in -35°C. I literally cried. So if you use the train and don’t rely too heavily on the buses, it will be fine. If you are using it for leisure purposes, it is awesome and so handy to have. So no you don’t need a car, especially at first, but I use my car to avoid the waiting around at bus stops.
How have you found the cost of living in Calgary compared to your home country? What do you find expensive or cheap in particular?
So funny. I have been here long enough now to stop comparing the prices. I probably won’t be able to tell you what anything costs in South Africa anymore. When we first arrived I remember thinking that it was very similar. Rent and food sort of balances out similar. We found beef was much cheaper and chicken was way more expensive. Daycare is ridiculously expensive. Houses are quite pricey. Clothing is pricey, especially all the snow gear for the kids. But toys and things like ice skates are way cheaper here.
What’s the economy and job market like in Calgary? Did you find it easy to find a job?
It seems pretty stable to me. I feel as though I still have a very limited view on that. Greg was able to find a job very quickly. I took over a year to find a job. It depends on your skills and whether you are willing to settle for something that isn’t the same as what you had in South Africa. For us it has turned out well. Right now, with Covid, it is difficult to find work and the economy is probably the worst it has ever been. But if you look hard enough, you will find something.
How have you found the corporate/work culture compared to back home?
Gosh, it depends. My colleagues are very quiet and reserved. Back in South Africa I have always been surrounded by open, loud, celebratory people. Here I feel everyone keeps to themselves and tries not to get too personal in any conversations. Greg has a different environment. His job has more relaxed communication and a more interactive work culture.
Do you have any other tips or insights you’d like to share with someone planning a move to Calgary?
If you have the fire inside of you saying “I want to do this” and you are willing to let go of South Africa, then DO IT. Yes it is hard and scary, but so is staying. Be as prepared as possible to make things feel less stressful. We have been here for almost three years now, which means we get to apply for citizenship in a month. The time flew by. We have jumped in with both feet and we are grabbing the bull by the horns. You can do the same.
Read some more great expat perspectives on life in Calgary, and some other parts of Canada, in Expat Stories.
If you’re an expat living in Calgary, or anywhere in Canada, we’d love to hear your story, so please contact us to learn more about sharing your insights on the blog.