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Living as an Expat in the Northern Climes of Canada

Since at least 2009, in which a survey sponsored by HSBC determined that “expats in Canada have the best quality of life” and “found it among the easiest places in the world to integrate with the local population,” the nation has been glowing with pride. Canada, which probably shouldn't be blamed for acting in its own self-interest, is fond of promoting itself to the rest of the world as a shining beacon of social and technological advancement: something that is occasionally done with a bit of a 'nudge nudge, wink wink' implication that it is much better in these areas than its crazy and chaotic southern neighbor.

However, one has to be careful when speaking of Canada as a monolithic, mono-cultural entity, and prospective expats may not be able to just randomly choose any locale within this gigantic land mass and find themselves at home there. It has to be remembered, that nearly 90% of Canada's total population lives within 300 km of the border with the United States, with a full 60% of that population inhabiting either southern Ontario or southern Québec (even in southern Ontario, the weather can already be chilly enough in November, and all the way through mid-April, to necessitate several layers of clothing.) The only major metropolitan area outside of this 300 km (i.e. 500,000 inhabitants or more) is Edmonton in Alberta province.The "Other Canada"

To be sure, there is a Canada whose customs, tastes, and beliefs are as different from those of their metropolitan brethren as the more challenging terrain that they inhabit. Those who are familiar only with the cosmopolitan climes of Vancouver and Toronto may, for example, find it surprising that there is such a thing as Canadian country music (this is gloriously exemplified by the late “Stompin’ Tom” Connors, who sang ballads about frontier history and long-haul truckers, and whose jaunty “Hockey Song” still plays in hockey arenas nationwide during hockey game breaks.) In many non-urban regions of Canada, the experience of a bear rooting through the trash or sparring with a domestic animal is just something that happened on that particular weekday rather than a tale to pass down to one’s grandchildren. Meanwhile, yawning distances between population centers, and a cultural life based upon rugged outdoorsmanship and tests of survival skill (from hunting and kayaking to drinking by the customary “fire pit”) are among the things to be found north of the aforementioned “300km cutoff.”

The "Newfie" Example

The far northeastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador (yes, this is a single province in spite of the “and”) has a population of just over 500,000 residents spread across a full 405,000 square kilometers, and provides an example of the folksy or ‘frontiersman’ tendencies that urbane Toronto residents make mirth of – it is not at all uncommon for Ontario natives to sling derogative terms like “hillbillies” at the “Newfies” (which may, depending on your company, be used as a derogatory term in itself), or to see their defensive preparedness and “hands-on,” “do-it-yourself” attitude towards life as a weakness rather than an asset. Nonetheless, “Newfie” communities like Bay Roberts continue to generate a population increase from within Canada (and, for a time in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Northwest Territories had a higher rate of growth than either British Columbia or Ontario) though they have yet to gain much of an expatriate population.

So, as to whether such areas will be friendly to expatriates is difficult to ascertain, given the large amount of anecdotal evidence in this field when compared with scientific surveys regarding quality of life. There have actually been some famous fabrications of northern “hillbillies” giving transplants the cold shoulder, refusing them basic services, and generally making life miserable for them: case in point here are the Japanese yarase [staged moral dramas falsely marketed as ‘documentaries’] that showed that nation’s citizens being neglected by their rural Canadian hosts (similar documentaries have been made about Australia and other locales.)

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Thoughts on "the Worst of Canada"

Any online listing purporting to reveal the “worst” of Canada, which will inevitably include parts of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland / Labrador, needs to be taken with large spoonfuls of salt: this is not just because of the common habit of bloggers trying to inflate their personal grudges into universal experiences, but also because everyone has their own priorities with regards to quality of life. Those who are worried about xenophobia in any part of the nation may, ironically, find themselves more welcomed if they are from overseas than from the contiguous United States – a certain “fatigue of the familiar” seems to apply to the U.S., along with the way in which the English language shared between the U.S. and non-Québec provinces makes it easier for fuel to be poured onto fiery socio-political debates. Even here, though, common experiences – particularly professional ones – give one the opportunity to define themselves by their accomplishments rather than their nationality, and so expatriates who honestly feel they have a professional or activity-based peer group in the vast North of Canada should be able to succeed.

 http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/11/25/us-survey-odd- idUSTRE5AO39X20091125. Retrieved March 29, 2013.

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