Irish couple with visas for both Australia and Canada opt for snow over surf

‘After a few pints, I might be more Irish. Or maybe more Canadian. It all depends on what and who there is to argue about or with’

Paul and Shirley Walsh have been living in Canada for 27 years

Paul and Shirley Walsh have been living in Canada for 27 years

 

Paul Walsh and his wife Shirley left Ireland 27 years ago, with the option of emigrating to either Australia or Canada. After a brief stay in Australia, they opted for Canada, where Paul is joint-owner of an electronics distribution company in Ontario.

What do you work at?

I am one of the owners of a small equipment distribution company; my two business partners are immigrants too. Back in Ireland, I worked for a number of American companies that were part of the IDA supported electronics manufacturing boom of the era.

Why did you leave Ireland?

Adventure! Fortunately, we were doing well in Ireland at the time, so we weren’t really running away from any lack of opportunity.

 

Did anyone emigrate with you , and did you leave family behind in Ireland?

Yes, I talked my wife into the lunacy of the whole thing. And we left both sets of parents and siblings behind. We had sold our house, in Rathfarnham, with its entire contents. The cutlery in the drawers, crockery in the cupboards, duvets on the beds.

Where did you head to, and what was the attraction of that country?

We had visas for both Australia and Canada. We chose to go to Australia first, since we thought Canada might be our final destination. The idea was that we’d spend about 11 months there and then take off for Canada before our visas expired. We thought that our families would find it easier to get to Canada, and that we’d have an easier time getting back to Ireland more often. But we left Australia earlier than planned.

Did it take you long to get settled in Canada ?

After having to quickly reshuffle the schedule in Australia, we came into Canada a bit confused. But our minds were made up. We bought the tickets to Canada, one way. While we had tickets for Toronto, circling the airport in Vancouver saw us admiring the mountains and the ocean, and the houses with swimming pools. While we awaited landing clearance in the airport, we were in heavy discussion about forgetting the last leg of the journey and just staying in Vancouver. The plan prevailed though and we went on to Toronto. It was late November and there was a blizzard blowing when we landed. We had traded shorts and T-shirts on Bondi Beach for this winter misery?

Were there any particular challenges you faced?

The whole settling in process probably took about six months. Once I landed a real job, that provided the anchor of stability that we needed. There were little bouts of homesickness around the one- and two-year anniversaries, and probably any time we faced a bigger challenge along the way, but nothing big enough to have us running for the airport and a flight home.

How did you go about finding a job and were you able to secure one in your field in a reasonable time?

We rented a dark and dingy basement apartment to stop the financial haemorrhaging. It was right behind a large mall and there were ‘Help Wanted’ ads in most of the store windows. My wife was a little hesitant to go ask for a job so I went into a computer store to lead the way. I came out with a job and that gave her the courage to go do the same. She picked up a job in the first store she walked into too. While these jobs weren’t in line with our chosen career paths, they got us started. We stayed through Christmas and holiday sales before I landed a “real” job in Montreal in the new year. After securing the job, we went house hunting in Montreal and we bought our first house in Canada.

What do you like about where you now live and work?

I grew up in Carrick-on-Suir and spent half my life trying to get away from the small town. I spent the next half finding my way back to a small town in Ontario. We live in Cobourg now, on the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s not the ocean, and we still miss that, but it’s a pretty good substitute if you are not on either coast in Canada. We have rolling hills, more lakes, rivers, forests and farmland to the north and we’re right by the highway for travel to and from the larger cities.

And any particular challenges?

The early challenges all surrounded work and finding a place to live. If you are willing to do anything to get started, that’s the best approach to take. Over our years here there have been times of greater and lesser opportunity but you can usually find something to keep you going. The Irish, by and large, blend easily in Canada.

How does the cost of living compare to Ireland?

It’s pretty good in Canada, except for one thing: housing. The cost of housing in Toronto and Vancouver is absolutely insane. We just helped our son move to his new downtown Toronto apartment this month. It’s not in one of those yuppie upcoming neighbourhoods, but he’s paying around $1,450 a month for a little one-bedroom unit. A single car garage, converted to a very small house, recently sold for around $600,000 in Toronto. Vancouver might even be worse. There was no such thing as property tax when we left Ireland so the notion of having to fork out thousands of dollars for property tax in Canada was gut-wrenching. That said, my last fill up for the car cost me 95.6 cents per litre and we carry around our magic little OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) card that means we pay nothing for a visit to the doctor or to the hospital.

What advice would you give to other Irish people planning to travel to Canada to live and work?

Be open to new experiences and don’t feel that you have to go to the biggest cities. You can find work and a great lifestyle in many of the smaller cities too. For the most part, the people here really are nice and many Canadians are immigrants, ready and willing to help another immigrant.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

Absolutely! Our families and our friends, the ocean never being more than an hour away, the crooked country roads, the pubs and the craic. And then there’s the food.

Do you see yourself remaining in Canada?

We have that conversation from time to time and we have always come to the conclusion that yes, we do. And that’s despite our son now thinking that he might move to Australia, and who knows where our daughter might wind up.

After 27 years there, do you count yourself as Canadian or Irish?

I am both. After a few pints, I might be more Irish. Or maybe more Canadian. It all depends on what, and who, there is to argue about, or with. In some things, Ireland will always be first, no question. For the most part, though, I’m happy to live under a flag that has a shamrock on one side and a maple leaf on the other.

If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experiences, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.

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