‘Canada offers us the best of European socialism and American capitalism’

After just a year living here, Calgary is already beginning to feel like home


My partner and I have just returned from a weekend of backcountry camping, which involved hiking 10km into Banff National Park mountain wilderness, complete with heavy packs stuffed with bear spray, compass, map, water purifying tablets, dehydrated food, sleeping apparatus and all other equipment for a night’s stay in the forest. For better or for worse, we have embraced the Canadian lifestyle.

Donal and I moved to Calgary around a year ago. Our last Canada Day was spent enjoying the buzz downtown with new friends and pushing aside the guilt involved in taking a day off from the job search.

Luckily, our new home treated us well. We found an apartment (condo), and after sending many CVs (resumés) we also found jobs, Donal as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, and me as a sales manager.

Our decision to move to Calgary was based on many factors – the ease of getting the two-year Canadian IEC working holiday visa, the strong economy and availability of jobs, and the lure of the Rocky Mountains as our playground in all seasons.

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We had moved to the UK after university, so were used to living away from home.

A year on, I find that Canada offers us the best of European socialism and American capitalism. Free healthcare, and a fair tax system, combined with freedom to do business, ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for those who play by the rules of the game, and Canadians love to follow rules.

The fairness of the social system is a refreshing change to ‘rip- off Ireland’ and a mentality of ‘trying to get away with it’.

The craic is difficult to find though. I remember our shock at first wandering up to 17th Avenue, our equivalent of Dublin’s Harcourt Street, after a house party on a Saturday night, to find that all the bars had shut down at midnight. When I asked a friend about this, the answer seemed obvious: “With enough hiking trails for every day of the year within a two-hour drive of Calgary, why would you want to waste your Sunday hungover?”

My self-deprecating humour doesn’t go down as well in business relationships either. Early on, a customer comforted me and ensured me that despite what I said, I was in fact, not “an eejit” just for forgetting an important document.

In a city with many immigrants, when I introduce myself, people are quick to ask where I am from and are welcoming when they hear the answer. “I’m Irish too”, is a common response, as they eagerly share information about their ancestral tie to the homeland.

Life in Calgary is not all roses – there are a few downsides. Minus 30 degree temperatures during the long winters are an obvious one, although this city is designed to handle the cold. A good pair of boots and an insulated down jacket will ensure you make it through to spring. Hitting the slopes after a snowfall relieves any cabin fever.

Another challenge is that, for us, it has been difficult to build relationships with locals in a city where everyone seems have their crew. For me, Canadians definitely live up to their reputation of being nice, but I often find it difficult to break past the surface. Perhaps my expectations of friendship are just different. Either way, Donal and I both seem to have developed a circle of friends mainly consisting of other Irish people.

Finally, the high flight prices and long journey time home, combined with my 15 vacation days a year, mean that I am often sending regrets home for not being able to be involved in another special day.

In weighing up the cons against our lifestyle and ability to grow into our careers of choice – for us, for now, the ability to learn and earn while embarking on our weekend adventures in Canada wins outright.

As for the future? We will apply for permanent residency in the next few months, which will allow us five more years here. The pull of the mountains hasn’t subsided yet.