'We feel privileged to live in such a beautiful country'
Canada Q&A: Vera Keogh left in 2011 with her husband and two children for Bowen Island, close to Vancouver
Vera Keogh: "We chose Bowen Island because it's only 20 minutes from Vancouver yet oozes natural beauty, in the form of forests and nature trails, and we are surrounded by the sea."
Why did you decide to emigrate?
We left Ireland in June 2011 when my husband accepted a job offer in the mining industry here. My husband, myself and our two children (aged six and two when we left) were sad to leave family and friends in Ireland, but excited at the opportunity of an adventure.
Why Bowen Island?
We chose Bowen Island as it was close to Vancouver (20 minutes by ferry). We have easy access to the city, where my husband's family live, yet it is a small community, which we prefer. Our island is home to about 4,000 people, and has a large deer population. It is a children’s playground and an array of activities within a safe and easy reach. The island oozes natural beauty, in the form of forests and nature trails, and we are surrounded by the sea.
What visa are you on?
My husband is a Canadian, so our two children automatically were granted Canadian citizenship. I am a permanent resident and intend to apply for Canadian citizenship, but we'll all hold on to our Irish passports.
What is the local economy like?
The island itself is home to many talented and creative people who work on the island. There are employment opportunities but a lot of people commute to the city on a daily basis. In our family, Colm drives his motorcycle to the 7.30am ferry and is in downtown Vancouver at his office by 8.30am. He returns to the island on the 5.30pm ferry.
In Vancouver, there appears to be a very buoyant jobs market and a healthy economy. The unemployment rate in British Columbia is six per cent and overall in Canada is 7 per cent.
How does the cost of living compare with Ireland?
It fluctuates. Wages in most sectors allow for a good lifestyle. The rate of inflation in Canada is 2.1 per cent and throughout the country it varies from province to province.
How do the schools compare?
When it comes to education, it is hard to beat Ireland; however so far here is good. Our children attend a wonderful community primary school with the forest as their natural playground. After primary school they have the opportunity to attend middle school for grades six to nine (the equivalent in the Irish system would be first to fourth year) before progressing to high school. There is also a good choice of third-level institutions to choose from. For us, Trinity and UCD are also possibilities for our kids.
Have you had any experience of the healthcare system?
Thankfully not much, but to the best of my knowledge the hospitals in Vancouver are of a very high standard. We have some excellent doctors on our island and it is hoped that a medical clinic will be built here in the future.
How have your children adjusted to Canada?
Our children have adjusted very well. They take part in many activities and are making good friends. Of course, holding on to their Irish friends is very important too. Our nine-year-old still has his lovely Irish accent and our younger girl aged five speaks with a lovely mix of the two accents. It is a family-friendly island and children are really appreciated and cared for.
Do you participate in Irish community activities?
While there is not a large enough Irish population here, there is a vibrant Irish scene in downtown Vancouver. They organise lots of social and networking events.
Are there any downsides?
The one downside is that there is no direct flight from Vancouver to Ireland, and the flying time is a little long. It would be so great if we could pop home more often to visit the children’s grandma and the rest of our family and friends.
What advice would you give other families considering a similar move?
I would have no hesitation in recommending this part of Canada to anyone. I would suggest linking in with the Irish community, as they offer great information events around job-hunting. I would also recommend the Moving2Canada.com website.
Have you made plans for the future?
Like a lot of people who leave Ireland, it is sometimes tricky emotionally. We want to make a life here, but then are usually torn wondering if we should go back. As the children become more embedded in their lives here, it becomes a more pressing consideration. It would be wonderful to be closer to family in Ireland, but there would be very few work opportunities for my husband in the mining industry. In the meantime we feel very privileged to live in such a beautiful country.