How long have you been in the Bow Valley?
That would be 2 months and 4 days. We arrived from the UK from Heathrow. We lived in a place called Epsom in Surrey. We landed on August 3rd.
We visited about 3 years ago and just loved it so we’ve just been trying ever since with all the paperwork to get here. Yay, we’re here now! It took a combination of luck and patience to finally make the move. We did it through provincial nomination. They’re so strict. You can’t use a paperclip or you’ll be rejected. We were rejected once because of an admin error. It was so painful because it took an extra year.
We were meant to be here end of June. We thought “do you go, don’t you go?” But we took the jump and made it!”
What does a day look like for you right now?
“Well there isn’t an average right now. We’re trying to settle into a rhythm. The girls are in school so that helps. Our eldest is in grade 2, and our youngest is in Kindy. So for most of the week they’ve got structure and routine. That allows us to do what we need to do. For Matt, that’s working as a graphic designer, and for me [Diana] that’s doing some illustration and running around doing some paperwork together to have our needs met. Just boring things like drivers’ licenses and medical health cards.”
How are you getting along with your close relationships, like family back home, and social networks here?
“So in terms of our friends and family back home we’ve had lots of Zoom and Skype calls.
We play games of Mario Kart online with the family. We have the grandparents read stories over the phone which the kids really enjoy. They show the grandparents their drawings and talk about what they’ve done, things they wouldn’t usually tell us.
We’ve had some Zoom beers with our friends. It’s interesting to try and coordinate with the 7-hour time difference between us, so we’re drinking in the afternoon, a perfect excuse!
We’re still working on our social scene here. Thank goodness for the internet, where you meet people through Facebook groups locally. We have made a couple of friends but with the kids going on school busses, that’s a new thing for us, we don’t meet parents at the gate anymore. It’s a little bit tough so we might mix it up a bit, try cycling to school and meet parents along the way.
Matt’s joined a running club so he’s trying to meet people that way. I’ve [Diana] yet to join. COVID makes everything so difficult.”
What’s been the hardest part of this for you?
“I think the hardest was quarantine. We could see the mountains from the window and see people enjoying themselves, but we couldn’t quite get there. And the weather was amazing. We were completely reliant on friends and Bow Valley Settlement Services to bring us groceries. It was the loss of independence, really. When we could get out it was just incredible.“
Is there something that turned out to be a secret blessing from this experience?
“Possibly. Leaving home? We had social-distanced parties with a big group of friends, and it was so nice to see them and say goodbye, but I think not being able to physically hug someone made leaving that little bit easier. The fact that the kids hadn’t seen their school friends in a long time because of lockdown, that made it easier for them, which was surprising.
The kids have been brilliant. They loved lockdown! We did lots of arts & crafts during quarantine. We had the opportunity to join an artsPlace online art workshop and they really enjoyed that. So that was about an hour or two over five mornings, 1 day a week, so that was good to keep them entertained.
I think they just enjoyed us being around. In the month leading up to leaving the UK it was absolutely hectic and we kept saying “I don’t have time right now, you have to go play with nanny or do something”. So finally when we got here, it was just us as a family in here for two weeks, and they had mummy and daddy’s full attention.
Is there anything you’re scared of?
“Bears? I guess you get the fear that you won’t make it work. We’re always told the Canadian job market or the employment scene is hard to crack as an outsider. I’m looking now for work. And Matt’s still working for UK companies and also trying to crack it round here. It’s the fear that you’ve made your whole family leave and move thousands of kilometres away and it could not work out. But so far so good.“
Have you had any financial challenges because of COVID?
“We haven’t got a car yet so we’re gonna have to buy one soon, and that will cost a little bit and eat into our finances, but it needs to be done with winter approaching and the ski fields beckoning. Design-wise there was a dry spell in the beginning in the UK but things have hopefully started to pick up and Matt’s inundated with work right now.
What I’d really liked is to do some work for some local businesses in Canmore and the Bow Valley, just trying to get my name out there and make some connections hopefully.”
It’s hard because we keep hearing that “this group would have been good for you, because they used to meet up once a week and it was great for connections” but now with COVID that’s all on hold.
What do you think you will remember the most clearly? How do you think your life and perspective will change as a result of the pandemic?
“I think what I’ll remember most clearly is communities coming together. I mean we saw that back in Epsom which we didn’t see before. People helping each other out a lot more. And we see that here as well, and hope that that continues and people remember to look out for each other.
We got to know some of our neighbours throughout before we left. People came by to see if we had enough food, or if we needed them to pick up anything extra for us. People seemed to be much more caring and willing to help one another.”
If you could speak directly to somebody in the future, what would you want them to know about this time period in your life?
“A message to our past selves would be to stock up on toilet paper earlier!
I’d tell myself to just take a moment, take a breath, and at the end of the day it all works out somehow. There’s always a silver lining.
There are these posters with positive messages like ‘These days will end’, and that’s like a message from the future almost. We’ve gotta be resilient and get through it.”
“Something that has made a real impression on all of us is how kind people are, how friendly and welcoming, how welcome we felt having moved. Even regardless if you’re speaking to someone who moved to Canmore in the ‘60s and lived most of their lives here, they’ve been as welcoming as immigrants and recent residents themselves. I think that’s the stereotype that exists about Canadians – friendly nature and positivity, and it holds true.
We were blown away by people’s kindness and generosity. We were introduced to a family through Bow Valley Settlement Services, and off her own back the lady went to a thrift store and picked up a load of toys and arrived with jigsaws, books, a game… and she went to a fresh food market and came and just brought us plums, a pie and yummy things. A Saskatchewan pie. It was lovely! I always call them Sasquatch pies.
We really enjoy the wildlife. We have a guide for animal prints and things like that. We take that out with us and we’re always on the lookout for elk. We haven’t seen any bears yet, but the animals’ side of things has captured the children’s imagination. We saw 5 elk grazing under our window.
That’s what’s so nice. You cycle the girls to Girl Guides so they can meet people, and on the way home it’s like they’re learning without knowing they’re learning. You might be looking at a herd of 50 elk and watching, trying to learn their behaviours, and they learn things at school that we don’t even know. Being more knowledgeable about nature without even realizing, it’s really nice.
I had to ask a whole Facebook group called ‘Expats in Calgary’ whether or not I could cook with baking soda. Everything is labelled bicarbonate soda so I thought “Am I gonna poison my family?” Everything on the box talked about cleaning but the group said it was ok for cooking. It’s great to have that network as they translate for me!
The girls are picking up new phrases. It’s all about recess rather than lunch time, and “I dunno bro.”
The Stories of Resilience project offers deeply personal insights into the lives of Bow Valley residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. They each share their unique challenges, fears, hopes, and lessons learnt during this unique time in history. This project was brought to life by a collaboration of local organizations: Bow Valley Immigration Partnership (BVIP), artsPlace Canmore, Kristy Wolfe Photography, Canmore Museum. With special thanks to Community Connections in the Bow Valley.Explore More Stories of Resilience