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My Canadian Experience

Settling in Canada

Since making it known that I am intending to settle in Canada I've had lots of emails asking me why I should desert Scotland with all the lovely scenery and move to Canada.

My intention here is to outline my reasons and to follow this up with a number of accounts of how I am getting on, what problems I might have to face and my general progress towards settling in the country. At the end of the day I see this as an historical account because this is just the kind of information I have been trying to get on the old Scots settlers. I want to know why they decided to emigrate, how they went about it, what were their experiences as they got to their new land and how did they cope as they went through the process of settlement. And of course not every emigrant would have gone through the same process as even the correspondence of an emigrant that I've been publishing on the site demonstrates.

So what I'm going to try to do is to build you a picture of my own experiences and reasons for doing what I do be they right or wrong. Naturally if we all had a crystal ball it would be easy to decide on things but most of us do the best we can at the time with the knowledge we have at the time. I may make dreadful mistakes but only time will tell. I hope this will be interesting for you to follow in the weeks and months ahead. In any event it will be interesting for me to document this so I can read back on my own adventures :-)


I should start of by saying that when I started to build the Electric Scotland web site it was with the idea that as the site progressed, and started to give me a full time living, I could work from anywhere in the world that I could get broadband access. I fondly thought of spending a few years in the USA, then onto Canada and onto New Zealand and anywhere else the fancy took me.

Of course to do all that you need to have a decent amount of money to spend and it has taken a lot of time for me to build to the point where I can make a full time living from running the Electric Scotland site. Just after I got the site established we had that dot com bust and certainly for a year or so after that I really didn't have enough money to run the site and almost had to freeze development while I got a job. One way or another I managed to get through that period and gradually started to get enough money in again to be confident about the future. I always had faith that eventually this would be a decent business but so many other people also have that faith and end up going bust.

It was logical to think of going to the USA first as my site was hosted there and I really did want to go to a number of Highland Games and take up a tent so folk could come and see me for information on Scotland and to talk about their roots. I also hoped to make contacts with folk that might have stories of their family to tell me.

In retrospect my struggles with getting a visa to the USA were likely self made but I also feel that the USA were unhelpful in the whole process. I only say that after experiencing the exact opposite in Canada. It was like chalk and cheese.

It seems that there is not a category of self employment in the USA immigration department. Despite emailing them and talking to them there was no category that really fitted my circumstances. These were essentially a self employed person with enough money to live on but not a millionaire. The only option seemed to be the L1 visa route which essentially meant that I was doing a company exchange. The only other options open to me were to be employed by an American company. On the first attempt at getting the visa we were told that the application had been passed and was just waiting for the Supervisor to sign it off. At the same time there had been a debate in the Senate about how they were handing out far too many L1 visas and depriving USA citizens of work. Just after that my visa application was declined.

The second attempt was as a result of Steve speaking in depth with the Immigration department and they said the best way would be for me to create a USA company and to show at least three months trading and that would do the trick. So that is what I did... I created the company, got a Federal Tax ID, put sales through the company and signed a three year contract with Bell South for a T1 leased line to run my server on. I did that on the 90 day visa waiver program that the UK has with the USA.

I then paid $1000 to fast track this application which meant it should be through in 3 weeks. Well several months later there was still no decision. In the last phone conversation with them Steve was told that due to the Presidential elections it was unlikely that any decision would be made until they were over and then it depended on who got in. They offered to rebate the fast track fee which really told us there wasn't a lot of point in waiting any longer.

From my point of view I had started to assume that I was not going to get the visa and so I had decisions to make. Would I return to Scotland or try something else? Well I can tell you that I had already had the most fantastic time in Canada. This was of course my first time in the country and up to then really didn't know too much about it. One of the reasons that I was quite happy to leave Scotland was simply that I felt the country was heading down hill and I really didn't believe it could recover. Suffice it to say that I got little or no co-operation from any Scottish institutions or Scottish companies. I already ran Scotland's largest historical web site but none of our university historical departments would even reply to emails I sent them.

From the point of view of the Scottish economy... well we had just gone from 5.4 million of a population to 5 million with forecasts that by 2040 we'd be down to 4.4 million. Our tourism industry has seen dramatic falls in tourism numbers prior to 911 and we all know what happened after that and of course we also had the foot and mouth crisis to make it even worse. I got in touch with the marketing director for promoting Scotland in the USA but she wasn't interested in discussing anything.

After my trip to the Jacksonville Highland Games I had been asked if I couldn't do some stories on Scottish business and on my return I phoned around 100 Scottish companies to ask if they'd like to provide some background stories about their companies and didn't get one prepared to do anything. In other words I was hitting brick walls throughout Scotland. I had thought I could help with telling a story of Scottish exporters but again no one was interested in providing information. Just link to our web site was all I was offered. That was really the theme... why should we provide you with information when it is already on our web site.. just link to it.

My problem was that most Scottish web sites are brochures and really don't give you much of a background on the company. Also through a couple of questionnaires that I'd run on the site I was being told that most people only visited a very few Scottish web sites and really didn't have the time to visit lots of others. The opinion I took from all the responses was that Electric Scotland was being treated like a magazine. By this I mean that let's say you were interested in cars. It is very likely that you will subscribe to one car magazine and that would mostly be where you got your information from. You may well buy another car magazine if you just happened to see an interesting cover in a shop but on the whole you just buy the one magazine.

To my mind if you want to market your company you need to get stories about your company into the media but for some reason companies don't consider that to include the web. The many people that said they had a web site were happy to give out their url and when you visited them there was little real communication between them and their visitors. Little ever changed so no reason to go back. Certainly in my time on the web I've always felt that you need to give a little of yourself to the web site and give regular updates to encourage people to come back often.

Like one person told me... I have a good business which takes up most of my time. I don't really have the time to surf the web but as I enjoy things Scottish the one site I will visit at least semi regularly is Electric Scotland. I also enjoy getting in the weekly newsletter and that gives me a kind of Scottish fix. And so my questionnaires seemed to mirror that as the results revealed that of their disposable web time only a small proportion was applicable to Scotland and in that time they likely wouldn't visit any more than a few Scottish sites. And so I do believe that the site works like a weekly magazine or paper.

Now don't get me wrong here... I love Scotland and the people on a personal level but for doing business it was a total waste of time. In my view marketing people were the worst... they lacked vision and would give you 10 reasons for not doing anything and offer nothing as to why it might be worth trying something. We have people of little imagination running our organisations I'm sorry to say. They seem to be incapable of trying anything new and are just content to tinker at the edges of things that haven't worked for years.

So as you can see I was rather fed up with the Scottish attitude and was getting nowhere.

The U.S.A.

In the USA I have to say it seemed no better. Again the people individually were great with fantastic hospitality but my visa experience just made me feel there was a great wearniness in the country and its institutions.

I have talked to quite a few American companies and their attitude seemed very similar to Scotland. Major corporations took calculated risks to get to be as large as they are but now they seem to make a real effort at risk management... in other words don't try anything new.

The visa process had depressed me as to my attitude to the country. I mean either you have a system in place or you don't. I simply couldn't understand why a simple process should be so politically motivated. It seemed ridiculous to me that due to a Presidential election things should grind to a halt. I also found that around the Christmas / New Year period. It was hard to do any business for around a 6 week period.

Some of these things come to you in retrospect and in my case it was only after spending several months in Canada that I came to this view. Of course this is a broad view and there are naturally many exceptions. But overall I didn't get the sense of excitement and can do attitude that I'd really expected.

While in the USA I also did some investigation as to living conditions and health policy. It was going to cost me a small fortune to get health cover. I am in fact a Type 2 diabetic so that put me in an "at risk" category and premiums soared. I also noted a lot of small taxes which ended up making the USA not as attractive as it had once seemed.

Florida, the sunshine state, seemed more like hurricane alley. While in Georgia I was told that the largest ethnic mix was now Mexican. And all the time I was told that the move was on to go south in America. While in Kentucky I noted high unemployment and the fact that many had no health cover at all. All of a sudden the American dream just wasn't there. I was also somewhat concerned about the huge litigation that went on. It seems that being sued is a way of life.

So in many respects it looked like there really wasn't any point in trading Scotland for America. If anything it looked like China was to be the new superpower and the USA was heading down the same road as the old British Empire had done. Sorry to my American friends for saying all that but it all kind of depressed me at the time.

Canadian Experience

While in Canada a lot of people put themselves out to help me personally and a lot of their institutions had gone out of their way to help. In PEI I met many people that provided really great input for the site. In Kimberely the local Chamber of Commerce folk took some days out to run me around the area to take pictures and found me a history of Kimberley. Many people there gave of their time most generously.

When I went to Guelph folk couldn't have been nicer. The Uni of Guelph Library organised me a room to work in with broadband access. The assistants in the rare books dept. were total stars. In Elliot Lake the local council actually put me up in the local hotel for 3 nights at their expense and provided me with a desk in their Economic Development dept. The Scottish Studies Foundation folk got me accommodation in Oakville and Toronto and friends on the web got me accommodation in Cape Breton where folk were very friendly and helpful. I also met their minister for Tourism and some of the stars of the music scene let me video them playing the fiddle or singing songs.

Somehow when you are working hard you fail to see the big picture but when I came up for a breath of air it became obvious to me that I really had found the country I should be living and working in.

I decided to see if I could extend my stay for another month to let me explore the possibilities of living and working in Canada and this is where I met Larry Hynes in the Ontario Immigration department. As I'd left it too late I couldn't extend my stay as you need to apply a full month before the end of your visit. That said he invited me to attend their Business Immigration seminar that they hold each week in Toronto and suggested we could meet an hour before it so we could talk things over. So that is what I did.

Larry was very helpful as was the seminar and I left with loads of information on Ontario. I found out things that I wasn't aware of such as Canada having the lowest cost of living of all the G7 countries as well as the lowest rate of taxation. I had already noticed their low house prices for myself and while in Guelph it had been made very clear to me the cost differences between Canada and Scotland.

I had been told the various ways in which I might consider applying for Business Immigration and here Canada does have a self employed category if you are in the culture field, athletics or farming. And of course with me doing writing, publishing and running a major Scottish history site it fitted in well with the culture bit. I could also have applied for skilled worker immigration as well. On their web site they have a form which you complete online which tells you how you meet their point score system. You do need to meet their minimum point score to be considered for immigration so it's an excellent idea to do that test. I might add that by attending that seminar in Toronto you get an additional six points!

Larry then advised that I apply for a work permit which is for 1 year. If I then applied for immigration then I could arrange to extend this for another year as it does take around 18 months for an application to go through. Larry pointed me in the right direction for the work permit application form and advised that I should add a letter in support of the application. What was really great was he offered to give the letter a once over if I emailed him the draft. Well he did do that for me and made some suggestions like to ensure I gave full information on how I could support myself during my year there. Well I sent him my second draft which he said would do the trick. He then advised me to send in my application to Detroit instead of London. He then told me to address it to Moira Escott and off it went. Well image my surprise when within two weeks I got back an acceptance letter. What an outstanding service and my thanks to Moira for dealing with this so quickly :-)

Quite frankly this just confirmed my view about Canada having a can do attitude... it was like a breath of fresh air after Scotland and the USA.

I did get a further communication from Larry after I had emailed him to say I'd got my work permit to inform me that I should apply for a SIN card as soon after I land as possible. Also, after a 3 month waiting period, I become eligible for OHIP coverage which means I get health coverage. That is an advantage to me to have health care at a reasonable price.

So at this stage I am about to start on my Canadian adventure. The country gives me the opportunity to have a much lower cost of living and to own a better home than I can get in Scotland. It also seems to me to be still a young country with a can do attitude and they still seem to have the spirit of the pioneers about them. I believe I will get a much better quality of life in Canada than I would back home in Scotland and also a better life than I would have got in the USA.

From an historical perspective I believe that most of the best of Scots have already left Scotland and made their life in other parts of the world and especially the USA and Canada. It has been said in many books lately that the Scots created the modern world. It's my belief that they did indeed but also moved out into that world from Scotland to enjoy the fruits of their labour and enterprise. While in Canada I had the pleasure of spending some time with a Harold Nelson who spent some thirty years as News Editor with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in TV News. He regaled me with stories of what Canadians have done, invented, manufactured, etc. It was only after a few weeks that I realised many of the people he spoke of were of Scots descent. To me this means that the inventive Scots merely kept on doing what they were doing but just did it in other lands. Now this is very much a broad sweeping view but I do want to see if I can prove any of this and certainly intend to follow it up while I am in Canada.

And so it now remains for me to get myself over to Canada and start my Canadian adventure and I'll keep you posted as to how I get on. I will have to find myself a place to rent to start with, get myself a car, get broadband access, get my SIN card and eventually register for OHIP. At this time I am considering locating in Elliot Lake where I would hope to eventually get myself a Lake Shore Lot and then build my own house overlooking the lake. That's my intention but we'll have to see how things work out once I get there. I still have to experience a Canadian winter and that might well sway me in other directions :-)

So that's my introduction and background to why I intend to settle in Canada and I'll document my experiences in the hope it might be helpful to others.

Return to my Canadian Experience Index Page

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