Karl’s 18 Months in Canada: Arriving, Adjusting And Adoring A New Home

You’ve more than likely found your way here as you desperately scour the web looking the inspiration to make those travel dreams a reality in 2017. If this is the case, don’t go anywhere. If this isn’t the case, we offer you similar advice.

We caught up with prolific Irish travel blogger, Karl Lee on a difficult start to his Canadian adventure in Edmonton as well as the move to Calgary and the beginning of a love affair with North America’s most beautiful places…

A Frosty Start To Life In Edmonton

When I first came to Canada in November 2014 it was just as I’d expected, freezing! I was here 4 months before the temperature rose above zero degrees. After 6 months I was almost done with the place. I didn’t like it and wanted to move home but I moved city and here I am almost two years later and hoping to stay here long term. What changed?? Well I’ll try to explain..

Before I came to Canada I didn’t do much research on where I was going. I got a job with a company from Ireland and they arranged flights and my first visa so I just went where they sent me. I knew it was winter and it would be cold but that was all I knew of the place. I arrived in the city of Edmonton in Alberta mid November and it was minus 25 degrees when the plane hit the runway. For six months I went to work in the dark and got home in the dark. Sunday was our only day off and it was spent organising stuff for the next week. This wasn’t what I’d left Ireland for. This is the exact opposite of what I’d left Ireland for. So in June of 2015 I moved three hours south of Edmonton to the city of Calgary.

A Change Of Scenery and A Change Of Fortunes

Calgary has a population of a little over a million so is similar in size to Dublin. It’s three hours from the American border and is nicely situated approximately 100km’s from the Canadian Rockies. At first I was working a 40 hour week on the construction of the new terminal at the international airport. So unlike when I was in Edmonton now I had a lot more time on my hands. On weekends we would try leave the city nice and early and go out to the mountains for the day. We would do different hikes or go see different attractions every weekend.

The Canadian Rockies are full of glacial fed lakes and every single one is more amazing than the last. Situated 200kms from Calgary is the beginning of one of the most scenic drives in the world (National Geographic said that, not me)!

As soon as you turn off the main highway on to highway 93 you lose phone signal and don’t get it back until the next town, Jasper, which is 180kms north. Along this drive there are endless amounts of lakes, waterfalls and hikes. There are mountain peaks both side of the road from one end to the other. Roughly in the middle are the Columbia ice fields where there is a huge glacier. The glacier used to be out to the road but now is almost 1000m back which is the visible effects of climate change.
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When You Live In Canada, Snowboarding Becomes Life

As the summer drew to a close I was actually looking forward to winter as I couldn’t wait to get out on a snowboard and see the mountain peaks covered in snow. Everything looks better covered in snow! I’d never stood on a snowboard before I moved to Canada. I had made a few friends with similar interests so when winter arrived there was always someone to go snowboarding with. In my first winter I got in 28 days and we covered mountains all over the place.

We started on the closest ones to Calgary and went as far away as 1100km just for a few days of sliding down a hill in freezing temperatures. If you come to Canada picking up a winter activity is an absolute must do. Otherwise you’ll spend 8 months of the year hating the place as the average temperature is below zero. But if you pick up a winter activity you won’t dislike a single second of it. Now in my third winter in Canada and second in Calgary I’ve got in a lot more days snowboarding. Done another 1100km trip and have more in the plans.

Meeting The Orcas Off Vancouver Island

During last summer I drove from Calgary right through the Canadian Rockies over to Vancouver and got a ferry to Vancouver island, all in the one day! I done it as I’d heard a lot about the island and wanted to go experience it for myself. I wanted to see the Pacific Ocean and swim in it. I spent three nights on the island. On my last day on the island I booked in to go on a whale watching tour. Sounds cool right? Well it was, extremely cool, unbelievably cool!

We departed Cowichan Bay at 5pm and the tour guide told us he knew there were Orca whales on the way out of the bay back towards the ocean but if we wanted we could stay in the bay as he knew there were humpback whales in the area. 12 out of 12 guests on board raised their hands to go chase the Orca’s. We were told to hold tight and cover any electronics we had as they wouldn’t take too well to the salt water we were about to get splashed with for the next hour! Finally though he pulled the throttle back on the boat and we had caught the Orca’s. I was expecting maybe 5 or 10 but no exaggeration there was easily over 100. All in there different packs or families. The guide was full of knowledge about all the different pods of whales and which whales were part of which families.

It was an incredible experience to see the whales in their natural habitat. We followed them for probably two hours and it watching whales play together in the ocean is an experience that I’ll never forget.

Every Week Is A New Experience Here…

That’s just a fraction of the experiences I’ve had since I moved to Canada. And the longer I’m here the more out of my comfort zone I will push myself. Just last week I cross country skied in to Moraine Lake.

Everyone has heard of it and saw the pictures of its amazing blue water in the summer. But not many people go in to it in the winter so that was a surreal experience in itself. The mountains are full of back country cabins and in the coming months I’m hoping to hike or cross country ski in to some of these huts and hopefully do some back country snowboarding or hiking if it’s during the summer months.

Canada V Australia & New Zealand – The Canucks Win On Points

So far in my time in Canada it’s hard to highlight one thing in particular as my best experience, I’ve saw killer whales in the wild, I’ve climbed to the top of mountains with incredible views, I’ve chased the northern lights into the late hours of the morning, I’ve picked up snowboarding and cross country skied in to one of the most photographed lakes in the world to experience something not many people do. Since I moved to Calgary I find it’s been all good experiences.

I spent three years in Australia and New Zealand and enjoyed them a lot but Canada is easily above them in my books. The cost of living is similar to that of home but the average salary is higher than that of home. I had a first year apprentice here who was earning more than a qualified trades person back in Ireland.

Petrol is almost half the price as it is in Ireland and car tax is $88 a year almost all across the board, no matter what car. So it’s easy to see why the roads out to the mountains are full of city traffic every Friday evening with people leaving for their little piece of paradise before they go back to work on Monday.

Another selling point for me is it’s closeness to Ireland. When I was in the Southern Hemisphere it was always at least a two day trip to get home. Now it’s just a half day trip and I’m back in Ireland. And with the new terminal at the airport in Calgary direct flights to Dublin are going to begin this summer making the trip even shorter again!

Know What You Want Out Of Canada Before You Make The Move

My advice for anyone thinking of moving to Canada?? Do it!! Go Go Go!! But seriously consider what it is you’re after. I’m an outdoorsy person so being close to the mountains is why I love Calgary so much. Either Calgary or Vancouver are the cities I recommend if it’s the mountains that you’re after.

As Vancouver is in a different province it has different tax laws and cost of living can be more expensive and jobs may pay less but if I was doing the move again I would give it consideration as it is so close to the Ocean and Seattle is just a short trip across the border. If you’re a city person maybe consider Toronto as it’s only a 5 hour flight from Ireland and right close to the American border so trip’s down to Boston or New York would be doable. All in all my Canadian experiences have changed me as person and helped me find enjoyment in all aspect of life.

Huge thanks to Karl for sharing and if, like us you want to hear more from him then check out his travel blog JustKarl.org and his Instagram which is full of incredible snaps of the Canadian wilderness.

Ready to start your own adventure? Our agents are fully licensed w with the IEC with visa packages available for €599 and Flights & Insurance also available from €595. Email us canada@usit.ie, call us on (01) 602 1906 or drop into any of our stores nationwide today.