How many items does it take to fill a Canadian house?

 

Suitcase

Despite the snow, sub-zero temperatures and the trans-atlantic distance between England and Canada; our goods which were last seen being packed into a container back in mid October, have finally found their way to our new home in Edmonton, Canada.

The removal agents were keen to keep me updated on the progress of our items throughout the entire journey.  For the ‘small’ trip across the Atlantic, I was readily informed that the container had been loaded onto the ship and was about to set sail (on a ship called ‘Sandra’ no less).  Once arrived in Canada, and being transported from East to West by rail, I was provided with regular updates on where our items were during the long trip  – the updates being the equivalent of the ‘container diaries’ as they slowly progressed and undertook a rail trip across a huge country that many would pay a fortune to experience.

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That said – and slightly later than originally expected, I finally heard the news of their imminent arrival in Edmonton.  Even when they’ve arrived, you have to seek clearance by Customs so off I trundled to the Customs Cargo depot to seek the required stamp of approval – rather like the one in Calgary for collecting my cat (see previous blog – who’s settled in very nicely, thank you for asking).  They don’t make these buildings easy to find or in any shape and form, welcoming, so I took my youngest kid along as a source of sympathy should things start to go pear-shaped.

There was a slight altercation in the fact that the shipping contact details on our goods were in the name of my husband, and despite having a marriage certificate and no end of documentation to prove my identity and linkage to our worldly possessions (see previous blog topic),  they wouldn’t accept me as the one to sign for ‘our’ goods.  So, a hastily requested email from said husband arrived at the customs front desk, and this appeased the process.  Once I read, agreed and signed against all the requirements that I can/can not do with any of our possessions, they gave me the sought after ‘stamp’ on the documents and our goods were cleared.

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You may be thinking, they’d get delivered at this point?  Alas, no.  Getting clearance means the rail company can release our container to the removal company, who can then schedule us in for delivery.  A few nice words and a sob story about having no furniture or clothes for the last 8 weeks plus the fact that Christmas is coming and at this rate, we’ll be depicting a modern day enactment of ‘Tiny Tim’s’ family, from the famous novel, ‘A Christmas Carol’ – the removal firm agreed to deliver the following day.

To say I was excited to see our ‘stuff’ again, would be an understatement.   The removal firm arrived as promised, complete with actual container on the back of a lorry.  I’m not sure what I expected to see, but I could’ve sworn it looked smaller than the one we originally sent.  My eyes deceiving me, probably down to the sheer size and scale of everything Canadian, I was asked to stand outside and witness the ‘seal’ being cut from the container.  I guess this is to show there’s been no tampering with the items in transit, but I’ve got to say it was a slightly surreal experience, watching them slowly open the doors of the container and seeing the familiar UK removal firm boxes in the back.  A small sigh of relief too, as I’m not sure what I’d have done if none of the items looked familiar to me at all!

It’s surprising the things you are pleased to see the most, are not always the items you expect.

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My piano (an upright, not a grand), which was an inherited gift from my Grandpa, had the removal firm chaps staggering in under the sheer weight of it.  Not massively large, but extremely heavy, they did a wonderful job amidst the snow and ice.  I was expecting it to sound off-key and in desperate need of a re-tune, but it’s fantastically still holding a tune and satisfactorily complete!  In fact, all our items – bar a wooden picture frame – made it in entirety.

One factor I hadn’t even anticipated but how on earth we didn’t have any more breakages I’ll never know, was the degree of cold everything had clearly gone through.  In taking out insurance for our possessions, I was of the mind that it would cover any fateful sinking of said ship, or the container being ‘dropped’ from the huge cranes used to load and unload shipments.  It never occurred to me, that cold may be such a key factor, and I’ve got to admit, we’ve been extremely lucky to get away so lightly.

Everything took a few hours to defrost and come up to temperature.  Our bathroom items had all frozen in their tubes, old (and well-used) casserole dishes were showing cracks in the pottery, so we unpacked and left things to acclimatise in their own time.  Only a glass ornament suffered from the glue not being able to withstand the frozen temperatures and had a clean break – which is now fully restored.

Suitcase

Everything is unpacked out of boxes, but with limited furniture as yet, it looks more akin to a jumble sale in many of the rooms than a welcoming invitation to sit down and relax.  That said, everything is here.  And judging from the Canadian scale of things,  we’re going to need a lot more items to fill this house!!!

On that note, I’m just off to the shops – back later  …. 🙂

Have cat … will travel

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Whilst some will consider moving to another country in itself a highly stressful experience, I’ve got to say, moving a 19 year old cat (who’s never been much further than the back door) across a continent has proved to be the most ‘cat’-astrophically stress inducing process by far.

For those up to speed on developments, she’s made it.  She arrived into Calgary airport on a direct flight, in a purpose-made wooden crate, and was unimpressed by the surroundings and the fact that her usual warm bed had been substituted for mere strips of newspaper.

It’s been a long process.  Right from the start, I was reluctant to leave her in the UK and indeed, the local vet saw no reason why she shouldn’t fly.  That decision made, it was left to finding an animal transporter who would successfully get her from ‘A’ to ‘B’.  And, I found an absolutely excellent shipper who solely transports small live animals across the world – usually, New Zealand and Australia; so the prospect of sending a cat to Canada for them was not a big deal in the slightest.  They also kindly let her ‘board’ with them for the last 6 weeks whilst we found somewhere to live and get ourselves sorted, regularly keeping me updated with how she was and the latest news.

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My biggest concern was the weather.  And by weather, I mean snow and sub-zero temperatures.  It didn’t help to discover that there are no direct flights to Edmonton from the UK after the end of October.  This means a round trip of 588km to collect her from the ‘local’ airport in Calgary, 3hrs driving each way.  Manageable if the weather is good, but with snow now on the ground and me being slightly new to the ‘driving on ice’ experience, I was nervous about the journey to say the least.  I also had to take the 3 ‘kids’ who viewed the whole saga as an adventure.  Unlike me, their only concern was having enough sugary snacks to last the journey and whether their iPads would hold out for the full trip there and back in keeping them entertained.  I did suggest we could adopt a more traditional style and perhaps talk and spot things on the roads (which was met with rather withering looks from all 3), and I finally conceded that virtually driving in a straight line between Edmonton and Calgary on one road, in a prairie region probably didn’t offer the full range of stimulation that would last them for 6 hours.

Anyhow, I had a stroke of luck.  The weather held for me and the journey was long but straightforward.

Having never transported a cat – or any animal for that matter before, I wasn’t sure how this was done.  Travelling as ‘cargo’, they are managed by a ‘cargo’ team for that specific airline.  Finding my way to Calgary from Edmonton was a piece of cake compared to navigating the whereabouts of the Cargo office at the airport – which was completely away from any passenger terminal or the usual entry points I’m familiar with.  Reams of documentation are required and upon arrival at the cargo office, you wait for the animal to be unloaded, received by the cargo team and all required documentation completed.  This takes about 1 hour after the plane has landed.

Once you’re provided with the landing documentation, you physically go to Customs to get clearance.  This is held with a border official who requires considered responses to all questions posed and checks all the papers to assess the validity of bringing an animal into the country.  If they are satisfied, you’ll get clearance stamped on the papers – plus relieved of $31 dollars.  Goodness knows the protocol for what happens if they refuse to sign …

Back to the Cargo office, the Customs papers with the ‘clearance’ stamp enable the team to charge me a further $55 dollars and I’m finally issued with the last piece of paper which allows me to obtain (and see) the cat.  Moving to another room, and what can only be described as a warehouse complete with JCB’s and mechanical equipment hoisting goods around, you present this final piece of paper and they offer over the cat.

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For the price of the shipment across the waters, you’d be under the impression that the cat is treated to first class luxurious seating and the full use of a personal butler.  I suspect the reality is more along the lines of being placed alongside the passenger luggage in the hold with not so much as a touch screen TV in sight.

So, after a further 3 hours in the car to our new home, she’s now in situ, favouring a bed in the back of a cupboard where it’s warm and she’s left to herself.  She’s eaten lots and been out for a quick look around and walk around the house – before taking herself back to her domain and catching up on some serious catnaps.

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It was worth it and lovely to see her back with us.  However, for anyone considering doing something similar, I’ll warn you now that it’s easier giving birth …

Happy New Home

Thompson Place HouseIn terms of speed and efficiency, it’s 4 weeks since our arrival in Canada and we have moved into our new house.  Not bad going considering the vast paperwork required (see previous blog), the weather (snow and sub-zero temperatures), and the fact we’ve had to start from scratch in viewing properties, applying for a mortgage and securing bank lending.  It’s been worth it and yes, it’s lovely to be in a house once again with plenty of space to roam and for the kids to make as much noise and mess as only kids do.

And we’ve not had it tough at all.  In terms of accommodation, ‘husband’ secured us a serviced apartment in downtown Edmonton which proved to be absolutely ideal and perfect for what we needed in the initial weeks of our arrival.  In fact, I would advocate its use for holidays and short vacations, especially for those with kids who want the facilities of separate bedrooms and a kitchen thrown in – all the benefits of being in a hotel, but with additional facilities and the freedom to eat and drink what you like without any of the inflated prices.  Bonus features included access to a gym and swimming pool which the kids thought fantastic.  The new house comes without such lavish items …

It’s still nice to finally be in our own home.  For those of you who have diligently kept pace and read my previous blogs, will know that our goods in the UK were shipped on a container in the middle of October (to get up to date click here).  I’ve received word (with some relief), that they’ve now made it across the Atlantic and are currently being transported by train from Montreal and due to arrive in Edmonton early next week.  Perfect timing considering we hadn’t even viewed any properties in Canada when our stuff was sent.  Let’s just say our new home is rather sparsely furnished at the present time – with only 4 beds (thanks to Ikea) constructed and in place.  There are 2 new additions – a television in the basement and a new sofa which was delivered today – which all three kids are currently road-testing.

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So what are the features of our Canadian house compared to the UK, I hear you cry….?

Space.

Space.

And even more space.

Those who have astutely been reading this blog will have spotted the reference to a ‘basement’ which now has a sofa and TV residing in it.  This is in addition to the utility room, bathroom and bedroom which is also down there.  A massive difference to being in the UK and probably bigger than most people’s flats alone.  It’s a wonderful space and something which is a complete novelty.

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Then there’s the bathrooms.  How many sinks and toilets does one family need?  Answer: clearly, like handbags and shoes, there can never be too many.  I can just imagine a few of you thinking, ‘she’ll regret it when there’s all the cleaning to do’ …. very true.  But I’ve also got 3 female kids who are going to be trained in the art of maintaining a clean space.  Unfortunately, I suspect the training programme will fall on deaf ears with ‘husband’ who will remain a lost cause ……

My kitchen (notice the change of personal tense with regards to this particular room in the house), has a monster fridge – the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on American sitcoms, a waste disposal, 2 ovens and a walk-in pantry which I’m just having to concentrate on filling entirely (has to be done).  I’m also a reformed recycling nerd who, having spent the last 8 years living in a property with antiquated disincentives with regard to conserving waste – I’m embracing this with a vengeance.  The kids think it highly entertaining my aspiration to minimise all general rubbish whatsoever and are wondering how long this will last for.  As for me, as with most things in life – I’m in it for the long term …

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What about my 19-year old cat I hear you cry?  Has she made it across the Atlantic?  Well – not yet.  She’s been luxuriating in a boarding cattery at a specialist animal transporters for the last 5 weeks and is due to fly into Calgary Airport next Monday on an Air Canada flight.  I’m not sure what she’ll make of it at all having never been further than the back door for the majority of her life, let alone the sub-zero temperatures, but she’s got a thick coat and I’m sure she’ll adjust.  If nothing else, I can’t wait to see her and be reunited.  Unfortunately, my husband isn’t of the same mindset ….

And there’s the bikes.  Yes, these were culled from the original 9 in our garage back home, and said ‘husband’ has been pining for their return on a daily basis.  He’s stopped eating, can’t sleep, is thinking about them constantly …. do you think now’s the best time to mention there were only 2 that made it onto the container?

🙂

Paperwork, paperwork and ….. yes, even more paperwork

Paperwork

My goodness.  If anyone had told me the extent to which moving to another country would incur the volume of paperwork and means of identification that we’ve had to show over the last few weeks, I wouldn’t have believed them.  There’s also no consistency, so it’s akin to a big game of ‘Guess Who’ and you have to try and predict which forms of identification and paperwork will suffice for which organisation.

For some, it’s obvious.  On entry into Canada, we had to provide a ream of paperwork on official forms, with every type of UK identification you can think of, along with employer letters and bank statements, payroll slips and birth certificates.  But this you expect, and equally, you’re reassured that the authorities are taking all measures to ensure who they accept into the country are both eligible and authentic.  How did we slip through the net then I hear you shout …..

So, upon entry into a new country we were awarded a work permit and visitor permits for a set duration of time.  Another piece of documentation to add to our set – yes, but an absolute essential item, as without it you can’t get any further.  Imagine snakes and ladders – this would be the first snake you’d go down without being able to present the official permits and you’d remain there until one was obtained.

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Moving on, we then had to obtain a Social Identification Number (or SIN) as it’s commonly referred to – rather like a National Insurance number in the UK.  It’s unique to you, and it validates your entitlement to then register for a range of social services and healthcare, but also importantly, for those working in Canada, any Canadian employer isn’t able to pay you without having this.  (By the way, no one tells you the critical path of obtaining all these various forms of identification – it’s very much a sense of luck that you manage to get them in the right order).  This is another piece of critical paper that you mustn’t lose and is required for further services down the line …. (not that I realised it at the original time).

Next up, was opening a bank account.  I’m informed all banks take a different approach to the identification required – luckily, ours accepted all of the previously obtained documents above – plus a UK passport, driving licence, birth and marriage certificates to prove who we were.  It’s a good job we were extremely well prepared and purposely travelled with every known document we possessed.  We had also tracked down all documents we thought we may need, which covered every possible eventuality before departing the UK  – just goes to show, without doing this, we would definitely have come unstuck.  Think of Monopoly – you cannot pass go …

MonopolyWe’ve also had to buy both a house and a car.  Let me just say, that whilst both have required paperwork, the volumes of which even ‘The Hobbit’ would be classed as a ‘light read’ in comparison – on reflection, it’s been harder to secure a car in Canada with financing over a 3 year period than it has been to get a mortgage for the next 25 years.  I kid you not.

You get caught in a catch 22 situation.  You need to build up a credit history to be able to apply for credit cards and smaller loans – even ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes for sofas – but they won’t accept you as you’ve got no previous credit in the country. It’s no good showing UK letters from banks and previous insurers about your credibility as they don’t count for anything in a different country.  We’ve often had to adopt an approach of hauling all manner of documents out of our bags and asking them to peruse which they’d like to accept from the vast ream available in the hope that there’s the critical 1 or 2 hidden amongst them which offers the assurances required.

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And just when you think you’ve navigated your way through what can only be described as a minefield, there’s always something which presents an additional hurdle which wasn’t foreseen.  For example, we managed to buy a car at the end of last week, and once all the documents have been signed and finance agreed, you can’t take the vehicle without going to a ‘Registry Office’ and obtaining a registration plate for the vehicle.  Simple you may think.  To do this, you have to show proof of identity with a driving licence … an Albertan driving licence which also forms the basis for your car insurance as well as a registration plate for the car.  This we didn’t have.  Yes,  we could offer UK driving licenses and in the end, these have been surrendered and temporary Albertan driving licenses provided in lieu of the official ones being dispatched to us over the next few weeks.  It’s an offence in Alberta to carry 2 driving licences – you can only have one, and can only hold a UK licence in the country for upto 12 months anyhow.  It was with a bit of trepidation that we handed these over – but the good news is, we secured our car in the process.  Some things you just have to sacrifice in battle in order to win the war.

Luckily, there are some surprises and things which you expect to prove difficult which have been amazingly easy and quick to secure.  Take enrolling the kids into schools – this was a 5 minute telephone conversation followed by a visit to the school and demonstrating we were moving into the designated area along with birth certificates and school reports.  Fantastic!  This also meant the kids were only out of any education for a week – not bad considering.

Tomorrow, we finally move into our Canadian house and become officially Canadian residents.  Bit of a milestone.  Not bad for Week 4 since our arrival … the saga continues 🙂