Canada has invigorated all our senses and our experiences have bonded us as a family. Arriving into a winter wonderland where the temperatures were well below zero and frost was everywhere was a shock to our systems. Getting ready to leave the house took time, one had to rug up for the cold outside. The scene was white everywhere you looked. Although our neighbours and work colleagues kept reminding us this was a mild winter, we felt it was the coldest winter ever.
Frosty fun in Canada
Our first trip to Toronto was for the exchange conference meet and greet in early February. Here we obtained information on what to expect in the year ahead and how to navigate our way around the schools and community. We also established vital links with other exchange families living nearby. Fortunately, we met the Chand family who were living only a half hour away from us in Guelph and who also have a 15 year old daughter.
The girls became instant friends and we felt like we had family close by. We met another exchange family from Toronto who had a son the same age as ours, so two boxes were now ticked off as both of our children had friends through the exchange group.
That Toronto weekend we stayed with a host family who had been to Australia on exchange many years before and we were welcomed with open arms. We walked along Yonge Street, the longest street in the world and enjoyed the sights that this new city had to offer, stopping for a Starbucks hot chocolate on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon. The CLEE (Canadian League for Educational Exchange) has organised some wonderful experiences where we have connected with other Australian teachers and their families. Quebec was our next new city to discover, this old walled city was having its Winter Interlude, a festival to celebrate all things winter.
We took an overnight bus trip to get there and upon arrival were rewarded with a beautiful white panorama overlooking the old city on the frozen St Lawrence River. Highlights saw us take a historical tour of the city, visit one of the oldest cathedrals in Quebec, experience the Montmorency Falls close up, take a ferry across the half iced St Lawrence River and visit the unique ice hotel. This hotel had bedrooms fitted with ice beds and there was a bar where we bought drinks in an ice cup. The kids also had many opportunities to practise their basic French which turned out to be nearly every time we had a meal!
In the first three months of living in Canada we have tried to get out and about as much as possible. It has been exciting to arrive home from work on Friday, pack the car and drive to our next weekend holiday destination.
The Wanakita weekend was one of these Friday getaways which took us to one of Ontario’s many provincial parks for a weekend of snow activities with our fellow Aussie exchanges. In the March break we got away from the cold and went on a prebooked Caribbean cruise with our new friends from Guelph.
Here we enjoyed the sun, islands, swimming, jet boating and visiting many of the cricket grounds of the West Indies including the Viv Richards Stadium in Antigua. We drove to Chicago at Easter with family members and enjoyed the sites of this skyscraper city on Lake Michigan. Niagara Falls, which is only 90 minutes drive from our home, lived up every bit to our expectations and we will be going back there soon to do the Maid of the Mist boat cruise.
On weekends closer to home, we experienced the annual Swan Parade at Stratford (Canada’s home for Shakespeare), walked the Maple Syrup Festival at Elmira and bought some delicious foods at St Jacobs Market where much of the produce is grown by the Mennonites, a religious cultural group who harvest the land for a living.
Of course, work is a priority Monday to Fridays and I am enjoying teaching Canadian history to the Grade 10s bringing an Australian perspective on historical events wherever possible. There are many parallels between both countries histories which makes it a little easier when brushing up on the content. It was great to be here for Canada’s centenary commemorations of the Vimy Ridge campaign where over 10,000 Canadian students travelled to Vimy Ridge in France for the ceremony. On 25 April, a large plate of Canadian flavoured ANZAC biscuits was made for the staff at school which they enjoyed. Maple syrup was used instead of golden syrup but they tasted just as good as the real ones.
So much to see in Canada and looking forward to the next nine months.
John Mckelleher is on exchange from St Charbel's College Punchbowl to Huron Park Secondary School in Woodstock Ontario.