Canada has been on my mind a lot recently. Partially because of international media coverage after the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, BC. Partially because Prime Minister Trudeau got weird amounts of attention for his poufy hair and fancy socks at the G7 in Cornwall. But mostly because I haven’t been on Canadian soil for a year and a half.
That’s a long absence for me.
As more people are fully vaccinated (in Switzerland and Canada) and COVID-19 infection rates are going down in both countries, travel is starting to re-open. But plotting a trip ‘home’ has been complicated by quarantine requirements, lack of flights, previous commitments, and, above all, so much uncertainty.
Just a few weeks after landing in Calgary, I found myself at the Saddledome watching a Calgary Hitmen hockey game. How stereotypically Canadian!
I can’t say that I missed watching live hockey while in Europe (I’ve never been a huge sports fan), but it was nice to be doing something so typically Canadian with other Canadians. There were families with kids, groups of teenagers, a cluster or two of slightly rowdy young men, and couples on dates; the same demographic that show up at rinks all across the country, regardless of the league or the skill of the players.
While watching the game, I ate salty popcorn and nachos with plasticky cheese and pickled jalapeno peppers, washed down with overpriced beer; the same ‘cuisine’ available at minor league hockey games everywhere in Canada.
I cheered when the home team scored (which happened right in front of us once!) and booed when the visitors got a goal (although the visiting team was from nearby Red Deer and their fans came close to drowning out the local crowd). I applauded the little kids who took the ice between periods, bought a 50/50 ticket, and watched the zambonis resurface the ice during intermissions. Just like millions of Canadians do at hockey games in every province and territory.
Having attended many hockey games (even without really liking the sport!), I knew what to expect and how to behave. I didn’t worry about language barriers or not understanding the basics of the game or inadvertently offending those around me through my lack of cultural experience. For a few hours, I was just a typical Canadian engaged in a typically Canadian pastime. A nameless hockey fan.
There were a few things I knew missed while abroad (like natural peanut butter!), but I hadn’t realized how much I missed feeling like just another face in the crowd. I hadn’t realized how comforting it can be to be typical.
Thanks to Stompin’ Tom Connors for the post title 🙂 Another typically Canadian trait is knowing at least some of the words to his most popular work – The Hockey Song!
We’ve been in Calgary for about a week and a half and are starting to adjust to the dry climate, cold temperatures, and bright sunshine. The windchill can be harsh, but actually seeing the sun in the winter (unlike the typically grey skies in Vancouver or Berlin) offsets at least some of the wintry pain. Sofie’s enjoyment of the deep snow also makes the winter weather more bearable!
Despite being shorter than the drifts, Sofie loves running through the snow – snuffling and sniffing as she goes. She usually winds up with a very icy beard and frequently needs some thawing time after we get back inside. At least she’s consented to wearing booties to ward off the worst of the cold, prevent ice balls forming on her feet, and protect her paw pads from the salt and other chemicals used to melt the ice on sidewalks and driveways.
She was baffled by the booties initially and it was hilarious watching her trying to lift up all four paws at once in protest, but after a few minutes Sofie figured them out and now lets us put them on without a fight.
Sofie’s proven herself to be pretty adaptable and has very much made herself comfortable… an inspiration to my and my husband!
Staying with my sister-in-law and her family has certainly helped with feeling like we belong. They’ve made us feel incredibly welcome and comfortable – even though we’re still half living out of duffle bags!
We’re both looking forward to really settling in – renting an apartment we’ll be in for longer than a few months, finding jobs, developing our hobbies (cycling, squash, and German lessons for him; yoga, volunteering, and a better command of French for me) and learning about our new city.
If you have any tips for Calgary, please let me know!
We’re kicking off the new year with big changes. On 1 January, we’re leaving Germany and returning to Canada. Our grown-up gap year adventure is wrapping up… and a new adventure is beginning.
Instead of returning to beautiful Vancouver or taking on Canada’s biggest metropolis (Toronto), we’re going to mix familiar and foreign (although far less foreign than Germany!) by settling in Calgary.
While neither of us have lived in Calgary before, my husband’s sister and her family live there and much of their extended family is in the province. We both lived in Edmonton (a 2 1/2 hour drive north) when we met and I’ve lived through four Albertan winters (my Northern-born husband has been through many more!), which is proof that I can survive -40º Celsius temperatures, deep snow drifts, and blinding mid-winter sun.
Gulp. That’s much more winter than I’m used to!
Mannheim is trying to help us get ready for Calgary’s winters by sending us off with snow. We woke to a wonderland of the white stuff, which made Sofie super happy. She loves the snow… and I suspect there will be lots of it waiting for us in Calgary!
One of my favourite things about this time of year is sending Christmas cards. I love picking them out, putting on stamps, listing out recipients, and writing messages of hope and happiness. I imagine that the cards I send add a little sparkle (sometimes literally… I choose a lot of glittery cards!) and hopefully bring some holiday cheer.
This year I sent a few cards to strangers and I’ll likely never know if the correspondence got to them. The Canadian Armed Forces allows people to send cards to random members and after reflecting on Remembrance Day a few weeks ago, it seemed appropriate to send my appreciation to Canadians currently serving around the world.
The cards I sent out this year likely won’t be received in time for Christmas (they go through a central mail station and are then sent overseas, so it’s an early deadline!), but hopefully they still bring some holiday happiness. The Instructions for Mailing Overseas on the Canadian Forces website make it easy to send mail to ‘Any Canadian Armed Forces Member’ and it was interesting to see the Canadian Forces operation names and locations (like OP HAMLET in Haiti and OP KOBOLD in Kosovo).
I was surprised to find that Canada is one of the only countries that enables this kind of contact with troops overseas. Australia has a Postcards to the Troops program that’s somewhat similar; the American Red Cross has a Holiday Mail for Heroes program that doesn’t have a central mailing address and seems pretty patchy; and the UK doesn’t allow any non-personally addressed mail to members of their armed forces. (There are, however, British charities like uk4u Thanks! that collect funds to send holiday parcels to troops.)
One more reason I feel lucky to be Canadian 🙂
Next year, I’ll break out the cards and seasonal tea at the beginning of November (and likely violate my husband’s ‘No Christmas songs before December!’ rule) and make sure the cards for ‘Any Canadian Armed Forces Member’ get to the central depot well in advance!