Friday, 24 June 2016

Looking for Work

Blog 26

After our return from the trip to Vancouver, Ingo and I knew that we did not want to move out west. Even though most of the places we saw were beautiful, we had not seen a city where we could imagine to start our new life. As Ingo had wanted to wait to see how I would do on the job market, we had to realize now that our only chance to stay was for him to find a job. My chances to find employment were basically nil. While we waited for responses to Ingo's applications, we continued to explore the area around Mississauga which we both did not like. It did not seem to have a soul, no town centre to speak of, if you did not consider the huge shopping centre Square One as the meeting point. It had the feeling of a big sleeper city where people had their houses, went shopping, and out for casual dinner. There was no cultural centre either, the Living Arts Centre was only opened in 1997. Toronto had so much to offer that most people went there for their entertainment needs.

I could also not see myself living in Toronto. It had so much to offer, but it was just too big and busy for me. I came from a small town with a population of less than 10,000 people. Even Frankfurt, where I worked, had only about 650,000 residents in 1995, while Toronto City had already more than 2 millions.

Nevertheless, we kept exploring the area, especially with regard to the fact that we did not know where Ingo would find a job. As Ingo's parents had bought us a tandem as an engagement gift, we used the bike to get around on the great system of bike trails. Toronto is beautifully situated along Lake Ontario’s northwestern shore. We loved the many parks along the lake.

We enjoyed the diversity of cultures during the Festival Caravan, a multicultural festival where the various ethnic communities living in Toronto shared their culture with others. It was a chance to break down barriers between different ethnic groups, inviting others to get to know their traditions. The communities showcased their food, dance, crafts, and clothing. To me, as a foreigner looking to find my identity in a new world, this was fascinating and encouraging that others had adapted and still kept their traditions. It felt like we travelled the world in a couple of hours. While heading from one pavilion to the next, we did not only see the shiny side of the city, but also such rundown areas which made me happy to be in a bus.

On another day, we took the ferry to Toronto Island. As we had brought our tandem, we were able to drive all over the island and managed to see areas that Ingo had not even seen before. I loved the houses on the island. Some looked like artists studios, quite rundown but with a certain charm, while others had beautiful flower beds. We enjoyed being able to take the time to explore the island, including making time for a picnic and game.

Needless to say, we also went to Canada's Wonderland, the Toronto Zoo, the Stratford Festival, and on a whirlpool jet boat tour on the Niagara River. While I loved the zoo with the beautiful animals, I was not a fan of the two other kinds of entertainment. I loathe roller coasters due to my severe motion sickness and my fear of heights, and I do not enjoy water crashing over my head.

By the end of June 1995, Ingo had found a temporary position to help out a friend of his father's with his computer needs. This was great because we could certainly need the extra money. On the other hand, it left me alone at his parents' house. His mother introduced me to a creative group she belonged to. The mostly older ladies prepared crafts for the church Christmas bazaar. However, the first meeting went only well until I saw the house owner's big hunting dog. Luckily, my mother-in-law was sympathetic enough to take me home.

I did not really feel lonely. I actually enjoyed some moments of solitude. I was not used to constantly be together with another person. I really focused on my design of teddy bears and was happy to see that the materials were a lot cheaper than in Germany. Unfortunately, I could not find some of the materials I was used to, but I was optimistic that I would be able to sell the bears at double the price of their material costs. I even looked for possible venues to sell my bears, and was happy when I found a store where artists could rent a space to display and sell their crafts. There was at least an option for an alternative career.

In retrospect, this was all very naive. Even if I did not go back to an office job, I would still need a residence permit. I was in Canada as a visitor. I guess by the beginning of July, Ingo and I started to reconcile with the idea that we would have to go back to Germany after the six months.

Thank you for following my journey. To find out how we finally ended up in Ottawa and have lived in the region for more than 21 years, please continue to follow my blogs.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Trying to Fit In

Oscar, 10" x 10" acrylic painting

Blog 25

Once, my husband and I returned from our trip out west, we did not stay long with Ingo's parents in Mississauga. We were restless. We were both used to having our own apartment, and living in Ingo's former bedroom felt restricting. It was difficult to be a guest in someone else's house, especially when I hardly knew Ingo's parents. It did not help that I did not know anyone with whom I could have gone out beside Ingo. There was nobody to confide in, except for my friends who were light years away.

Living with strangers also meant that I felt I constantly had to ask for permission. I could not just grab the telephone and call my sister or a friend. I also felt uncomfortable because Ingo's mother did not want me, the guest, to help or to contribute to anything (which is a typical German trait), so I was sitting in the living room while she did the housework.

We offered to take turns cooking, but Ingo's mother did not want to hear of it. Even though she had lived in Canada for more than 15 years, she reacted the same way my mother would have reacted. That was the duty (and pride) of the German housewife of earlier generations. Finally, we decided to cook for ourselves because in the Peters household dinner was served usually after 8:30 pm which we were not used to. However, this was difficult because we constantly seemed to be in the way.

Our next trip brought us to London, Ontario, where Ingo had studied at the University of Western. We went to visit Lisa, one of Ingo's friends from university. It was nice to be together with Ingo's friend. Things were less complicated. We had fun together, played games, watched movies, and enjoyed dinners together.

Part of our visit was also to write and send out job applications. As we did not have a computer, we decided to write at the university. We had written and saved our sample letters on a CD, but found out that we were not able to open the files due to a virus. Luckily, we had printed the samples. We had to start all over again. When we had finally printed the documents, I noticed that one of my documents was only on a backup disc. However, the computers were occupied by other students and we had run out of parking money anyway.
We had to return the next day.

When we checked the documents again after the second time at the university, we noticed two spelling mistakes. Therefore, we had to return to the university a third time. This was all very frustrating, especially because a representative of a recruitment company, as well as an employment lawyer in Toronto, did not give us much hope that anyone would hire me without a work permit. Most companies would not make the effort to get a work permit for me when they could just hire a Canadian resident. If I did not mention this fact in my application, it would give me at least a chance that they would even look at my application. I had already sent our more than 20 applications from Germany, but had not heard from a single company.

There was another alternative: I could get a working and residence permit if Ingo and I would get married. This was, however, not an option we considered. Although we were engaged, marriage was far from our mind.

Ingo was as frustrated as I was, but felt I had to take more initiative. I should not just send applications to companies, but visit several companies in person with my application in hand. I would not have taken this approach even in Germany, and my limited English certainly did not increase my confidence. I should have thought about all this before we moved to Canada, and in retrospect I am amazed how naive and blinded by love I was to not have spend more time thinking about how things would be once I was uprooted from my surroundings.

Two Friends, 11" x 14" oil painting
On the other hand, I enjoyed my time off. My job in Germany had often required long hours. Additionally, I had studied while working full-time for many years. I did not have lots of free time. However, before we left Germany, I had taken a course in making hand-sewn teddy bears. I was a big collector of teddy bears, and during my early years in Canada my collection would grow even more. When we did not travel, I designed and created all kinds of stuffed teddy bears.

Nowadays, I am too busy again to create any more bears, although I still have lots of material. Therefore, I decided to offer a teddy bear workshop on August 10 and 24, 2016 from 6:30 - 9 pm. During the two part workshop, you will learn to sew a teddy bear with a jointed head. All the materials and light refreshments are provided. You are welcome to bring some extra material to dress up your bear.

Cost: $ 60 for both workshops together.
Registration deadline: August 3, 2016

To register please contact me at

Friday, 10 June 2016

The Big Adventure – part 15: From Sault Ste. Marie to Mississauga

Blog 24

After we spent three days in the United States, we crossed the border to Canada in Sault Ste. Marie. It was already late when we checked in at a Motel at Clear Lake. All the stores were already closed, and the restaurants we saw on our way were rather expensive for our budget. Therefore, our dinner consisted of chocolate, chips and grapes. This did not help to lift my mood which had been somber since we crossed the border. All the border formalities made me realize that I did not want to live my whole life as a foreigner in an unfamiliar country without the right to vote. I started to brood about the question what would happen if Ingo found a terrific job but I would not be able to stay in Canada. Ingo was even prepared to separate for up to two years if he got a fantastic offer.

Then the questions just kept on coming. What would I do if I returned to Germany? My apartment was rented out, I had given my resignation at work. In retrospect, I am surprised how few thoughts I had spent on the possibility of not liking the country, and all the obstacles that could be in our way. I am usually an over-cautious person. This was the first time, I had taken a big leap, and I was not handling it too well. I guess I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I could succeed in building up a new life, and live an adventure nobody would have done before in my circle of family and friends. Nobody would have expected me to go ahead with such an adventure.

I loved Ingo, but I felt his frustration with me. He was afraid he would lose me, and disappointed that I did not fight harder to find possibilities where I saw only obstacles. He appealed to my strength of persistence, telling me that it was normal that the adaptation was difficult at first but that I would adjust to the new situation. However, I did not want to adapt, and was worried to be dependent on Ingo due to the fact that I would probably not find any work in Canada without having received a work permit first.

I was worried where I would find work even with a work permit. I had no clue about the Canadian economy and employment situation. Then there was the question of children. Would I only look for an interim solution or did I want to build my career?

The more home sick I became, the more questions occupied my mind. Questions for which I did not even want to find a positive answer. I was up until 2 am worrying and writing in my journal.

No wonder I was tired on our last leg of the trip. We continued our trip to Manitoulin Island where we boarded the ferry to Tobermory. I was amazed how green everything was. Within the three weeks since we left Ontario, the nature has just exploded. However, it was quite cool. After two weeks in summer clothes, we had to reach for long pants, sweatshirts, and jackets.

The ferry trip was not very exciting. There was hardly anything to see until we came close to Tobermory. The lighthouse of Cove Island looked very romantic. Unfortunately, we did not take any pictures as we were struggling to eat the doughy pizza we bought in the restaurant on the ferry.

In Tobermory, we put on hiking boots and climbed over the rocks of Bruce Peninsula National Park. It was a lot of fun. I even dared to climb through a tight crevice up a big rock. The water was light green, and you could see that the limestone rocks form stairs that continue into the water. I would have loved to go swimming, but the strong current makes it impossible for humans to go into the water and destroy the idyll. I was fascinated by the many flowers that were resilient enough to grow on the rocky surface. On the impressive rocks they looked even more delicate.

From Tobermory we went straight back to Mississauga. I had hoped that I would find piles of letters from Germany from the last four weeks, but I only found one letter from my grandmother. I was very happy to hear from her, but sad that I did not get more mail. However, Ingo's mother had brought some gifts from her trip to Germany, some specialty chocolate, a cooking book, my favourite shampoo, shower gel, and toothpaste.

Today, with social media, email, Skype, Hangout, etc. it is so much easier to stay in contact. I love that I can see my parents these days when we talk through Skype. However, in 1995, I had to wait a long time to hear from my family and friends. The only ones I regularly phoned where my parents and my sister, and even that was complicated due to the time difference and it was expensive.

After our trip to Vancouver and back, we did not stay long with Ingo's parents in Mississauga. Our next destination was London, Ontario, where Ingo had studied and where we visited one of his friends.

Thank you for reading my blog. It is quite interesting to me to go back in time after more than 20 years. If you would like to continue to accompany me during my look back to my first months in Canada, please return to my blog next Friday.

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Big Adventure – part 14: From Calgary to the American Border

Blog 23

When we left Calgary, our next destination was Drumheller, the former territory of the dinosaurs. The further east we drove, the more the meadows disappeared. Finally, the farmland turned into vast areas of dry land. It looked very desolate. First, we visited the Rosedale Swinging Suspension Bridge that crossed the Red Deer River. On the opposite side of the river we could already see the “hoodoos” of the Canadian Badlands, mushroom shaped geological formations which were formed by erosion caused by water and wind. The “Dinosaur Trail” went through these fantastic rock formations. To reach the other side of the river, we had to take a small ferry.

At the end of our round trip, we found the “Little Church” which was hardly bigger than Ingo. Only six people fit inside at a time. There was no altar but Christian Music was playing. What a great place for prayer or meditation!

In the surrounding fields, Ingo and I saw many small animals the size of a hamster. They had light brown fur and were playing and cuddling together. What a sweet sight! I still do not know what kind of animals they were. Does anyone know the answer?

We continued to Bassano where we enjoyed a combination of lunch and dinner. It was already 6 pm, and we had been so immersed in the sights around us that we had not made time to eat. While we were enjoying our food, we saw a young man sitting under a tree. Shortly after, he was lying on the stairs in front of the toilets. As it turned out, he had biked from Calgary and overdone what he was capable of. We gave him some salt pretzels and grapes which he could not keep down. Then, we stayed, and talked to him until he felt better.

Unfortunately, we could not go to the Dinosaur Provincial Park anymore, but we continued to Medicine Hat where we spent the night in a motel. Our room was huge, and it had a desk and even a refrigerator. We definitely got more worth out of our money outside of the big tourist destinations. Even if a bottle of carbonated water was still extremely expensive. The cheapest 0.75L bottle we found at a store cost still almost $2. It was just not an item that was much in demand at the time. Nowadays, you can buy all kinds of different sparkling waters in the grocery stores. Ironically, by now I have switched to plain water, mostly out of the faucet. It seems that you adapt to your surroundings, even if you do not notice it.

The next day, we drove to the Cypress Hills Provincial Park. The landscape changed from flat to rocky. Everything was so quiet. You could just hear the leaves rustling in the wind and the birds. We saw a couple of free running cows, and later a coyote or maybe even a wolf. We passed two beautiful lakes: Elkwater Lake and Reesor Lake. I loved the mix of the dark greens of the conifers and the fresh greens of the deciduous forest.

Once we passed the Battle Creek, the road got worse. First there was gravel, but soon the road was more appropriate for a four wheeler. The rutting tore off part of the splitter of our car. We had to leave the car a couple of times to move boulders out of the way. If it had rained it would have been quite the muddy adventure. We even had to drive through a small creek before we finally reached the highway again. Somehow, we must have missed the right road suggested by the “Canadian Book of Roads”. We definitely saw areas of the park that are usually not visited by tourists.

On the highway, we saw a sign advising us that there would not be any settlements or gas stations for the next 134 km. A perfect time for a nap. I woke up when we reached the border to the United States. For the next two days we drove through Havre, Malta, Culbertson, Williston, Bemidji, Minot, Rugby, Crookston, Duluth, Wakefield, Marquette, along the Lake Superior through Christmas and finally back to Sault Ste. Marie in Canada.

While this was a beautiful part of our trip, I will continue my travelogue next week with our stay in Sault Ste. Marie as I am writing about my first impressions of Canada.