Why Be a Tourist in a Place You Want to Call Home?

[ Nederlandse versie Hier]

Saskia & Andre say, "follow your dream!”

In 1995 we visited a friend of ours who emigrated from the Netherlands to Vancouver Island for the first time. We combined this visit with a motor home tour. From that moment on we became attached to the Canadian Rockies and the friendly Canadian people. One way or another, Alberta attracted us more than British Columbia, in particular the foothills spoke to us because of its diversity (mountains, hills and prairie). We went on these motor home holidays as much as possible. Whenever we saw a vacant dwelling somewhere in the mountains we said to each other: let’s just stay here! Of course we couldn’t stay away from the Netherlands and neglect our job obligations, our home and our family. It didn’t seem very realistic. But this deep desire was always looming.

In the meantime we had 2 children (Frank 1998 and Kim 2000) and we could no longer afford our Canadian holidays so in 2003 we left the big city and moved to a quieter place in South East Friesland. We wanted our children to be able to play safely outside (a home with a garden in Haarlem was not possible) and enjoy nature without traffic congestion and bicycle accidents. The first two years we really enjoyed our acreage in Friesland. It wasn’t Canada and not our ultimate dream, but within the possibilities offered by the Netherlands it was the best spot. This was until the dairy farm across the way grew to a mega operation....besides our own land there wasn’t a safe spot to be seen for our children. And it wasn’t a quiet place anymore! Large farm machinery and the increased freight traffic really soured our appetite (and disturbed our sleep). Once again we started our search for a quieter place in the Netherlands. We discovered that we did not have the financial capacity or the prospective for good schooling for our children and culture were not there. We did find a place for which we would have needed to borrow an excessive amount and I said: “if we do this then we will never go to Canada because our obligation to this place is very long.” We did not buy that place.

When I expressed my frustration in a conversation with a colleague he asked me: “Sas, what would you like best?” Without a doubt I said: “I know exactly what I want: I want to go to Canada, to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains! But, how do I arrange that?” “That’s funny,” he said, “not too long ago I read an article in the paper that there is an information meeting about immigrating to Canada. I will look it up for you.” Of course this aroused my interests but I was still a little sceptical. Shortly after I read this article: one Mr. Van Ee would tell you about the possibilities about emigrating to South West Alberta! As a Dutch saying reads: “Now my wooden shoe breaks!” (e.g. “I’ll be darned.) That is exactly the area which we like so much! There were people needed for work in various occupations and there was a telephone number listed which I phoned immediately after work: there was still a spot available for the meeting in two days. I phoned my husband at his work (I admit to push) that he go with me on Thursday to the meeting for which I arranged a babysitter right away. Inside I was very enthusiastic and curious, but I had to force myself not to push my husband too much. I realized that each of us had to make this decision themselves before we could take the next step together. This was January 2008.

The information meeting started with movie scenes: for us an al aha-erlebnis! That night we knew that we would book a trip to Alberta very soon. At the information meeting we received some more information and via the internet we could find more detailed information. Henk Van Ee gave us his card and advised us to meet with him in Alberta to visit the surrounding areas. He could also introduce us to a few other people. This was an opportunity that we absolutely had to take! We wanted to take our children (then 7 ½ and 10 years old). We did not include them in our decision making but we did want to see how they would react. (If one of the children got home sick then we probably would not have made this step.)

The trip we made in May 2008 was not only promising but also very fruitful. Through Henk and Willy Van Ee we met Rick Matheson who, in conjunction with Economic Development SW Alberta, introduced my husband to some potential employers. Before we even knew it, my husband was offered a job in Pincher Creek and the work permit procedures could begin! Both Rick and Henk gave us a tour of Fort Macleod and Pincher Creek to give us an idea of the area. You look at the area with a different pair of eyes than when you are a tourist: what kind of schools are there, swimming pools, library, hospital, etc. The children experienced all of this very well and the highlight for them was to be a cowboy and cowgirl and go horseback riding with rick.

After our return we spent the next few months requesting documents and having others translated, etc. Adre’s work experience (references) en training had to be reviewed, similar to other trades, the occupation of refrigeration technician is licensed. His employer in the Netherlands was contacted by the apprenticeship board to verify information, this was serious business! The outcome was positive, but there was a condition, that Andre take the qualification exam within one year. In the meantime, the employer in Alberta had to request a LMO. In the meantime, our immigration consultancy bureau made the mistake to request that Andre take the exam in October. They made us believe that this was necessary to obtain the work permit. What a situation: we had no idea what to expect from this examination en did not have any materials to prepare for it. Naive as we were, we trusted the emigration bureau. My husband did not pass the examination....! A lot of the questions had nothing to do with refrigeration, we even asked ourselves if this was the right examination. We spend the rest of the week trying to get more information and to find out if that examination had to be taken (later we heard that Andre had to work in Alberta for a while first and that the Canadian employer had to recommend to take the test! This was a mistake of our immigration consultants in Quebec.)

In the meantime the employer in Canada received the LMO. We did not know when our immigration consultants applied for our work permits. The communication was abominable. We could sell our house in the Netherlands and we found out that you could apply for a work permit upon entry in Canada (of course with risk that it would be rejected). On April 1 we sold our house in the Netherlands and on April 2 we arrived in Calgary. We rented a motor home: our first home in Canada! On Friday we applied for a SIN number which is necessary to work in Canada. That weekend we used to get over the jetlag en to get our first supplies. Andre called his employer who was very happy that he could start on Monday because he was going on holidays on Wednesday! The children were also thrown into a new situation: they could go to school, but they only knew a few words of English! There they received very good guidance, mornings were spent with their classmates and the afternoons were spend on ESL (English as a second language) together with 2 Korean students. Frank adjusted so well that he didn’t need ESL for long. Kim also did very well, especially through play technique she made a few friends who taught her English words. I offered to help in class but it turned out that it wasn’t necessary at all.

In the meantime there was a lot to arrange: a bank account, a post office box and a house! After looking at many homes with a real estate agent “all over town” we found our dream home; a cedar wood home with a wonderful view of the mountains. Our whole dream was coming true!...but the exam had to be taken again... We looked for information everywhere and we received all kinds of books about refrigeration through friends of friends of friends. It turned out that not all information was contained in these books. Even the employer, a refrigeration technician, was unable to help us with this specific Red Seal Exam (an upgrade from the journeyman exam). We also noticed that they way the questions were phrased were difficult for us. A translator could be present so we found a young man whose parents were Dutch but he obtained his studies in Alberta. He was able to decipher the subtle linguistic tricks and Andre was able to pass the Red Seal exam in January 2010 which gave him the ability to work in all provinces in Canada.

Our immigration bureau, after a few months delay, applied for our permanent residency but neglected to tell us that the embassy requested extra information. At this time our work permit had to be renewed and a new LMO was needed. But the LMO was rejected en caused our work permit to be rejected as well. We were unable to work for 4 months until our status was restored (this meant to reapply for a LMO and a restoration of status application). This situation was caused by our immigration consultants whose communication with the employer was nonexistent. At this time we took over communication with the embassy from the immigration bureau.

There were a lot of people in Pincher Creek who tried to help us with our situation: people were trying to influence political figures to help solve our situation. It was very special that so many people were supporting us: many brought food and money to help us through this time.
After we got our work permits our permanent resident status followed soon after, we can stay! This is absolutely awesome because we think this place is fantastic. In the beginning of 2011 Andre started his own business: Andre Heating & Cooling. This was never our intention but the possibilities for owning your own business here are favourable and by taking the emigration step we have started to look at life differently the last 2 years and being self-employed is another thing of freedom.

We can never get enough of nature here, it is great to go out into the mountains. The people are friendly and helpful, and look at the positive side of things. The kids have built a life here that was impossible in the Netherlands: Frank has taking a hunting course (allowed here when you are 12 years old), attends junior high where he is part of the school band en also takes part in roping every so often (as cowboy on a horse!). Kim has placed third in a spelling bee at school, had a great time at summer camp and took ski lessons with school...

Here is a tip for those who are thinking about immigration: We would advise anyone to take matters into your own hands and make contact with Canada yourself. Completing forms is not complicated and this way you maintain control of all communication with the embassy. It is our impression that the embassy appreciates this. For tips and big issues is an assessment with an immigration consultant helpful, but I advise anyone to do further immigration procedures and applications yourself. You may also save money, and sometimes a lot of it.

As for the rest: “follow your dream!”

Good luck.
Saskia & Andre van Zandwijk