I remember when I first came to Cold Lake to find somewhere to live. I was devastated about the transfer and had even considered turning down my promotion in order to stay in Ottawa. After some reassuring words from the work grown ups like “You’re going to Cold Lake either way, so you might as well take the promotion,” I resigned myself and dragged my Mum out to help me with my first real estate purchase. Cause you know, at 30, I needed an actual ADULT with me.
It proved to be an interesting week. We got the condo stuff done early thanks to my excellent realtor and ended up with a fair bit of time to kill “exploring” Cold Lake. After driving back and forth through town several times (which takes approximately 15 minutes), checking out the two decent restaurants, walking around at the Marina and commenting on all the obnoxiously loud trucks, it seemed we had seen everything. By this point, I was nearly inconsolable. I was coming from downtown Ottawa where I had been living for 4 years; the closest thing to ‘home’ since leaving Winnipeg when I was 18. It had everything – arts, sports, shopping, fine dining, culture, history, all packaged beautifully in a clean urban area – and I had to leave it. How could I live in this redneck town for 3 years? What would I even DO? I knew no one here. I constantly felt overdressed. “No need for those designer shoes in Cold Lake”, Mum said. Once the the documents had all been signed and boredom reached peak levels , we hightailed it out of town to head for Edmonton. Stopping at the local gas station to fuel up, I noticed that there was a fridge off to the side. In it? Live fishing bait. I almost burst into tears.
Fast forward 3 years. Another transfer – this time to Toronto. The MECCA of city living in Canada. Though it’s only for a year, I was ecstatic. I would finally get my chance to live downtown Toronto as a successful, single thirtysomething. On top of that, I have a bunch of friends in Toronto – the really genuine kind, that have known you your whole life and love you anyway – so I had a social group waiting for me. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to head there and find a rental for the year.
It didn’t go quite how I planned. The entire week was frustrating, from trying to find a hotel at the approved government rate on a long weekend (impossible) to remembering how to drive in the city (insane; thankfully my Middle East/Southwest Asia driving skills came back quickly, evidently they are also required for survival in TO). I knew the real estate market there was absolutely ridiculous, but I had no idea the supply for rentals was almost as bad. In a week, my agent was able to show me 3 places. THREE. Plus an additional 2 I found myself. When I walked into the first option, a roomy 524 sq ft apartment for $2050/month, the excitement quickly wore off and reality set in.
Sticker shock aside, I could not believe the SIZE of these places. Tiny, minimal closet space, in towering high rises. There goes my vision of dinner parties… space in the city is at a premium. It was a discouraging few days, thankfully my friends not only occupied my evenings with fun activities (ball games, parties, dinners) but were also incredibly supportive. In the end, practicality won out and I found a small condo to rent with somewhere to sleep and study, on the subway line (and near endless construction sites) and close to school in the middle of my price range. We’ll call it a win. At one point, my friend Steve, who has lived in Toronto longer than anyone else, said “You won’t spend much time there anyway. In this city, you just run around until you are exhausted and then go to sleep.”
Exhausted was the word. I don’t think it helped that I arrived in the city completely fried, but by the end of the week, it felt like the urban jungle had chewed me up and spit me out. I went to an event one night wearing one of my favourite new dresses and looked like a soccer mom compared to the incredibly chic people I was surrounded by. It took me 30 minutes to drive 5 kms downtown to view a rental one evening. There was construction everywhere, people were rude, service was slow. I felt overwhelmed; it was such a drastic change.
I was pretty happy to get home last night, to my big blue Alberta sky and sleepy little town on the lake. I fell asleep on the couch with my patio open, listening to the crickets as a breeze of fresh, cool air rustled through. I love it here, I thought to myself.
0600 on the Sunday of a long weekend: I am jarred awake by the sound of a digger backing up and then scraping along the ground 20 metres from my building. This is over the noise of the idling super truck in the parking lot and only slightly louder than the ATVs that just went screaming by. Are you kidding me? Maybe Toronto won’t be as much of an adjustment as I thought.
The truth is, every place is what you make it. It’s move number 6 and each place I’ve lived has brought its own positives and negatives. You can always find the good – everywhere has something to offer if you’re willing to find it. In Cold Lake, I go boating with friends and have caught my first fish. I went flying in a fighter jet. I’m 10 minutes from the ski hill and 6 hours from the mountains. I learned to curl. I have hosted epic parties with incredibly fun people. I have made friends, built a life here and experienced the meaning of the word community in a way I didn’t know was possible.
I thought that over the years the constant moving would get easier – it doesn’t. If anything, the investments – personally, socially, financially – only get deeper. They say in Cold Lake that you cry on the drive into town and cry on the drive out. It’s so true. My three years here have been the most professionally challenging and rewarding of my career. But more importantly, the social life I have here has surprised and amazed me. I have been lucky to find a community that truly takes care of its own. Sick? New baby? Heading abroad for work? People are lining up to bring a meal, watch your place, help, check in. That is the beauty of small town living.
Just like Cold Lake, Toronto will have its own beauty and experiences. I can’t wait to get settled and take in every possible moment of awesome the city has to offer. That’s the great part of this crazy adventure I signed up for 15 years ago – you get to live everywhere and experience all that Canada has to offer, you just have to be willing to seize the opportunities as they come and make them your own. From the east coast to the oil fields, from the small towns to the cities.
Plus, you know the shopping is going to be awesome.