Packing up the house, bidding family and friends goodbye, relinquishing the familiar for the unknown: A big move is never easy, no matter if you relocate for love, work or just a change of pace. Yet many of us do. About one out of every 100 Canadians moves to another province in any given year, according to Statistics Canada. And while you can't escape the logistical feat that any such uprooting entails – you'll probably never want to see another cardboard box again – you can make your new community a home by learning the lessons of these folks who've been there before.
Ten years ago, Frances Paris moved to Mont-Laurier, Que., from Toronto with a Just Married sign stuck to her new husband's rattling old Volkswagen. Hauling her clothes and bike was the easy part for the teacher, who moved for hubby Alain Gingras's job as a forestry engineer. Harder was cultivating new friendships. "Some of it was the language barrier – my French was not as fluent as I thought," she says. "But I was lonely. I didn't have a job at first, and I missed my friends and family."
"People who have relocated from other provinces can feel disconnected, and miss what was familiar," says Melody Brewer, psychotherapist at Sea Change Counselling and Psychotherapy in Kelowna, B.C., which helps newcomers adjust. Frances coped by being active and proactive. "People in town didn't need to make new connections," she says, "so I really had to put myself out there." For instance, when she and her husband subsequently moved to Val-des-Monts, Que., closer to Ottawa, she would run with her dog every morning. "I saw another runner, and we waved hello. One day I stopped to chat. That's how we started to run a couple times a week together."
Once you arrive, get involved in the community, do volunteer work or join a sports club, suggests Brewer. The newlyweds did just that: They joined a health club and a canoe club so they could take part in community activities, and Frances taught adult ESL lessons. In a few months, she landed a high school ESL teaching position and soon made friends with colleagues. In this milieu, her French-language skills improved (she's completely fluent now), and within six months she felt like a local. "Through work we had a cinq-à-sept on Friday nights," she says of the post-work cocktail tradition in Quebec. "At one point it finally clicked – I was able to meet up, speak with people and just have fun with them."
Page 1 of 3 – Find tips for newlyweds looking to fit in with a new community, plus moving tips for young families on page 2.
Tips for newlyweds:
• Volunteer: Use your skills and resources to meet people. It feels great, and adds to your résumé.
• Host a potluck or cocktail evening for neighbours and colleagues.
• Take lessons in a sport you've always wanted to try. It's an easy way to meet people with the same interests as you.
The young family
In June 2008, Heather Creighton Spriet and her husband, David Spriet, left Toronto with their children, Maddy, 8, and Owen, 6, in tow. "After getting married and having our kids, the idea of heading back to the Maritimes began to occupy our minds," recalls Heather. Both she and David had moved to Toronto from P.E.I. "In the summer in Toronto, everyone seemed to have somewhere to go – to the cottage or to see family," says Heather. One Canada Day (in keeping with the hot-weather tradition of escaping the city), the family took a mini-vacation to Ontario's cottage country. Despite the beautifully rugged surroundings, at the end of a day it was just the foursome eating pizza in a motel. "I looked at my husband and said, 'What are we doing here?'" Heather recalls. "In P.E.I. we'd be surrounded by family, with the kids and cousins running on the beach." A year later, they packed up and moved to Halifax to be closer to them.
"We were lucky to know people in Halifax who put us in touch with soccer team sign-up deadlines and teen babysitters before we moved so we'd be able to jump right into a routine," says Heather. "My advice would be to source someone – even a friend of a friend – who can give you the full scoop. It helps to hit the ground running when you arrive," she adds. They took three trips down to see houses, and on the last one, they took the kids and found their house. "The kids were able to see the big backyard and the bigger house we were moving to," she says.
Parents need to do their homework before moving, says Stuart Gibb, director of people and culture for Western Canada at Rona, a Canadian building-supply retail chain. "Do some research on the community. Check out the schools and understand how the system works," he suggests. He helps employees relocate, and in 2008 undertook his own big family move with his job from Calgary to Fort Langley, B.C. "Finding the right community is huge from a family perspective," he says. Once you do, you can plug into the area's activities, giving the whole family a means to socialize and make friends.
Tips for young families
• Take the house-hunting trips your company offers, Gibb says, or try to negotiate them (Rona, for example, offers two).
• Use your social network. Ask friends for referrals of parents to contact in your new area.
• Find your own joy. By default, you'll make acquaintances through your kids, but it's important to sign up for "me-time" activities, such as yoga, poker nights or cooking classes, that will help you relieve stress and meet people, as well.
Page 2 of 3 – Are you newly single or an empty nester? Find moving tips on page 3.
The single empty nester
When Lucy McEwen's two young adult daughters (one of whom is Canadian Living's senior beauty and fashion editor, Julia McEwen) moved away from Ottawa, the retired Liberal party political organizer decided to follow suit. "I needed a change," she says. A few years earlier, she had finalized a divorce and had recently sold the family's large house. "I went online and Googled 'prettiest cities in Ontario.'" The results led her to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town near Niagara Falls that's loaded with theatres, wineries and historic houses, and is popular with retirees.
Her Toronto-based daughters weren't crazy about the idea. "They said, 'Oh Mom! Why are you moving to an old-people's town?'" she laughs. "I just smiled and said, 'This is where I'm going to stay.'" So two years ago Lucy bought a fixer-upper bungalow in the town's centre, a project that made her feel like she was planting roots. "Gutting it was a big undertaking, but I considered it an adventure. I looked at this move as the first day of the rest of my life," she enthuses.
While Lucy packed up and never looked back, that's not always the case. "Try to remember why you left," suggests Brewer, for those who have opted to move but, unlike Lucy, still pine for former homes. "It's very easy to look back through rosetinted glasses."
"This is the first time I've moved alone. I didn't know a soul," Lucy says. That didn't stop her from plunging into the town's social scene. "In the local paper I saw an ad for the Newcomers Club. So I went and met a wonderful network of women," she says. Through the club, she's joined two book clubs and numerous bridge clubs. She also enjoys getting out and about in the town and its scenic surroundings. "I love passing vineyards and orchards on the way home from the gym," she says. "This was a good move for me."
Tips for empty nesters
• Check your local paper, where you'll find details of upcoming events and organizations.
• Join a newcomer's club. Book clubs and other hobby clubs are also a good way to meet like-minded locals.
• Jump in – you can do this! "Don't be afraid or apprehensive," Lucy says. "Go for it. It only gets better."
How to help kids adjust to a new home
Babies and toddlers
• Maintain routines. Keep naps at the same time, make the crib with familiar bedding and serve dinner on favourite dishes.
• Safeguard dolls and security blankies. You don't want to have to look for Mr. Teddy when you arrive.
• Connect with your child. Forget the unpacked boxes for an hour, snuggle up, and share a giggle or read a book together. Preschoolers and school-age children
• Visit the nearest park. Kids tend to make friends in playgrounds, and parents and caregivers will give you the scoop on the neighbourhood.
• Check out the school in advance. Kids might feel less anxiety if they know where the entrance, lunchroom and yard are.
• Sign them up for sports and clubs. Don't put off joining Scouts, hockey or crafts groups.
Tweens and teens
• Give them space to "grieve." It's normal for teens to be upset over friends or romantic relationships they're leaving behind.
• Tour their high school before classes start.
• Encourage jobs or volunteer work. It will help them gain self-confidence and meet people in their new hometown.
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