As of today we have been in Canada for a full quarter century – or almost exactly one third of our lives. Worthy of note – even if we did get over the honeymoon period many years ago.

Late in 1997 I saw an advert for a job at a lab in Montreal that offered a huge step up the career ladder. Looked ideal but I dismissed it because, well, Canada. A step and an ocean too far. A few days later I mentioned it in passing to J who floored me by saying “Apply, we’ll worry about location when/if you’re offered the job”. Two weeks later I am interviewing in London, a couple of weeks after that we are both on the plane to Montreal for five further days of interviews and I handed in my notice in England just before Christmas. And then, a couple of weeks later still, Montreal had the never to be forgotten “Ice Storm” (read about it here). We gulped, friends told us we were mad, but stuck with it … and here we still are. All happened in a blur.

In 2005 we became Canadian citizens. We are immensely proud of our second citizenship and think of it this way – we will always be British by virtue of the lottery of birth, and perfectly happy with that, but we are Canadian by choice.

In hindsight, and especially in light of recent events in Britain with Brexit and some utterly shambolic politics, runaway inflation and what seem, viewed from this distance, to be cultural changes we lefties would have been quite unhappy with, we more and more thank our lucky stars that we made the leap. Canada is not perfect, plenty of warts, but it’s been pretty good to us.

The thing that really stands out after 25 years experience, is the easy multiculturalism of Canada when set against Britain’s post-Brexit years and all that has brought; especially the different approach of the two countries to accepting refugees. Canada as a nation was created 175 years ago (1848) when the provincial leaders at the time “defied the prejudices of their communities” and, quote, stood together in defence of a vision of a non-violent, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, democratic Canada that prevails to this day. It is worth revisiting LaFontaine’s words,

“Canada is our homeland, as it should be the adopted homeland of the different populations that come from the diverse parts of the globe. … Their children should be, like us, and above all, Canadians. In addition to social equality, we need political liberty. Without it we will have no future. … These values are stronger than laws and nothing we know of will weaken them.”

We settled in a small town so close to Montreal that a European would consider it an outer suburb. Baie-D’Urfé is, surprise, on a bay of the St-Lawrence river. Decent sized gardens, huge numbers of trees and a number of small parks and nice people. The town prides itself on community volunteerism which since retirement we have enjoyed contributing to. Canada’s biggest arboretum to wander in is just ten minutes away and our garden has transformed into a suburban nature reserve with not an inch of lawn to be seen, native plants galore and a bird list of 120 species. A pleasantly relaxed life on the whole.

There is much back in the UK that we will always value, not least our good friends and relatives. Pubs (of course), the birdsong (so different and unique to what we enjoy here), hill walking in Scotland, going to the National Theatre in London and visiting and receiving chums at short notice and with only a shortish drive. All much missed. But we both feel we would struggle to live in Britain again, even if it was practical and affordable to do so. We remember it warmly from a distance. It is an often said truism that you can never really go back anywhere, because time moves along and the places and people you knew have diverged along different paths and inevitably changed in the process. Just as we have. What you return to is, for better or worse, no longer what you left. The internet with video calls, chats and emails allow us to keep in touch pretty well seamlessly though. We do visit Britain and will again, just not this year. In particular, we become nostalgic at this season when Britain is carpeted with spring flowers while ours are still under a foot or more of snow and most won’t appear much before mid-April or later.

So thank you Canada and thank you Quebec for the welcome. Merci Canada et merci Québec pour l’accueil. It was a leap of faith to come here and frankly, pretty scary. Looking back from this distance however, it was absolutely the right thing for us to do. If only winter was a month shorter.