My Canadian Love Letter

by Heidi Davidson
on February 2

Dear Canada, 

Hey! It’s been a while since we were together and I’ve been meaning to reach out. You see, I’m asked all the time about what it was like to move from New York and live in Waterloo, Ontario (located approximately an hour from Toronto, ON) for three years. You’d think even though our land masses touch, we Americans would know more about you, but alas, you’re somewhat of a mystery down here. I thought my love letter would clear up some things. And maybe more, my love letter might spur some others to fall in love with you too!

First, a confession. While we’ve had a love affair for about seven years, my first and one true love will always be New York. I love everything about it (well…almost everything). I think it’s the best city in the world and a state that has so much to offer. I was born, raised and educated here. It will always be home. But you…when a convincing recruiter from BlackBerry wooed me to visit you in 2010, I jumped at the chance.

The company was building a turn-around team – a group of people from all over the world brought together to help the company compete, bridge the gap to new products, and navigate some rough waters. I was reluctant at first, but that BlackBerry love pulled at my heart strings and our family’s zest for a good adventure told us to jump. So, we jumped – with a 5-year-old, 2-year-old and a very patient and supportive engineer husband. Six weeks later, we were living in Waterloo. What happened next was one of the most fascinating professional experiences you could ever imagine and one of the most profound personal experiences of my life.

Now that I can reflect, let me tell you a bit about why I love you, Canada.

The Welcome Wagon

From the very first second the customs agent said, “Welcome Home to Canada,” we felt the power of the welcome wagon and Canadian kindness. Everyone says Canadians are so damn nice and it’s true. Almost immediately new colleagues, neighbours (see what I did there with that “u”) reached out, introduced themselves, invited us into their homes, recommended babysitters, restaurants, dance schools and doctors. That kindness was an undercurrent of our entire three years in Waterloo. You support your local stores, your local farmer, recommend a friend’s business and come together in good times and in bad. Without getting sentimental or too cheesy, it’s a beautiful way to live.

Empowered by Diversity

You’d think that coming from NY, we would be used to diversity and understand the power of embracing our unique cultures and differences. Well, I can tell you that despite all of my global travel and my proximity to NYC all of these years, I have never felt or experienced the value of diversity more than during my time in Waterloo. In three years, we learned more about different cultures, languages, traditions, holidays and families than ever before. This may be the single greatest gift of Canada – everyone feels welcome – no hesitations or limitations.

Your People

More than just the welcome wagon and kindness we experienced, I was impressed by the tremendous talent of Waterloo. I’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in the world and with some of the best agencies on the planet, but I can say emphatically that some of the most talented people that I have worked with in my career sit at desks in Waterloo, Ontario. This is hard for New Yorkers to believe. You see, we’re raised to believe that the most talented people in the world reside and work in the greatest U.S. cities. But I will tell you, when I go into battle, I want those Waterloo people in my corner. These people had the skills – that goes without saying – they are world-class, but they also had the grit, stamina, perseverance, commitment, fight and team spirit to work on the most complex problems, at any budget, finding creative solutions and pushing through to success.  Top-notch schools like the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College deserve a lot of credit here too.

The Doctor Will See You Now

We moved up to Canada with lots of warnings from our American friends. “Sure hope you don’t get sick or hurt,” they’d say. “You might be better off just driving to NY.” You see, Canada has universal healthcare. We talk about that a lot in the U.S., but it never goes anywhere. We’ve heard lots of stories about people having trouble getting doctors or having long waits to have procedures done. That all may be true, but I can tell you that we didn’t experience it. Instead, we got a wonderful doctor early on. We had no problems getting into a specialist and we had no long waits. We had outstanding healthcare providers, no co-pays and on one particular Christmas eve with a toddler with pink eye, we got in and out in 20 minutes and the doctor handed us our prescription. No money exchanging hands. Just a tired and desperate momma and her sick baby boy.

Your Pride

In the U.S., maybe you go to a Yankee game and our national anthem is played. Now granted, it’s a tough song to sing and even the best singers have been tripped up by the lyrics. But – it’s relatively quiet. People usually have their hands on their heart and lip sync the rest. Not in Canada. You sing out loud and proud when O’Canada comes on. You sing in English. You sing it in French. You sometimes sing it half in English and half in French. There are moments when we feel this sense of community and USA pride. Unfortunately, it’s usually after a major catastrophe or cataclysmic event and then it drifts away and we go back to our lip syncing patriotism. But you have it all the time. You sing out loud and proud.  And from that day on – we do too. We’re in NY at a Rangers vs. Maple Leafs game, we’re belting your tune. I get a wave of pride every time our kids sing along – loud and proud right along with you.

No Homework Policy 

We were so impressed with our neighbourhood school. One principal said two powerful phrases to parents at our first open house that I’ll never forget. They were: “We’re about raising whole individuals here.” and “There is no correlation between homework and student success.” Whoa…WHAT? You got it – no homework policy. We couldn’t believe it. How do you keep the test scores up? How will my child learn the value of hard work? Instead, the principal encouraged the children to read, play outside, do something to improve the environment, play a team sport, enjoy family time, help with the household chores and get a good night’s sleep. And French Immersion starting in first grade – absolutely the best way to learn a language!

No Igloos Here

When we decided to move to Canada, the first set of questions were always about the same thing – the weather. Now, despite the fact that our drive from New York to Ontario was shorter than most people drive to Spring Break in the Outer Banks of North Carolina or Florida, I’m afraid we New Yorkers know surprisingly little about Canada. So, I tried not to get too annoyed with the incessant questions about penguins, igloos, blizzards and mountains.  No – in fact, in Waterloo, we had basically the same weather as our home town in NY give or take a few degrees (in Celsius or Fahrenheit). The difference was, in Canada we embraced it.  We still walked to school. I traded in my cute wool pea coat for a goose down parka. We learned to ice skate, we looked forward to hockey (and ringette) season and we bragged that “We were made of tougher stuff” now that we were quasi-Canadian.

No “Eh”- No Way

If the weather was the first question, then the “language barrier” was the second set.  Immediately, a New York friend would make a crack using ‘Eh?’ at the end of it or ask if we were going out and about – but with a weird OOOt and aBOOT pronunciation. We didn’t encounter much of that. Yes, there’s the metric system to get used to (but that’s our fault, not theirs…everyone but the U.S. uses it after all) and we had a good, funny banter about my accent – call, ball, important were among the favourites, and yes, some of the spelling was different, but those Eh, About and Sorry jokes were working my last nerves. Full credit to Canada for dealing with it all these years.

Thank you, Canada.

You know, Canada, that this list could continue. I’ve learned so much from our time together and I’m so deeply grateful for everything you’ve taught me. Although we can’t be together anymore like we once were, I cherish our visits and our time together reminiscing. My greatest lesson is that you may leave places, but you never leave people. Some of our deepest friendships, which will no doubt be lifelong connections, have come from our time in Canada.  Thank you, Canada, for these amazing lessons – we’ll never forget.





Heidi Davidson is the co-founder of Galvanize Worldwide, the world’s largest distributed network of marketing and communications experts.  She lives in Westchester, NY with her husband and 2 children 

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