Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada (free illustrated PDF guide)

Chapter 6: Going off the beaten track—a few testimonies

Published: 02-03-2020



Going off the beaten track—a few testimonies

Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are the most popular cities but there are many other places to explore. Here are a few WHP holders who choose a different experience.

In the Rockies and mountain towns

Laurence, 33, Mont-Tremblant (Quebec)

“I’m a city girl, so at first, it was kind of challenging to be lost in the middle of (almost) nowhere. Then I realized Montreal was only a one-hour drive away and now, after a few months, I can see that I can find pretty much everything I need here.

My partner and I both work in the food service industry. I can’t even describe how easy it is to find your dream job! We have great bars, all kinds of restaurants and so many outdoors activities available…”

Guillaume, 26, Whistler (British Columbia)

“I found the Rockies (Banff and Lake Louise) stunning but I didn’t stay long because I was on my way to Whistler… and I fell in love with this ski resort!

People here really focus on interactions between locals and tourists, and that’s what makes it such a warm and lovely place. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find affordable housing unless you’re willing to sign up for a long commute.”

Thomas, 29, Lake Louise (Alberta)

“I left Vancouver for Lake Louise and Banff. I was really taking a chance because there was no guarantee I’d be able to find a job right in the middle of the winter high season. I was very lucky because a hotel was looking for a receptionist and I started working there less than a week after coming to town. Unlike Whistler, Lake Louise is in the national park, which means that private dwellings are not allowed and your employer must provide housing. On the downside, I haven’t met anyone local, i.e. born and raised in Lake Louise.”

Mia and Nico, 32 and 31, Rossland (British Columbia)

“Rossland is located in the Kootenay Rockies Region. It’s a very busy town in winter and it’s lively with many tourists in the summer. People are super welcoming (especially the large Quebecer community). The town is very cute, and there are tons of activities (yoga, Pilates, concerts, theatres…), plus skiing and snowshoeing (we spotted a lynx family during one of our hikes!).

It’s far enough from the hustle and bustle you’d find in Whistler, there aren’t endless lineups to hit the slopes and it’s the perfect place to work.

We love Rossland because it feels kind of remote but not too much. It was the perfect place to spend our first Canadian winter—we avoided both Vancouver’s rain and very cold temperatures in Quebec!

The only downside is high rent prices. You have to show up early in the season to find good deals!”

Anthony, 25, Banff (Alberta)

“Banff is the picture-perfect city. You wake up in the middle of the mountains, spot a few deer hanging out at the gas station in the evening, hit the slopes in the winter and enjoy the famous turquoise-blue lakes in the summer (it’s also a playground for bears, so pack your bear spray!). Banff is also the stereotype of a resort town where people come to party (you’ll soon get familiar with ‘Sunday Funday’ and extend your weekends too!).

That said, Banff is a mountain paradise with a dire housing crisis, unless you are one of the lucky ones who secures staff accommodation… it’s worth a try!”

Mathieu, 29, Canmore and Banff (Alberta)

“For the Canmore/Banff area, the big hiring season is between May and September when most backpackers leave the place.

I work in hospitality and I’m a sommelier. I applied for receptionist jobs for a change and I found a position a week later. I’ve been working in the same hotel for eight months and I’ve just been promoted to supervisor, a role with responsibilities.

My girlfriend is a pastry chef. She worked in a high-end hotel and now she moved on to a pastry shop in Canmore.

Finding a place to live is tricky. Many employers offer accommodation to single employees, but if you’re a couple, you’re on your own (unless you both work for the same employer). We ended up in a basement apartment and rent is $1,500/month (hydro not included). A room for rent in a house is usually around $900-$1,000/month.

That said, life is pretty cool around here. It’s a small town with a ski resort nearby. People are welcoming and there are many partygoer Australians, especially in Banff. It’s easy to make friends with co-workers and go for a hike or enjoy a BBQ with them. We are close to nature and it’s common enough to pass deer when you bike to work. You may even see a few bears—this is black bear and grizzly bear country!”

Cities and towns you probably can’t put on the map yet

Marie, 22, Chicoutimi, Saguenay (Quebec)

“Life here is great, outdoorsy people like me are sure to love this place. The Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region is beautiful and there are many activities to do in any season. Here are a few things I tried since I came here: hiking, dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, watching the northern lights (I spotted an aurora borealis once!), watching hockey games, learning to skate, whale-watching…

On the downside, you need access to a car to explore the area. Weather conditions are harsh as well—expect temperatures between -20 °C and -25 °C between December and February! ”

Kelly, 31, Whitehorse (Yukon)

“Living in the Yukon is a different and unique experience. I often go for long walks, immersed in nature and enjoy the quietness of the mountains, to explore endless landscapes and spot wildlife—there are more animals than humans around.

Things are a bit different in Whitehorse, the territory’s capital. It’s not as quiet and even though it’s a small city, there’s still hustle and bustle. Yet, it’s very walkable—you can get to school, to the grocery store, to the movie theatre, to the library on foot. People are friendly and relaxed. Canadians are said to be easygoing, and it’s especially true around here.

What I like the most is how close I am to these wild, open spaces and to the mountains.

What I don’t like as much is living in a small community, where you can’t just feel anonymous like you do in a large city. You keep on bumping into people you know!”

Anne-Cécile, 28, Yellowknife (Northwest Territories)

“In early March, I drove across the country. That was definitely a first for me and it will remain one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life—I lived in my Jeep for six days and I drove 5,300 km. It was nuts! I can’t even describe how proud and relieved I was when I finally made it to this timeless small town with completely different scenery.

Downtown Yellowknife is truly amazing with colourful little houses and smiling locals, and so is the ice road on Slave Lake that leads to a small Indigenous village. In March, an ice castle pops up on the lake for the month-long festival. Life here is peaceful, simple and relaxing. The weather is different. I felt like a kid when I witnessed my first northern lights, a breathtaking show of nature. If you are lucky, you will be able to meet the local fauna—bison, foxes, wolves, coyotes, etc.

There’s nothing around Yellowknife, just empty spaces, nature, the tundra but no civilization. The biggest city is 16-hour drive away! With that in mind, the fact that there’s a community of about 3,000 Francophones (for a total population of 20,000) is pretty impressive. It makes French speakers feel like home, or almost.

Bundle up! The Arctic Circle is only 400 km away, after all. It was -45 °C in late March—so yeah, it’s cold. What’s amazing here is the blue sky and sunshine almost every day. I can’t wait to discover the summer season, with all these lovely blue-water lakes and the midnight sun.”

Olivia, 31, Calgary (Alberta)

“Calgary is a pretty small city (about 1.2 million people), but it’s super spread out! It’s close to the Rockies, so it’s a great place for mountain lovers. Your life will be easier if you have access to a car.

There are cultural activities, including a lot of music and movie festivals hosted by various communities in summer and fall. There isn’t much to do in the winter (eight months of the year…) but ski resorts aren’t far!

As for work opportunities, the city is slowly recovering from the oil crash and getting a job isn’t that easy.”

Florent, 30, Sherbrooke (Quebec)

“I came here through the HelpX travel and volunteer abroad program, which is quite popular around here. Then I met my girlfriend and changed my plans to try to settle in Sherbrooke.

Sherbrooke is a medium-sized city (more than 160,000 inhabitants) with great quality of life.

One of the things I like here is the fact that nature is right in the city. There are many parks and pathways, as well as two lakes including Lac des Nations, which is right downtown. Sherbrooke is only a 90-minute drive from Montreal and 30-minute drive from the US border.

There are many cultural events, including a blues and folk festivals (with free and paid concerts), the Fête du Lac des Nations festival (a week-long festival with concerts and fireworks) and a world traditions festival (celebrations of multicultural traditions).

There are activities for just about any interest—kayaking, biking, rollerblading, running, skiing, hiking and geocaching (crazy popular here!).

There are two major universities that attract a lot of students, so it’s a lively and dynamic city.

As for work, there are many restaurants and activities, so there are opportunities in many industries, from engineer positions to hospitality jobs.”

Vincent, 23, Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario)

“The Niagara Region is known to be Ontario’s Riviera. Life in Niagara-on-the-Lake is cheaper than in Toronto for both housing and food (50% of fruits and vegetables are produced in this region). Niagara is very touristic in high season, a little less in low season. I managed to find a job in less than three weeks! When I was job hunting, I had more interviews in Niagara than in Toronto, because bilingual staff are highly sought-after in the hospitality and tourism industry.

The big drawback is that to get around, you need a car, otherwise it gets tricky. Also, there isn’t that much to do once you’ve visited all the sights. That said, I really like how peaceful the city is compared to Toronto where everybody is constantly rushing.”

Diane, 29, Peterborough (Ontario)

“I checked out both Montreal and Toronto but I decided to settle in this mid-sized town a 90-minute drive from Toronto. To me, it’s a good compromise. The city is neither too small nor too big and there’s a real sense of community—locals are involved in their city and they are proud of it. People are warm, friendly, and always ready to help out. Basically, quality of life is great!

There is everything you need here: all kinds of restaurants, bars, cafes, small shops, local market, gyms, yoga studios, theatres, a small zoo… and if you’re really desperate for something you can’t find in Peterborough, Toronto isn’t that far!

And it’s so nice to live by a lake! There’s also a sizeable student population with Trent University and Fleming College, so the city is young and dynamic.

And as soon as you get out of town you step into the beautiful Kawartha region with lakes all around, Algonquin Park not far away, and Georgian Bay.

There is a centre for foreign newcomers: the New Canadians Centre. New residents are eligible to receive a Peterborough Welcome Pass, which provides a free three-month membership to a gym with a pool, tickets for shows, museums and festivals in town, as well as a free drink in one of the coolest cafes with a view of the river—no kidding, Peterborough is super welcoming! Try out a Canadian small town, it’s worth it!”

Noémie, 26, Penticton (British Columbia)

“I chose Penticton, BC, in the Okanagan Valley, as my destination—or rather, I ended up there by luck. Initially, I was looking for a work experience in a big city like Montreal or Vancouver, but an opportunity came up in Penticton, a city of 40,000 people I had never heard of! So in winter of 2017, my boyfriend and I went straight from Paris to Penticton. We’ve been fully enjoying the small town, British Columbia lifestyle ever since.

Penticton is a small community surrounded by two large lakes, vineyards, and mountains where you can ski in the winter and go hiking and biking in the summer. This is an awesome setting for outdoorsy people like me, and there’s an activity for every season.

What I like best is the fact that you have a life after the workday. I broke free from the commute-work-sleep routine. Even after a long day of work I can still go for a dip in the lake in summer, go kayaking or go mountain biking in the surrounding hills. Everything is easily accessible!

The weather is also really nice: in the summer, the valley is considered one of the warmest places in Canada with temperatures of 35 °C and above for several weeks. It’s hot, for sure, but there is lake-breeze (and it’s one of the warmest lakes in the country, 25 °C in summer!). And in winter, it is not as cold as it is in the Eastern part of Canada, but temperatures drop enough to have significant snowfall and keep winter sports fans happy.

With this kind of weather, vineyards and orchards thrive in the area. In summer, you’re surrounded by the best, freshest fruits of the country. And winery tours and tastings are available all year long!

I have zero regrets about landing in Penticton. I miss big city life at times, but Vancouver is only a four-hour drive away, which is basically next door in Canadian distances!”

Kenza, 29, Winnipeg (Manitoba)

“Winnipeg goes by several charming nicknames: Winterpeg, because it’s – 40 °C often enough, MosquitoPeg because mosquitoes feed on you 24/7 or MurderPeg because it had the highest homicide rate in Canada for a long time.

But there’s much more to Winnipeg than mosquito bites and crime. The city offers a great quality of life with higher salaries (bilingual positions usually pay more), rent prices that are much more affordable than in other major cities, and proximity to nature. Each neighbourhood has its own identity and its own vibrant hot spots, and there are more residential areas than tall buildings.

As soon as you leave the city behind, the Prairies take over—endless fields vast, brooding sky and stunning sunsets. And don’t forget Winnipeg’s lively arts scene, with plenty of cultural events, like movie and music festivals all year round, theatre productions in English or French, food weeks, museums and much more.”

Yoan, 33, Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island)

“Oh, sweet Charlottetown! I didn’t know the city at all before I got there, and the number of late-night music events downtown was a cool surprise. Many bars and restaurants host venues in the evening. That’s exactly what I was looking for!

There are bodies of water all around, so you’re always a few steps away from a walk by the seaside or through Victoria Park (which is a great sunbathing spot as well).

It wasn’t hard for me to fit in and find a job. The Acadian and Francophone community steps up to help out newcomers. Sure, PEI is the smallest province, but it has a lot to offer!”

Johanna, 33, Moncton (New Brunswick)

“Moncton is New Brunswick’s ‘biggest’ city and there are almost as many Francophones as Anglophones. This is why we chose this destination, we thought we’d get better work opportunities.

But I think New Brunswick’s best value is the locals! We were greeted with open arms. There are work opportunities but most of the positions are in call centres or hospitality and it’s trickier to land a skilled job.

I’m not going to claim it was love at first sight with Moncton. I see it as a place worth discovering over time when you realize it’s a lovely mid-sized city with a true sense of community and upbeat locals!”

Solène, 26, Red Deer (Alberta)

“The Prairies (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) are not usually top-of-mind destinations but they have a lot to offer!

Red Deer is the third largest city in Alberta with a population of approximately 100,000. It’s probably not the most eye-catching city, but the location is great—you’re halfway between Calgary and Edmonton, and just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the Rockies and Banff National Parks, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay and many other ski resorts! Red Deer has its own small ski resort too.

There are four dark-sky preserves in Alberta, including the largest in the world, Wood Buffalo, which is also Canada’s largest national park.

Far from the hectic life of big cities, I love how welcoming locals are and how easy is it to escape to ‘the wild,’ the natural environment you have in mind when you think about Canada. My lifestyle is completely different here, and although Red Deer was named one of the most dangerous cities in Canada, I feel safe.

Red Deer is a relatively small town but it offers everything we need. I also value the strong sense of community, common enough in Canada but even more noticeable in the Prairies. In Central Alberta, people are just helpful—they lend a hand, volunteer, offers tips, share what they have, give what they can… this is just how life is! The Francophone community has a strong presence and people are always delighted to meet newcomers. I’m really hoping more WHP holders and tourists will come to discover the Prairies and all that they have to offer!”

Anne, 36, Chéticamp (Nova Scotia)

“Chéticamp is an Acadian village in Cape Breton, northern Nova Scotia. Both French and English are spoken. Honestly, at first sight, the town isn’t that special—its true value is the small community of 3,000 people, and I fell in love with it. Around here, people all know each other and help each other. You don’t lock your front door and you leave the key in your car when you go shopping. In the evening, people play traditional music at the tavern and everybody is dancing. It feels like a hidden and lively Smurfs village!

I spent the six winter months in Chéticamp, immersed into this vibrant Acadian culture with accents, history, amazing ongoing traditions (like the Mid-Lent celebrations), an unconditional love for music, many talented musicians, local crafts (like hooked rugs). This is a community that shows tremendous solidarity.

Sure, it’s hard to find work in winter, although there may be a few openings in food service. There are more opportunities, usually for unskilled positions, during the high season. Keep in mind that priority is given to locals. English is mandatory to be hired, French is optional but it’s a strong asset.

Chéticamp is worth the trip. It’s not a great destination to find work, however, you’ll find something else—the Acadian culture. People are friendly, welcoming and you’ll make real friends. If you happen to be a musician, it’ll help a lot!”

Fanny, 27, Kingston (Ontario)

“When the bus stopped in Kingston, halfway between Montreal and Toronto bus route, I was the only one to get off. The bus station is in the middle of nowhere and I was really wondering where the hell I was.

Kingston is quite spread out but the downtown core is only four blocks. I picked a shared apartment based on location—it was on one of the main streets, so everything was conveniently within walking distance. Once you leave the downtown core, you really need a car to get around.

I spent a year in Kingston. It’s a nice city, the downtown core is small but there are plenty of bars and restaurants. Kingston’s architecture is very pretty with Victorian-style houses and buildings with a maximum of three storeys. It’s located on the shore of Lake Ontario so there’s a bit of a ‘seaside’ atmosphere as well. I used to love jogging around the lake.

But I have to be honest—I love big cities and I did find Kingston a bit small. I had a good time for a year but I wouldn’t have stayed longer. In the end, you always end up in the same places. There’s no arts scene, no concerts, etc. Sure, maybe my expectations are high because I lived in Montreal and Kingston is more of a small town with a small-town vibe. Like anywhere else, there are more activities in the summer when you can be outside and enjoy hanging out on patios, going to the lake, visiting the Thousand Islands, etc. But in fall and in winter, it’s easy to get bored on weekends.

When I mention Kingston, I often say that it’s not the place to be but that I did enjoy my year there nonetheless. And this is just my own opinion. Many of my European friends absolutely loved living in Kingston.

I still had a good time, even during the two Canadian winters I experienced. Feeling your face burn because of the cold wind is part of the deal. I even played hockey!”

Nathan, 26, Quebec City (Quebec)

“Quebec seems to be the perfect compromise for those who want to settle in a dynamic city without feeling overwhelmed by North American metropolis.

Sure, it only takes one afternoon to cover the historic centre, but that does not mean there’s nothing to do in Quebec City. You can go to a concert, go skating or cross-country skiing in the Plains of Abraham, enjoying a beer in one of the many microbreweries, or eating a steaming poutine watching improv comedy. The best part is, you won’t waste time in public transit, everything is within walking distance if you choose to rent one of these lovely old downtown apartments (rent is affordable) instead of living in a distant suburb.

If you have a car, Quebec’s wilderness is only a 30-minute drive from the city. If you don’t, you can still take the bus to see the Montmorency Falls, an impressive sight year-round.”

Caroline, 34, Dawson City (Yukon)

“After Paris, Dawson City was quite a shock. I felt a strong connection with the town right away, as soon as I got off the plane. It was -35 °C, a temperature I had never experienced before—strangely, I loved it. Dawson City is a unique place. You’ll enjoy the cultural scene (concerts, exhibitions, etc.) and sports activities (I learned to curl!) if you get involved at the local level. The community is super welcoming, though occasionally intimidating because there are a few strong personalities. But you really do feel free because no one judges you. I met awesome, warm people, unlike in big cities where folks are very distant.”

Chapter 6 of 34


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