Current location
Yellowknife, NT, Canada
conducteur de travaux
Hi Ghyslain, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Ghyslain Letourneau, I’m originally from Angers, a city halfway between Paris and the Atlantic coast of France.

I’ve been living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, for eight years and I’m currently working as an immigration, recruitment and employability officer at the Conseil de développement économique des Territoires du Nord-Ouest (CDETNO), the Northwest Territories Economic Development Council.
You came to Canada nine years ago on a Working Holiday permit. Why Canada? And was it hard as a solo traveller?
I didn’t even know about this work permit. It was actually my ex-girlfriend who told me about it. At the time, I was working as a construction foreman and had just left a company because it just wasn’t working out. I had always been fascinated by Canada.

In March 2014, my ex was working but I was unemployed and we both needed a change of scenery—we wanted to start fresh in a new country.

So we took the plunge and our profiles were selected on a first-come, first-served basis. I got an invitation to apply at the end of the first round, she got hers during the second round.

We started to sell all our belongings—motorcycle, car, furniture, etc., to leave in early April 2014.

My ex had (and still has) family in Gatineau, Quebec so she had a home base. I wasn’t super comfortable living with a family I didn’t know, immersed in a different culture. We stayed with them for about a month before starting our own adventure.

We wanted to travel across Canada from east to west so we bought a van (nicknamed “La Rougette”)—if you’re a Working Holiday permit holder exploring Canada at the wheel of a 1989 red Chevy van, remember that you bought the best van ever! 

After a few months of travel and HelpX experiences, we split up, sold our van and went our separate ways.

Territoires du Nord-Ouest

You wrote about your hitchhiking experience in Canada. Can you tell us more about it?
What a memory and journey! I was a mess after the breakup. My friends in France were telling me to come home, but I didn’t want to. Many travellers would have loved to get a Working Holiday permit, I was lucky I had mine; plus I was looking for adventure.

So after a month spent in the Saguenay region trying to figure things out and find my way through this Canadian adventure, I decided to hitchhike. After all, I was here for adventure and change. And I can say that it worked out just fine for me. I regained confidence in myself, and in mankind and I met amazing people, and eventually, I started feeling hopeful again.

I had forgotten how healthy it was to… you know, just live.
What did you do during this first Working Holiday adventure in Canada?
I explored most provinces, except Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Nunavut and Yukon territories.

I met many people when I arrived in the Northwest Territories, and someone told me that there was a vacant cashier position for $22/hr. I decided to stay in Yellowknife for the rest of my Working Holiday experience (5.5 months)—I mean, this was a city where I could both work and watch the Northern Lights!

Territoires du Nord-Ouest

After that, you went on a round-the-world adventure for a year. Can you tell us more about it?
Much like many former Working Holiday permit holders, going home was tough. I felt out of place, like a foreigner in my home country. 

A month after coming back from Canada, I packed again and headed to Central Europe for a few weeks.

It felt so good that I decided to go further. I bought my ticket to Kochi, India, to visit a friend of mine who was in an ashram.

Before leaving France, I had successfully applied for a Working Holiday permit to Japan. My profile was also drawn on my first attempt in the 3rd round of the 2015 Working Holiday to Canada—the IEC program had changed between 2014 and 2015 and all former IEC permit holders were eligible for one of the three EIC permits again.

So my plan was to make my way from Southwest Asia to Japan and then return to Canada and activate my second Working Holiday permit. I love that period of my life, I felt free, life was simple, and I could go wherever I wanted and do whatever I want. 

I arrived in Japan in October 2015 but in the end, I only spent two months there. I travelled around for a month, then worked through HelpX in Osaka. It was very hard for me to feel comfortable in Japan, fit in with the work culture and language was a barrier.

So I went back on the road and I decided to spend December and January in the Philippines. Eventually, I ended up in Australia and New Zealand, then I came back to Malaysia. I loved Malaysia—I was there in September 2015 and June 2016. I learned a lot on that trip.

After a while, I realized that I missed sleeping in the same place every night, cooking my food and working. I was also tired of looking for accommodations, plane tickets and things to do all day long. I was also running out of money. So I was ready to settle down and I knew Canada was the place for that.

So you came back to Canada in 2015 on a second Working Holiday permit and you went straight to the Northwest Territories. Tell us more about that corner of Canada!
I knew the Northwest Territories. I was familiar with the job market and I knew there were plenty of opportunities. Good timing too, because I only had $20 left after paying rent and buying groceries for two weeks. I had to find a job, and fast.

I already had four job offers in four days. A month and a half later, I applied for a job in a specific category that would make me eligible for permanent residency. At that point, I knew I wanted to stay in Canada, so that was my goal. I was super motivated and worked hard to save money because I had none.

The perks of living in the Northwest Territories outweigh the few downsides. The Northern Lights are beautiful, it’s a living picture I watch almost every other day when I go to bed. The community is friendly and helpful, that’s what I like and that’s what makes me stay and, of course, the cold weather doesn’t bother me because I prefer the kind of cold we get in the north over the south (in Ontario or Quebec for example).

Territoires du Nord-Ouest

What have you been doing in Canada since 2015?
From 2016 to 2021, I was working in community social services, helping people with disabilities join the labour market. 

Now, you may be wondering how I went from being a construction foreman to helping people with disabilities…

Well, in Canada, employers focus on “soft skills.” During my first Working Holiday experience, I took care of a disabled person as a HelpX “Helper.” This volunteer experience combined with my backpacker background, cross-cultural skills and an open mind made me the right person to help the Yellowknife community.

I’ve been in my current position since October 2021 and I love it.

I also volunteered with a multicultural organization and I’m a member of a brew club. I brew beer as a hobby but I also work part-time at the Yellowknife brewery because I wanted to learn more about this hobby I’m passionate about.

I enjoy road trips. I’ve gone on several adventures, each totalling over 5,000 km each way. I drove to Tuktoyaktuk, Canada’s northernmost community that is accessible by road. I had to cross the Yukon to get there. On the way back from Tuktoyaktuk, I took the long way through Alaska and Fairbanks. I even picked up hitchhikers along the way.

My favourite places are still southern Alberta and northern Montana, especially Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park respectively.

I met my wife in Yellowknife. We got married in June 2020 and bought a house where we are raising our two children, plus a cat and a dog.
How did you manage to get permanent residence status in Canada?
The immigration process was quite straightforward for me. 

I was working in a category B field job (= FEER 2) at the time, so I applied for permanent residence in the Express Entry — Canadian Experience category. I was also a good fit for federal skilled workers because of my English and French language skills. 

I waited for a year and a few months, then I submitted my profile to the Express Entry pool. It was drawn just before Christmas 2017. I already had all the paperwork ready. By the time I was granted permanent residency, I had about six months left on my Working Holiday permit.

I waited a bit longer than necessary to apply for Canadian citizenship. I applied in September 2020 and I became a Canadian citizen on March 24, 2022.
What do you think are the biggest differences between Canada and France?
There are many differences. I wouldn’t say that Canada is better or worse, it’s just different. Every place has good and bad sides.
  • Personally, I found it hard to adapt to the Canadian work culture. Employer expectations as well as collaboration and communication with coworkers are different from my French experience.
  • Travel distances are not the same.

Territoires du Nord-Ouest

What do you enjoy the most in Canada? The least?
I have to say that life up north is different from life in the south of Canada. I appreciate my quality of life, my peaceful and quiet environment and the way we all help each other. “Big cities” like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton are not my kind of places. These cities are nosy and crowded, people are kind of rude, there’s more stress, traffic, construction… Eek, I just hate it now. 

When I travel in Canada or even somewhere else, it takes me a while to adapt now and I feel homesick quickly.

As for what I like least, it’s the affordability of travelling in Canada. It is often cheaper to travel outside of Canada than within Canada.
You have travelled a lot. What’s your best memory so far? And your worst moment on the road?
Best memory, going for a swim at midnight in Boracay (Philippines) with New Year’s Eve 2016 fireworks in the background. Scuba diving in a WWII shipwreck in Coron (Philippines). Tea plantations in Sri Lanka. The party atmosphere in Argentina. The Fjords in Norway. Hiking on Mount Fuji in Japan. Visiting the city of Hiroshima. The Couchsurfing community in Penang, Malaysia. Spotting a grizzly bear in the mountains in Jasper. Honestly, I have great memories of all the places I’ve visited.

My worst travel moment is probably when an ATM swallowed my bank card in Bali.

Here is a quote from Charles Martin I loved when I was travelling and that put a smile on my face after saying goodbye to people I appreciated: “Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. This… is goodbye. But not our last hello.”

Territoires du Nord-Ouest

Do you have any advice for future expatriates or anyone still wondering whether going abroad is the right move?
Many people try it. It’s a success for some, while others decide to go home. Either way, it’s not failure but life experience.

If you’re considering going abroad, then the decision is already made. I’m not sure if this is a quote but if not, then it’s mine.

Don’t wait until you’ve secured a job to leave—only 10% of people find a job before leaving home. 
Finally, what are your plans?
Visit Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador, and help you start a new life in the Northwest Territories!

En PVT au Canada de novembre 2021 à 2023, je répondrai à vos questions avec plaisir. Pour le premier trimestre 2024, direction l'Amérique latine !

I moved from France to Canada on a WHV from November 2021 to 2023, followed then by spending the first quarter of 2024 in Latin America! Happy to answer all your questions.

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