Successful Brits in Toronto: Amanda Briggs

Photo by Darren Goldstein/DSG Photo.

Amanda enjoying a nice cup of Rosy Lee before she sells some houses

It’s been a while since we did a Successful Brits in Toronto because a little thing called a pandemic kind of threw a spanner in the works. Hope everyone is staying healthy and well.

But we’re back with a bang and a well-known face in the British expat community in Toronto: Amanda Briggs. She runs the Toronto Brit Meetup Group that — now virtually — holds a regular fun pub quiz night. Next one will be Saturday, June 6 so stay tuned for details.

And, if that wasn’t enough to keep Amanda busy, she also sells property via her very catchily-named The British Property Agent, so give her a shout if you’re in the market for a new manor.

Amanda is one of the few Successful Brits in Toronto that we’ve met in person — at last year’s amazing Brits in Toronto/TFC event — so it’s nice to finally feature her on the site.

Take it away, Amanda …

What made you decide to choose Toronto as a city of choice? Did you plan a permanent move, or wanted to “try it for a while and see how it goes” and it turned out to be longer than planned?

I moved here with my family in 1999 because it was either a move to Canada or Australia. Yes we planned to stay for a while, as we applied to be Landed Immigrants (now called Permanent Resident) before we arrived here. However three months after I moved here, I met someone who lived back in the UK. About three years later, I moved back to the UK and ended up staying for 10 years. I moved back to Canada in 2011 and I am now a Canadian Citizen.

What steps did you take to land your first Toronto job? Did the infamous “Canadian experience” hinder you in any way?

Back then, I just e-mailed my CV to 10 companies that I wanted to work for and waited. Three of them got back to me and invited me for interviews. The lack of Canadian experience didn’t seem to hinder me too much back then; however I didn’t get an equal job here vs. the one I had back home — I had to take a lower level role.

What’s the best/worst aspects of living in Toronto?

Best: Lots of cultural diversity — you can eat pretty much any cuisine you like! I like that there isn’t much a class system here vs. back in the UK where is it more prevalent. It’s great being so close to lots of North American cities, outdoor life in Ontario is very popular and accessible, and the work/ life balance is better than when I was living in London.

Worst: The winters, trying to get people to understand my accent, food has more sugar in everything, not as many old buildings (vs. London), culture is a bit lacking — the country is only about 150+ years’ old, which is about the age of my flat back in London!

Do you make an effort to connect with other Brits in the city, or just meet them when chance allows it? Any recommended pubs/eateries/other places for homesick Brits to meet each other and network?

Yes I meet Brits all the time, through my job and social events. I have been running the Toronto Brit Meetup Group for about five years, and we host a very popular pub quiz night every three months (150+people attend), and regular pub nights where Brits and people who have a connection to the UK come to network, mingle and chat about all things British.

Open question/comment: feel free to write anything here/advice/tips on a Brit living in, or moving to, Toronto.

Keep an open mind when moving to Toronto. It is a lot harder to find a job than people think it is, and it is highly likely that you will have to take a job that is not what your career or experience relates to … however, a job is better than no job. You can always get another job that is more what you want to do in the future.

I help a LOT of Brits and other expats find a place to live when they first arrive in Toronto. Landlords are very selective when it comes to choosing tenants, and typically if you don’t have a job lined up when you arrive, it can be a lot harder for a landlord to say yes to you.

However there are ways to get around this, and I have a lot of experience in getting a new home for expats fast.

Winters can be a lot colder than people expect, even if they are forewarned! Your UK winter coat is not going to cut the mustard when it is -30 degrees with a wind chill.

The work/ life balance is better here than in London. Lot of opportunities to get out and about after work in the sun or snow.

Let’s all help fellow Brits George and Lewis find a job!

George and Lewis

George (left) and Lewis are keen to find work once they get to Toronto

George and Lewis got in touch to ask for a helping hand in securing some work in Toronto once the COVID-19 crisis is over. So if anyone out there can plan ahead or make a note to check them out, would be much appreciated.

Lewis writes …

“A friend and I are starting to look into moving to Toronto as soon as we can, hopefully as soon as all this corona [crisis] has blown over, and we’ve come across your page and are hoping that you can help us out. We’re just finishing up with university this year and have both lost our jobs due to the coronavirus so we feel now would be the perfect time to make the move while there’s nothing on for us.

“Ideally we’re looking at doing a bit of bar work for a few months, but with bartenders in North America not making as much as those in the UK we’re wondering as to whether we’d be able to make a decent living and be able to survive on a bartender’s wage and tips?”

If anyone in the industry has some insight to share, here are their LinkedIn profiles to get in touch.

Lewis: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lewis-cooper-a9833510a/

George: https://www.linkedin.com/in/george-wheater-b7ab04187/

Coronavirus resources for Brits in Toronto

Coronavirus

Coronavirus or COVID-19

In these scary and uncertain times, we thought it would be useful to compile a list of coronavirus/COVID-19 resources to help Brits in Toronto keep updated on what may affect them and their loved ones in the local area. Newcomers to the city may find it handy too.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list and we’ll add to and update it as we find relevant information. Please send suggestions via the contact form or tweet us, thanks.

Stay healthy, everyone.

Toronto Public Health

City of Toronto COVID-19 updates

Office of the Mayor John Tory

List of hospitals in Toronto

Media in Toronto

Toronto traffic updates

Government of Ontario COVID-19 updates

Toronto Pearson Airport

Government of Canada Employment Insurance benefits and leave

UK help and services in Canada

British Consulate-General in Toronto

36 local grocery stores in Toronto doing online delivery or pickup by neighbourhood

Canada is being left out in the cold … again

Tracy Gray and Nigel Nelson

Conservative MP Tracy Gray (Kelowna and Lake County) and Nigel Nelson (previous chair of the International Consortium of British Pensioners)

Nigel Nelson is a regular contributor to Brits in Toronto, and is a member of the non-profit Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners (CABP), and Previous Chair of the (also) non profit International Consortium of British Pensioners (ICBP).

Here are his latest thoughts on British pensioners in Canada who are in receipt of a UK state pension. All views are the CABP’s and Brits in Toronto does not endorse them and is not held liable in any way. As always, do your due diligence.

All it took was a referendum, three Prime Ministers and a general election to finally get Brexit over the line — well, that was easy, wasn’t it?

Now that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been signed the UK is in what is called the “transition period” for the rest of this calendar year. During this period, lawmakers in the UK and the EU are agreeing the nitty gritty details of the Withdrawal Agreement.

UK pensioners living in the EU have already been promised the annual increase to their UK state pension for the next three years should negotiating bilateral agreements extend beyond the end of the transition period (if the UK wants to extend the transition period, they have until July 1 to do so).

Meanwhile, there are 498,000 pensioners globally in receipt of a UK state pension who never receive the annual increase, and their UK state pension remains “frozen” at the level first paid. 91% of these pensioners have retired to live in the Commonwealth countries of Australia (228,000), Canada (128,000), New Zealand (65,000) and South Africa (32,000). They will remain out in the cold since the UK government is not offering them bilateral agreements and so their UK state pensions remain “frozen.”

Of the pensioners in Canada who have retired and are in receipt of a UK state pension, around 56% of them live in Ontario and another quarter live in BC.

My wife and I (who both receive frozen UK state pensions) recently had the opportunity to meet with our newly elected MP, Tracy Gray. Tracy has hit the ground running in her first term as an MP and is proud to be Shadow Minister for Interprovincial Trade as well as a Member of the Canadian Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

Tracy is one of the most engaged MPs that I have had the privilege of meeting, both in Canada and the UK. She had a lot of questions, so it was a good job I went well prepared!

We started by looking at the number of pensioners with frozen UK state pensions who live in Canada, then in BC and finally in her constituency here in Kelowna. We discussed the unfair and discriminatory policy the UK government has — you receive the annual state pension increase if you live in the USA, but you don’t if you live in Canada, for example.

We also highlighted how much less money, over time, that state pensioners receive compared to their peers in the UK.

So, for example, if you retired from the UK to Canada in June 2001, on a full UK state pension, you would have received £72.50 per week. Today, nearly 19 years later, you would still be getting £72.50 per week, and, as a result, you would have received £26,500 (C$47,000) less than you would have received if you had remained in the UK.

Tracy was interested in knowing what reasons that the UK government has given for not uprating our pensions. We explained the reasons (or excuses!), including cost and the need for bilateral agreements, which are illogical and discriminatory.

The UK government has estimated that the cost to uprate frozen pensions globally is £600 million a year, which sounds like a lot until you realise that the government is sitting on a state pension surplus of £18 billion, and it has estimated that by 2024-25, the surplus will be an eye-watering £50 billion.

What is even more frustrating is that the UK government has recently negotiated new bilateral agreements with some EEA countries (Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Republic of Ireland) when it has consistently said that no more agreements would be negotiated because they are too expensive; and there are likely to be more agreements to come with the remaining EU countries.

However, Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa are left out in the cold. Again.

In 2013, Freedom of Information Request No. 595 was filed in the UK, requesting clarification regarding the need for reciprocal agreements. The response from the UK government was, “Bilateral agreements are not necessary in order for pensions paid outside Great Britain and the EU to be uprated.”

It is unfortunate that MPs in Canada have been so badly advised in the past. The UK government is disingenuous in that it is still insisting that bilateral agreements are the only solution to providing state pension parity, when clearly, this is not the case.

We then covered the financial effect that the freezing of our state pensions has on the Canadian economy; the effect has been conservatively estimated to be north of half a billion dollars a year, and it impacts significantly on some of the oldest, most vulnerable and frail members of our society: seniors.

According to Statistics Canada, as at 2016, there were 828,000 pensioners living in Canada aged 65 and over on “low income,” and, according to the Canadian government, 10.3% of men and 10.8% of women aged 65 and over were living below the poverty line.

Tracy then asked how she could help, and we explained that a short-term goal was to get frozen state pensions onto the agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in June of this year. Other goals included bringing this to the attention of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and all ministers whose departments would gain from unfreezing our state pensions.

In addition, we would like to establish a link between:
i) The Canada-United Kingdom Inter-Parliamentary Association (RUUK) and the APPG for Frozen British Pensions in the UK; and
ii) The Canadian Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CCOM) and the APPG.

Finally, we said that a key goal was to encourage the Canadian government to ensure that any future trade deals between the UK and Canada are linked to the unfreezing of our state pensions.

The detailed Q&A we had with Tracy can be read here. If you are receiving a frozen British state pension, or you think you will qualify in the future, and you have not met with your MP yet, we would encourage you do so (they don’t bite — honestly!), and you can read the “CABP Talking Points About Our Campaign” notes we used here.

As Tracy is now a member of the Canadian Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and it is due to meet soon, she will endeavour to get the frozen pensions issue onto the agenda for discussion at that meeting.

Tracy then suggested that we should look at raising a Parliamentary petition since one only needs 25 Canadian citizens and/or permanent residents to sign a petition for it to be debated in the House of Commons.

Our new MP here in Kelowna was very engaged throughout our 45-minute conversation, asking incisive questions and hopefully she will be very supportive of our cause going forwards.

Curious Minds: The Royal Family with Toronto Star’s Shinan Govani = Contest to win two subscriptions

Curious Minds

The Royal Family in decades gone by and Shinan Govani in days gone by

It’s contest time! But first read about what you can win before you decide to go for it or not. Huge clue: you should have some interest in the British Royal Family …

Are you still reeling from #Megxit? Gossiping over the latest season of The Crown? Holding a candle in the wind for the legendary Diana? Join Toronto Star Society Columnist — and avid Royal watcher — Shinan Govani as he breaks down the modern history of the one and only House of Windsor, bringing to life its most colourful personalities, its most opulent traditions and, of course, its juiciest scandals.

Featuring video highlights from royal milestones and special guest interviews with royal experts on both sides of the pond, this special Saturday morning series, unfolding across six weeks from March 14 – April 14, will be a spirited celebration — and clever dissection — of the family we can’t stop watching.

Shinan Govani is a contributing columnist with the Toronto Star and a columnist for Hello! Canada who was once dubbed “the go-to Canadian” by Page Six. Both social chronicler and pop culture decoder, he’s reported from fashion weeks in Milan and Paris and film festivals at Sundance, Cannes and Toronto and his writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Town & Country and The Daily Beast.

Full course details are highlighted here.

So, do you want to win two free subscriptions for this? Simply rearrange these letters to form the name of a soon-to-be former British Royal: ARRYH

Post your answer and contact name in the comments and/or the Brits in Toronto Twitter feed and we’ll randomly select a winner on March 8 to pass on to the organizer.

The best of British to you all!

Britannia: Britpop & Madchester Video Dance Party with Oasis Spotlight — Feb. 22

Oasis spotlight

Bros have really let themselves go

Saturday, February 22 is shaping up to be the best night in 2020 for Brits in Toronto so far because of two main reasons: The Toronto British Expat Meetup Group Pub Quiz is happening AND Britannia: Britpop & Madchester Video Dance Party with Oasis Spotlight!

Start with one and end the night with t’other! Or you can stay in and stick t’kettle on for a luvly cuppa char, chook. Your choice.

Britannia is the ONLY Britpop Video Dance Party in North America. It’s packed with hundreds of Britpop fans getting down to the coolest UK tunes of the past and present.

This coming Saturday, at Remix Lounge in downtown Toronto, the night will feature an Oasis Spotlight = means lots of their videos will be played on the night by this Brit-related bloke, DJ Lazarus.

DJ Lazarus

“Hello? Who? Alright Gaz! You what? Can’t, mate, I’m spinning on me decks! I’ll give you a shout later, geezer! Sweet as!”

Join the common people for tunes from: Oasis, The Verve, Suede, Pulp, Blur, Supergrass, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Sleeper, Shed Seven, The Boo Radleys, Wonderstuff, Ride, The Smiths, The Charlatans, Happy Mondays, Carter USM, Jesus Jones, Echobelly, Manic Street Preachers, Travis, Stereolab, Catherine Wheel, Ocean Colour Scene, EMF, House Of Love, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Kula Shaker, The Jam, Soup Dragons, The Auteurs, Joy Division, Ian Brown, Dodgy, Mansun, Black Grape, Morrissey, The La’s, The Farm, Republica, Menswear, Cast, Space, Longpigs, Echo and the Bunnnymen, Lush, Primal Scream, James, Saint Etienne, Gene, Jesus And Mary Chain, Lightning Seeds, Catatonia, Spiritualized, Adorable, Paul Weller, Franz Ferdinand, Super Furry Animals, Simple Minds, Rolling Stones, Flowered Up, The Bluetones, The Fall, New Order, The Mock Turtles, Radiohead, The Beatles, and many more.

Text and/or post pictures and requests to the video screens during the party. Include the hash tag #britsintoronto too for absolutely no prizes whatsoever, but just for shits and giggles and our undying gratitude! 🙂

All the details are here so see you then! It really is a fun night.

Totally biased product review by me — Mistaan Sweets

Mistaan Sweets

Chicken Karahi bought from Mistaan Sweets. They also sell the spicy Tamarind Date sauce so we used that on some roast potatoes.

There’s a great little no-frills curry place up by Finch and the 404 called Mistaan Sweets but you wouldn’t notice it if you drove by as it’s tucked away in an industrial area, hence this review. You’re welcome.

As the name implies their specialty is sweet goods and they sell a ton of those, but the curries are just as good and very authentic. There’s not much seating space but we suspect most customers just grab a takeaway for the office lunch. It is open seven days a week which is a bonus too.

They also sell a nice range of Indian sauces and pickles at very reasonable prices.

Our go-to dish there is the Chicken Karahi and it’s a decent-sized portion at a nice price of $6.99 which is not bad at all. Just ask the server for extra spice and it will suit most tastes. Nice large chunks of chicken and keep an eye out for the green chilli they throw in for fun. That has bite! We still need to try more dishes, including the Vindaloo.

This is a great little place if you’re in the hood and we give it a Brits in Toronto 4/5 stars.

Update February 27, 2020
We have raised the rating to a Brits in Toronto 5/5 stars! Just had the Chicken Vindaloo and, OMG bruv, kidding you not, the flavour is on point. Be warned though = ultra hot spice level. We’re talking a 5-tissue blow your nose level. Love this place.