Picture the scene: you’re a successful Brit in Toronto, working away in your PR agency on a Friday afternoon, looking forward to the weekend.
Suddenly a Canadian colleague utters those immortal words: “It’s Random Office Dance Party Friday everyone. Yay!” Brits everywhere hear “dance” and start to sweat, looking for a hasty exit. But no — the intern is blocking the way out with the beer cart.
No problem for Dave Fleet. He purposefully strides from his office, grabs a beverage and leads the fun. As the Senior Vice President at Edelman, blogger, running nut, bookworm, gamer and Brit-nadian, Dave likes to lead by example.
He has a great story of making it in Toronto, and here it is:
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?
Simply put, I moved here for a girl 🙂 I first came to Canada for school in 2002 — I did a one-semester exchange with the Schulich School of Business in the final year of my business degree. While I was there I started dating someone and decided to move back here at the end of my degree to be with her. That relationship didn’t work out in the end, but in a twist of fate I actually met my now wife on the same day as the first person … so the big picture worked out perfectly.
What steps did you take to land your first Toronto job? Did the infamous “Canadian experience” hinder you in any way?
I found it really tough to land my first job here. When I first moved to Toronto I had very little money at the outset, and worked doing door-to-door coupon sales, scrabbling to find enough money for rent each week. That was tough, and the hours were very long for very little money. After a few months of that I realized I was on a path to nowhere fast, so quit and started looking for a different job.
Ultimately I got my break through a temp agency — I did a few jobs with them, then got a short-term gig in the Ontario government. I actually postponed my flight back to England to take that gig … I’d run out of money, and was about to move home.
That temporary job turned into a short-term contract, which turned into another and another, then into a permanent job. I worked my way up in government communications for about five years before I left to work on the agency side.
What’s the best/worst aspects of living in Toronto?
The best aspect for me is the opportunity to get outside. I’m a huge camping junkie — I love to head up north to sit by a lake in Algonquin or Grundy Park with a book in one hand and a beer in the other. The spring and the fall are just magical seasons in Canada; I love every minute of it. If you haven’t seen Algonquin at the end of September/mid-October, you haven’t lived.
I also love the blend of cultures here. I grew up in Cornwall, U.K., which was very homogeneous. Being able to come here and experience other cultures, foods and traditions is exciting for me. Dim sum was a revelation and, after 11 years, I’m still addicted. Blend all of these cultures with the energy in this city, and it’s invigorating.
I’d say the other two seasons are two of the worst aspects of Toronto. Summer is nice in that it’s warm, but it’s too warm and humid for my liking. Meanwhile, I definitely prefer the Canadian winter to the British one; I liken a Toronto winter to a quick blast of cold, then hours of nicely heated buildings … whereas British winters bring non-stop rain that just seeps into you and stays.
On the other hand, I’ve never taken to winter sports so I generally hibernate through the season. I will say, though, that after a few years I got completely hooked on hockey. I still suck at skating though.
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?
My exposure to Brits tends to be through other activities nowadays — through work, or my hobbies. It’s always great to meet other people who have gone through the same experiences, though. In particular, with the challenges I had getting started here, I enjoy the opportunity to provide advice or a helping hand for people just getting started on this side of the pond.
If you’re a football fan (or soccer, if you prefer), there are pubs around the city that are havens for football fans. I’m an Arsenal guy, and the Fox and Fiddle at Yonge/St. Clair has been a wonderful recent discovery for me.
Open question/comment: feel free to write anything here/advice/tips on a Brit living in, or moving to, Toronto.
Remember a significant portion of the people in Canada either moved to Canada in their lifetime or had their parents move here not too long ago. You’re not alone, and there IS a solid support network there if you need it.
Fantastic advice, Dave — thank you! Here is his personal blog if Brits want to connect.