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This is it: The Apocalypse

Gareth Dowdell - Friday, April 18, 2014

For the first week or so, the snow is a novelty – a serene reminder of winter’s deft touch – and then reality sets in. You cannot really be outside for long unless you are bundled from head to toe. Schools are cancelled, malls shut their doors, and a previously simple task like driving to the supermarket or walking the dog becomes a wretched ordeal. Locals lament the timing of our arrival and politely ask what we were thinking.

Krista – my Canadian partner of three years – and I relocated from Auckland, New Zealand, to Halifax just in time for my first-ever White Christmas in December 2013. It was a decision made easier by the exorbitant Auckland housing market and New Zealand’s high cost of living. Despite many friends and colleagues questioning our sanity, we both resigned permanent full-time positions as English teachers and trudged across the world right at the commencement of the Canadian winter – and the New Zealand summer.

As more and more people commented on my unique accent, I realized what a rare commodity I was. Moving to a city with a ridiculously high percentage of White people I did not look different, but when I spoke I became a foreigner. Even people who did not comment gave me a strange, steady look after hearing me rush my vowels and fail to roll my R’s.

Coming to Canada is much different than a Canadian visiting New Zealand. We are used to your accents and mannerisms as a large majority of pop culture and celebrities – for better or worse – come from North America. If you haven’t personally visited New Zealand, odds are you are not familiar with our accents either. Just do not commit the cardinal sin of mistaking us as Australian. You never call a Kiwi an Aussie. It’s like asking a Canadian where in America they are from.

I immersed myself in anything and everything Canadian; by that I mean anything we could not get in New Zealand. Krista insisted I warm up with a French-Vanilla Cappuccino from Tim Hortons. We got nine-inch subs from Quiznos with a strange drink I can only describe as a mixture of vanilla coke and medicine – root beer. We sampled ‘authentic’ Mexican at Taco Bell and regretted it about thirty minutes later. The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market featured a lone woman dancing spiritedly beneath an unassuming crowd more interested in trialing the Chicken Samosas and Berry Smoothies. We sipped ice-cold Labatt Blue and Rickard’s Red watching the accumulated snow periodically tumble from the trees where the dogs chased squirrels. After ice-skating at Emera Oval we considered buying some New Zealand wine at the liquor store but it was too expensive. I became frustrated when tax was added to the price of the sweatpants I bought at Roots. Why isn’t tax included in the listed price?

After two weeks enjoying our holiday from teaching and browsing the sights of Atlantic Canada, I thought we had adjusted well. We had spent a tactical night in Vancouver as a pre-emptive strike to eliminate any potential jet lag. Halifax was cold, sure, colder than anything I’d ever experienced even, but it wasn’t that cold I assured friends and family back home.

And then, the polar vortex arrived. I was suddenly eternally grateful for central heating, something 99% of households in New Zealand don’t have. I was not mentally prepared for the temperatures outside to rival an apocalyptic wasteland from a Cormac McCarthy novel. This was a new level of bitterness I hadn’t previously imagined possible – a dense, suffocating blanket of Arctic hell-on-earth. The snow was no longer a novelty; the honeymoon was over.

Despite the stark contrast from my previous sub-tropical climate, I have loved every moment of our first months here. Driving to PEI for New Year’s Eve, the majestic beauty of tall snow-laced trees dotting the highway completely enveloped us, bringing with it a calm sense of ease. Being overwhelmed by nature and all its grandeur, we pondered why so many young people were intent on moving out west.

Thankfully, the stereotype of super-polite Canadians has proven to be entirely accurate. Even in the depths of winter, optimism reigns. There is a palpable sense of community, an innate willingness to help people out in times of need. Yes, the weather is debilitating now, but spring and summer are just around the corner locals assure me – almost apologetically.