David Miller’s route to Canada sounds something out of a romantic novel. He met a woman online, they started talking, and he decided to leave his family, home and business to travel 4,000 miles to find out if it was the real thing. “It was a gamble really, I suppose,” he muses. “But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Turns out it was the real thing. He and Jennifer married this past June, and he now calls Portage la Prairie home.
Miller comes from the small village of Fleggburgh, which is near the seaside town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, England. The 47-year old ran his own gardening business in England and was eager to settle in Manitoba and try something new.
His plans of finding work have been put on hold while he awaits his permanent residency (PR), however. “It’s just been one thing after another,” he says.
Although Jennifer is his sponsor, they had to wait until they were married for him to apply for his PR – the application required a wedding certificate. It took two months to arrive, rather than the two weeks they were expecting.
Other delays were the result of misinformation. “I didn’t know I needed a police check from the UK, which I could have brought with me. I had to send for it and get it through Interpol – that
took another two months.”
After initially being told it would take three months to get a work permit, he has now been told it will take another four months. “February is the earliest I’ll be able to work, and I’ve been here since October 2018. But we’ll get there – we just take it day by day.”
Just because he isn’t working doesn’t mean Miller isn’t keeping busy, however. An avid volunteer, he puts in 100 hours a month at MCC, and also helped at the recent ID fair held in Portage. He also spends time visiting an older gentleman, who is caring for his wife and confined to his home, for coffee and conversation.
He is also doing some renovations on their home, in hopes that he and Jennifer can soon be approved to become foster parents – something else that is taking longer than expected. “We expected them to ring us last week, but they didn’t.” Miller knows better than most that government processes take time. It is one thing England and Canada have in common.
Those things are few and far between, though, particularly when it comes to the landscape. “I lived in one of the flattest parts of the UK… at least I thought was flat until I came here!”
The roads in Manitoba were also a revelation. “Here, if you miss your turn you just turn down the next road and get where you’re going. In the UK, if you turn down the wrong road you drive five miles before you can find your way back. The roads there are bendy as hell.”
A trip to Winnipeg, in England, would be considered a day trip, he says. “It would take you four hours to get there just because of the roads. Here, you just jump in the car to go to Winnipeg or Brandon and don’t even think about it. That still amazes me.”
He also wasn’t prepared for all the driving. In England, one gets out of the car and walks everywhere. Here, he says, “we stop at Shoppers, get back into the car, and drive to another store. That completely dumfounded me, because why wouldn’t we just walk? It wasn’t until it was the middle of winter that I understood why!”
While it hasn’t taken him long to adapt, there are things he misses about his home country – like cheese. “I know you say you have cheese here, but you don’t have cheese!” he laughs. And while he misses England’s mild winters, he no longer finds the vastness and the amount of space between Canadian houses unsettling. In fact, it has become one of his favourite things about his adopted country. “You live one on top of another in England,” he explains. Now, when he returns for a visit, he finds it somewhat claustrophobic. Even after being away only a year, he finds the roads in his home country “somewhat scary”.
Not surprisingly, his best tip for newcomers to Manitoba is to get their paperwork in order. He also recommends talking to more than one person to find out exactly what you need to bring to a new country.
His main focus these days is simply to get a job. “I want to work, and I don’t care where I work, as long as they’re paying me. I’ve worked since the age of 13, and this is the longest stretch I’ve not been able to. I started my business at 20 years old, with no employees, and when I left, I had nine and sold it for a nice sum.”
He doesn’t want to return to the gardening business, however. The couple has talked about opening a coffee shop in town, or maybe buying a house or two and becoming landlords. Whatever they decide to do, Portage la Prairie will be home.
Sure, the winters are cold, and Miller misses his family and friends in the UK. But the warm welcome he has received in the community has warmed his heart. “You Canadians, you’re good people,” he says simply. “I haven’t met a bad one yet.”