Let me start with the obvious: Emigration is Big Step !
Now we all know, or think we know it is a big step, but do we really??
We came to Canada in 1982 after having done some solid research for over a year. Yet, after a seven year struggle (financially) we gave up and had to start all over again . Basically from scratch.
And nobody can say that we did not try.
Started with 250 and then on to over 400 sheep. When it became obvious it was not enough to survive, we added finishing some 1500 pigs per year, since we could use the manure for growing crops. Within two years we were also growing over 400 acres of grain.
When the pigs did not deliver (they hardly ever do in Canada) we started with wool duvets, with the first ones being brought in from the Texelse Wol Centrale. We even had the lady who started it all on Texel come and visit us on PEI. She stayed for several weeks. Tante Marie for the kids.
We had conditionally bought Condon's Woolen Mills in Charlottetown with two partners, to start with PEI made duvets.Some people may remember The Island Shepherd. We were at trade shows from Charlottetown to Victoria (BC) The people who bought them were ecstatic.
But it was late eighties. Economic downturn and retailers were cutting down on inventory and not starting new lines. Etc. etc. On top of that we had another stint of Tories having a go at wrecking Canada.
Mike Wilson cancelled our ACOA funding ( $250,000). Never mind he put it back in place two months later. By then the existing 20 jobs and the planned expansion were down the toilet.
We tried and enjoyed trying, enjoyed the challenges. Never a dull moment.....but are you willing to risk it all.? Can you handle a lot of insecurities , uncertainties , and do you really believe when one door closes another one opens.
Always!! . . . . As long as you are willing to see it.?
So when some people think those seven years may have been a total waste, well, that's not how we see it and neither did we experience them as such.. I think when you consider a step like emigration there are a number of factors involved. All with their own priority sequences. If money is one of the most important factors in your life and you have a well paying job in your own country, you are in most cases far better off staying where you are. Never mind how boring the job, or how miserable your boss. As my dad used to say : Scum always floats on top.. and so does cream. You can either learn to deal with scum or hunt for cream. In most cases it is much less drastic to change that job or the conditions under which you work, than emigrating.
We had well paying jobs, teaching post secondary education. Not a heavy load since we had chosen to both take an active part in raising our kids.
Money was not the issue when we left and neither was it when we lost everything farming. The sense of being a family involved in so wide a variety of things, the kids on discovery from early in the morning, all through the year, to the beach in summer (Prince Edward Island), canoeing in the creek, and in winter the ever present snow . They never seemed to tire of it. Snow as high as the barn eves, so why not slide off the barn. (!!??!!). Good thing we did not know everything at the time. But we grew a tight-knit family.
These things are far more important.
We emigrated with two boys (2 and 4) and during the next seven years we were blessed with two beautiful girls. I sometimes wonder if we would have had these two daughters had we stayed in the old country. A lot of our friends stopped at two kids.!
PEI is not the worst place for filing for bankruptcy : you get to keep all your personal belongings and you get financial help in relocating. Yet it is always a good idea to keep some reserves stashed away somewhere. Something for a rainy day, for when it really rains.
However remember and remember well! Those savings are Not for keeping the boat afloat when she is obviously leaking badly and you'd better abandon ship. I know this is hard, but you have to face the raw truth even when (especially when) it hurts. Face it , what is it that hurts most?? Right, your pride!
I know what I am talking about, because I went through it. It hurts like hell and you think you're never going to live it down. But you will, trust me, you will... but probably a lot less cocky.
One of us found a job as a teaching principal in a small four room school in Ontario within two months of quiting farming and a few weeks later we organized a farewell party for all our friends after which they gave us a hand loading everything in a huge U-Haul truck and the next day we were on our way, Audrey following in our car while the kids enjoyed taking turns riding up front in the big truck.
It was the beginning of summer so the trip through northern New Brunswick, along the St.Lawrence River through Quebec, the Laurentians and into the Ottawa Valley, was a treat and for the kids a fantastic adventure.
The one half of the duplex we had rented had a big yard and a playing field next to it. The kids could go to school immediately since there were still a few weeks left in the year and get to know some of the other kids. Our oldest, by then 12, secured a paper route within a short time and became regular customer at the local Canadian Tire from then on.
It was the most relaxing summer in years. Spent mostly camping at Round Lake after we had bought ourselves a folding camper (vouw caravan) , a surf board and a little sailing dinghy. And yes, we also had brought our canoe from PEI.
Regrets after the first seven years? ... No!
Would we do things differently if we could it over? Yes, definitely!
We would not commit so many of our resources to just one goal, or said simply:
not put all our eggs in one basket.
If you have 200,000 to work with, look for something that will require only half. Don't even take the other half with you. Neither intend to use it down the road to further your plans when they begin to come apart.
Remember the leaky boat : Never throw good money after bad. You have to be willing to admit that you made an error in judgment.
You did not fail, it just did not work out the way you had planned. You will definitely be a much wiser person . Will be if you can let go of what you set out to do after it failed. Believe me, more money is hardly ever the solution. My pigheadedness caused our parents a lot of unnecessary grief.
While teaching we got introduced -through some relatives- to the discount book business. We started renting space and selling discounted books as a fundraiser ,with the help of the parents who all put in a few hours or sometimes a whole day for free with the profits going to the school for all sorts of necessary things.
Things went well enough that at the end of the year we moved into the discount book business fulltime and stayed with it for the next 12 -13 years.
A note of caution here!! It worked well for us since we had the incredible support of some wonderful relatives, otherwise you will need a fair bit of start-up capital and a keen sense of business. It also helps when your kids are of an age where they can chip in and they can earn some spending money while doing meaningful work and get an idea of spending time in the workplace. Always pay your children well. Does not mean full wages -you feed and clothe them- but it has to make it worth their while and they have to sense that you really appreciate their contribution.
All our kids spent quite a bit of time in the book store and got a world of experience which have never failed them in the years following.
When we closed up shop because one of the monster bookstores moved into town, we had 5500 square feet of bookstore in our own building. Close to 40,000 books and close to 20,000 different titles. But we had learned our lesson in PEI : when things threaten to go wrong, don't persist in believing you're doing the right thing by keeping your nose to the grindstone, you are probably right, but it sure as heck is going to put you out of business eventually. Especially when the competition has deep pockets and can afford to lose millions per year, which they have done for the last ten years and are still doing.
I do not advise anybody to get into retail in Canada. You have to work long hours for low returns. Store hours are typically from 9 or 10 in the morning till 9 at night if you have a store in a mall. Downtown stores quite often close at 5 or 6 and only open on Friday night . Realize also that Canada has succumbed to Sunday shopping, meaning you will have to be open from 10 or 11 till 5 or so in the afternoon.
Not many people in retail make more than minimum wage, about $9.-/ $10.-hour.
So we sold more than half of our inventory in a giant clearance sale over a three month period leading up to Christmas. The 10,000 titles we had left we put on line with www.Abebooks.com for a couple of years, where you could find our books under our old store name Changing Times books. We shipped all over the world, but it was not and cannot be a main source of income.
In 1992 we had bought our first house after our bankruptcy. A fixer upper, built in 1813 and well worth the effort we thought. We were right. It is a lovely old house and we are still working to make it lovelier still. We recently began working some of the 40 acres ourselves and put in 4-5 acres of strawberries.
At the same time we had both started courses with Ontario Real Estate College to get our licence for selling real estate (houses, vacant land, farms etc.).
We were both licenced in the beginning of 2006 and started working with one of the larger local Real Estate companies; Century 21 Lanthorn Real Estate Ltd. in Belleville and sold our first listing fairly quickly after that.
However we discovered that real estate can take up quite a bit of time if you want to do a good job and become successful at it. So we had make a choice again. We decided that we really enjoyed the outdoors life, preferably away from the telephone, so we chose the farm.
Anyone emigrating to a new country always has to make choices and those choices quite often, to a far larger extent than in the home country, are going to have a long lasting impact on the options you will have down the road. I think it is wise for immigrants to consider the consequences of the choices they make. One thing especially stands out here for Dutch immigrants with regards to pensions.
Canada and The Netherlands have entered into an agreement to share the burden of Old Age Pension on an equal (prorated) footing. For every year after your 15th birthday you are allotted two years for a total of 100% till your 65. In other words if you emigrate at 26 you will get, upon turning 65 a Dutch Old Age Pension of 11x2=22% of the full pension. In Canada you will receive 39x 2=78% of the Canadian Old Age Pension.
During those years you will however also have contributed to Canada Pension Plan, either through your employer or as part of your income tax declaration if you are self-employed.
On top of that you are encouraged to contribute to a registered retirement savingsplan. The maximum contribution of which is determined by how much income tax you pay. (because you can deduct it from your income)
Don't count on any kind of pension you may have built up (ABN or any other business pension).
The way they have restructured those pensions a few years back have made them the laughing stock of the western world.
When you turn 65 they will pay you out in yesterday's money. 1/40th for year one, 1/40th for year two and so on.....Remember what your first salary was???? Now you are offered 80% of 1/40th of that. Ask any accountant to figure out how much money you would have stashed away today if you had taken care of it yourself... In today's money..!!! My teacher's pension after 17 years of contributing is just a little over 200 euro per month!!! The pension premiums over those 17 years invested in a longterm investment portfolio, returning the industry average or less of about 10%, would have been worth today more than 250,000 euros, which should give me an income of at least 1000 euros per month...instead I get 200.!! Any idea where the rest of the money goes???
You may have built up 20 years of pension and all paid for in present day money's worth, you will not get half of your pension, but more than likely less than 20%. If you have the option of getting your money out, GET IT OUT!!!
and invest it for the long term with a reputable investment firm. Don't even think of using it for your emigration endeavours. It is your pension remember. Some security for when you want to slow down and take some more time to smell the roses.
We love the strawberry farm. Wish we had started it 10 years ago. Being outside in the wonderful Canadian weather, the peacefulness of hoeing and other field work. Since there is only three weeks of harvesting and marketing, the rest of the year is spent in quite a relaxed way.: what you don't finish today, you can always do tomorrow. The winters are completely yours, to do what you want to do.
Once the straw is on, the strawberries go to sleep for the next four to five months.
How long can we do this? till we're 70? 75? Who knows, it is a fairly relaxed way of life and not very physically exacting.
But we have always wanted to somehow share our experiences , for other people to learn from it.
That's why our foray into Real Estate and combine it with Immigration consultation.
We studied for two years and got our licence.
However that has proven to be an exercise in futility. The Real Estate profession in North America is not exactly a much admired occupation.
Recent statistics rate it lower than Lawyers and used car salespeople.
And with reason as we found out.
So we have decide to stick with our little enterprise for all the good reasons :
we enjoy it, it is healthy, it provides a few jobs for our part-time help, locally grown produce is in high demand, it provides for extra income, we can easily do it for another ten years.
But there again we are changing the tables as we speak..... so to speak. And you can read all about it on the Strawberry Fields Forever page.
And for this year we hope to add a couple dozen chickens, some as broilers and some as layers. Produce our own Omega-3 chickens and eggs.
And since the yard is large enough, why not add a couple of those lovely Tamworth pigs. It is easier to fence part of the yard than having to mow it all summer. Come to think of it, there a fair bit of pasture too that we're not using. Maybe a couple of Limousins.
And then there is the new small fruits program started by the University of Saskatchewan. Tarts cherries and haskaps apparently are so loaded with anthocyanins and polyphenols that they are most likely going to become the fruit of choice for a whole yuppy population about to retire and very concerned about their health. So the first 700- 800 shrubs are going in this spring. Want to come and pick some lovely sweet cherries? You are more than welcome but you'll have to wait till 2013 (July-August) for the first crops.
Regrets that we emigrated to Canada ? Not really.
The changing immigration policies in Canada have at least one very positive effect: it encourages people to continue with what they have been doing. You were a plumber? Become a Canadian plumber and be well rewarded. You were a trucker? Become a Canadian trucker and you can count on it that you will have a good income.
You can always change occupations later.... Once you're settled.
Many carpenters and construction workers often buy a piece of vacant land with the proper zoning and build a house on it in the evening hours and weekends. Sometimes it takes a year to finish... so what?
As long as you enjoy what you are doing. .
Some will move into the house and live in it happily ever after. Others sell it and make a bundle. So much that they do it all over again and before you know it, they are in the contracting business themselves. A lot of Dutch people started that way . Names in construction around here are often Dutch: Geertsma, Vreugdenhil, Hoftijzer, Hoornweg, Wiarda, Kuiper, etc.
Others build a duplex or a four plex with the intention to rent it out, so they have an income property.
If you happen to live in a University or College town, there is always a shortage of affordable rental accommodations. Where the normal rent for a 3-bedroom house would be around $900-$1100 per month, it is quite normal for such a house to fetch $1600 per month. Or more, when there is a full basement that with only a small investment can be turned into an extra three bedrooms.
And whoever needs more information or advice feel free to ask.