The Canada Diaries: First Impressions and Obvious Differences

Day 1 | July 24th

I need to leave my house for 7:30am to make it to the airport for 9am, and have decided that sleep isn’t something that’s going to happen tonight. It’s an 8-hour flight, “I’ll just sleep on the plane” right?

Four hours later I am sat in an over-priced Uber on the way to Heathrow airport. I hear an announcement on the radio that says there have been hour long delays, on the TFL routes to Heathrow. Thank God for this overpriced Uber! I am still a human ball of progressive butterflies and excitement, tired enough to fall flat asleep several times in the car.

This is my first time going to Canada, my first time delivering at an academic conference and tomorrow I will be turning 20 years old. Woo! Upon arriving to the airport, passing through security and checking in was the smoothest of experiences I’ve had thus far. This is something me and my Zimbabwean passport are not used to, especially in the face of the UK’s relentless border force.

I’ve begun to write about the struggles that we “immigrants” face here, and will continue to document as I write this diary. The obvious contrast between someone who has a British passport, and someone who doesn’t (me) became ten times clearer to me during this trip. It took me four weeks, 10 pages of forms, just under £100 and the sending away of my personal documents in order to be able to pass check in today.

Despite the stress that this came with, I must acknowledge that I had the privilege of having my university’s backing in my application. My university is a credible institution, and it’s name definitely contributed to the credibility of my application. Proving my purpose for travel could’ve been much more tedious, and often is for many.

Anyway, there is no point in currently dwelling on it because at the end of it all, I am still on a plane to Canada. I’ll skip telling of the actual flight – we landed in Toronto. Although I will say, plane food is not for the sensitive stomachs, I learnt a physically painful lesson.

The Pearson International Airport isn’t particularly striking, nor does it differ much from Heathrow. The only thing that stood out to me was the French signs everywhere (another country that once ruled Canada), at times I felt like I was reading more French than I was English. Did you know Montreal is the second-largest primarily Frenchspeaking city in the world after Paris?

Our taxi driver’s car smelt like sweet vanilla, I complimented it as he proceeded to sit on the left hand side. It wasn’t until we drove all the way out of the airport that I began to notice more obvious differences (between London and Toronto). The roads are wider; Toronto is much more spacious than London. My first impressions are that Toronto is cleaner and more spacious in terms of the placement of buildings and the lack of people overcrowding. I saw several Canadian flags hanging proudly over buildings, billboards and signposts – patriotic.

As we looked out into the grey atmosphere that mirrored what we had left at home, our driver told us about how Toronto summers have changed overtime. Where summers used to be hot: it rains more now, it’s less reliable and it’s greener than it used to be. Global warming.

The buildings look quite industrial, until you get further into the main city. Even still, Downtown Toronto’s architecture is disappointing. From above (looking out of an 11th floor window for example) everything looks the same. The skyscrapers, the office buildings, the universities, the businesses – aside from their individual signs – every building has the same obvious structure and slightly drab appearance. I couldn’t help but compare it to the architectural character of each area in London.

Mostly likely because I live in a capital/metropolitan city – Toronto’s diverse population and the general billboarded city centre, with it’s familiar stores, felt exactly like central London. Both Melodie and I were hoping to soon find the heart and soul of Toronto’s culture, especially the black community.