When I was 19-years-old I moved across the country for an indefinite future in Western Canada.
Preparing to leave ushered in back-handed comments about “cow-town.” I realize moving from the core of downtown Toronto to Lethbridge, Alberta is not many people’s exact experience, still I thought I’d do my part to prepare the next person making the leap of faith.
After all, seeing real life cowboy boots in the grocery store can be a shock to the system.
So with my deepest empathy, as you prepare to fly over 30 feed-lots (don't worry I didn't know what they were either,) here are 19 things that will happen when you move to Southern Alberta.
You will second guess your move when you step off the airplane. You’ll board at an international airport with the comfort of your favourite drink in hand. You’ll transfer to the 12-seater en route à Lethbridge and step off the plane. (PS. WestJet upgraded and now there's planes with 30 seats!) Standing on the tarmac, you’ll see nothing but fields. You’ll enter the airport that looks more like an airstream camper and disappointingly see four empty vending machines. Welcome to Lethbridge.
You will get made fun of for calling the coulees mountains.What’s known as Lethbridge’s “coulees” are a sight that’ll take your breath away. You won’t believe that this is your home. It’s possible that you may want to refer to them as mini-mountains. Don’t do that if you want friends. You will probably love the coulees more than anyone you meet and will probably use more trails than many of the life longers who often take the wondrous terrain for granted.
You will be judged for j-walking. People honestly think you’re a crazy person if you walk across the street somewhere other than a pedestrian crosswalk. And it’s so small-towny that if you do, someone you know is probably watching.I have yet to assimilate to the patient cross-walking culture. And if you’re the same, you’ll never even need to worry about getting hit, cause people always stop for you.. before you even cross… and smile… and sometimes even wave.
4. You will get fatter. You will walk about 15,000 steps less on the average day cause you seriously do not walk anywhere. Public transit is not comparable to the glories of the TTC. Winters sucks and it’s easy to avoid moving your body when things are less accessible, and eating out is greasier. Oh, and by the way… thinking that you will suddenly become outdoorsy just cause you move out west is an illusion. You have to choose it. In the process, get ready for a new wardrobe, at least a couple sizes up!
5. You will learn about mormons and Hutterites.
Southern Alberta is home to lots of Christian churches, but that's not all... many Hutterite colonies, and many mormon communities fill the space too. Hutterites are similar to amish or mennonite people groups (but they aren't) who practice communal living and radical reformation. They're deeply invested in their culture, families and way of of life. They are dressed traditionally in suits with hats and suspenders, long skirts and head wraps. They are often the growers at farmers markets, and can usually be seen at the mall or Costco during the day. Cardston, Alberta is also home to a large Mormon temple, a significant place for many in this religion. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll run into a mormon every day, whether you know it or not. They’re great.
6. Your skin and hair will get real dry, and you’ll pretty much always be thirsty.
It’s significantly drier. Your lips will crack. Your hair will die. Sometimes it looks like a desert. If you’re arriving in the heat of the summer, you should also be warned about the smoky air and burning eyes. When you go home for family time, expect compliments on your lush hair upon return to the wild wild west.
7. You will roll your eyes when friends complain about traffic.
The West-side is a “whole other world.”
Sure, but move to Toronto and endure the 2-hour-drive for a 30 kilometre stretch in 401 rush-hour…. then tell me if you have any complaints.
8. You will start saying “you bet,” and Ontarians will inform you that you talk differently now.
The slang made me laugh at first. The first people I met literally said “you betcha” a laughable amount of times. It popped up all around me as a trademark of the Albertan dialect. Little did I believe I’d pick it up so subconsciously and use it so often…. and here we are. Sorry, not sorry.
9. Your poor heart will be messed with from September-May.
Let’s talk about the winter.
I’d say Canada in general has harsh winters, and largely inconsistent. But here in Southern Alberta we have been graciously blessed with Chinook winds. A gift I’m not so pumped about after all. It’s this meteorological phenomenon that involves wind and warmth. (The wind in Lethbridge, by the way, is crazy.) The warm breeze, ok… the ferociously violent breath of God…. comes up over the mountains and melts all the snow. Sounds pretty rad, right? Wrong. Cause you’ll think “it’s spring! Hallelujah!” then hours later it will be a snowstorm. If the Chinook lasts for a whole day, beware of the strong temptation to put away your parka and boots. It will only break you further when you have to pull it out again and again.
10. You will see “Save on Foods” in most cities and towns.
Nope, I’d never heard of it either. Yes, growing up with particular food branding suddenly being absent is a culture shock, whether you thought it’d be or not. But you’ll get used to it. Save On foods is cute.
11. Your style will change.
And will definitely involve accumulating at least a few thrifted plaid shirts. I guess stereotypes exist cause they're true.
12. You will be stopped frequently by trains — don’t worry.
People are very gracious if you’re 10 minutes late due to the good old chickpeas and wheat being shipped across the country.
13. You will see tons of birds with long tails.
They are called Magpies. They aren’t particularly cute, or really anything special, but if you freak out about them when you arrive, you are fully understood. Though they’re as common as crows, they are exciting and noticeable to the Albertan rookie. Don’t expect others to share in the joy of seeing your first magpie. Or give me a call and I’d love to do the honour.
14. You will feel like you’re in a movie, in the U.S, or somewhere, for a little bit.
Alleyways are a common sight, behind and beside most stretches of homes in subdivisions. In the summer, biking or walking down alleys with large sunflowers growing beside you and heat beaming down makes you kind of feel like you’re living in California. Enjoy that fantasy while it lasts.
15. You will want to play on the playgrounds because they actually look fun.
Seriously, Alberta’s playground design and execution budget seems to be way over the rainbow. Parks here are infinitely more fun. Quite irresistible to the never growing-up child.
16. You will 100% get stuck in your subdivision at some point.
They do not plow the roads. They probably have more money for playgrounds cause they have a fraction of the snow removal trucks. Lethbridge has like 6 snow plows total and they are not used to clear residential areas. Have fun!
17. You will begin to call your friends “buddy” or “bud.”
Don’t know when it started, how it started, or why it started, but without deliberate though at all I now call everyone buddy.
18. You will legitimately see people wearing cowboy boots, large belts, and the occasional cowboy hat.
They are not playing dress up. It is real life. I know your parents taught you not to stare at people, but there’s so much grace for this transition. Give it a couple years and you'll be friends with someone who wears them regularly. Also, it’s possible that when driving out to the mountains you will ACTUALLY see herds of cows, possibly even crossing the road. Not joking.
19. You will gain a deep appreciation for larger cities.
When you next enter any city with more than one skyscraper larger than 12 floors, your heart will leap. You will get emotional when you visit the city you came from and you will be refreshed by the smell of drugs you can’t identify and being able to talk to panhandlers and escape into the comfort of being a number in the mass on the sidewalks.
So bud, get some some sunglasses to protect your eyes from the wind, take some deep breaths, and buy a large water-bottle to diminish your dehydration process. You’re going to be okay. Ignore people’s comments about moving to the armpit of Canada, and while you may see a few feedlots from the airplane, cows do not just roam freely. We have a mall. We have movie theatres. We have a University, College, hospital, bowling alleys, escape rooms, trendy coffee-shops, health food stores, and the third largest YMCA in North America (say what?) Lethbridge is a beautiful place to live. And no matter what the future holds for you and I, I’m convinced that it will always have a chunky piece of our hearts.