Travel Confessions: Holli Holmes on her working holiday in Canada
Dreaming of a working holiday on the slopes of Canada? Brisbane photographer Holli Holmes let us in on what it’s like to work in the Great White North.
About this time last year I was considering packing up and shipping out in search of the big wide world. What started out as a photography trip to Romania ended up as a working holiday in Canada (due to the paranoia Dracula would steal all my expensive gear - no hard feelings, Romania). I’d never been overseas alone and I don’t ski or board either, but I ended up at Big White purely because I was told there was work available.
After my initial doubts, I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to work in a menial job chopping vegetables and making sandwiches at the Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia. It didn’t matter who you were back in Aus; in Canada we were all working the same jobs on the same wage. I picked up some of the snow lingo and before I knew it I was “just shredding some pow” like the rest. Failing that, as a snowboarder, any joke at a skiers expense or anything said in a poorly mimicked Canadian accent was a goer. On the party front, think Project X and you’re on the right track. Since it was freezing outside, inside was always a moshpit. People will dive on you -from Christmas trees. Pro tip: you only have one chance to complain about the cold, so treat it with respect.
So why do so many Australians wind up living and working in Canada when the United States and Europe offer tempting alternatives? Firstly, like us, Canada is a Commonwealth meaning Aussies can obtain a two year working visa with relative ease. Secondly, there is work available, particularly at the ski resorts. Having done it, I highly recommend obtaining a Canadian working visa. You’ll make friends quickly, get to know the locals and have new house mates to annoy (most accommodation is shared).
I was one of 17 Aussies and 5 Canucks working at The Market Deli on Big White Ski Resort last winter (the ski season in Canada starts in November and ends in early April, after which the resort closes). According to my manager, Biggie not only loves but also relies on the new or returning Aussies to make up their seasonal staff. Apparently we’re hard workers and charismatic so-and-sos who have a way with customers. It must be our adorable accent. If I can offer one insider tip it’s that your best chance of getting work is to walk around and just talk to people. Jobs available can range from ‘ski bum’ to more professional careers like ski and board instructors, carpenters, wait and buss staff, bartenders, retail salespeople and housekeepers.
The only minor drawback is that jobs are usually paid on minimum wage unless you’re qualified, but keep in mind $10.25 per hour goes further in Canada than it does in Australia (especially on alcohol). Most places also provide split shifts to accommodate ski fanatics who don’t want to be stuck inside all day while they could be shredding powder, dude. Other recreational activities are also on hand too, like ice skating, hockey, shopping, fine dining, snow shoeing, dog sledding and tubing.
In the event of homesickness you’ll hardly be able to escape a “g’day mate”. Whether this is what you left home to avoid or not, the familiarity is an underestimated comfort to an inexperienced traveller. Failing this, Vegemite is readily available in the ‘ethnic food’ section of any Superstore. Unlike your friends tripping in Thailand, New Zealand, or Bali, Canada’s spirit and big backyard can make it a mighty task to explore thoroughly from tip to toe. Just like the maple bacon you’ll be eating on your Canadian toast, its best consumed in bite-sized portions.
Whichever path you take, you’re guaranteed to be blown away and not just by the icy blizzard of a passing skier. So, why not try a working holiday in Canada, eh? I’m going back next year but first I’ll surprise my liver by drinking a glass of water.