A beginner’s guide to truck driving in Canada

by Mark Lee

A little over 10 years ago, I left behind all I knew in the United Kingdom and started my Canadian adventure. It’s been a learning curve ever since.

I was lucky enough to speak the language, mostly. I still struggle with “aluminum” and a hat will never be a toque. But a lorry is now a truck, and petrol is now gas.

And I have to give you guys credit for trunk; it is a trunk, how it came to be called a boot, I don’t know.

On the whole, it was pretty simple to communicate. I had to slow down my speech a little as we speak very fast back in London Town, but other than that, it wasn’t a problem. I had already spent a lot of my working life in other countries – none of them spoke English in any of its forms – so I had to learn the basics at least, in order to do my job.

In the days before GPS, knowing the difference between left and right could make life a whole lot easier and before I started to pick up some languages, eating was a big gamble. I don’t even want to think about some of the stuff I’ve eaten over the years.

This is a problem the majority of newcomers to Canada face. Europeans learn English at school to some degree, as it is still the international business language. But those from further afield do not have that luxury, and it is paramount that they learn. As English speakers, we need to be patient with them and try to help them.

Imagine how frustrating it is when you are, because of the language you learned as a child, unable to communicate when you need help. I believe that directing this to English speakers rather than those that struggle is a better way to help newcomers than telling them to take an English course. Remember, nobody chooses where they’re born.

I’d like to share some of my own experiences and observations as a newcomer to the Canadian trucking industry. Firstly, this is Canada, it’s not England, France, Germany, India, Russia, etc. Here, they do things the Canadian way; trying to change that is a waste of your time and energy.

I have seen many people who cannot get their head around this, and it usually ends with them packing up and returning to where they came from. In my case, it was mostly Brits who couldn’t grasp the fact that because of the vast distances we travel here, it’s not a 40-hour Monday to Friday workweek.

There were also those who had many years of experience who didn’t like the fact they had to start from the bottom. I titled one of my monthly columns The rookie with 20 years’ experience, and that is an absolute truth. No matter what you’ve done and where you have done it, in Canada it will all be different.

Personally, that is why I came here – for the challenge and to fulfill my dream of driving a big rig down the interstate. I think the same applies to most European imports here, but for many that isn’t the case; some move here to live the dream life that we in the western world take for granted.

Many newcomers to Canada come from countries that don’t have the transport infrastructure that we have here. But they had enough savings to move across the world, pay for a place to live, buy a car, pay for their driver training to get their licence, etc.

When you first arrive in Canada, it is very easy to behave as if you are on holiday. Everything is new, and very similar to what you have seen in movies and on TV. Outside of the cities, land is relatively cheap and you can buy a 5,000 sq.-ft. house on 20 acres for the price of a one-bedroom apartment back
in England.

That is like a lottery win, until you have to shovel snow from a 200-ft. driveway and then drive through snow drifts for five miles just to buy a loaf of bread or take the kids to school. It’s not so much a problem for us, as we’re out trucking, but the wife and kids have to deal with this every day in winter. To the best of my knowledge, nowhere in the world – apart from Canada and some of the less populated U.S. states – has properties such as this, unless you’re extremely wealthy.

Vehicles are another area that can catch you out. It’s very easy to get financing, even when you first arrive in Canada and have yet to gain permanent residency or citizenship. I have seen many newcomers who buy a house in the country and a big pick-up truck to park in the garage, then ATVs and sleds, and a ride-on mower for the vast expanse of grass outside their windows. They then struggle to make the payments. For some, that has been catastrophic and has led to all kinds of personal problems, divorces, bankruptcies, and more.

Another thing that I have seen cause problems is friendships; just because someone was born in the same country as you, does not mean you will like each other.

At first the sound of familiar accents and the shared experiences of moving to another country bring you together and give you a comforting feeling. But that doesn’t mean it will last. I came from England and there are around 60 million people crammed onto the tiny island. I met lots of them in the 40 years I was there, but I was close to fewer than 20 of them.

Living in a ghetto, reminiscing about the old country, is going to have an impact on how you assimilate and it will not be a positive one. There is no need to lose your identity – I will always be from England – but now I see myself as an English Canadian.

If you don’t adopt that attitude, you will always be a ‘foreigner’ and as such, will miss out on a lot of what this great country has
to offer.

If I had only a few pieces of advice to offer anyone new to Canada, it would be this, and in this order: Think of yourself as a Canadian born in another country; learn the language and the Canadian way of doing things; remember you are here to live and work, you’re not on holiday; and finally, keep a close eye on your spending until you fully settle.

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