How true is it that it is hard to make friends in Canada?
May 20, 2021 9:56 PM   Subscribe

This is something I've heard but feel like it's somewhat exaggerated. I hear stuff about how Canadians in big cities like Vancouver and Toronto are really cliquey or otherwise unavailable due to the stresses of life? Is that really true? I'm of the opinion that you can make friends anywhere.

I'm headed to Canada like soon, on August. I'm going to Kingston first, and I've been told my university, Queen's is probably the best for socializing.

Nonetheless I'm probably going to end up in Toronto afterwards, although I cannot say places like Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton aren't luring me in.

If people are more open to being social over there, I might just make the leap. I've got it on good authority that those places are growing economically. I would love jumping into that. I'm absolutely over the moon to go to a growing place, contribute to it and also watch it change throughout the years. It's a once in a lifetime thing.

So, any opinions about this? I keep hearing about it on reddit, so huge disclaimer here:

It's probably someone being overly negative.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can tell from all of your questions that you're very excited to come to Canada which is is great!

Can I suggest though that you think about just taking it one step at a time? I've moved across the world a couple of times and moved to Canada (Vancouver then Calgary with a rural stop in between) ten years ago or so.

Get yourself to Ontario, get comfortable, and then start thinking about what comes next. I can make friends just about anywhere and it sounds like you can too. The biggest challenge for me anywhere I've ever lived, Canada especially but I'd imagine it's universal, is the divide between people who have kids and those who don't. Those who do have a "natural friend group" which may or may not include people they'd have chosen if their kids didn't bring them together. Those who don't (like me) have to be a bit more intentional which also has positives and negatives.

It's really hard to generalize about locations as it's so dependent on the personality of the person who's asking.

You'll be in a very different position by the time you make a decision, and you'll likely have had an opportunity to visit these places in person.

Send me a note if you ever come to Calgary!
posted by mireille at 10:28 PM on May 20, 2021 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, you're right probably thinking too much. I guess the way it's described on reddit is just overly dramatic.

Sure, I intend to settle first but I'm like an obsessive planner, always thinking ten steps ahead.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 10:33 PM on May 20, 2021

I think it's hard to generalize about people from a large variety of cultures spread over about three and a half million square miles. I live on a block where I know eight other households. I used to live in a small apartment building where I knew everyone in all of the units. I know of places where people check you out for twenty years before they try to be friends. It just depends. I've found that if you talk to people on the street they'll generally be friendly. I think this is more true in the larger metropolitan centers, or at least the ones which have an influx of people, because they're open to making friends.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 11:31 PM on May 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Welcome to Canada!

I live in Saskatoon now and grew up in a city called Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. I’ve also lived in Winnipeg, St. John’s, Montreal and just outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. I’ve loved everywhere I’ve lived but come from prairie farming people and strongly identify as a prairie girl.

Shameless plug: I love Saskatoon. We have a lot of Indigenous history, a brand new post-modern art gallery, a world class children’s museum, great restaurants, a great university, a really great human history museum, really low unemployment, beautiful hiking, kayaking and nature opportunities, and a thriving downtown. I think you’d definitely like it here.

Re: Canada more broadly. There’s a huge East/West divide in Canada. Eastern Canada was the first part of the country to be settled and is home to almost all of Canada’s...everything. Manufacturing and industry, the big national museums and cultural orgs, our two biggest cities, most of our universities, etc. Ontario and Quebec are home to something like 66% of Canada’s total population. Western Canada, chiefly the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, were settled much later and basically for the express purpose of providing wheat and other commodities. There’s a history of extracting resources from the West to give (the profits to) the East. The West has a chip on its shoulder about that and it affects how we all interact with each other. In general, the East leans more politically liberal and the West more politically conservative.

I’ve met some people from the East who haven’t travelled much outside their provinces to other parts of Canada and don’t have a great idea of what the rest of the country is like. I had someone in Montreal ask me once if Saskatchewan was the capital of Alberta (spoiler: it is not). I’ve met people from Eastern Canada who were quite judgmental of my being from the West, assuming things about my intelligence and personality because I probably had never left the farm or was a yokel or had to be some super regressive conservative based on where I was from. It was unpleasant. But I’ve met really nice people from those provinces, too. It just depends who you’re talking to, like with anything.

In my experience, the “friendliest” parts of Canada are also the most under-populated - the West, the Far North (places like Yellowknife and Whitehorse) and the Atlantic provinces are some of the friendliest places in the world that I’ve been to. Like, shirt off your back sense of community. People rely on each other and need each other to get by. I would move to Charlottetown tomorrow if it was easier to get a job there.

I loved living in Montreal from a cultural perspective. There is so much art and history. I wouldn’t advise living in Quebec in general if you don’t speak French, especially not Quebec City. I had some good friends in Montreal, but didn’t find people that friendly, really. In small town Saskatchewan, everyone talks to everyone else about everything all the time, and it was just very different than what I was used to.

I’ve found people in Toronto friendlier! I genuinely like the people in Toronto. But as the biggest city in the country, I still found there to be snobbishness that sometimes made me uncomfortable. I suspect this is true of big city vs. small town living everywhere.

I’ve heard great things about Kingston! I wish you only the best there. And you can always move if it’s not your cup of tea. Canada is a great country with so much to offer!
posted by oywiththepoodles at 11:37 PM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Canadian city subreddits are not demographically representative of their regions. They tend to skew agrieved - sometimes justified, though.

Just have interests and pursue them, and in the worst case promote those interests to whatever community you find yourself.
posted by porpoise at 12:42 AM on May 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

I can speak to Toronto but I do think you are over planning a bit. I’ve lived in Toronto, Ottawa, and in New Brunswick, and married a guy from BC.

Toronto has a culture where in public settings it’s not that common for people to strike up conversations. It’s considered polite to kind of operate as if you are giving other people space - no eye contact on public transportation, not too much chit chat at the store or in the elevator. (I’m older so I now fit in the chatty older lady category.) For some people this feels really cold. For me, it feels comfortable. When I moved out to NB, I felt like my skin was crawling when the lady (Gladys) at the pharmacy asked me how my cold was a week after I had bought cold medication. I was like (inside): it is polite to pretend you never noticed what I bought, this is a pharmacy!!!

Torontonians value independence too and so people will kind of assume you have things under control, that if you’re commenting on your plans to have dinner alone with YouTube tutorials that you actually want to do that, etc. It’s a city of subcultures so I can’t definitively say it’s all Ask and no Guess, but in my circles it is.

Because a lot of people have long commutes, it’s not that common to run into coworkers at home, etc., and a lot of people are pretty private about their home lives. Part of this is because there isn’t really a dominant religion in a lot of ways and very mingled traditions, and you really can’t tell by cultural markers, so assuming someone is celebrating Easter or Eid is fraught. But the summer long weekends are fine, so “what are you doing for the May 2-4 weekend,” 2-4 referring to late May and also good weather and a case of 24 beer (Officially Victoria Day, beware colonial past!!) is fine. A lot of people in Toronto are part of large families and spend time with them.

All of this combines to mean that where in New Brunswick I was invited to like, 12 Thanksgiving dinners as if I were a lost orphan, in Toronto, not so much. (Another colonial and mostly non-vegan holiday, if you see where I’m going with this.)

So if you’re in a culture that scoops single/new people up it may feel cold.

The way to make friends in Toronto is to take the initiative, casually. “Hey I’m checking out [street festival, we have zillions when it’s not Covid] on Sunday, want to come along?” or similar. Torontonians also take tons of classes - fitness, art, language, cooking, continuing ed - and make friends there a lot. Talking to people about their dogs is always an in (better like dogs though.)

I do think that working in finance you may see the snotty side of Toronto first, but that’s probably true most places. Toronto has like 2 million normal friendly people and then several upper crusts - the traditional white power brokers, the Asian elite, the Muslim elite, the ultra rich developers, etc. To break into the finance crowd Queens will school you better than I can as Kingston is the home of those things in deep Upper Canadian WASP ways.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:26 AM on May 21, 2021 [11 favorites]

You're young. It will be fine. It gets a little harder to make new friends in your 30s when people start families and have other commitments, although I've never had a problem. You'll make friends at university, then at work, and through socializing with friends of friends. If you game, play sports, or have other social hobbies you'll make friends that way as well.
posted by Stoof at 5:49 AM on May 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm from NS, lived in Van for a decade, and Toronto for a decade.

I have heard "Gosh, they're awfully friendly/unfriendly" about all those places, and honestly couldn't tell you what's true.

But having hobbies or interests you're passionate about and consistently showing up, that'll help!

My generalization: get away from the 'cool hip' parts of town.
posted by stray at 6:05 AM on May 21, 2021

Torontonian here, born and raised: Use! There are TONS of Toronto social groups on Meetup, you will have trouble deciding which group to go. Also, Kingston has been really good at managing COVID. The population is 136,000, and there have been only 3 deaths. Compared to Guelph, whose population is 131,000, and there have been 38 deaths. Don't let your guard down though, be sure to still follow all the public health protocols.
posted by foxjacket at 6:34 AM on May 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

You're overthinking this. You're going to school, which is a natural place to make friends. By the time you graduate, you'll have made plenty of connections, some of whom will be headed to Toronto like you. You will be the person with the clique.

(My perspective on this is a bit different - I grew up in the Toronto suburbs, so pretty much everyone I know there, I've known since I was a kid. When my childhood friend got married, she had one guest who wasn't someone we knew in high school. However, as a big city, Toronto will have new people coming in all the time who are eager to make new friends - but first off, you're going to meet other students at Queens, which has basically no local people with set-in local friend groups since Kingston is so small. In fact, many of them might be from Toronto, where they can introduce you to their friends.)
posted by airmail at 6:53 AM on May 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I guess the way it's described on reddit is just overly dramatic.

I would say that people who spend a significant amount of time commenting on reddit have a difficult time making friends, period. Same for any strictly one way virtual space. If your primary hobby is reading or watching a screen, you're not socializing.

That said, I've made many friends through metafilter, going to the IRL meetups.
posted by phunniemee at 7:04 AM on May 21, 2021 [10 favorites]

I moved to the GTA (greater Toronto area) in my 20s and left in my mid 30s and all my roots are still there I made long lasting friendships (though I did go out a lot!).

Once you have kids the friendship pace is slower but can still be strong.

Enjoy Canada. Truly open yourself to life’s adventure. It’s a wonderful place.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:03 AM on May 21, 2021

Best answer: warrior queen lays it out pretty well in terms of culture in Toronto.

To add a counterpoint to airmail's experience, I also grew up in the Toronto suburbs. I am in contact with very few people from grade school and high school (just one is a very close friend). Because for the most part, the friendships from those time periods were convenient rather than genuine, they've faded away. I may be older though. I think in my 20s I was a bit more in touch with folks.

The adult friends I've made have mostly been from having common interests and were made through various clubs. A few were made through work. Some were made via my husband.
posted by TORunner at 8:18 AM on May 21, 2021

I came here to Toronto in my early 30's, 15 years ago. At first my friends were my then-husband's friends, then work friends, then grad school friends, and a lot of those are still friends now. But then I started to make activity friends - karaoke, volunteering, music, MeFi meetup! - as well. I'm sure some people have let go of me over the last year, but I really can't wait to see everyone again.
posted by wellred at 9:42 AM on May 21, 2021

Congratulations and welcome to Canada.

I'm going to Kingston first, and I've been told my university, Queen's is probably the best for socializing.

So Queens has a stereotype as a party school in contrast to Waterloo or Toronto which are stereotyped by being constant hard work. Neither stereotype is completely true.

Generally speaking it's easy to meet people in Canadian universities and you will likely make lots of friends. Some may be friends just for a while, some may be friends forever.

Kingston is a small town, most Queens students come from outside of Kingston so there tends to be a lot of socializing in the student community. People aren't hanging out with their families or doing non-school-related activities most of the time. That said, around major holidays all the Canadian students will disappear and go home. This is a good opportunity to find some other international students to hang out with and hopefully have an enjoyable holiday among yourselves.

Nonetheless I'm probably going to end up in Toronto afterwards, although I cannot say places like Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton aren't luring me in.

Doing your bachelors degree takes like five years! You will have plenty of time to learn more about these cities and figure out what you want to do next.
posted by GuyZero at 10:37 AM on May 21, 2021

Best answer: I'm going to second oywiththepoodles' shameless plug for Saskatoon, for all the reasons they mentioned above!

Overall I find Canadians pretty friendly, with the caveat that I have always lived here (but have traveled quite a bit) so I don't have a great basis for comparison. But I think no matter where you go, the best way to find community is just by participating in communities! The uni community is the most obvious one and I'm sure you will find friends via that route, but volunteering for a cause you care about, joining groups, and participating in hobbies in public/group spaces are all going to provide opportunities for friendships no matter where you live.

In terms of where you end up, once you are here (and things with Covid have settled) I would recommend taking some time to visit different parts of the country. You'll get a sense pretty quickly of the areas that might be a good fit for you. Good luck with your move and welcome to Canada! =)
posted by DTMFA at 10:56 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Moved to Vancouver in my twenties from Winnipeg; definitely harder to break into social circles there. It could be that the music and arts crowds I hung out with in Winnipeg were just more inclusive, but I spent a year and a half and only had a handful of friends / acquaintances by the time I left.

It could also be that this is anecdata (it is), but a number of friends who live or have lived there say the same thing: Vancouverites are nice but busy, and a bit insular.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:58 PM on May 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Relaying the experiences of someone close to me -.your experience may vary tremendously depending on how well you fit in to what most Canadians think of as"normal". This person found people in Toronto to be vastly more open-minded and accepting of difference, compared with people in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal, where they were often aggressed on the street, treated rudely, looked down upon, stared at, etc. No experience with smaller cities out west.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:48 AM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Toronto has a culture where in public settings it’s not that common for people to strike up conversations. It’s considered polite to kind of operate as if you are giving other people space - no eye contact on public transportation, not too much chit chat at the store or in the elevator.

This seems super dependent on your frame of reference. I was raised in CA, live in NYC but spent a lot of time in Toronto visiting Canadian family over the last decade and i cant say how many times ive described TO as a friendlier NYC. I think there is a tendency towards business in big cities in general that puts time pressure on "friend-making" but you'd be remiss to confuse that with unfriendliness.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:15 AM on May 25, 2021

This was just posted on Reddit today, maybe you've already seen it :)
posted by foxjacket at 7:00 PM on May 26, 2021

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