Kiwi Adventures in Canada: Learning to be Canadian in Smithers, BC

Writer Lydia Millett came all the way from New Zealand for a simple working holiday. What she discovered in Smithers, BC, was how to be a Canadian

Credit: Lydia Millett

Smithers’ Hudson Bay mountains form the perfect backdrop for a Canadian adventure

Living the BC dream: A Kiwi discovers bears, caesars and snow angels on her working holiday in Smithers

Last summer I quit my job, packed my life into two suitcases and flew from my home in Wellington, New Zealand, to the small town of Smithers in Northern BC.

I found myself living in a log cabin with my boyfriend on a beautiful farm, going to barn dances where cowboy boots and hats were considered acceptable attire, and getting my fair share of Canadiana.

Alexandra Rose Ranch, Smithers BC

Moose and Cougars and Bears Oh My!

On my second day in Smithers, on a beautiful summer morning, I saw a hawk swoop down into the river and pluck out a large flapping pink salmon. Amazing! 

Later that week two black bear cubs wandered lazily across the road in front of our vehicle. Was I in a wildlife documentary? No, I was in BC.

My spontaneous wildlife encounters continued a few weeks later when we came across a group of black bears that had found a comfortable spot in a wheat field in which to flop down and gorge themselves.  

The concept of being so near to bears, or any kind of ferocious wild animal, is both terrifying and mind boggling to me. 

I come from a country where we live in what is referred to as ‘ecological naivety,’ that is, living happily in the absence of predators. In New Zealand we don’t have bears, we don’t have cougars, we don’t even have moose!

Totem Pole Raising

While I was in Smithers, I was lucky enough to get invited to a totem pole raising, which was a memorable experience.

In Kitselas, a community nestled in the mountains beside a roaring river, I witnessed four huge intricately carved poles being raised to a standing position.

These were the first poles to be raised in many years in this community, and the event was full of ceremony, dance, song and plenty of laughter.

A Caesar is Not a Salad

In the true tradition of a working holiday, I found myself a minimum wage job as a server in a sushi bar.

I soon realized I had plenty to learn. For example, pop = fizzy drink, a loonie = a dollar coin, and when someone orders a caesar they are not talking about a salad.

Ah, awkward cultural misunderstandings, you gotta love ‘em!

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

If there was any doubt before, I made it very clear that I’m not from here when the first snow fell and I was that crazy foreigner outside in her pajamas making snow angels.

I don’t think you can explain to someone how cold minus 35 degrees is, which is probably a good thing. Fortunately the novelty of the snow didn’t wear off for me.

While my family enjoyed the usual BBQ on the beach, I had my first white Christmas, skied every weekend, and skated on lakes surrounded by mountains (which pretty much rocked my merino wool socks off!)

How to be a Canadian

Ice skating on Tyee Lake, Smithers, BC

It’s nearly been a year, and from the field research I’ve undertaken so far, I am starting to get an idea of what it takes to be a Canadian:

  • Watch Ice hockey (religiously) (and don’t call it ice hockey, it’s just hockey – ed.)
  • Drink coffee from Tim Horton’s
  • Hike without fear of bears (but tell tourists your worst bear encounter stories)
  • Eat enormous cinny buns for breakfast
  • Drink caesars (especially when hung over)
  • Say “toque”, “Right on” and “No dooooubt!”

I’m not quite there yet…but I’m learning.

Lydia Millett hails from New Zealand and has recently moved to Vancouver. She has an English literature degree and a diploma in creative writing.