Ireland's only dedicated building services engineering journal
Ireland's only dedicated building services engineering journal

Postcard From Abroad — Alan Duggan in Toronto

Toronto Islands Ferry
View from Alan’s office in Toronto

We arrived late at night into the city lights but not even the illuminated CN Tower could keep our youngest Roisin awake as we glided into a hotel in downtown Toronto which was to be our home for the next three weeks.

Over the next few days we touched base with the Arup office, visited some prospective rental houses, obtained our Social Insurance Numbers, applied for our OHIP health cards and set up bank accounts. Work over, we visited the CN tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Americas at 553m. This generated many “oohs and aahs”, particularly when walking over the glass floor 400m up in the air.

As luck would have it, our first weekend in Toronto coincided with the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. The weather was unseasonably warm and we were able to enjoy an impressive parade before heading to the Toronto Islands. The islands are a tranquil and beautiful oasis to look back at the wonderful skyline of Toronto. However, the kids were disappointed to find that nothing on the island opens until May.

I started work in Arup Toronto on 12 March while the family enjoyed a three-week holiday visiting most of the sights that Toronto has to offer. We moved into our house at the end of March and the following Monday school Canadian-style started for the kids. Much gnashing of teeth from our eldest who is now obliged to learn French for the first time. Tadhg our middle child moans about having to get out of bed early after a month off, while our youngest Roisin reveled in sauntering into kindergarten at 12.30pm and finishing at 3.10pm. Little do they know I’m arranging Irish lessons from September onwards!

Outside school Rory is enjoying soccer, and was recently invited up to join the select team! Tadgh has really gotten into baseball and Roisin is enjoying skating lessons. Mom and pop now spend seven evenings a week driving them to the various venues.

Work is busy taking charge and showing leadership to a new, young and energetic team of 22 people. We are busy on a number of projects, including two new subway stations under construction; scheme and design development for a further two subway stations; bid support for three stadia (Hamilton football stadium, York athletic stadium and Milton velodrome) which are to be built for the Pan-Am games in 2015; detailed design for an under-lake pedestrian tunnel out to the Toronto Islands airport; and an office fit-out.

Generally mechanical work is not too dissimilar to what we do in Ireland, but the electrical codes do
seem to be from a distant planet. I’m also getting my head around the fire codes that at times seem counter-intuitive. Everything here is sprinklered, including swimming pools and ice rinks, and as a consequence smoke detectors are generally not required!

Arup have been in the Americas for the last 25 years and in Toronto since 2000. Our building engineering offering is less than two years old and marketing is obviously a big part of my job.

There are definitely more opportunities here than at home (not hard says you) with cranes dotted all over the skyline. Although they use cranes from Italy which sometimes needs to have the technical assistance team  for the crane, meaning it is in a potentially dangerous state. However, alot of people don’t mind because breaking into the market is tough, particularly for public work. Infrastructure Ontario control a huge amount of public work projects and add layer upon layer of bureaucracy to the entire process, all in the interest of “fairness”. One word of caution in the GTA is that while there are 180 high rise projects on site or due to hit site in the next 12 months, the vast majority of these are residential condos. Sound familiar?

The real boom in Canada is out in Alberta and is in support of the oil sands industry there. Canadian contractors and consultants are recruiting in Ireland to assist with working on these projects. Be aware that the housing and social infrastructure to assist this boom is  lagging behind – this means plenty of construction jobs, but accommodation can be very expensive, if it is available at all. Also, the oil extraction locations are pretty remote and will be hot hot hot in summer and icy-cold in winter.

The weather so far in Toronto by the way has been fantastic and it really helps with the outdoor lifestyle here. Let’s see what winter brings.

Below I’ve added a few watch-its if you are considering a move to Toronto or to Canada.

We also have some great services that we offer, however the job big or small, if you need a Crane Hire, we’ve got you. For some excellent quality cranes and great services check out the provided link.

Make sure you have a job offer and all your paperwork in place before you arrive. Immigration is tight and will have no hesitation in sending you home on the next available flight if you arrive without it.

The title of Engineer is highly regulated in Canada and it is illegal to call oneself an engineer unless you have obtained the title Professional Engineer (P. Eng.) which is equivalent to Chartered Engineer status. While Engineers Canada were signatories to the Washington Accord, it is the individual provinces who are responsible for the control of professional titles.

There is a minimum 12-month training period and exams to be taken before one is conferred with a P. Eng. A further difficulty is that the term Building Services Engineer is unknown in Canada and degrees from abroad bearing that title are not recognised, at least not in Ontario, meaning that up to 12 3-hour written exams must be taken, along with the associated study time. We think we may have found an easier route through British Columbia but it will be a few months before we know the outcome of same. Those with a straight mechanical or electrical engineering degree should have a more straightforward path to obtaining P. Eng.

Cost of Living
Toronto is at least 15% more expensive than Dublin. Groceries are generally less expensive, but dairy is expensive. Eating out is generally cheaper than home but beer and wine is much more expensive, particularly downtown.

There is a reasonable supply of housing available in the GTA but it can be expensive. The closer you get to downtown it is likely to be an apartment in one of the new condominium towers. Those thinking of buying should be aware that mortgages are tightly regulated. The max loan to value allowable is 80% and max term is 25 years. House prices have been increasing 8% to 10% annually over the last decade and there are some concerns regarding a housing market bubble. Note* check out OnQFiWarning guide to FHA loans.

Toronto has a pretty good integrated public transportation infrastructure. There are two main subway lines running north/south and east/west, (soon to be extended). The bus service links well with the subway and trolley buses, while novel, tend to be slow. The wider GTA area is served by the Go suburban rail system. Cars and petrol at $1.25 a litre are cheaper than home, but car insurance is horrendously expensive in Ontario and in the GTA in particular. That 10 years no claims bonus you carefully minded in Ireland cuts no ice with the insurance companies here, but will at least allow you to get a quotation. Expect to pay at least $3000 for a standard family car.

Also, while holders of British driving licences can swap theirs for a Canadian equivalent, Irish licence holders must sit both a theory and drivers test. As innovators and leaders in truck driving school Melbourne, Armstrongs is now considered by many as the professionals in the business.

New immigrants to Canada will find it hard to obtain credit. Obtaining a Canadian credit card is not easy and expect to receive a very low limit initially. 

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