Published on | A Commonwealth For Everyone
On Commonwealth Day we launched the ‘A Commonwealth for Everyone’ series – celebrating and sharing stories of our WMP colleagues who have connections to Commonwealth countries.
For our second interview, we spoke with Vanessa Milton who has worked for WMP for 27 years in different roles. She started out in 1992 as a Special Constable, then became a Traffic Warden before eventually moving to CID as an Investigation Officer. Today, Vanessa tells us her story of moving to Canada for a huge chunk of her younger years and the impact Canadian culture has had on Vanessa’s outlook of the world.
Hi Vanessa, thank you so much for joining us today. Could you tell us a little about how it felt moving to Canada at the time?
Thank you for having me. So, I grew up in a small village in Northamptonshire where everyone knew everyone and a lot of our friends and family lived close by. My dad then got a job in Canada and it suddenly dawned upon us that we had to move. We had never flown before and the first time was to a huge country. It all happened so quickly, we sold the house, packed up and went.
We moved to Calgary, Canada, which is what they call the Wild West of Canada. It really was as if you were living in the Wild West, they all wore cowboy hats, it still is like that! Everyone was so welcoming. I remember thinking at the time that everything seemed so big and amazing, especially comparing it to the small village we had come from. We spent a year in Calgary and then my dad got another job in Ottawa where many people spoke French. So, we hopped on a train through the mountains to the East side and that’s where we lived until we eventually moved back to the UK.
Can you speak French as well as English?
Canada is a multicultural and bilingual country who speak two languages, English and French. So all the road signs were in both languages, making it a great way to learn a new language. When we went to school, half of the subjects we had to learn in French and half in English. This was news to my parents who realised after we repeatedly came home speaking French!
How would you describe your experience in Canada for all those years?
I was very shy as a child, so being surrounded by Canadian children who were all confident speakers, I felt like I had to catch up with that, physically and mentally. By physically I mean children are literally thrown onto skis as soon as they can walk. Because the winters are so long, you have to embrace all these things, so we were quickly given skis and snow shoes. And mentally, I ended up going to performing arts school and I did a lot of singing, I was in a band and on TV too! I was lucky because I was encouraged a lot, I mean growing up in Ottawa, the community spirit was the best and everyone used to support one another.
How did that transition happen?
I soon realised that if I wanted to be heard, I had to have a voice amongst these confident people. Some people didn’t like me simply because I wasn’t from Canada. Even the transformation from the pictures I have are amazing, I landed with long hair and long socks, a year later, I just looked Canadian, I can’t describe it! It really just made me who I am.
That’s incredibly inspiring. It must have been difficult at times, what did you find most challenging while you lived there?
It’s funny really, I mean my mum often felt homesick whereas my dad, my brother and I all embraced the change. I had to always remind her that we were never going to forget England, it’s a part of who we are and it’s so important to keep that close to your heart.
So, how did you end up coming back to the UK?
My parents had come back to England as my grandmother was poorly and my brother joined them, meaning that I was in Canada on my own. Despite being settled with a job and a good circle of friends, I felt that I needed to come back to be with my family, I missed them so much. At first, the intention was to come back temporarily, but then I joined WMP and ended up staying. Since then, I’ve always gone back to Canada once to twice a year, pre-covid of course.
Do you go back to Canada often?
Yes, I’ve been on a many trips back to Canada, actually my kids are also dual nationality being Canadian and English too. We actually went on a big family holiday to Canada a few years back. They loved it. I took them to Calgary and my friend had some cowboy hats made for them.
I like travelling with them, as although education is important, travelling allows you to look at different cultures and learn about the world that way. In the first lockdown, as a family we bought a map and pinned down everywhere where we want to travel to. We still managed to find ways to explore different cultures – having Mexican night for example!
Which would you categorise yourself as – Canadian or British?
All my formative years were in Canada, primary school, secondary school, big milestones in my life such as learning to drive, etc. Those are the years that defined me and whenever I’m flying there, I feel like I’m going home. I do love the UK, I mean I was born here. I’ve been back now, gosh, 28 years? But I still consider myself Canadian.
What is your favourite thing about Canada?
The first thing that comes to mind is how the people are. Canadian people are super friendly. Here’s a funny example – if you’re on a crowded person and the bus jolts, if you stand on a Canadian person’s foot, they will apologise to you. They are just super polite people. My husband always says it’s as though time hasn’t corrupted them – it’s like they’re in a safe place – they’re just genuinely nice, super welcoming and lovely people.
I love the Canadian weather and landscape, lots of snow and very cold weather but also beautiful summers and autumns (or fall should I say). The trees are so red and vibrant, but then you also have the mountains and lakes. You can fly into anywhere in Canada and just be wowed. The thing is wherever you go, Toronto, Niagra falls, the West Coast, East Coast, all the provinces are mesmerising.
What reminds you of home?
Not a day passes by that I don’t think about Canada, it’s always there. I speak to my friends every day and I feel a close link every day to Canada. Some people think it messes you up a bit as you feel as though you never belong anywhere. But I see it in a positive light that I’ve been privileged to have the experiences of two countries and wherever I go, I’ll always feel like I’m home.
Probably the most difficult question yet – who will you be supporting in the Commonwealth Games?
Oh tough question! I will be supporting both England and Canada – you can’t make me pick!