2022-05-11T09:04:36-04:00Sep 24, 2021|

Finding where you belong in the world: Starting a family in Toronto

From an interview with Clem Leveau-Vallier, Head of Marketing, Arrive

Clemence (Clem) Leveau-Vallier is Head of Marketing at Arrive and lives in Toronto. She was born in France but spent most of her childhood in the U.S., before returning to France as a teenager. While completing her master’s degree in international management in the U.K., Clem met her husband. A few years later, they decided to travel the world to find the perfect place to live and start a family. They visited 16 countries over the course of their 18-month trip before stopping in Toronto, Ontario for a week-long visit. Clem shares her story of finding a place that aligned with her goals and aspirations, building a network, falling in love with Toronto, and raising three Canadian children. 


Canada was the very last stop on our 18-month-long, 16-country world trip. By that point, we had pretty much made up our minds to move to another country. But when we got to Toronto, we felt that it was a very special place. Of all the cities we had visited, Toronto struck us as a place of incredible diversity and where that diversity wasn’t really segregated with each ethnic group in their own little pocket. There were people from all cultures living and working together on a daily basis, genuinely taking interest in each other’s culture.

We just got a little taste of what Toronto has to offer in the week we were here, but we also got the sense that it was a very family-friendly city. Toronto had lots of green spaces and it seemed like it would be a really great place to raise kids. 

My husband and I were visiting Canada on a tourist visa, and we knew if we wanted to make a life here, we needed to figure out the immigration process. So we travelled back to France to put down our backpacks and get our affairs in order. I was incredibly lucky that, through my network, I got a job offer and could get a work permit right away. We discovered that in Canada there are some fast tracks for professionals who speak both English and French. Because my husband and I are both bilingual, we were able to get our work permits expedited, and returned to Canada with Temporary Foreign Worker status within a couple of months.

Since I had a job waiting for me when we landed, I dove right in. It took my husband a little more time to find a job, and he learned the hard way that it really does boil down to your network. We’d had a little practice with this during our trip around the world, because we had connected with friends-of-friends-of-family members to meet as many people as possible in the places we were travelling to. My husband began building his Toronto network through volunteering, and having coffee chats with contacts of contacts, which eventually helped him find his very first job.

Our main goal was to find a positive place to start our family

We came to Toronto because we wanted a city with a positive outlook. We wanted to start a family in a society that was less divided, less negative, and Toronto really did seem utopic in that sense. We didn’t have kids yet, but we wanted to be in a place where our future kids could grow up with friends from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions. We wanted our kids to grow up and speak more than just French.

There were many other cities that we enjoyed, but we felt that we’d always be foreigners there. Even if our children were born there and spoke the language, they would always be considered foreigners. Canada, and Toronto in particular, felt like a place where we would feel at home. After living here for a few months, we did actually start to feel like locals.

For a lot of newcomers, the primary motivation for coming to Canada is to improve their situation. In some societies, newcomers who are trying to work their way up may be looked down upon, face resistance and social barriers: it’s like if you’re not born into a certain class, you’re never going to fit in that class. That is not the case here. Newcomers are taking their life in their own hands and working hard to make a better one. That’s something that is admired in Canada.

“Throughout our travels we would try to picture ourselves living in a place—and Toronto is a really great place to live. It’s so diverse and multicultural. People from all corners of the world are living together side-by-side, not just politely ignoring each other, but genuinely interested in each other’s cultures.”

Newcomers raising Canadian children

I arrived with a Temporary Foreign Worker permit and with a contract job. When I made the change to a full-time job status, we started our family. Our eldest son was born a year-and-a-half after we moved to Canada. Now we have three children aged seven, five, and two. The past few years have confirmed that this is a really great place to raise children.

Prior to living in Toronto, my husband and I lived in Paris for three years. Paris is not a child-friendly city. It’s not a stroller-friendly city. Here in Toronto, there are massive parks with huge playground structures, wading pools in the summer, tobogganing hills in the winter, and there are trails everywhere. A lot of people say that Toronto is not a city with parks, it’s a city within a park. When you go to the top of the CN Tower and look around in summer, you can see green and blue in every direction you look. It’s an amazing city to be spending time outdoors, and it’s really great for kids.

Having a baby away from home and family

When I was pregnant with our first child, I didn’t have a lot of friends who had children. In fact, I had almost no friends who’d had children here. Instead, I would turn to my mother and friends back home in France for advice, but their advice wasn’t necessarily applicable in the new environment that I was in. The healthcare system works in different ways. So, while I was expecting, I didn’t know what to expect here in Canada, because I didn’t really have that network of people who had gone through this experience.

When your first child arrives, you realize it really does take a village to raise a child. And when your village—your mother, mother-in-law, siblings, friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles—is an ocean away, it is more difficult.Build your own virtual village for support

For any newcomer parents starting a family in Canada, I would definitely recommend finding a local parent group. There are so many Facebook groups—local common interest groups, and parenting groups—where you can connect with other parents who are in the same situation, who have kids the same age as yours.

This can be especially important during parental leave, when you’re feeling a little lonely because you aren’t working, and interaction with your child is limited because they are so young. You can meet up at the playground, create playgroups for your kids, or just provide support for each other so that you don’t feel as if you’re in it alone. We now have a network of families that we do babysitting exchanges with. Building your social network will help you feel a real connection to your community.

Parental leave in Canada

Maternity leave, or parental leave, in Canada is really great for parents. In Ontario, for example, you get up to 18 months’ parental leave from work when you have a child. And that leave can be split between both parents. For all three of our children, my husband and I chose to take 12 months’ leave and split it. I took the first half and then returned to work. My husband took the last six months, which was a great bonding opportunity that he really loved.

Few countries offer paid parental leave, especially for fathers. When both parents have an opportunity to spend some quality time with a child and run the home, it creates a more balanced family relationship. I know that in certain cultures, there may be a much stronger gender split in terms of responsibilities and roles within the family. But if you are open to it, and if both parties are interested in trying it out, it really leads to very positive outcomes for the whole family. 

Daycare and school in Toronto

In a city like Toronto, daycare is expensive, and it’s really hard to get a spot. We had a few mishaps where we thought we had a spot, and it was pulled out from under us at the last minute. We had to scramble to find a replacement. Daycare can be tough to figure out. You can find a list of daycares with capacity, vacancy and some quality ratings in the City of Toronto daycare database. Your local Facebook groups are great resources for daycare advice too. Try keywords like “parenting” and “mother’s group.” Also, remember to ask your neighbours.

We’re really pleased with the Ontario school system. We chose to enroll our kids in the English language public school system, even though we both speak French and are Catholic. We opted for the English school system because we felt that it’s where our children would find the most diversity. They would be exposed to schoolmates from around the world, with different religions and mindsets, which we believe will be the most enriching experience for them. 

Arrive: By newcomers for newcomers

I had been in Canada for seven-and-a-half years before I started working at Arrive. In that time, because I’m an outgoing person and because we tapped into our networks, a lot to meet people during our trip, we connected with a lot of newcomers who had just come to Canada. 

I introduced a number of people to life in Toronto and helped them figure out various aspects of how life worked in their new home. Whether by giving tips on writing their resume for the Canadian job market, or navigating pregnancy (that’s definitely something I could have used a hand with), I could help people figure it out and have a smoother experience than I had.

Joining Arrive was an opportunity to do that beyond my own personal circle of connections to the wider newcomer community. I could add my own experience, and the experience of all the people I’ve connected with over the years, to all the newcomer stories, insights, and experiences that Arrive is built on.

Clem’s top 3 tips for newcomers

1. Do your research

My first tip for any newcomer would be to read as much as you can on how things work in Canada, in order to prepare. Arrive has hundreds of articles, as well as guides, budgeting tools, resume templates for newcomers and much more. Knowing what to prepare for will make your move a lot less stressful and help you hit the ground running.

2. Build your network

Start building your network, or at least get an understanding of how important your network will be for your life in Canada, before leaving home. The Canadian job market is different. Many jobs are not posted publicly, so you’ll need a network to get access to opportunities that you might not otherwise hear about. Your network won’t necessarily get you a job, but it will help open doors. Invest time in it and get out of your comfort zone and reach out to people. It will pay off down the line.

3. Set your expectations

Things will likely work differently in Canada than they did in your home country. It’s important to understand the Canadian job market, housing and how banking works in Canada. For example, Canada is a credit based society. I come from a credit-averse society, so I had a negative view of credit before moving here and was reluctant to get a credit card.

I didn’t understand how credit works in Canada until I got here. I was caught off guard trying to make online purchases with my debit card and I found out that doesn’t work in Canada. You need to have a credit card to make online purchases. You also need to have a credit score to rent an apartment or lease a car.

Becoming Canadian at heart

Canada is not perfect. There are real issues in Canada’s history. The treatment of First Nations People and the Residential School system in particular must be reconciled. But it’s the way Canada values diversity, and welcomes newcomers from around the world that drew me here and made me fall in love with this country. Canada has held up that promise for the nine years that I’ve lived here and I’m really happy that my family is Canadian. My three children were born here and my husband and I have become Canadian citizens. We have voted in two federal elections and we feel we are now a part of the beating heart that is Canada. We are Canadian at heart, if not by birth.