A POSTING to British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS), Canada can be exciting, scary and positive – one size doesn’t fit all. We highlight the pros and cons…
Many soldiers go to BATUS on exercise and love it, so they want to head there on posting. The reality of everyday life can be very different for families, but it can still be a great experience if you’re prepared to make the most of it.
Bring your thermals
The first thing you’ll need to get used to is the weather – snow, snow and more snow. It can arrive in October and still be around in May and the temperatures can drop to -30 degrees. The flipside is that summers are hot, so you’ll need to pack your shorts as well as your snow boots.
Army spouse Sarah said: “The outdoor activities – horse riding, skiing, walking and camping – are the best things about living here.”
Schoolteacher Jenny Otter added: “Moving from Cyprus has been a completely different adventure, but everyone has been extremely welcoming and I can’t wait to experience everything Canada has to offer.”
Where will we be living?
BATUS is the main working area and most families are housed in nearby Ralston village and the town of Medicine Hat, with a few in Cochrane and a smaller group in Calgary.
Ralston is the only location where Service Family Accommodation is provided on a Canadian military patch. In all the other areas you’ll be housed in private rentals in the local community.
Houses are allocated on family size. They all have basements, are fully furnished and have plenty of outside space. Houses in town are different but equally suitable for families with or without children or pets.
For some families, it’s a great environment to live in but for others the transient nature of postings takes its toll. Kim said: “I hate the transition and turnaround of families in the village. You make friends and then they or you leave.”
It’s a big country
Distance and time spent travelling are major factors of life in Canada. Ralston is two-and-a-half hour’s drive away from Calgary, where you can get direct flights to the UK.
It’s 45 minutes from Ralston to Medicine Hat with only a limited bus network, so if you’re able to drive it’s a massive bonus. Most vehicles are SUVs or 4x4s to cope with the weather – insurance and breakdown cover can be very costly though.
Foreign and Commonwealth families should be aware that there are additional costs to obtain visas required to travel to the USA, and the Get You Home (Overseas) (GYH(O)) allowance can only be used for the UK if you have British citizenship.
Lots of things are more expensive – food, clothes, TV packages, mobiles and additional items you’ll need such as cold-weather gear and winter tyres. Local Overseas Allowance helps to offset some of these costs.
Jobs can be difficult to get due to the remoteness of Ralston and many spouses with children struggle to work because of their soldier’s commitments. Families in Medicine Hat have more opportunities based purely on location.
Many of you have found ways around it by becoming self-employed or working remotely. Annette Falinski, who runs a holistic therapy business, said: “It gives me the opportunity to stay busy. Although it takes time to build a client base, I’m happy that people are enjoying what I do.”
Claire Short, another self-employed spouse, added: “AFF helped us to secure the 30 hours of funded childcare we would have been entitled to in the UK, which has enabled me to continue my business, maintain my professional development and work flexibly.”
Some job opportunities are on offer at local schools and nurseries. If this is something you’re interested in, try to get your full visa sorted before you come to Canada as it can be a lengthy process.
What about schools?
Canada follows a different curriculum to the UK and there are some limitations with support for children with special educational needs. In Ralston, the Canadian school has two SCE teachers to help bridge any gaps between the two systems. In Medicine Hat, Service children attend Canadian schools.
If you have secondary school-aged children, it’s not recommended to enter the Canadian education system. GCSEs are not possible and distance learning isn’t supported.
As with all overseas assignments, older children (18-24) are not classed as ‘entitled family members’ unless they’re in full-time education. Some families have brought older children here but visas, flights and healthcare costs are your own responsibility.
How do I access healthcare?
It’s almost the same as being in the UK – you go to your GP or medical officer and, if you need to be seen by a specialist, you’re either referred in Canada or back to the UK. Families have access to Alberta healthcare insurance, but this doesn’t cover you out of province or for extreme sports such as skiing, so make sure you have additional cover in case you need rescuing off the piste.
Keeping in touch
Living in a different time zone, seven hours behind the UK, means chatting to friends and family needs to be planned.
Your GYH(O) allowance helps with flights back home and many families use it during the long ten-week school holidays.
Winter sports are a huge attraction. From skiing to skating, everyone gets involved somehow. There are subsidised rates for most recreation facilities including swimming pools and gyms.
Canada is a mixed bag of positives and negatives and it’s important to consider all aspects of family life before a posting.
You’ll find your local AFF Co-ordinator, Liz Ellwood, at community events, or you can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org