From Hogtown to Cowtown: some Toronto-to-Calgary culture shocks

From Nigeria to England to Calgary to Toronto and back again to Calgary, Onyekachi Nwoke has experienced his share of culture shock.

And not just YYZ to YYC: from Nigeria to the UK to Canada, Onyekachi Nwoke has had his share of culture shocks

Onyekachi Nwoke's family moved from Nigeria to England to Calgary, Alberta. Nwoke later moved to Ontario and back — he's had his share of culture shock. (Onyekachi Nwoke)

Trans-Canada Culture Shock explores the small surprises, unexpected discoveries and rude awakenings that come with making a move within our borders.

At 15, Onyekachi Nwoke moved with his family from Nigeria to London, England, where they spent two years before packing everything up again to pursue the Canadian dream in Calgary. At 25, he moved alone to Toronto to do a master's and then just a few months ago, it was back to Calgary again to take a job in his field. Nwoke, now 28 and a youth counsellor, told us about some key differences between Hogtown and Cowtown — from dress codes to accents.

You have experienced culture shock on a lot of different scales — Nigeria to London, London to Calgary and Calgary to Toronto. How did those experiences compare?

I can remember first arriving in Calgary the shock of how few people there were, first in the airport and then everywhere. And then there was the shock of the weather. I had spent two years in London, so it wasn't my first time seeing snow. Snow is one thing, but snow with the double digit minus temperatures was hard to get used to. When I moved to Toronto for school it actually reminded me more of home, which is probably surprising.  In Nigeria I lived in Lagos, which is a huge cosmopolitan city, where you can meet people from pretty much anywhere in the world. Toronto was very similar on that front.

Has Calgary gotten more multicultural in the last few years?

Yes. Especially with mayor Nenshi getting elected. One of the things I realized was how little people in Toronto know about Calgary. There is this idea that it is just cowboy central, but it is changing in a lot of ways. They're starting to stock more international ingredients in grocery stores — plantains and a malt drink that is very popular in West Africa.

Toronto vs. Calgary
Median age39.236.1
Percentage of population married51%58%
Olympics hosted/Olympic bids0/51/4

You moved from to Toronto when you were nineteen. Were there any major differences in terms of the nightlife?

In Toronto there is so much more to do, especially for young people — all the musical acts that I like, they will always stop in Toronto, not Calgary. And the sports teams in Toronto are obviously amazing. Calgary seems like a nice city to settle down in, raise a family and do that sort of thing, whereas Toronto is a great city when you want to be young and have fun. In Toronto you can go into a bar and talk with people you have never met before. In Calgary, you don't really have that. It definitely caught me off guard when I first moved to Toronto, like why are these people talking to me?

It's funny because people say Torontonians aren't as friendly as other Canadians.

I guess you do see that Toronto attitude a bit, but not at the bars.

The Red Mile is the name given to a stretch of 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary, Alta., named after the home team colour of the Calgary Flames' jerseys. (@GWellborn/Twitter)

Who drinks more — Torontonians or Calgarians?

I would say Toronto they drink more, but I think they're more responsible drinkers. In Calgary we have the Red Mile, which is a strip of bars. If you go there, you can definitely see people who aren't holding their liquor very well. I also find that in Calgary people drink at home more, but maybe because I was in school in Toronto, so we went out a lot.

Or maybe it's because it's so cold in Calgary, nobody wants to go anywhere.

That's true.

Ten years ago, you were a new Canadian immigrant. Did that experience influence your career choice?

Yes, definitely. I was originally in sciences because my parents wanted me to be a doctor, but I decided to take a sociology course and that led me to start volunteering with an organization called Immigrant Services Calgary. They help young people settle in. My job now is quite similar — we run after-school programs for immigrant youth. I'm in a position where I can tell these kids that I understand where they're coming from and I understand the struggles because I went through the same thing. 

Is there a particular struggle that is the same today as when you first arrived?

Well for people who come from English-speaking countries like I did, a big thing is getting the Canadian accent. I remember always thinking that I sounded so different — especially because I had the British influence to the way I spoke. But then my cousin came over for a visit though and he said, you sound so Canadian.

When I go to work now and dress how I did in Toronto, people want to know where I'm going after work or why I'm so fancy.

Does "Canadian" sound different in Toronto versus Calgary?

Oh yes, definitely. In Calgary, you get a lot of that kind of "classic" Canadian accent and they say "eh" a lot more. In Toronto, it's juts a much more diverse city, so it's much more diluted with influences from all over. In Toronto a lot of young people will say "live" [rhymes with hive] to mean cool and exciting

Do people dress differently in Calgary than in Toronto?

Yes! When I go to work now and dress how I did in Toronto, people want to know where I'm going after work or why I'm so fancy. The Toronto style is more modern, more tailored. They don't really have that as much in Calgary. It's not that there is no effort, but the way they dress in Calgary, if you dressed like that it Toronto, you would look like a slob.

Nwoke up above the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) in Toronto, Ont. (Onyekachi Nwoke)

Do you own any cowboy boots?

I don't, but maybe now that I'm back it's time. I've been to Stampede a few times and I've just worn runners, so I think I have to get a pair. I do wear cowboy hats.

You have mentioned a lot of things that you miss about Toronto. What was exciting about coming back to Calgary?

Well of course seeing my family who are still here and a lot of my friends from when I was younger. I was really excited to start driving again. In Toronto I can count the number of times that I drove — nobody wants to drive there because the traffic is just so terrible. In Calgary everybody drives and it was nice to do that again when I came back.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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