Martin, A French Truck Driver in Canada

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Martin, A French Truck Driver in Canada

Martin, A French Truck Driver in Canada (this load traveled from Alberta to Quebec!)

Martin, a truck driver from France, was dreaming of big open roads. He found them in Canada, where he immigrated in 2008. After landing in Quebec and starting his new life there, he moved to Alberta.

A long-haul truck driver, he drives all over North America. He shares with us a few highlights of his job.

1)     Why did you decide to immi­grate to Canada?

As a French truck driver, it is nowadays difficult to find a long-haul job in France. French drivers don’t go far past the border, and you usually deliver your load the following day, there isn’t so much driving involved. I would have loved being a truck driver 40 years ago, when it was relatively common to drive to the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, etc.) or USSR and Eastern Europe.

So the best place to be hired on a long-haul position was to immigrate in North America.

And because I was not comfortable using English for administrative tasks (you can always fill out your immigration application in French but after landing, it’s a different story), I choose to immigrate to Québec.

2)     Did you find the immi­gra­tion process difficult? Which immigration category did you apply in, and how long did it take for you to get permanent residence status?

No, it was pretty straightforward. I first applied for a CSQ and was granted one five months later. Then I completed the federal part of the process and seven months later, I landed in Montreal as a permanent resident. This was back in 2008.

3)     Where did you learn English?

At school, reading technical documentation and watching movies and shows with subtitles. But I never had the chance to practice my skills before living in Canada.

4) How do you find the work culture, as a truck driver, compared to France?

It’s about the same. Dispatches expect the same kind of work from drivers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (same attitude too… truck drivers will know what I mean!). One big difference is that it is exceptionally rare in North America for drivers to have to load or unload their truck.

5)     Do you face specific challenges considering the harsh weather conditions we get here in Canada?

In winter, even if roads are cleared, there is still some snow and ice on the ground. Black ice is another issue, it happens regularly. In many western provinces and states, it is mandatory to carry tires chains.
Almost all year long, strong wind cause blowing snow or blowing dust, heavily reducing the visibility. Winds can be particularly strong from Canadian plains to Gulf of Mexico.

Unlike in France, roads are only closed when the weather is extremely bad—a few centimeters of snow doesn’t stop us.

6)     What has been your biggest culture shock so far?

I am not very social, I’m often on my own so I feel I am not expose to cultural differences as much. Okay, let’s say poutine: quelle horreur!

7)     You had the chance to travel all over the country. Which places blew your mind?

I like crossing the majestic Rockies Mountain, either in British Columbia, in California or everywhere between. The Atlantic coast in New-Brunswick, by highway 11, from Shediac to Bathurst, is very picturesque.

8)     What’s one thing you don’t like in Canada?

Tipping. Seriously, waitresses and waiters are not my employees, I don’t see why I should supplant the employer’s role. I do tip—but I don’t eat out often because of that.

And, somewhat related, the fact that prices don’t include taxes. How stupid is that? Let’s say you buy a car. The tag says $9999,99… but with taxes, transportation fees, set up fees, etc., you end up paying $14,000, 40% more than the advertised price. Basically, the tag just fools people.

9)     What has been your most interesting haul so far?

There is the distance between the pick-up point and the delivery. For instance, I drove from Milton, ON to Victoria, BC, from Edmonton, AB to Orlando, FL, from Carmanguay, AB to Amqui, QC, from Rancho Cucamonga, CA to Mississauga, ON… all of these were 4,000-kilometres long drives. I also enjoy the kind of combination needed to haul the load. So I’ll say a crane body I picked up in Carmanguay, AB, to deliver in Amqui, QC, with a 9-axles combination.

10)  What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a truck driver in Canada?

Truck drivers are needed in Canada, so it is easy to find a job. Moreover, Western European drivers are often appreciated by local companies (yes, it is a bit discriminatory, but it is a fact).

I would recommend applying directly for permanent residence status. You can also apply for a work permit, but your visa will be tied to a specific company (it is possible to change, but it is not always easy) until you get the permanent residency, and it can be longer than applying directly for it. However, it is the only solution for drivers over 35-40.

Even if you can apply for permanent residency, it is a good idea to visit Canada before starting the process in order to know where you go, and eventually check out trucking companies by yourself.

For non-anglophone drivers immigrating in Québec, be careful if you want to cross the border with the US: the company will likely test your spoken English skills, it is mandatory for a commercial driver (trucks and buses) to understand written and spoken English, as a DoT rule. It seems that some truckers have been forbidden to enter the US because they weren’t able to understand the custom officer!

Blowing Snow

Blowing Snow

Eisenhower Memorial

Eisenhower Memorial, Colorado

Utah

Utah, Interstate 70

Québec

Québec, Route 389 (note the gravel road!)

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

20 Comments

  1. Wow…driving here in all that snow! It amazes me how people cope with the snow, but not long ago one of the school boards closed down for a ‘rain day’!!!

      • Martin Penwald on

        Don’t be fooled, there is bad truck drivers, the kind who doesn’t think before doing something. In fact, it seems that the Ontario truck licence is so easy to get that companies hesitate before hiring a new Ontario driver.
        But there is a shortage of truck drivers across Canada, so it is still easy to be hired almost wherever you want (a former colleague get a job in Whitehorse since a few years).
        The most obvious solution would be to enhance railroad efficiency in order to report freight traffic there, but I doubt it will be done smartly.

        • This is a good point… I was wondering, from an economic perspective, if it made sense to rely on truck rather than railroads.

          • Martin Penwald on

            Same problem than in Europe, and more accute here, resumed in 3 letters : JIT, for Just-In-Time.

            From pick-up to delivery, trucks are faster than rail (in fact, here, trucks are really faster than trains on the road). So, when a load is ready, instead of having it staying on a stockage area, just call a carrier, and pay only the transportation for this load, not the storage, which is expansive. With trains, you have to wait for the train to be complete, granularity is worst. And you cannot often go from shipper’s place to consignee’s one without a local truck, which imply load and unloading (add to the bill and time).

            One can say that we don’t need everything immediately, and I agree, but the reality is that all logistics streams are thought with the flexibility of trucks in mind, not the organisation required for shipping by train.
            Moreover, railroads, at least in Canada, are lacking capacity, especially because the move of tarsand’s oil coming from Alberta to eastern North-America. The situation is so bad that Saskatchewan’s wheat rots before going to processing factories : oil pays better than wheat, and railroad companies give precedence on oil over the rest.
            Saskatchewan governement even forced CN and CP to haul a certain percentage of wheat.
            A pipeline is not a solution, the solution is to decrease tarsand oil production, but it will never happen.

            So, be ready to start eating crude oil.

          • Fascinating and wow, you know your stuff. It seems silly but I had never realized that trucks were faster than the train (blame the TGV for that perception!)

          • Martin Penwald on

            > Holly Nelson

            If you want to have a work permit, you need to prove to a canadian trucking company that you have already the skills in your country, meaning you have at least 3 to 5 years of experience driving home, so it is probably shorter to apply for permanent residency if you are less than 35.

            But it is a good idea if you like driving (it is an important prerequisite for this job, considering that you can spend 9 to 11 hours a day behind the wheel, every day of the week).

          • Martin Penwald on

            The old figures I have for France (maybe from 10 years ago, but I don’t think it has change that much) : from pick-up to delivery, average speed by train is 18km/h and by truck is 34km/h. [1] But it always surprise me that trains are so slow (freight trains in France can go up to 160km/h).
            In Canada, it is worse ; a load that miss the wednesday train
            in Montréal to be delivered the next tuesday in Calgary. I pick-up the friday morning, and was in Calgary monday before noon.

            But is it that critical to go the fastest possible ? For a big proportion of loads, I don’t think so. Unfortunately, logistics « experts » do.

            [1] Exemple for a 1000km haul : leaving shipper’s place @ 10:00, and arriving the next day @ consignee’s place @13:00, it take 27 heures, so nearly 37km/h.

          • Martin Penwald on

            Like I wrote earlier, if a train take 6 days to make 3400km, without stopping, that’s an average speed of 24km/h.
            The problem of the railroad here is that railroad are only 1-tracked, so trains have to wait on a side track when another one come in the other direction. It explains partly the slowessness of that.
            Plus the fact that trains often cannot go straight to the un/loading points, transfers take time too.

    • Martin Penwald on

      In fact, it was not that bad, the picture doesn’t show exactly how it was. But this winter, south of Minot, ND, I had to stop because of a very bad weather. Sometimes less than 20 meters of visibility, slippery road, and, even at 15 km/h, I almost go in the ditch on the left side of the road because I couldn’t see it.
      So I stay in Max for the day.

    • Martin Penwald on

      When you reach Fermont, Labrador is only 20 minutes away, and barely 1 hour to get in Labrador City. The road is nice, but I don’t know what activities you can do there.
      To be confirmed, but it seems that now, the Translabrador highway is open between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Cartwright. For people who like driving in the wild.

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