Jimmy Nixon really didn’t think he would like living in Canada very much. He’s a diehard Republican with a thick Tennessee twang who hates cold weather.
Yet his Canadian wife convinced him to move from the mountains of Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (home to his hero Dolly Parton’s theme park), to very flat Wallaceburg, Ont., 50 kilometres south of Sarnia, less than a year after Donald Trump was elected. They couldn’t afford health insurance there anymore.
“We were kind of told that the health care here was a wreck,” he said. “Let me tell ya, y’all don’t know how lucky you’ve got it.”
Many said they were going to move to Canada following the 2016 U.S. election, including celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Barbra Streisand. But Nixon is among those who actually did. He’s still a Trump supporter but the move has given him a new perspective on U.S. politics, particularly when it comes to health.
Back home, he refused to go to hospitals, even when he broke his ankle, because he couldn’t afford the bills. The risk of getting sick and needing treatment is even higher now with the pandemic.
“The whole way he’s handled COVID compared to the way Canada has handled it, it’s no comparison. He dropped the ball big time,” he said. “Everything going on there is crazy … it’s to the point of embarrassing.”
He’s at political odds with his wife, Kelly, a dual citizen who supports the Democrats. When they met in Tennessee, the pair promised to not talk politics. It’s been impossible to ignore.
“We argue for nothing except politics,” she said. “If Donald Trump gets elected, I will go into a deep depression and not speak to anybody … I will be done with American politics as we speak.”
He laughs. “I pay no attention to her.”
‘This election feels pretty monumental’
The stakes are even higher when you’re from a battleground state. While Tennessee has voted Republican since Bill Clinton, Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 after years of Democrat wins — and the party is eager to take it back.
“I think it just makes it feel all the more important to vote,” said Virginia Andersen, who moved from Madison, Wis., to Guelph, Ont., in 2018. She got her ballot in October and sent it back immediately to make sure it got there on time.
She had never heard of Guelph before moving there for her husband’s work. She’s enjoying herself so far and navigating politics between both countries. She was struck by how short the campaign was for last fall’s Canadian federal election and had fun watching those debates in both languages.
But Andersen does feel like she’s missing out back home.
“This election feels pretty monumental for the U.S.,” she said. She thinks it would have prompted her to get involved, perhaps as a poll worker, something she can’t do from Canada.
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Erika Petersen has a similar feeling in Ottawa, where she moved with her family in 2018 from San Jose, California. She’s worried for her friends there.
“It’s hard when you feel so connected but also feel like, what can you actually do?,” she said.
Politics wasn’t her reason for moving but she said it definitely made things easier. She’s frustrated about the U.S.’s gun control.
“I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with the trauma of constant active shooter drills,” she said. “I grew up very conservative … it’s a little harder to accept that things can change when you know just how far entrenched the other side is.”
She and her spouse want to make this election day as normal as possible. They decided to take the day off after the election, regardless of the outcome.
“We don’t have to worry about trying to get work done if things are different.”
Missing family, KFC
Petersen is settling in to her new home. She’s a theatre nerd, so she joined an Ottawa troupe and staged a show right before COVID restrictions hit, where she made new friends. She’s learned to embrace even slivers of warm weather, something she once took for granted.
She does miss family and Mexican food though. The border closure just makes that harder.
Food has also been one of the biggest differences for Nixon. “Y’alls Kentucky Fried Chicken is terrible … and you can’t find a biscuit nowhere.”
His strong accent and infectious chuckle have made him stand out in southwestern Ontario, turning heads wherever he goes. He’s working on making it more Canadian.
“I still ain’t got the ‘eh’ down,” he said. “I say ‘eh’ to everything, I try to. But sometimes it don’t make sense where I use it.”