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August 23rd, 2006 Andrew Macleod | News Stories
 

Northern Lights

How one Portlander found love, gay marriage and an escape from President Bush...in Canada.

     
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Fed up with life in the U.S.? Former WW writer Grant Hayer-Menzies suggests joining him in Canada.
If you're progressive and/or gay in Oregon, Canada probably looks just as tempting as it once did decades ago to draft resisters.

Indeed, the temptation is captured in the film Escape to Canada, making its U.S. premiere this week at Portland's Clinton Street Theater (see Screen, page 65). The most recent statistics show more than 2,100 Americans moved in the first quarter of 2006 to Canada, which enjoys a reputation among frustrated U.S. liberals as a refuge of tolerance and enlightened social policies compared with life in Year 6 of the Bush administration.

One such expat is ex-Portlander Grant Hayter-Menzies, a 42-year-old writer and former WW classical-music critic, who left Portland for good this year for British Columbia. He became what's known in Canada as a "landed immigrant" in February and now lives in Sidney, a city of about 11,000 people a half-hour drive north of B.C.'s capital, Victoria.

If you're thinking of a similar move, Hayter-Menzies says go for it.

He says the U.S. lurch to the right factored into his move, but that love played a much larger role. In Canada, unlike every U.S. state but Massachusetts, he could marry the Canadian man he loves. Through friends, Hayter-Menzies met his 45-year-old partner in Portland last year, and the two soon fell in love.

They knew each other's cities and weighed the possibilities. Hayter-Menzies' partner had a good job in the Canadian military (Hayter-Menzies asks to keep his partner's name out of the paper because his spouse isn't comfortable being "out" as a representative of the military).

Recent changes to Canadian laws meant the two men could get legally married. They did it twice, first with a civil union in May 2005, then in a big ceremony complete with tents set up in a friend's garden and both grooms in kilts.

Being a spouse of a Canadian made the immigration process itself go smoothly for Hayter-Menzies, who must live in Canada for three years before becoming a full citizen but doesn't have to surrender his U.S. citizenship. The only hiccups in the four-month process: a document got lost in bureaucratic bumbling, and Hayter-Menzies had to give up his 1993 Nissan Sentra because the seatbelt mechanism didn't meet Canadian safety standards.

While love and legal same-sex marriage pulled him north, Hayter-Menzies says "the fact I could wake up and know George Bush was not in charge was another factor."

Although Canadians elected a right-wing prime minister earlier this year in Conservative Stephen Harper, Hayter-Menzies says, "It's easier dealing with Bush lite than the real thing.

"Living in the United States since 2001 has been so awful for anyone of liberal sentiments and anyone of culture and civilized mindset,'' says Hayter-Menzies, who now writes art reviews for a community newspaper and for a regional art magazine. "It really is between the reds and the blues, the torch-bearers of civilization and these Neanderthals in their SUVs who vote for Bush and drink oil for breakfast."

There are things he misses about Portland, such as Powell's Books and the city's vibrant cultural life, "the constant musical fare.... It happens here, but on a smaller scale." Still, he says, "I wouldn't trade it for this anytime."

He returns to Portland at least a couple times a year, most recently at Easter. Southern British Columbia is only 250 miles from Portland, and the trip can be made by ferry and car in well less than a day's travel. Nor is B.C. that far culturally. Hayter-Menzies describes the scene as quasi-hippies, do-gooders, liberals of every stripe and rich folks hiding out in the hills.

"It lends a nice energy to the place," he says. "There's the same sort of civilized feel."


Andrew MacLeod is a journalist living in Victoria, B.C.
 
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