Energy Exodus: Life in the Lone Star State for Canadians

Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and 20,000 Canadians call the area home.

Many of them are connected to the oil and gas sector.

Jim Mochulsky, VP of the North American Supply Chain at Cole International, is one of them.

Mochulsky, who moved to Houston in the summer of 2019, calls it an “adventure” for him and his wife — but also a necessity.

“I think we look at Alberta with sad eyes, quite frankly, because we all know what’s going on there,” he says of the struggling energy sector, adding this downturn isn’t like the other busts he’s seen the industry go through over the years.

“It just has a different feel. For all my friends in the oil and gas industry back home, it’s just got a whole different vibe to it this time, and it’s very unfortunate. A lot of us are here (in Texas), trying to do what we do.”

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Alberta energy workers leaving for healthier U.S. oil industry

Alberta energy workers leaving for healthier U.S. oil industry

Because a lot of business flows back and forth from Canada and Texas, there is a Canada-Texas Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate cross-border trade and investment.

“We are in the business of working with businesses, and businesses go where they have business,” says Tobais McFaul, with the Canada-Texas Chamber of Commerce.

“It doesn’t mean they will pick up stakes and leave completely. They are looking for new markets. … I understand there are some concerns about a brain drain in Alberta. I myself have seen an increase in the number of Canadians migrating to the area (Houston), for various reasons, but most of them for work reasons, transfers or transplants.”

McFaul says there is a great bond between Alberta and Texas.

“I’ve been here for 25 years. Most Texans know about Banff. They know about Lake Louise and the rocky mountains and that part of Canada. I’m not going to lie, they don’t know a lot about Ottawa.”

READ MORE: Energy exodus: The incentives in Texas luring Canadian oil and gas companies south

Others echo the relationship, like Patrick Tower, who moved to Texas for an oil and gas job after serving in the Canadian military.

“In the hay day of the oilfield in Calgary, there were lots of Americans in Calgary,” Tower says. “Now, there are a lot of Canadians in Houston. That’s just the nature of the business.”

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Tower has no plans to move back to Canada. He says as soon as he saw Texas, he knew it was a place he could live.

“A big thing is the weather.”

Other Canadian ex-pats in Texas avoid the hot Houston summers.

“One hundred degrees (F) outside in the summer? No thanks,” says Nova Scotia native Joe Dunn, from inside a North Houston hockey rink. “I’m happy to spend it inside the rink.”

Dunn, who coaches hockey, says he’s far from the only Canadian at the rink.

“I’d say a third to a half of every team has got some connection back to Canada.”

Jerseys at a Houston Hockey Rink
Jerseys at a Houston Hockey Rink
Hockey Rink in Houston
Hockey Rink in Houston Dallas Flexhaug/Global News

Dunn says he missed his “Timmies” and the good lobster from the East Coast but enjoys the good jobs and low cost of living.

It is lower in Texas than in many Canadian cities.

$485,000, the average price of a home in Calgary, will get you a 3-500-square-foot home in The Woodlands — a city outside of Houston that’s popular with many Canadians. That house comes on a 10,000-square-foot lot and has a garage and a pool.

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“The schools are amazing,” says realtor Jeni Mitchell, with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene. “The Woodlands is just a great place to live. It’s a very family-oriented place”.

By comparison, in Calgary, $485,000 will get you a 1,500-square-foot home in the suburbs. In the suburbs of Toronto and Vancouver, only condos were on the market for that price.

The Woodlands, Texas
The Woodlands, Texas
Calgary, AB
Calgary, AB
Burnaby, BC
Burnaby, BC
Missassauga, ON
Missassauga, ON

You can find hints of Canada in many places around Houston.

As he sits in The Maple Leaf Pub — which has NHL on TV and Calgary Flames jerseys on the wall — Mochulsky says: “There’s the Canadian club of Houston. There is very much a Canadian vibe to this town, and it’s kind of interesting because the more Canadians you know, the more Canadians you become to know.”

Mochulsky says he will likely go back home to Alberta after a five-year stint in Texas, but for now, he’s enjoying Houston’s art and restaurant scene.

For Joe Dunn, his time in Texas is a more permanent one, saying with his children almost in high school, they will likely stay put.

But, when asked if there’s any downside to living in Texas, he said: “Yes. It isn’t Canada”.

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