photo bank

Canadian Retirees Say ‘Oui!’ to a South Florida Trailer Park

Why a group of Canadian retirees want to live out their golden years in the Sunshine State.

Let’s ignore the statistic that says the average Canadian has a life expectancy three years longer than that of an American. And forget the fact that the death rate by firearms in Canada is four times lower than that of the United States. And dismiss that dream of standing on Mont-Sainte-Anne savoring the sweet melting crystals of maple sugar candy on your tongue (even though the country rightfully designed a flag in its honor.) Some Canadians believe the best place to retire is Pompano Beach, Fla.

In his project “Snowbirds,” Quebec-born photographer Mika Goodfriend has been documenting the retirement community at Breezy Hill RV Resort since 2011. This mobile home park, located just north of Fort Lauderdale and two miles from the Atlantic coast, was 100% American when it started but today is 98% French-Canadian.

As this “Maple Leaf Flight” has taken place over the years, the community has developed into a small Québécois home away from home—a Canadian microcosm surrounded by an alien America. Activities and events are all conducted in French, local restaurants dish up traditional Québécois food, and the snowbirds can address any concerns in their native tongue at the office, which is managed by countrymen (though the complex is American-owned).

This “snowbird” phenomenon between Canada and America started in the 1920s. Goodfriend explains:

It is a story of cultural appreciation and appropriation, values and identities; of a group of people whose tastes and dreams were formed by their consumption of American culture and ideals. The prototypical Quebec snowbird is a baby boomer, the children of the original pioneers. Many snowbirds worked at white-collar jobs, striving towards an idealized retirement in Florida, as seen through television programs, commercials and movies originating from mainstream America. The ability to retire in Florida, to be a snowbird, is seen as a mark of achievement….To the snowbirds, Breezy Hill is paradise.

But paradise only lasts 183 days a year, since that is the maximum amount of time a Canadian citizen can live abroad and still receive public healthcare. Thus, like Canada geese, the winter residents of Breezy Hill flock north (which, of course, isn’t that bad). And they go home with a new “Snowbird” identity, which Goodfriend notes is “seen as a mark of achievement, a status symbol. To be able to afford two homes and travel between them is a luxury.”

The sense of community and belonging its residents find in Breezy Hill helps them tackle some of the social and financial challenges of retirement. (For other places where retirees can find like-minded people, great amenities, and affordable housing options, see MONEY’s list of 9 Great Places to Retire.) Sadly, though, Mika Goodfriend posits that the Breezy Hill Snowbirds might be the last of their kind. The younger generation of Québécois, he says, looks to trendier vacation destinations—Cuba, the Caribbean, and Mexico—and financially may not have “the foresight to plan for retirement with a pension that could afford such a lifestyle.” But for an older generation of Canadians, at least for now, the white picket fences of Breezy Hill surround their ideal place to retire, where they can enjoy a cold Canadian Molson Ex beer while basking in the Florida sunshine.

This is part of The Photo Bank, a section of Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com: sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

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