don't give up. you can start from Altera, there software is free and easy to learn. you can learn it within 1 month and claim you have designed before.
In fact, there are very few people could do hardware design here. If you really good, you could get it finally. Don't only look at toronto. Look at waterloo and kitchener area.
when they ask my reference, I just give them my labour agency's name. It doesn't matter.
Prepare basic concept. they will really want to know you can do that job. can you tell me what level you have done?