English and French are the only two official languages in Canada. All communications and services provided from the federal government are available in both languages. Many Canadians are functionally monolingual, although some parts of the country have both English and French speakers. Over a quarter of Canadians are bilingual or multilingual. Many people in Montreal are at least conversationally bilingual.
English is the dominant language in all regions except Québec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language. However, there are numerous francophone communities scattered around the country, such as:
- the national capital region around Ottawa,
- some parts of eastern and northern Ontario,
- the city of Winnipeg and areas to the south,
- many parts of the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada, scattered across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the French Shores of Newfoundland).
Likewise, there are anglophone communities in Québec, such as some of the western suburbs of Montreal.
Canadian English uses a mixture of British and American spellings, and many British terms not usually understood in the United States (like "bill" instead of "check") are widely used in Canada. Certain words also follow British instead of American pronunciations (eg. semifinal, roof).
Atlantic Canada is reported to have the greatest variety of regional accents in English-speaking North America, largely as a result of the isolated nature of the fishing communities along the Atlantic coastline prior to the advent of modern telecommunications and transportation. A visitor to the Atlantic provinces may have some difficulty understanding strong local accents rich in maritime slang and idiom, particularly in rural areas. From Ontario westward, the accent of English Canadians is more or less the same from one region to another and is akin to that spoken by those in northern US border states.
English-speaking Canadians are generally not required to take French after their first year of high school, and thus many citizens outside of Québec do not speak the French unless closely related to someone who does, or have chosen to continue French studies out of personal or professional interest. Education in many other languages are available, such as Spanish, German, Japanese, etc. However, these are rarely taken and most immigrants are required to learn English or French as opposed to being able to get by speaking in their native tongue.
In Québec, one can usually get by with English in the major tourist destinations, but some knowledge of French is useful for reading road signs as well as travels off the beaten path, and almost essential in many rural areas. It may also be useful to know at least a few basic French phrases in the larger cities, where some attempt by travellers to communicate in French is often appreciated. The French spoken in Québec and the Acadian regions differ in accent and vocabulary from European French. Some Franco-Europeans have difficulty understanding Canadian French.
There are also dozens of aboriginal languages spoken by many Canadians of aboriginal descent. In Nunavut more than half the population speaks Inuktitut, the traditional language of the Inuit.
Canada's currency is the Canadian dollar (symbol: $ proper abbreviation is CAD), commonly referred to simply as a "dollar". One dollar ($) consists of 100 cents (¢). In the 1970s, 1 Canadian dollar was worth more than 1 US dollar, but slipped to approximately USD$0.66 by the mid-1990s. By late 2007 however, with commodity prices rising and the US dollar falling against most major currencies worldwide, the Canadian dollar was once again at par with the US Dollar (1 CAD = 1 USD) for a short amount of time. Currently $1 American is worth about $1.25 Canadian.
Canadian coins are of 1¢ (penny), 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter), 50¢ (rarely seen/never used), $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie). (The penny, nickel, dime, and quarter match their U.S. counterparts in size, shape, and colour, but not in metallic composition.) Canadian notes come in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green), $50 (red) and $100 (brown) denominations. The $1,000 (pinkish) bill has not been issued since 2000 as part of the fight against money laundering and organized crime. Although it remains legal tender, banks have been taking them out of circulation. In addition, the $1 (green/black) and $2 (terra-cotta) bills no longer circulate but are still considered legal tender.
Bargaining is extremely rare in ordinary retail shopping in Canada and attempts to talk a retail worker down in price will result in nothing (besides testing the employee's patience). This is rarely a problem, as most retailers in Canada price their items fairly and do not look to extort their customers due to the highly competitive market and well-off economy. For larger-ticket items, especially high-end electronics and vehicles, many employees work on commission, so bargaining is possible for these items, and sales-people may offer you a lower price than what is ticketed right from the get-go. Some large retail stores will offer you a discount if you can prove to them that one of their competitors is selling the same product for a lower price. However, in certain establishments such as flea markets, antique stores, farmer's markets, etc, you may be able to negotiate a lower price, although it is, again, often unnecessary to put forth the effort.
In all cities and towns, it is possible to convert between Canadian dollars and most major currencies at many banks. In addition, most retailers in Canada will accept US currency either at par or at slightly reduced value. All Canadian banks provide currency exchange at the daily market value. In some areas, private exchange bureaus will give better exchange rates and lower fees than banks, so if you have time during your travels to look one up, it might save you some money on the exchange both when you arrive and before you leave, because Canadian dollars may not be worth as much in your home country, particularly the coin.
Private businesses are under no obligation to exchange currency at international rates. Even in the most rural areas, converting between Canadian and American dollars should not pose a problem, although travelers expecting to convert other currencies at a Canadian bank may need to be patient. In fact, most tourist destinations will accept American dollars as such, and are most likely to give a very good exchange rate. This is particularly true of regions that rely on tourism as a cornerstone of their local economy.
Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa and MasterCard being accepted in most places, American Express somewhat less frequently and Diner's Club only in the more upscale restaurants and hotels. Discover is usually accepted at places geared towards Americans such as hotels and car rental agencies. Generally, using a credit card also gets you a better exchange rate since your bank will convert the currency automatically at the prevailing daily rate.
The banking system is well developed, safe and technologically advanced. ATM usage in Canada is very high. There is a safe and widespread network of bank machines (ATMs) where you may be able to use your bank card to withdraw money directly from your account at home, but the fees involved can be more than for credit cards. If possible, try to use chartered bank ATM machines as the fees are often cheaper than the independent ATM machines. All Canadian banking institutions are members of the Interac international financial transaction network. Most retailers and restaurants/bars allow purchases by ATM card through Interac, even if they do not accept major credit cards, and many Canadians rarely use cash at all, prefering electronic forms of payment. Other ATM networks, including PLUS are widely supported and will be indicated on the ATM screen.
No more GST rebates
Until 2007, travellers to Canada could claim back their GST on leaving the country, but this is no longer possible.
When purchasing goods in Canada be aware that the prices displayed usually exclude sales tax. Taxes will be added on top of the displayed price at the cashier. Exceptions where the displayed price includes all applicable taxes are gasoline (the amount you pay is as it appears on the pump), parking fees, liquor bought from liquor stores, and medical services such as eye exams or dentistry.
A Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 5% is applied to most items. In addition to the GST, most provinces charge an additional Provincial Sales Tax (PST) on purchases. The Atlantic Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador have joined or "harmonized" the PST and GST. In these provinces, instead of being charged two separate taxes on a purchase, consumers will see one tax called the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
While the GST and PST or HST are charged on most goods and services, some items are currently exempt from taxation. While this list can vary by province and tax, some common examples are: basic groceries (not prepared), prescription drugs, residential housing, medical and dental services, educational services and certain childcare services.
The sales tax rates (as of 2008) are:
- Alberta - no PST, GST total only (5% total)
- British Columbia - adds 7% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (12% total)
- Manitoba - adds 7% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (12% total)
- New Brunswick - adds 13% to the total taxable purchases as the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) (13% total)
- Newfoundland and Labrador - adds 13% to the total taxable purchases as the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) (13% total)
- Northwest Territories - no PST, GST total only (5% total)
- Nova Scotia - adds 13% to the total taxable purchases as the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) (13% total)
- Nunavut - no PST, GST total only (5% total)
- Ontario - adds 8% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (13% total)
- Prince Edward Island - adds 10% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (15% total)
- Quebec - adds 7.5% to the total of taxable purchases and the GST - the GST is taxed (12.875% total)
- Saskatchewan - adds 5% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (10% total)
- Yukon - no PST, GST total only (5% total)
Additional taxes have been placed on some goods (such as alcohol and gasoline) and vary by province; however, these taxes are often included in the displayed price of the good.
English Canadians may be mystified if you ask where you can get Canadian food. Although you will find some regional specialties, especially at the Eastern and Western edges of the country, in English Canada there isn't much food known as "Canadian" except for nanaimo bars (chocolate-topped no-bake squares with custard or vanilla butter filling and crumb base), buttertarts (tarts made with butter, sugar and eggs), beaver tails (fried dough topped with icing sugar), fiddleheads (curled heads of young ferns), and a few other examples. They are an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. In other respects, English Canadian cuisine is very similar to that of the northern United States. Canadians may be unaware that they even have national dishes, especially in the more urbanized areas, such as Toronto, and if you ask for a beaver tail or fiddlehead, you may receive nothing but a strange look or a polite giggle. That being said, there is a rising trend among Canadian chefs and restauranteurs to offer locally-produced ingredients, and most major cities have bistros which specialize in local cuisine. This can even include game meat dishes such as caribou, venison, moose, grouse or wild turkey prepared in a variety of European styles.
French-Canadian cuisine is distinctive and includes such specialties as tourtière (meat pie), cipaille (meat and vegetable pie), cretons (mince of pork drippings), ragoût de pattes (pigs' feet stew), plorine (pork pie), oreilles de Christ (fried larding bacon), poutine (French fries with cheese and gravy), croquignoles (home-made doughnuts cooked in shortening), tarte à la farlouche (pie made of raisins, flour and molasses), tarte au sucre (sugar pie), and numerous cheeses and maple syrup products. Staples include baked beans, peas and ham. French-Canadian cuisine also incorporates elements of the cuisines of English-speaking North America, and, unsurprisingly, France.
One peculiar tradition that you may notice in nearly every small town is the Chinese-Canadian restaurant. A lot of the reason for this is the role Chinese immigration played historically in the early settlement of Canada, particularly in the building of the railroad. These establishments sell the usual Chinese cuisine marketed towards North American Fast Food customers. In Toronto and Vancouver, two large centres of Chinese immigration, one can find authentic Chinese cuisine that rivals that of Hong Kong and Shanghai. In Toronto, visit the Chinatown area of Spadina-Dundas; if north of the city, consider a visit to the Markham area, which has recently seen an influx of newer Chinese immigrants.
Montreal is well known for its Central and Eastern European Jewish specialties, including local varieties of bagels and smoked meat. In the prairie provinces you can find great Ukrainian food, such as perogies, due to large amounts of Ukrainian immigrants.
If you are more adventurous, in the larger cities especially, you will find a great variety of ethnic tastes from all over Europe, Asia and elsewhere. You can find just about any taste and style of food in Canada, from a 20oz. T-Bone with all the trimmings to Japanese sushi (indeed, much of the salmon used in sushi in Japan comes from Canada). Consult local travel brochures upon arrival. They can be found at almost any hotel and are free at any provincial or municipal tourist information centre.
Americans will find many of their types of cuisine and brands with subtle differences, and many products unique to Canada, such as brands of chocolate bars and the availability of authentic maple syrup.
You will find most of the American chains with a well established presence here.
- Tim Hortons franchises are spread across the country, and can be hard to avoid - an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. Why not? Especially since they will serve you a small and relatively healthy lunch for about $8. They are certainly a reasonable, healthier, alternative to most other fast food chains. Be aware though, most of their food is frozen. The coffee is their main service, and is widely regarded as the best in Canada - though may be an acquired taste to international travelers and coffee aficionados. You will probably find it very hard to avoid a Tim Hortons while in Canada.
- Boston Pizza was founded in Edmonton, Alberta. Pizza and Pasta. Casual family dining. BP's lounges are usually a popular local watering hole.
- Earls is a chain of casual full service restaurants found only in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (although there are also two locations in the western United States). Like Boston Pizza, it also opened its first restaurant in Edmonton.
- Harvey's is a fast food chain, common in Ontario and found in almost every province, that features made-to-order hamburgers and other sandwiches.
- East Side Marios are American Italian restaurants with a New York theme.
- Swiss Chalet sit down restaurants are operated by the same company that runs Harvey's. They specialize in rotisserie chicken and ribs.
- The Keg steak houses, usually with tables and booths for 4-6 people. Apart from the steaks they also have good salads and starters.
- Kelsey's provides casual family dining, very similar to Applebees or T.G.I. Friday's in the United States.
- Second Cup serves coffee and cakes.
- White Spot offers burgers, pasta, and "west coast style" cuisine, but only in British Columbia and some locations in Alberta.
- Montana's is a family oriented, outdoor wilderness themed restaurant. Montana's promises hearty portions of home-style cooking and friendly, efficient service in a lodge setting.
- Lone Star Texas Grill is a family friendly restaurant which is very popular with both locals and tourists. The Lone Star offers a Canadian take on Tex-Mex food and has locations in Toronto, Ottawa, Etobicoke, Kingston, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Sault St. Marie, Halifax, and Moncton. Lone Star is famous for fajitas served on a sizzlin' skillet and makes fresh homemade tortillas throughout the day. The menu also offers other Tex-Mex classics and American favourites.
- Mary Brown's can be found in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Nunavut in addition to Newfoundland, where they can be found in nearly every community. Offering unique chicken and famous for its taters, it would be considered a fast-food restaurant.
- Humpty's specializes in its all day breakfasts but also serves dishes for lunch and dinner as well, and is one of the few chain restaurants to feature pirogies. Mostly in Alberta, but also some locations in the other 3 western provinces; many are open until after midnight, some 24 hours.
- St-Hubert is a French-Canadian restaurant with a cuisine similar to that of Swiss Chalet, popular for its roasted chicken and coleslaw. It has many locations throughout Quebec, and a small number of locations in Ontario and New Brunswick.
- La Belle Province is one of the most popular fast-food restaurants in Québec, especially among teenagers and young adults. They serve cheap hot-dogs, hamburgers, poutine etc...
- A&W Found all over Canada; although unrelated to the American A&W, most menu items are similar if not identical.
- Yogen Fruz is a leading frozen yogurt chain featuring Probiotic frozen yogurt, which was founded in Canada in 1986. Yogen Fruz is a staple in malls all over Canada.
The drinking age in Canada varies from province to province. In Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec the age is 18, while in the rest of the provinces and territories it is 19. A peculiarity of many Canadian Provinces (a holdover from Prohibition) is that liquor and beer can only be sold in licensed stores and this usually excludes supermarkets. In Ontario alcoholic beverages can only be sold in licensed restaurants and bars and "Liquor Control Board" (LCBO) stores that are run by the Province. Supermarkets in other Provinces generally have their own liquor store nearby. Québec has the least restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and one can usually find alcohol at convenience stores (depanneur), in addition to the government-owned Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) stores. Alberta is the only province where alcohol sales are completely decentralized, so many supermarket chains will have separate liquor stores near the actual supermarket. Prices may seem high to Americans from certain states, bringing alcohol in to Canada (up to 1l of hard liquor, 1.5l of wine, or a 24 pack of beer), is advisable. American cigarettes are also quite popular to bring in as they are not sold in Canada.
Canadian adults enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages quite often. Watching sports, especially the sport of hockey, is a popular time to consume these type of drinks. A favourite and uniquely Canadian cocktail is the Caesar (Vodka, Clamato juice, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and celery salt).
Canadian mass-market beers (e.g., Molson's, Labatt's) are generally a pale gold lager, with an alcohol of 5% to 6%. This alcohol level may be higher than popular beers in the US or Great Britain, so it pays to be careful if you're a visitor. Like most mass-market beers, they are not very distinctive, however, the Canadians beer drinkers have been known to support local brewers. In recent years, there's been a major increase in the number and the quality of beers from micro-breweries. Although many of these beers are only available near where they are produced, it behooves you to ask at mid-scale to top-end bars for some of the local choices: they will be fresh, often non-pasteurized, and have a much wider range of styles and flavors than you would expect by looking at the mass-market product lines. Many major cities have one or more brew pubs, which brew and serve their own beers, often with a full kitchen backing the bar. These spots offer a great chance to sample different beers and to enjoy food selected to complement the beers.
The two largest wine-producing regions in Canada are the Niagara Region in Ontario and the Okanagan in British Columbia. Other wine-producing areas include the shores of Lake Erie and Prince Edward County in Ontario, and the Similkameen valley, southern Fraser River valley, southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. There are also small scale productions of wine in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Ice wine, a (very) sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes is a Canadian specialty, with Inniskillin in particular found at airport duty-free stores around the world. In contrast to most other wine-producing regions in the world, Canada, particularly the Niagara Region, consistently undergoes freezing in winter and has become the world's largest ice wine producer. However, due to the tiny yields (5-10% compared to normal wine) it's relatively expensive, with half-bottles (375 ml) starting at $50.
Canada is famous in other countries for its distinctive rye whiskey, a beverage too common locally to be much appreciated by Canadians. In addition to the plentiful selection of inexpensive blended ryes, you may find it worth exploring the premium blended and unblended ryes available at most liquor stores. One of the most-recognized unblended ryes is Alberta Premium, which has been recognized as the "Canadian Whiskey of the Year" by famed whiskey writer Jim Murray.
Canada also makes a small number of distinctive liqueurs. One of the most well-known, and a fine beverage for winter drinking, is Yukon Jack, a whiskey-based liqueur with citrus overtones. It's the Canadian equivalent of the USA's Southern Comfort, which has a similar flavor but is based on corn whiskey (bourbon) rather than rye.
You can find most nonalcoholic beverages you would find in any other country. Carbonated beverages (referred to as "pop", "soda" and "soft drinks" in different regions) are very popular. Clean, safe drinking water is available from the tap in all cities and towns across Canada. Bottled water is widely sold, but it is no better in quality than tap water, so you'll save a lot of money by buying a reusable water bottle and filling it up from the tap.
A non-alcoholic drink one might drink in Canada is coffee. Tim Horton's is the most ubiquitous and popular coffee shop in the country. Starbucks is massively popular in Vancouver and becoming more so in other large centres such as Calgary (where it is larger than Tim Hortons), and Toronto. There is a Starbucks in most every city, along with local coffeeshops and national chains such as Second Cup.
Canada is the second largest country by area in the world (after Russia) and the largest in North America. Its only land border is with the United States, and remains the longest land border in the world. The US border is situated at Canada's Southern edge. The border with the United States varies depending on the area you are visiting. The 49th parallel is the border from mainland British Columbia to Ontario, but drops as low as the 41st parallel in southern Ontario. Canada also has a long border with the US state of Alaska in the Northwest. Canada is a major tourist destination, and is one of the world's wealthiest countries. The country is renowned worldwide for its vast, untouched landscape and its unique culture.
Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, it resembles its neighbor to the South, the United States, and shares with it the longest undefended border in the world yet there are significant differences between the two countries. Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 by an act of the British parliament, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Though a medium sized country by its population, Canada has earned respect on the international stage for its strong diplomatic skills. Domestically, the country has displayed success in negotiating compromises amongst a culturally and linguistically varied population, a difficult task considering that language, culture, cuisine and even history vary significantly over the country. In contrast to the United States' image as a melting pot, Canada prefers to consider itself a mosaic of cultures and people. All Canadians are used to living and interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds on a daily basis and will usually be quite friendly and understanding if approached in public. You will never look out of place or feel like an unusual sight while traveling Canada. The information below will get you started, but be sure to check the specifics for given regions and cities. It has universal health care too (for Canadian residents only!)
The Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming first proposed time zones for the entire world in 1876, and Canada is covered coast to coast with multiple zones.
Yukon and most of British Columbia are within Pacific Time (UTC-7 during Daylight Saving Time, UTC-8 during Standard Time)
Northwest Territories, Alberta, parts of eastern British Columbia and part of western Nunavut are within Mountain Time (UTC-6 during Daylight Saving Time, UTC-7 during Standard Time)
Saskatchewan, unlike the rest of Canada, does not adjust its clocks for Daylight Savings Time and remains on Central Standard Time (or Mountain Daylight Time) year-round (UTC-6). Daylight Savings Time begins 2nd Sunday of March until 1st Sunday of November.
Manitoba and Ontario west of Thunder Bay, as well as central Nunavut are within Central Time (UTC-5 during Daylight Saving Time, UTC-6 during Standard Time)
Ontario from east of Thunder Bay to most of Quebec and eastern Nunavut are within Eastern Time (UTC-4 during Daylight Saving Time, UTC-5 during Standard Time)
Most of Labrador, north-eastern Quebec and all of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia are within Atlantic Standard Time (UTC-3 during Daylight Saving Time, UTC-4 during Standard Time)
The island of Newfoundland has its own time zone, Newfoundland Standard Time (UTC-3:30), which is a half hour ahead of Atlantic Standard Time. The south-eastern corner of Labrador is also within this time zone.
It is often forgotten that Canada uses a metric system, because you will often hear imperial for a few things by Canadians. What does this mean? All the temperatures you check on the net or the TV will be in °C.
Trying to distill the climate of Canada into an easy to understand statement is impossible, given the vast area that this country occupies. The southernmost point of mainland southern Ontario, Point Pelee, and the nearby islands in Lake Erie are at a very similar latitude to northern California, and has a climate similar to the eastern US. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is just south of the Arctic Circle and remains very cold for most of the year.
However, as most of the Canadian population resides within a few hundred kilometers of Canada's border with the United States (Edmonton being the only major city that isn't), visitors to most cities will probably not have to endure the weather that accompanies a trip to the northern territories. In fact, summers can be hot in parts of Canada. Summer temperatures over 35°C (95°F) are not unusual in extreme Southern Ontario and the southern Interior of British Columbia, with Osoyoos the hot spot of Canada. Toronto's climate is only slightly cooler than many cities in the northeastern United States, and summers in the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec are often hot and humid. In the BC Interior, Alberta and Saskatchewan, the humidity is often low during the summer, even during hot weather. In the winter, Southern Ontario is only slightly cooler than the northeastern United States, but temperatures under -20°C (14°F) are not uncommon in Southern Ontario.
The climate in Canada also depends in large part on how close to the coast you travel. Many inland cities, especially those in the Prairies, experience extreme changes in weather. Winnipeg, Manitoba (also colloquially known as 'Winterpeg') has hot summers easily exceed 35°C (95°F), yet experiences very cold winters where -40°C (-40°F) is not uncommon. The hottest temperatures in Canadian recorded history was in southern Saskatchewan, at 45°C (113°F). Conversely, coastal cities in British Columbia are generally milder year-round and get little snow. The Atlantic Provinces are usually not as mild as the Prairies and the Territories although they constantly experience temperatures below zero in the winter. The Atlantic Provinces are also well known to experience many blizzards during the winter season. In British Columbia, Vancouver and Victoria are temperate and get very little snow, and seldom experience temperatures below 0°C or above 27°C (32-80°F).
Apart from having usually milder temperatures year-round than the interior areas of Canada, coastal areas can have very high rainfall. Areas such as coastal British Columbia get some of the highest rainfall in Canada, but it can be very dry in the southern BC Interior due to the Coastal Mountains acting as a rain shadow. The wind can be a big factor on the Canadian Prairies because there are wide open areas not unlike those in the Midwest states of the US, and makes for unpleasant windchills during cold weather in the winter. The average temperature is typically colder in Canada than in the US and Western Europe as a whole, so bring your jacket if visiting between October and May, and early and later than this if visiting areas further north. The rest of the year, in most of the country, daytime highs are generally above 15°C (60°F).
Visiting Canada all in one trip is an ambitious endeavour. When speaking of specific destinations within Canada, it is better to consider its distinct regions
Atlantic Provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island)
maritime culture, small fishing villages, rich folk traditions
French-speaking province, stylish and romantic Montreal, historic and European Quebec City, festival culture, lush farmland, quaint villages
multicultural and vibrant Toronto, the Niagara wine region, the immense Boreal and Taiga forests, Ottawa—the capital, the Great Lakes coastal areas, small rural towns
||Prairies (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan)
vast open and flat spaces, rocky mountains, forests, sleepy farm towns; Calgary is a foothill metropolis, Edmonton is a shopping capital, and Winnipeg a historic city are the main areas.
cosmopolitan Vancouver city, the Rocky Mountains, ancient temperate rainforest, pristine wilderness, skiing and hiking opportunities abound
||The North (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon)
subarctic and arctic wilderness, mountains, glaciers and lakes
There are many cities in Canada (urban populations in brackets), all of which are unique. Here are the nine most popular cities:
- Ottawa (1.1 million, 2006) - This city is Canada's fourth largest and a major business, government, high tech, and tourist palace. It is the nation's capital.
- Calgary (1.0 million, 2006) - Canada's fifth largest city and home to the Calgary Stampede. Also there is major oil offices in downtown along with the proximity to the mountains and holding the Olympics back in 1988.
- Edmonton (1.0 million, 2006) - Canada's sixth largest city and dubbed "Canada's Festival City" due to endless amounts of festivals. Along with that, Edmonton is home to North America's largest mall, Canada's most expansive historic park, North America's largest urban parkland network, along with many unique attractions. It is also, not to mention, Alberta's capital.
- Halifax (373,000, 2006) - capital of Nova Scotia, major port city
- Montreal (3.6 million, 2006) - Quebec's largest city and Canada's second largest metropolitan area; beautiful city park called Mount Royal; half of the Island of Montreal is French (East end), and the other half is English (West Island); fashionable cultural and arts centre; multicultural and multilinguistic downtown area; internationally acclaimed restaurants; fabulous old-world architecture; fun loving "Joie de Vivre" culture; home of the 1976 Summer Olympics and 1967 World's Fair.
- Quebec City (715,000 2006) - capital of Quebec, the Old Town is superb with a strong European feel, buildings and churches dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries and cobblestone streets - declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- Toronto (5.1 million, 2006) - Canada's largest city and the main economic centre. Toronto is known mainly for its multiculturalism, filled with ethnic neighbourhoods. Toronto is also home to a number of efforts to revitalize depressed neighborhoods, a successful example is the Distillery District.
- Vancouver (2.1 million(Metropolitan Area), 2006) - beautiful and busy west coast city; third largest metropolitan area in Canada; home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
- Winnipeg (695,000, 2006) - capital of Manitoba, Transportation hub of Canada and Gateway to the West. Canada's midwestern Chicago.
- Banff National Park
- Elk Island National Park
- Jasper National Park
- Waterton Lakes National Park
- Kananaskis Country
- Glacier National Park
- Mount Revelstoke National Park
- Yoho National Park
- Kootenay National Park
- Vancouver Island
- Riding Mountain National Park
- Fundy National Park
- Kouchibouguac National Park
- Gros Morne National Park
- Terra Nova National Park
- Cape Breton Highlands National Park
- Kejimkujik National Park
Prince Edward Island
- Prince Edward Island National Park
- Pukaskwa National Park
- Bruce Peninsula National Park
- Georgian Bay Islands National Park
- St Lawrence Islands National Park
- Point Pelee National Park
- Fathom Five National Marine Park
- Algonquin Provincial Park
- Lake Superior Provincial Park
- Killarney Provincial Park
- French River Provincial Park
- Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
- Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park
- Kesagami Provincial Park
- Polar Bear Provincial Park
- Opasquia Provincial Park
- Quetico Provincial Park
- Wabakimi Provincial Park
- Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
Although the citizens of many countries are exempt (see below) you may need a Temporary Resident Visa to enter the country. If you plan to visit the United States and do not travel outside the borders of the US, you can use your single entry visa to re-enter as long as the visa has not passed its expiry date. Working while in the country is forbidden without a work permit, although Canada does have several temporary work permits for youth from specific countries. If you have a recent criminal conviction (within 5 years) you may be inadmissible to Canada, and should make enquiries prior to your trip. If you have a conviction over 5 years old then you can apply for 'rehabilitation' approval in advance. The government of Canada maintains a quite informative website for non-Canadians wishing to travel to Canada: CanadaInternational.gc.ca.
Citizens of following countries do not need a visa to visit Canada: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Brunei, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.
From the United States
If you are travelling to Canada from the United States and you are not a citizen of either country, you need to be careful to satisfy the US on any subsequent trip that you have not exceeded their limits on stays in North America. Your time in Canada counts towards your maximum allowed United States stay, (as does time elsewhere in North America and Mexico).
- If you are returning to the US in this trip keep your visa documents. Do not hand over your US visa or visa waiver card (I-94 or I-94W) to border control. You can enter the US multiple times during the time allocated to your visa (for Western tourists, normally 90 days), but you need to have the immigration document as well to validate the visa. If you come back from the US without that document, you will not only have to apply again for a new visa, but you will also be asked severe questions by US immigration.
- If your default US time is going to run out while you are in Canada, and you want to return to the US direct from Canada, you need to apply for a US visa with a longer time period (eg B-1/B-2, or a C-1 transit visa) before your first trip through the US. For example, if you are going to stay in Canada for six months, and you transit through the US on a visa waiver, then the US will regard your six months in Canada as not allowing you to return to the US without leaving North America first, as you have stayed more than 90 days in North America in total. Note that in this scenario, you have not done anything wrong by visiting the US and then staying in Canada for a long time, simply that the US will not allow you to return directly from Canada, you have to reset their clock by leaving North America.
- If you are intending to leave North America entirely without returning to the United States on this trip, return any visa documents at the time of leaving the US for Canada. If you do not, you will need to prove to the United States that you didn't overstay in order to be admitted on future trips.
You are likely to arrive to Canada by air, most likely into Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver (the 3 largest cities, from East to West). But other airports in Canada also have international flights as well, particularly (from east to west), Halifax, Gander, Moncton, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Cranbrook, Kelowna and Victoria.
Air Canada and WestJet and Air Transat are the country's only national air carriers, covering the entire country and international destinations. There are a few discount domestic companies, which offer flights to all major cities, with connections to smaller ones. As with most airlines, it's cheaper if you book your flight ahead of time, but bookings can be made right up to the last minute if you've got money to spare.
You might also enter the country by road from the United States through one of the (literally) hundreds of border crossing points. Obviously, the same rules will apply here, but if your case is not straightforward, expect to be delayed, as the officials here (especially in more rural areas) see fewer international travellers than at the airports. Also expect delays during holiday periods, as border crossings can become clogged with traffic.
Drivers of American cars will need a certificate confirming that they carry enough public liability insurance (generally $200,000) to meet the requirements of all Canadian provinces and territories. Since many US states permit limits below this threshold, American visitors bringing their own automobiles should check with their automobile insurers and obtain the required certificate.
When driving within Montreal,Vancouver or Toronto keep in mind that these cities are densely populated and parking can be difficult to find and/or expensive. All three cities provide extensive public transit, so it is easy to park in a central location, or at your hotel or lodging, and still travel throughout the metropolitan areas.
Via Rail is Canada's national passenger rail service. Amtrak provides connecting rail service to Toronto from New York via. Niagara Falls, Montreal from New York and Vancouver from Seattle via. Bellingham. The train is a very inexpensive way to get into Canada, with tickets starting from as low as US$43 return to Vancouver. There is also thruway service between Seattle and Vancouver.
Be wary though. Not many private citizens in Canada take the train as a regular means of transportation. Most citizens simply drive to where they want to go if the distance is short (which in Canada can still mean hundreds of kilometres!), or fly if the distance is long.
Greyhound Canada serves many destinations in Canada, with connecting service to regional lines and U.S. Greyhound coaches. Be sure to inquire about dicounts and travel packages that allow for frequent stops as you travel across Canada. Many routes connect major Canadian and American cities including Montreal - New York City which is operated by New York Trailways , Vancouver - Seattle operated by Greyhound and Toronto - New York City via Buffalo, this route in particular is operated by a number of bus companies: Greyhound, Coach Canada , New York Trailways and two new discount services: Megabus and Ne-On .
In British Columbia, you can enter Canada by ferry from Alaska and Washington. Alaska Marine Highway serves Prince Rupert, whereas Washington State Ferries serves Sidney (near Victoria) through the San Juan islands. There is a car ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles run by Black Ball; there are also tourist-oriented passenger-only ferries running from Victoria to points in Washington.
There is a car ferry from Nova Scotia to Maine run by Bay Ferries (Yarmouth-Bar Harbor).
There is a passenger ferry running from Fortune in Newfoundland to Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
A small car ferry operates between Wolfe Island, Ontario (near Kingston) and Cape Vincent, NY.
The CAT car ferry between Rochester, NY and Toronto, Ontario was discontinued in January 2006.
Several cruise lines run cruises between the eastern United States and Halifax. Most freight routes run to Montreal on the east coast and Vancouver on the west coast. International passengers will be required to pass through customs in their port of arrival.
Canada is large - the second largest country in the world after Russia. This means that you will need several days to appreciate even a part of the country. St. John's, Newfoundland is geographically closer to London, England than it is to Vancouver.
The best way to get around the country is by air. Air Canada is the main national carrier, and has by far the largest network and most frequent schedules. For travel between major centres, no frills carrier WestJet offers competitive fares. In general, airports are poorly connected to public transportation and railway transportation; expect to leave airports by road on a rental car, taxi or a privately operated bus.
Travel by intercity coach is available between most major cities in Canada. Service is best in the densely packed Windsor - Quebec City corridor which includes the major cities of Toronto and Montreal as well as the national capital, Ottawa. Service in this corridor is provided by a number of companies, chief among them being: Coach Canada whose main route is the heavily used Toronto - Montreal route, Greyhound who runs the Toronto - Ottawa route, the Montreal - Ottawa route and routes between Toronto and southwestern Ontario and Orleans Express who runs the Montreal - Quebec City route using modern, leather-upholstered coaches with North American and European electrical sockets at every seat. To the west of this corridor most routes are operated by Greyhound and to the east routes are operated by Acadian a subsidiary of Orleans Express. In Canada only one company is given a license to run a particular route, as a result there is little to no competition among providers and fares can be unusually high and can be raised without notice. Routes in the prairies can be extremely long, some of them taking several days, as a result, passengers should be sure they will be able to bare sitting in a seat for 48 or more hours with only rare stops for food and toilet breaks. Despite a recent violent murder on a bus in the prairies, intercity buses in Canada are generally very safe, however travelers should be aware of their belongings at all times and make sure that their valuables are on their person if they intend to sleep. In contrast to the United States, most Canadian bus stations are not owned or run by the coach companies serving them, they are generally run by the municipal government or, in the case of Montreal and Ottawa, a separate third-party corporation. Also unlike the United States, bus stations in Canada are not generally in the worst parts of the city, in fact, in Toronto, the bus station is located between a major theatre and shopping district and a neighbourhood full of large, wealthy, research-intensive hospitals.
Of course, many people choose to rent a car. Although somewhat expensive if you are travelling alone, this can be an economically reasonable alternative if you are sharing the costs with others. However, beware of the high surcharges associated with dropping off the car at a different location than where it was picked up. In Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, public transit is a strongly recommended alternative to driving.
Compared to the United States, Canadian gas prices are very high (albeit much cheaper than Europe), ranging from $4.50-$5.50 per gallon ($1.19-$1.45 per litre).
If you are set on a road trip, an alternative to car rental is to hire an RV (motorhome or campervan). This gives you the flexibility to explore Canada at your own pace and is ideal if your trip is geared around an appreciation of Canada's natural environment. Costs can also be lower than combining car rental with hotels.
Traffic rules to be aware of
- Some major streets in several of Canada's larger cities contain lanes known as "Diamond Lanes," their uses vary from place to place, however they are generally reserved for local buses and sometimes taxis and/or bicycles. These lanes will nearly always be the right lane and vehicles not allowed to travel in the lanes may use them to turn at the next intersection. There will usually be a sign indicating what vehicles are allowed to use it and when, if there is no sign it is generally best to stay out of the lane as fines for misuse can be heafty.
- Canadians use the metric system for measurments (hence speed is quoted in kilometres per hour, and distances in kilometres.)
- Canadians drive on the right-hand side of the road.
- In many areas of Canada (with the exception of Montreal island) it is legal to turn right (after stopping) on a red light, so be careful when crossing the street on foot.
- Many secondary (less busy) intersections that are four (or three) way stops have no traffic lights, but have stop signs instead. You have to bring your car to a complete stop and let everyone that stopped before you go first. If two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, the car to the right has precedence.
- In Canada, you must always yield to a police car, fire truck, or ambulance when their emergency lights are flashing -- if they are approaching from behind, you must pull to the right and stop. In many jurisdictions, motorists are also required to slow down and move into a non-adjacent lane when passing a stopped emergency vehicle. In rural Ontario, private vehicles displaying flashing green lights are being operated by volunteer firefighters and medical first responders on their way to calls. While there is no legal requirement to pull to the right and stop, as with emergency vehicles, doing so for those displaying green flashers is considered to be both courteous and 'common sense'.
- It is illegal to park in front of a fire hydrant.
- In many cities across Canada, laws against jaywalking are often more strictly enforced by police and bylaw officers.
- Beware, in British Columbia, a (slow) flashing green light means the traffic light is green (you can go) but it is controlled by the pedestrian. The light will remain flashing green until a pedestrian pushes the button to cross the street. When you see a flashing green light, traffic coming towards you will also see a flashing green light. In Ontario, Québec and Nova Scotia, a (fast) flashing green light indicates advanced turn, signaling the driver can make a left hand turn across oncoming traffic because oncoming traffic has a red light.
- At crosswalks and corners, the pedestrian has the right of way. If you are a driver, there are often hefty fines for not giving them this right of way. If you are a pedestrian, though, don't always expect people to stop for you. This law is not as widely respected or enforced in Toronto, Quebec, and Windsor (Canadian city bordering Detroit) as it is in other regions of Canada.
- Some provinces have drink-drive limits of 0.05%. The national Criminal Code limit is 0.08% - a foreign national exceeding this can expect to be deported.
- During winter, a flashing blue light usually identifies a snow removal vehicle (e.g. snowplough) and drivers should stay far back when following. While it is legal to pass one of these vehicles, it may be safer to stay behind and travel on the cleared road.
Passenger rail service in Canada, although very safe and comfortable, is often an expensive and inconvenient alternative to other types of transport. The corridor between Windsor and Quebec City is a bit of an exception to this generalization. Also, if natural beauty is your thing, the approximately three-day train ride between Toronto and Vancouver passes through the splendour of the Canadian prairies and the Rocky Mountains, with domed observation cars to allow passengers to take in the magnificent views.
Make arrangements ahead of time to get lower fares. VIA Rail is the main Canadian passenger rail company.
Canada is a great place for Hitchhiking, and is still quite common among younger travellers strapped for cash, or seeking adventure. It's most common in the far western provinces, where there are generally more travellers. As anywhere in the world, use your common sense when taking a ride.
Canada is generally a good place to work. With unemployment rates hovering at historic lows, there is no shortage of jobs in Canada. The minimum wage varies by province, from $7.75/hour in New Brunswick and $8/hour Alberta to $8.75/hour in Ontario (with Ontario planning to raise their minimum to $10.25 as of 2010). As with most of the developed world, the economy is shifting from one dominated by manufacturing to one dominated by services. Thus, factory and manufacturing work is becoming scarcer every year and are highly sought, with most factories requiring a high school education. Minimum wage jobs are becoming more common every year, though there is still a fair amount of good construction jobs to be had.
There is currently a massive labour shortage in Alberta and the interior of British Columbia, mostly fueled by oilfield activity throughout the province. As a result, most businesses are hiring on a constant basis - but note that with the labour shortage comes a housing shortage, so expect high rent costs to be coupled with high salaries. You'll find many people from economically depressed areas of the country working in Alberta.
Hiring practices are similar to those in the US which is very helpful to know if you've never worked in the US or Canada.
Canada is a country with a rich cultural heritage. In Canada, festivals and events are held annually to celebrate the multicultural landscape of this great nation. Each festival represents a single cultural facet belonging to the diverse population of Canada. These festivals are easily identified by season.
In some parts of the country, April and May mark the beginning of Canadian music festival season. Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories celebrates spring with the Cariblues Festival, Halifax showcases chamber music with the Scotia Festival of Music and Ottawa highlights concerts, flowers and history at the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Canada is also renowned the world over for its theatre festivals such as Ontario’s Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival , which begin at this time and continue through to the fall. There are also a number of children’s festivals including the Calgary International Children's Festival and the annual Saskatchewan International Film Festival for Young People.
June 21 to July 1 marks 10 days of celebrations in Canada. The festivities begin on June 21 with National Aboriginal Day and celebrations across the country continue on June 24 with Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, in honour of the patron saint of French Canadians, on June 27 with Canadian Multiculturalism Day, and culminate with Canada Day with parties everywhere on July 1st.
In addition, there are many musical and cultural summer festivals taking place across the country. Here is just a taste: Yellowknife’s Summer Solstice Festival, Calgary’s Reggaefest, Windsor's International Freedom Festival (with Detroit), the Calgary Stampede, Winnipeg’s Folklorama, Toronto’s Caribana, Les Francofolies de Montreal, as well as Montreal's Jazz and Comedy festivals, New Brunswick’s Festival acadien de Caraquet, London's Rib-fest, the Jazz and Blues Festival in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Collingwood, Ontario.
The autumn is traditionally a time for literary festivals and film festivals. Lovers of the written and spoken word may like the Trois-Rivières’ bilingual Festival International de la Poésie, Halifax’s Atlantic Canada Storytelling Festival, and Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. Film lovers can choose from the Toronto International Film Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival, the Atlantic Film Festival, and St. John's International Women's Film Festival in Newfoundland, among many others.
Kitchener-Waterloo hosts the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside Bavaria. This nine-day festival features numerous cultural and entertainment activities. Many local venues are converted into biergartens (Beer Gardens) and take on Germanic names for the duration of the festival. Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest attracts over 700,000 visitors annually.
Fall is also a time for families to enjoy the autumn splendour of nature in fall festivals or in simple activities where one enjoys the beautiful countryside.
Winter is the time when Canadians and their families take to the slopes and hit the ice at ski resorts and community hockey rinks across the country. Canada’s world-famous winter festivals take place in late January and February including Carnaval de Québec in Quebec City and Winterlude/Bal de neige in Ottawa and Gatineau. There are also winter events that pay homage to Canada’s hardy pioneers such as the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg and the Yukon Sourdough Rendez-vous Festival set in Whitehorse.
In Calgary, the month of January is devoted to showcasing challenging national and international theatre, dance, and music in The High Performance Rodeo, one of Canada’s leading festivals of new and experimental theatre.
Especially popular in British Columbia, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are practiced and enjoyed regularly during the winter. British Columbia is home to many of the world's top ski resorts, including Whistler. The 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics will take part in Whistler and Vancouver. Vancouverites can easily access smaller ski resorts, such as Cypress Mountain, Mount Seymour, and Grouse Mountain. This is typically a 15-30 minute drive from Downtown Vancouver.