Canada is the second largest country in the world, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the latitude of Rome to beyond the Magnetic North Pole. Nearly 90% of Canadians huddle along the 4,000 mile southern border with the USA, the longest unguarded boundary in the world. The southern region is the warmest, most hospitable area of the country and also has the best land and waterways. In this vast space you can experience amazing diversity, from the small town charm of Eastern Canada, through the urban highlights of Central Canada, and in to the enormous scenery of Western Canada. Experience the extremes of the four seasons, from icy winters to sweltering summers and discover a bounty of fantastic wildlife, from bears and beavers to caribou and coyote. Canada is a young country with zeal, charisma and a distinct national identity.
Canada is divided into ten provinces and three Northern territories, each with its own characteristic scenery and landforms. In the east are the Atlantic provinces, where local traditions and rich folk histories persist. Central Canada is built around the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. Made up of French-speaking Quebec, and English Ontario, Central Canada houses half of Canada’s population. The Prairie Provinces are mainly farmlands, and the Rocky Mountains, which extend from New Mexico in the USA in to British Columbia, the westernmost province. The Rockies provide world class opportunities in climbing and outdoor sports. The sparsely inhabited Arctic North, east of Alaska, is the land where the sun never rises and never sets. Some islands here are frozen together for much of the year, serving as a great place to truly get away from it all.
The national currency is the Canadian Dollar, which has a lower value than the US dollar.
- $1 US = approx. 1.2 CAD
- £1 sterling =approx. 2 CAD
- EURO1 = approx. 1.4 CAD
Currency rates vary from day to day – consult your local exchange bureau.
Canada is generally good value for travellers. Bus fares are reasonable – the twelve-hour journey from Vancouver to Calgary, for instance, costs about $102 CAD ($70US). Trains cost a good deal more – $211 CAD ($140 US) for the 24-hour trip from Vancouver to Edmonton – but still less than internal flights.
Room rates start around $15 ($10 US) for a hostel dorm and about $35 ($25 US) for a double in the low end hotels. In most parts of the country you should find perfectly good motel rooms from around $45 ($30 US) out of season. Accommodation prices are higher from June to early September and throughout the more remote areas of the north, particularly the Yukon and NWT.
Tips are not included in restaurants and are expected for good service. Try to tip around 15% of your bill.
Canada’s population is just under 33 million. About 40% of Canadians are of British stock.French descendants of the original pioneers make up 25% of the population, but their numbers are in decline. Most people of French descent live in Quebec where French is the first language, but there are also large numbers in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba. The English-speaking population has grown mainly by immigration from the old country and the USA. Over 3½ million Canadians are of Scottish or Irish ancestry. Ethnic groups, like the Native American Inuit, make up 4% of the population. There are over 600,000 members of First Nations communities and also approximately 400,000 Métis, the name used to denote those of mixed aboriginal and European blood. It’s no surprise that internationally renowned street, fringe theatre, comedy and experimental music all have their homes in Canada. Canadians are arguably the friendliest people in the world. They are polite, courteous and will always stop to help if you are lost or stuck.
Canada is a vast country. Give yourself plenty of time when travelling between destinations. There are many different ways to get around, so plan ahead carefully and decide how you are going to reach your destination.
If you are travelling on your own, the bus is the cheapest way to move. Fares are pretty standard from company to company. Travellers intending to explore much of Canada by bus can save a lot of money by purchasing the Greyhound Canada Pass, which allows unlimited travel within a fixed time limit on all Greyhound Canada lines. Passenger trains are as expensive as airplanes, and much less convenient. Services are notoriously slow and delays common, though the city links between Montreal and Toronto are the exception. Rail travel can still be a very rewarding experience, especially through the Western part of the country. Trains with special“dome cars” allow an uninterrupted rooftop view of the Rocky Mountain countryside.
Canada’s internal flight network is immense and expensive. Air Canada and WestJetcompete for travel dollars, with planes serving more than 125 destinations throughout the country. Smaller, regional airlines are often the most affordable option. Travelling by car is the best way to see Canada, especially when travelling in a small group. The least expensive way to rent a car is either to take a fly-drive package or book in advance with a majorrental company. Beware of the cost involved with picking up at one location and dropping off at another.
Canadian gastronomy was long based on the British “bland is beautiful” tradition. While there are still few distinctive national dishes or unique culinary delights, good food is certainly plentiful. In most cities it is not difficult to find an international culinary community. With a large Asian community, British Columbia and Alberta have an abundance of restaurants specializing in Far Eastern cuisine. Poutine is Quebec’s closest relation to a national dish – french fries topped with delicious thick gravy and cheese curds. In the East, seafood is paramount. Sit down for a lobster supper, which can be a bit pricey, but worth every penny. You can get fresh food almost everywhere, with Farmer’s Markets being very common.
English and French are the two official languages of Canada. You will notice both on highway signs, maps, tourist brochures and even cereal boxes. In the west, the use of French is less visible. In Quebec, English can be at a premium. Roadside signs and visitor information here is often seen in French only so definitely bring a guide book. Outside Montreal and Quebec City, some French will be necessary at least some of the time.
Obviously Canada’s climate is varied and changeable because of its vast terrain. Thecoastlines and Great Lake areas tend to have milder winters and cooler summers than the interior lands. The summer months of July and August are reliably warm throughout the country, even in the far north, making these the hottest but also the busiest months to visit.November to March, by contrast, is an ordeal of sub-zero temperatures almost everywhere, though winter days in many areas are clear and dry. All large Canadian towns are geared to the challenge of cold conditions, with covered walkways and indoor mallsprotecting their inhabitants from the worst of the weather. On the western side of the Rocky Mountains, expect a lot of rain, while on the east side of the range the weather is impossible to predict. Even in the summer, it is possible to get a heavy snowfall in certain areas. Always carry spare clothing with you.
Canada is a liberal country, so what you chose to wear depends largely on your activities and how far north you are planning to head. If you’re entering the Arctic regions, wear plenty of layers underneath and quality outdoor wear suitable for the climate and conditions.
Canada is a safe place to visit and little is necessary in the way of preparation. Travel health depends on your pre-departure preparations, you day-to-day health care while travelling and how you handle any medical problem or emergency that does develop. Few travellers experience more than upset stomachs but frostbite and hypothermia can be a problem in the arctic regions so be prepared and remember to avoid drinking excess alcohol in cold weather as this can numb the body to the danger signs of freezing.
Visitors from nearly all western countries don’t need a visa to enter Canada. Exceptions are citizens of Portugal and South Africa. Tourists from developing or Third World countries do require visas, as do residents of Eastern European countries and Hong Kong. Those fromCommunist nations definitely need one.
Visitor visas, which are free, are granted for a period of six months and are extendable for a fee. Extensions must be applied for at a Canadian Immigration Centre. Visa requirements change frequently and since visas must be obtained before arrival in Canada, check before you leave with your local embassy – Europeans included. A separate visa is required for visitors intending to work or study.
- Take advantage of the great shopping all over Western Canada. Our favourite store, for all your outdoor needs is Canadian Tire.
- If you’re interested in scenery, you’ll want to pick up a Park’s Canada National Pass. The national parks are well managed and encompass the most beautiful areas Canada has to offer. Often times the parks also include top-of-the-line campgrounds.