There is much variety among Canada’s geographic regions. To the east lie the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, comprising the region known as the Maritimes. Its inland neighbour is the French-speaking, Quebec – a captivating province with its dynamic and lively Montreal and enchanting capital Quebec City. To the west are the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, home to the Rocky Mountain ranges and world-famous ski fields of Whistler and Banff. Central Canada is the region known as The Prairies, with Saskatchewan. To the north reaching up to the arctic is the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. This region is home to white wolves, polar bears, massive walrus and giant bowhead whales, among other wildlife.
Canada is famous for maple trees, ice hockey, salmon, grizzly and polar bears, the First Nations people, some of world’s best ski fields, and an abundance of spectacular natural wilderness and wildlife. Some consider it as having some the most magnificent scenery of any continent in the world.
Where is Canada?
As the second largest country in the world, Canada spans almost 10 million square kilometres, across six time zones, from the west coast of British Columbia to the east of Quebec and Ontario. It has the greatest amount of fresh water surface of any nation in the world including the five Great Lakes (the largest body of fresh water in the world). Its forested area is three times as large as that of all Europe.
The country’s picturesque, unspoiled and diverse landscapes, eclectic population mix and friendliness are some of the main reasons it attracts millions of visitors each year.
As the northern neighbour to the United States of America, Canada shares broad similarities with the US however it would be fair to say both countries have their own unique and distinctive cultural identities. Canada has only one tenth of the population of America, and some 90 percent of the country’s population live within 500km (310 miles) of its southern border with the United States.
History of Canada
Canada was first discovered by the British explorer, John Cabot in 1497 and later by French explorer, Jacques Cartier in 1534, however the indigenous peoples, known as ‘First Nations’, inhabited the land dating back to the Ice Ages circa 8000 BC. The First Nations people spoke up to 50 languages.
On arrival, the French established fur trade posts in Quebec, Trois Rivieres and Montreal and Louis XIV declared ‘New France’ a French colony in 1663. The British defeated the French in 1763 and the Dominion of Canada was created bringing together New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec in 1867. Following the independence of the United States in 1783, many British settlers came north and this marked the start of the long-resented domination of a French minority by a larger English-speaking population.
Canada Visa Requirements
Citizens of the US, most Western European and Commonwealth countries, as well as Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Israel don’t need visas to enter Canada for stays of up to 180 days. US permanent residents are also exempt.
Nationals of around 150 other countries including South Africa and China need to apply to the Canadian visa office in their home country for a temporary resident visa. For full details visit Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca). A separate visa is required if you plan to study or work in Canada.
Single-entry Temporary Resident Visas are usually valid for a maximum stay of six months from the date of arrival in Canada and cost approximately AU$75. Multiple-entry visas allow you to enter Canada from all other countries multiple times while the visa is valid (usually two to three years provided no single stay lasts for longer than six months) and costs approximately AU$150.
You may be required to show immigration officials that you have return or onward tickets and adequate means of support and accommodation upon entering Canada, as well as satisfy an immigration officer that you will leave Canada at the end of your visit. Also if you have committed or been convicted of a criminal offense, you may not be allowed to enter Canada.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
Canada Travel Health
There are no diseases that are particularly prone to Canada and vaccinations or immunizations are required to enter the country.
In general, if you have a medical emergency, the best bet is to find the nearest hospital and go to its emergency room. If the problem isn’t urgent, you can call a nearby hospital and ask for a referral to a local physician.
Hospital care for non-residents of Canada is charged at a daily rate or calculated based on medical condition and length of stay. Charges vary across the country, but range from $1,000-$2,000 CDN a day.
Hospital emergency rooms are open 24 hours for emergency care. Most cities also have walk-in clinics where non-emergency treatment or consultation is available without an appointment. Costs vary by clinic and medical attention required. For more information on health and safety for travellers to Canada, visit the Canada International website www.consular.canada.usembassy.gov/medical.asp.
Pharmacies are abundant but you may find that some medications, which are available over the counter in your home country, require a prescription in Canada.
Natural hazards that have been known to occur in Canada include blizzards, earthquarkes, floods, hail, landslides, snow avalanches, icebergs, sea ice and fog, tornadoes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
Notwithstanding the above, Canada is generally regarded as one of the safest countries in the world in which to travel, however crime still exists and travellers should take usual precautions. Saskatchewan boasts the highest crime rate and Quebec the lowest.
To learn more about Canadian airport security guidelines, visit the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) website www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca.
For all emergencies including the fire department, ambulance or police service in Canada, call 911.
What is Canada Local Currency?
The unit of currency in Canada is the Canadian Dollar. Canadian coins come in 1c (penny), 5c (nickel), 10c (dime), 25c (quarter), $1 (known as a loonie), or $2 (known as a toonie). Paper currency comes in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green), $50 (red) and $100 (brown) denominations.
The Canadian dollar has seen fluctuations in recent years, bottoming out in January 2002 when one dollar was worth a mere US$0.62. By late 2007, it had rebounded and remains at almost equal value to the US dollar. To check current rates visit www.xe.com.
When exchanging currencies, look out for currency exchange offices in larger cities. These can offer better rates than banks. Some businesses near the US-Canadian border and in big cities accept payment in US dollars, with change given in Canadian dollars.
Major credit cards such as American Express, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted in Canada. Your financial institution at home will automatically make the currency exchange before you receive your monthly statement.
Using an ABM (automatic bank machine), also known as ATM (automatic teller machine), is an easy way to access cash while traveling in Canada. Most international bankcard systems, including Interac, Plus, Cirrus and Maestro will work at most ABMs in Canada.
The GST or ‘goods and services tax’ is a 5% federal tax applied to most goods and services provided in Canada. In all provinces, except Alberta, there is an additional provincial sales tax (PST) of between 5-10% added to purchases and financial transactions. The territories do not add PST. The HST or ‘harmonised sales tax’ is a 13% tax that replaces the PST and GST in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Some hotels and retailers include the GST or HST in their places; others add it on separately.
If you book accommodation in conjunction with a rental car, plane ticket or other service (so that it all appears on the same bill from a ‘tour operator’), you should be eligible to get 50% of the tax refunded from your accommodation. Visit Canada Revenue Agency’s website www.cra-arc.gc.ca and fill out the GST/HST Refund Application for Tour Packages form.
What is Canada’s Weather?
Temperature and climate varies dramatically across the vast landscape of Canada, which stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean, and reaches north to the Arctic.
In mid year, you can ski the mountains of the west coast or visit the world’s largest tulip festival in central Canada. Regardless of when you visit, Canada’s seasons offer dramatic displays of colour and vibrant, spectacular flora and fauna.
Summers across Canada are warm to hot from late May to late September. while the fall months bring cool, pleasant temperatures in September and October. Fall in Canada is the best time of year to catch the spectacular falling leaves in the east, which blanket the ground in shades of auburn, orange, yellow and brown.
Much of Canada is covered with snow in winter. Snowfalls begin in late October with temperatures generally regualarly dipping below freezing. Winters are much milder on the west coast of Canada, where the few falls of snow don’t linger for long. Canadian wintersare a paradise for skiing holidays. The season runs from November until March in the east, and extends to May or even June in some in the western ski fields. With winter, visitors can experience many celebrations of the cold with winter festivals and ice carnivals.
For current climate and weather conditions by province and territory, visit the Environment Canada www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/canada.
Culture of Canada
It has been muted that friendliness is Canada’s greatest export. Canadians are known for their ever-obliging, generous and hospitable nature. They are generally very patriotic and perhaps given their abundance of stunning natural resources, great lovers of the outdoors. They have an adventurous spirit – be it snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, snowplowing, kayaking – they’ll be into it. French Canadians are particularly passionate, creative and vibrant, living up to similar characteristics to their forebears.
Tipping is a common practice in Canada. Tips or service charges are not usually added to restaurant bills in Canada, but server salaries are based on the assumption that staff will receive a good proportion of income in tips. Some restaurants will also place a mandatory service charge on a bill for large groups. In general, you should reward good service by tipping 15-20% of the total amount. Barbers, hairdressers and taxi drivers are usually tipped 15%. Bellhops, doormen, porters and other staff at hotels, airports and railway stations are generally tipped $1-$2 per item carried. Tipping the server both at the bar and at the table is common in Canadian bars and nightclubs.
The predominant religion in Canada is Roman Catholic (approximately 43%), followed by Protestant (29%).
What Languages Are Spoken In Canada?
Canada has two official languages – English and French. Of Canada’s total population of almost 34 million, about 60% speak English at home while 22% speak French and another 11% speak another language.
Phone numbers in Canada have 10 digits. The first three digits are the area code followed by the seven-digit local number (e.g. 555-555-5555). When making a long-distance call out of the local area, dial ‘1’ followed by the three-digit area code (i.e. 604 for British Columbia) and the seven-digit local number.
To make international calls (non-US) from Canada, first dial 011, then the country code (i.e. Australia, 61), then the area code and local number. For long-distance directory assistance, call 1 + the area code + 555-1212. For operator assistance, dial 0, or 411 for directory assistance.
Mobile phone coverage in Canada varies depending on the type of cell or mobile phone you use. Contact your mobile service provider to learn about its international roaming coverage services and to determine if your phone is compatible with Canadian networks and frequencies.
You’ll rarely be without internet access while visiting Canada. Most Canadian cities have cybercafés and coffee shops that offer wireless internet access to their patrons. Hotels often have an internet terminal or wireless internet available for guests and public libraries offer free access to the internet for limited periods of time.
You’ll find post offices in most communities across Canada. Retail postal outlets are also conveniently located in many drugstores, convenience stores and at shopping malls.
The cost to mail a standard postcard or letter within Canada is $0.54 CDN. All postage rates are calculated according to the size and weight of your letter or parcel. For complete letter and parcel shipping rates or to locate a post office near you, visit the Canada Post website www.canadapost.ca.
Canada Transport Options
Canada has 22 international airports, the largest of which include Lester B Pearson (Toronto) International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport, which each service approximately 31 million and 17 million passengers annually, respectively.
Canada’s major airline is Air Canada, providing air transportation nationally and internationally to more than 150 destinations. WestJet offers scheduled service to 33 cities in Canada and the United States, as well as charter operations to more than 20 cities in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Air Transat offers scheduled and chartered service to over 90 destinations in 25 countries.
Smaller airlines such as CanJet, First Air and Air North also connect passengers to destinations across the country.
Direct flights connect the major cities of the globe with the larger Canadian airports, and frequent connecting flights transport passengers to any Canadian destination efficiently.
Direct flights from the US or Mexico whisk you from most major air terminals to many Canadian cities including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, London, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Québec City, St. John’s and Halifax.
Touring Canada by train is one of the best and most leisurely ways to enjoy the country. Nearly all of Canada’s major cities are connected by rail and passenger rail travel is enjoying renewed surge popularity. The Rocky Mountaineer is a popular way to capture the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains.
VIA Rail, Canada’s national passenger rail service, travels between the major Canadian cities in comfort. There are sleeping cars, comfort class, bedrooms and roomettes. They also offer special passes and holiday packages.
Whether you rent or drive your own vehicle, Canada’s vast network of well-maintained roads and highways will take you anywhere you want to go.
Canadian traffic rules are similar to American rules. Canadians drive on the right side of the road. But most safety laws are determined on a provincial and territorial level, so make sure you know the particular rules for the province you will be visiting.
Canada’s highway system includes the Trans-Canada Highway, which will take you from coast to coast. The world’s longest national road is a highway system that joins all 10 provinces of Canada.
For information on highway and road conditions by province and territory, visit the Transport Canada website www.tc.gc.ca. Visit the Weather Network website www.theweathernetwork.com for highway road condition updates on most Canadian cities.
Canada has several car rental companies found at airports and in major towns and cities, including Budget, Discount, Hertz, National, Enterprise and Thrifty, among others. The minimum age to rent a vehicle ranges from 21-25 years old. You must also possess a major credit card.
Camper and motor-home rentals are also widely available. Many provincial and national parks, private campgrounds and other conservation areas in Canada allow you to camp with your RV.
For great advice on RV rental in Canada, visit the Go RVing website www.gorving.ca. You’ll find travel advice and resources including links to RV parks and campgrounds as well as tips to help you enjoy the journey.
Canada Travel Tips
Public holidays are a big occasion in Canada. From Thanksgiving to Halloween to the country’s national day, Canada Day on 1 July, Canadians celebrate with gusto. On Halloween (31 October), entire cities, work places and public areas celebrate with costumes, parties and decoration. Even the ice hockey games in the major league are an event not to be missed.
Canada Local Food
Food in Canada is a medley of English, French and American influences. Think crepes, cheese, and wines combined with eye-popping beef burgers and steaks. Along the east coast of the Atlantic in the region known as the Maritimes, seafood dishes derived from English traditions are prevalent. Salmon is a specialty in many parts of Canada. In Quebec, favourite food comes from the area’s French heritage including crepes, cured meats and cheeses.
Throughout Canada, maple syrup and maple products are popular, reflecting the significance of the maple tree, whose leaf adorns the Canadian flag. Poutine is a popular dish comprising French fries topped with melted cheese and gravy. Chicken wings (or ‘hot’ wings) served with a variety of sauces are also very popular in bars and pubs.
Canada has a rich tradition of beer brewing and offers a wide range of tap beers. Moosehead is the largest fully-Canadian-owned brewer. In English Canada, popular brands are American-style lagers such as Molson Canadian and pilsners like Labatt Blue. Foreign and most exotic types of beers are becoming increasingly popular.
The legal drinking age is 18 in the provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec and 19 in all other provinces.
Canada Local Timezones
Canada spans six times zones ranging from GMT-4 in Quebec in the east to GMT-8 in British Columbia in the west. For daylight saving, clocks are turned forward by an hour on the second Sunday in March and turned back on the first Sunday of November.
Canadian appliances operate on 110 volts (60Hz), which is identical to the US voltage. A universal adaptor is required for overseas electrical devices. Main wall sockets (or power outlets) and plugs for 110 volts are two parallel flat blades. If those sockets are different from the ones used in your country you will need a socket converter.
Canada Dutyfree Limits
Gifts valued at $60 CDN or less each may be brought into Canada duty free and tax free. Gifts more than this amount will be subject to duty on the excess amount. Alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and advertising materials do not qualify as gifts.
Given a visitor is of legal age, they can import only one of the following amounts of alcohol, free of duty and taxes:
• 53 oz of wine
• 40 oz of liquor
• a total of 40 oz of wine and liquor
• 24 x 12 ox cans or bottles of beer or ale.
The following tobacco amounts are allowed to enter Canada duty free: 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or cigarillos, 7 oz of manufactured tobacco; or 200 tobacco sticks.
For more information on bringing in alcohol or tobacco to Canada, visit the Canada Border Services Agency website www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca
All animals may be subject to veterinary inspection on arrival in Canada. If evidence or suspicion of disease is found, the animals may be refused entry. All pets must be accompanied by their owners when entering Canada. Seeing-eye dogs or other guide dogs face no restrictions as long as they accompany you.
Canada has strict laws governing the cross-border movement, possession