Canada is a gigantic country and has almost always been included in lists that point out the best destinations to go to for a getaway — and that’s not surprising because it is a country that is a melting pot of various picturesque landscapes and sights that could instantly take anyone’s breath away
Canada is a beautiful and multicultural country with more than enough fun to go around.
Below are things you should know about Canada before traveling down.
1. Canada is huge
If you’re planning to travel to Canada, you won’t be able to see the whole country in just a week or two — Canada is just too gigantic! After all, it’s the second largest country in the world, covering 9.9 million square kilometres of space. It is also surrounded by three oceans (the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Arctic) and contains the world’s longest coastline.
To make everything a bit more manageable, Canada is divided into thirteen parts (ten ‘provinces’ and three ‘territories’). Just take the country one piece at a time.
2. The cities are world class
Urban life in Canada is the bee’s knees. In the Economist’s 2017 ranking of the world’s most liveable cities, no less than three Canadian cities placed in the top ten. They were Vancouver (third), Toronto (fourth) and Calgary (fifth). The five factors were healthcare, education, environment, infrastructure and stability. That’s right, these cities are practically begging to be lived in. When it comes to the important stuff, the Canucks just ca-knock the ball right out of the park. Oh, and the capital of Canada is Ottawa, not Toronto.
3. It’s very multicultural
People just love moving to Canada, and Canada just loves having them over. More than 20% of Canadians were born in another country, and this is expected to reach nearly 50% by 2031.
Canada was inhabited by aboriginal peoples until the British and French colonized the nation in the 17th century. Nowadays, almost 1 in 5 Canadians were born in another country, nearly 200 countries are represented in Canada, and 1 in 5 Canadians speak a language other than English or French as their first language.
That being said, it’s very common to walk around and hear many different languages being spoken, and in larger cities, you can find many neighbourhoods dedicated to different cultures, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, Greektown, and so on. Many people have naturally immigrated to these pockets in the city, and you’ll find many shops, restaurants, and even cultural festivals celebrating their heritage there.
4. Canada has two official languages
One official language was not enough for the Canadians, so English and French have equal status over there. If you think that sounds difficult, imagine being in Singapore (four official languages) or India (sixteen official languages). You don’t really notice the Frenchness of the country unless you’re in the eastern province of Quebec, where people are trying very hard to keep things as French as possible. There are laws enforced by the OQLF (basically the language police) to make sure everyone uses enough French. If a shop doesn’t put French on its signs and greet its customers in French, it’s in difficulté.
5. The landscapes are beautiful
Yes, the cities are good, but the spaces between the cities are even better. 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the American border, which means there’s a serious amount of room for exploring in the north. If you want to get away from other humans for a while (or indeed forever) then the opportunity’s there. Aside from boiling deserts and tropical rainforests, Canada pretty much has every landscape going. There’s the rugged coastline of Pacific Rim, the magical Meadows in the Sky, and the granite mountains of Gros Morne, to name just a few. The Alberta Badlands are particularly good if you want to feel like a cowboy in an old western film. Yee-haw!
6. It’s freezing cold
There’s no place for words like ‘chilly’ and ‘nippy’ in Canada. When we say it gets cold, we mean really bloody cold. Apart from the country’s west coast in British Columbia, nowhere else in Canada does the average temperature exceed zero in winter time. Vast parts of the country can dip as low as -30°C or -40°C, which makes going outside fairly unenjoyable. Chuck in the severe wind chill and the great outdoors are a no-go. The coldest temperature ever recorded in North America was in Yukon, Canada in 1947 at -63°C, which is literally the same as the surface temperature of Mars. Suddenly those lakes don’t seem very appealing.
Hitting a heavy object around with sticks wasn’t dangerous enough for the Canadians, so they decided to do it on ice. What else are you meant to do with all those frozen lakes in the winter? Known simply as “hockey” over there (no other type of hockey matters), the sport is basically a religion. Just to give you an idea, the Canada vs USA men’s hockey final at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 was the most watched TV broadcast in Canadian history.
There’s even a picture of kids playing hockey on a frozen pond (known as shinny) on the Canadian $5 bill. It turns out the sport was actually invented in England, but don’t tell any Canadians that.
7. Milk comes in bags
If you think buying a big plastic sack of milk sounds weird, you are absolutely correct. It’s a strange practice that goes on throughout Ontario and Quebec. Three individual bags of milk are placed in one larger sack, which the keen Canadian milk-drinker then lugs home. The traditional bottle of milk seems to work for everyone else, but in some parts of Canada it’s the bag or nothing. Once the country switched to the metric system in 1970, milk manufacturers had to change all their machines so they could produce different sized bottles. Bagging it up just seemed a lot easier. So here we are.
8. Everyone loves poutine
Poutine is Canada’s national dish. The word “poutine” is slang in Quebec for “a mess”, which is pretty much what you get. Chips covered in gravy and half-melted cheese curds. It doesn’t sound like a particularly dainty meal, but the Canadians love it all the same. It was invented in 1957 when a trucker asked someone to put cheese on his chips and gravy. One guy wanted a bit of cheese and suddenly a national dish was born. Chefs around the country have tried to make it a bit more fancy, throwing in things like lobster and foie gras, but it’s a losing battle. Just watch out for those calories; a side order of poutine in Burger King contains 740 of them. Heavy.
9. They had a flag design competition
How do you create a national flag that the whole country is happy with? You ask them to design it. In 1965, Canada realised that they still didn’t have an official flag, so the people at the top decided they should get one. Other countries had already taken all the simple designs, so the Canadians had to get creative. And boy did they deliver! A total of 3541 flag designs were submitted by citizens across the country, with most of them including either a maple leaf, a beaver, a fleurs-de-lys or a Union Jack (and sometimes all four at once). The winning entry came from Colonel George F. G. Stanley, with his simple red and white maple leaf design. The one we all know and love. And the one that all Canadian travellers insist on having on their backpacks.
10. The education is top notch
In Canada, school is cool. When it comes to teaching their kids, the Canadians don’t mess around. In the OECD’s 2017 ranking of countries’ adult education levels (based on the percentage of 25-64 year olds with a degree), Canada came first with 56.27%. It might be bad for your teeth, but maple syrup clearly does something for the brain. If you end up in a pub quiz against a bunch of Canadians, it’s probably best to go home before it gets too embarrassing.
11. The healthcare is universal
Canada’s healthcare is the envy of their American neighbours to the south. It’s a tax-funded Medicare system where the government pays for people’s basic health insurance, which is then delivered by the private sector. It’s like the NHS; if you require any essential medical services, you get them for free. It just involves a bit of waiting. In fact, Canada’s wait times aren’t great; a 2017 Commonwealth Fund survey found that only 43% of Canadians see a medical professional on the same day as seeking help. Fortunately there are loads of ways around this, such as being friends with a doctor, marrying a doctor or indeed becoming a doctor.
12. Learn the slang
‘Canadian English’ is a special kind of English. The Canucks speak their own lingo and it can confuse the hell out of any unprepared foreigner. There are only so many times you can ask someone to repeat themselves before you just nod and smile. The most famous phrase is ‘eh’, which Canadians like to slap on the end of almost any sentence. Statements, questions, insults, commands; everything is fair game when it comes to ‘eh’. If someone goes to the “biffy” then they’re off to the toilet. If it’s cold then you’ll need a “toque” (a beanie) on your head. A $1 coin is a “loonie” and a $2 coin is a “toonie”. The jazzy word for a kilometre is a “klick”. If anyone talks to you about “the 6ix”, they’re talking about Toronto. When they say “about”, it sounds like “aboat”. It’s all very overwhelming.
“Sorry” is Canada’s most important word. Every Canadian is just desperate to apologise to other Canadians at any given opportunity. They’re a famously polite bunch, and the word “sorry” is their bread and butter. Throw enough “sorry”s at a situation and everything will be fine. Walk down a street or through a supermarket and you’ll never stop hearing it. In fact, Canadians use the word so much that in 2009 they had to pass an ‘Apology Act’ in Ontario. It means that if any Canadian says ‘sorry’ at the time of a crime or incident, it won’t count as an admission of guilt – just an expression of sympathy. Without this, there’d probably be a lot of apologetic Canadians in prison.
14. Timmies is everywhere
In a list of very Canadian things, Tim Hortons is probably third – just after maple syrup and apologies. Known affectionately as ‘Timmies’, it’s a chain of coffee & donut shops and there are branches everywhere. They’re in shopping malls, train stations, cinemas, national parks, the list goes on. Pretty much every town across Canada has a Timmies. If a space opens up on the high street, it will get filled with a Timmies. Leave your garden long enough and it will eventually sprout a Timmies. Apparently eight out of every ten cups of coffee purchased in Canada are from Timmies (source: Timmies). A national favourite is the Timmies “double-double”, which is a coffee with two sugars and two creams. An extra large one of those has 340 calories. Have too many double-doubles and you’ll be in trouble-trouble.
15. There are bridges for animals
One solution to all the animal-vehicle crashes in Canada is to build bridges for them. And it actually works. The bridges are grassy, leafy and just a lovely way to cross the road. They’re a smash hit with the animals in Banff National Park; between 1996 and 2012, eleven species of large mammal were recorded using these bridges over 150,000 times. This includes moose and bears – animals that would certainly have caused a serious accident if they took the usual road route. Certain moose were so keen to use the bridges that they were crossing over them before they’d even finished being built. Banff has set the trend and now places across Canada have got bridge fever, such as British Columbia and Alberta. It’s a win-win for all.