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Difference between revisions of "Canada"

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Canada is a relatively young nation and in some ways its identity is still being formulated. It is a mistake to assume all citizens are "alike", given the mosaic-like nature of the country that encourages a retention of beliefs and customs. Canadians can take exception and offence to their nation being considered subservient to or "just like" the United States or the [[United Kingdom]]. Visitors should also beware of belittling Canadian institutions (TV shows, movies, football, etc.), even if Canadians do it themselves.  What sounds like a joke from a Canadian can sound condescending or hostile from a foreigner.
 
Canada is a relatively young nation and in some ways its identity is still being formulated. It is a mistake to assume all citizens are "alike", given the mosaic-like nature of the country that encourages a retention of beliefs and customs. Canadians can take exception and offence to their nation being considered subservient to or "just like" the United States or the [[United Kingdom]]. Visitors should also beware of belittling Canadian institutions (TV shows, movies, football, etc.), even if Canadians do it themselves.  What sounds like a joke from a Canadian can sound condescending or hostile from a foreigner.
  
Canadian politics are best left to Canadians. While not likely to instigate hostility, issues tend to be complicated by historical, regional, and linguistic factors, making the learning curve steep and occasionally treacherous. Avoid making assertions on issues involving language or Native Americans/First Nations. Note also that not all French speakers are Quebecois, and there can be ill-will toward Quebec from other French Canadians.
+
Canadian politics are best left to Canadians. While not likely to instigate hostility, issues tend to be complicated by historical, regional, and linguistic factors, making the learning curve steep and occasionally treacherous. Avoid making assertions on issues involving language, the Quebec "sovereigntist" or "separatist" movement, or Native Americans/First Nations. Note also that not all French speakers are Quebecois, and there can be ill-will toward Quebec from other French Canadians.
  
 
Again, however, any well-meaning mistakes will probably be taken with a chuckle and not actual offence. For the most part, Canadians are generally helpful and understanding of cultural differences.
 
Again, however, any well-meaning mistakes will probably be taken with a chuckle and not actual offence. For the most part, Canadians are generally helpful and understanding of cultural differences.

Revision as of 05:05, 2 October 2007

[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Canada]]
Flag
[[File:Ca-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Ottawa
Government Federation with Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Monarchy
Currency Canadian dollar (CAD)
Area 9,976,140 km2
Population 33,390,141 (July 2007 est.)
Language English 59.3% (official), French 23.2% (official), other 17.5%
Religion Roman Catholic 43.6%, Protestant 29.2%, No religious affiliation 16.5%, Other 10.7% (2001 Census)
Country code 1
Internet TLD .ca

Canada [1] 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 49th parallel (or 49 degrees N latitude) as well as a shorter one with Alaska in the Northwest. Canada is also 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.

Contents

Regions

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 - maritime culture, small fishing villages, rich folk traditions
  • Quebec - French-speaking province, stylish and romantic Montreal, festival culture, lush farmland, quaint villages
  • Ontario - 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 - vast open and flat spaces, rocky mountains, forests, sleepy farm towns, Calgary stampede, and the West Edmonton Mall, Winnipeg Folk Music Festival
  • British Columbia - cosmopolitan Vancouver city, the rocky mountains, ancient temperate rainforest, pristine wilderness, skiing and hiking opportunities abound
  • The North - subarctic and arctic wilderness, mountains, glaciers and lakes

Geopolitically, Canada is divided into 10 provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador) and 3 territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut).

Parks Canada: www.pc.gc.ca

Cities

There are many cities in Canada (urban populations in brackets). Here is a small selection; others are listed under their regions.

Map of Canada
  • Toronto (5.1 million, 2006) - Canada's largest city, main commercial centre
  • Montreal (3.6 million, 2006) - Quebec's largest city and only majority french-speaking metropolitan area, cultural centre; home of the 1967 universal exposition and of the 1976 Summer Olympics
  • Vancouver (2.1 million, 2004) - beautiful and busy west coast city; third largest city in Canada; home of the 2010 Winter Olympics; western Canada's economic center.
  • Ottawa (1.1 million, 2006) - fourth largest city in Canada; national capital, high tech centre, tourist centre
  • Calgary (1.0 million, 2006) - fifth largest city and quickly growing; oil, cowboys, development; home of the Calgary Stampede, the 1988 Winter Olympics
  • Quebec City (715,000 2006) - capital of Quebec, tourist centre, oldest city in North America
  • Winnipeg (695,000, 2006) - capital of Manitoba, Transportation hub of Canada and Gateway to the West. Canada's midwestern Chicago.
  • Halifax (373,000, 2006) - capital of Nova Scotia, major port city
  • St. John's (181,000, 2006)- capital of Newfoundland

Other destinations

Major National Parks

Alberta

British Columbia

  • Glacier
  • Mount Revelstoke
  • Yoho
  • Kootenay

Understand

Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, it resembles its neighbour to the South, the United States, and shares with it the longest undefended border in the world. Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 by an act of 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. Internally, 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. The information below will get you started, but be sure to check the specifics for given regions and cities. It has socialized medicine, too.

Time zones

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.

See also Time zones

Climate

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 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 couple of hours drive of the southern border shared with the United States, a visitor to these areas 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 38°C (100°F) are not unusual in extreme Southern Ontario and the southern Interior of British Columbia. 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.

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, where it can easily exceed 35 degrees Celsius (95°F), yet experiences very cold winters where -40 degrees Celsius (-40°F) is not uncommon. The hottest temperatures in Canadian recorded history have been in southern Saskatchewan - as hot as 45 degrees Celsius (113 F). Conversely, coastal cities in British Columbia and the Atlantic Provinces are generally milder year-round and do not usually get very much snow, although the Atlantic Provinces can get hit by serious blizzards and lengthy cold snaps in winter. The coastal areas of British Columbia have the mildest climate anywhere in Canada. It is mild enough for even some species of palms to grow in Vancouver and Victoria. Both of these West Coast cities are temperate and get very little snow, and seldom experience temperatures below 0 or above 27 degrees Celsius (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 Coast Mountains acting as a rain shadow. The wind can be a big factor in 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).

Get in

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 are inadmissible to Canada. This includes drinking, dangerous, and reckless driving convictions. 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: http://canadainternational.gc.ca

Citizens of following countries do not need visa for visit Canada :

Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Brunei, Cyprus, 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, Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, 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

Keep your visa documents when leaving the United States of America

  • If you are not a US citizen holding a visa for the US (including the green "waiver" visas people from Western countries get at US borders), you will have both a visa stamp in your passport and a loose immigration document (I-94 or I-94W card) that the US customs officer puts in your passport. When entering Canada from the US (either by land or by plane): if you intend to come back to the US after your stay, do not try to hand the I-94 or I-94W immigration document back to the border officers (they normally don't ask for it). 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. So keep the immigration document with you until you leave North America for the last time in your trip.


By plane

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 (mostly from the US) flights as well, particularly (from east to west), Halifax, Moncton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, and Victoria.

Air Canada is the country's only national air carrier, covering the entire country and international destinations. WestJet is a carrier based in Western Canada that is continually expanding their service eastwards. 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 money to spare. You can find these airlines easily online.

By car

Although less likely, 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 or Toronto keep in mind that these cities are densely populated and parking can be difficult to find and/or expensive. Both 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.

By train

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 $43 (U.S.) 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.

See also: Rail travel in Canada

By bus

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.

GO Transit has more frequent and convenient stops in the Greater Toronto area. Its main station of operations, Union Station, lies metres away from many of Toronto's main attractions (such as the Air Canada Centre, Hummingbird Centre, Royal York Hotel) and provides bus and train access to many rural towns and larger suburbs surrounding Toronto and Hamilton.

By boat

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.

Get around

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.

By plane

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.

By bus

You can also travel between most cities in Canada, small and large, by bus. Greyhound Canada provides much of the service, with smaller operators covering local routes. For some popular tourist routes, guided bus tours are also available.

By car

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 and Toronto, public transit is a strongly recommended alternative to driving.

By RV

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

  • 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.
  • 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, signalling 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. snowplow) 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.

By train

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.

By thumb

Hitchhiking Canada is a great place for hitchhiking, and is still quite common among younger travellers strapped for cash, or seeking adventure. Its 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.

Talk

English and French are the two official languages in Canada. All communications and services coming 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. Most people in Montreal are bilingual.

English is the dominant language in all regions except Québec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language; New Brunswick, Canada's only officially bilingual province; and the Ottawa region. There are francophone communities around the country, though. A list of other areas where you will probably encounter the French language: the national capital region around Ottawa and other parts of eastern and northern Ontario; the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and areas to the south; and many parts of the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada (these areas are dotted across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the French Shores of Newfoundland). Likewise there are anglophone communities in Quebec, such as some of the western suburbs of Montreal.

Atlantic Canada is reported to have the greatest variety of regional accents in English-speaking North America. This is largely a result of the isolated nature of the fishing communities dotting 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 west, 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 highschool, and thus, many citizens outside of Quebec do not speak the language 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 is available, such as Spanish, German, Japanese, etc. However, these are rarely taken and most immigrants are required to learn English as opposed to being able to get by speaking in their native tongue.

In Quebec, one can usually get by with English in the major tourist destinations, but some knowledge of French is useful 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 Quebec and Acadian regions differs 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.

See also: French phrasebook

Buy

The country's currency is called the Canadian dollar (symbol: $ proper abbreviation is CAD), commonly referred to simply as a "dollar". One dollar ($) consists of 100 cents (¢). In the 1970s, the Canadian dollar was worth more than 1 US dollar, but slipped to be worth approximately USD$0.66 by the mid-1990s. It is currently running at about USD 1.00 due to recent increases in the dollars value.

Canadian coins are of 1¢ (penny), 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter), 50¢ (50-cent piece; 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, and although it is still legal tender, banks have been taking them out of circulation.

Bargaining

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. 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 unecessary to put forth the effort.

Currency exchange

In all cities and towns, it is possible to convert between Canadian dollars and most major currencies at many banks. 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 travellers 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

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. Generally, using a credit card also gets you a better exchange rate since your bank will convert the currency automatically and usually at a good rate; the merchant does not have to worry about it.

Electronic banking/purchasing

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. Many retailers and restaurants/bars will often allow purchases by ATM card through Interac. Other ATM networks, including PLUS are widely supported and will be indicated on the ATM screen.

Taxes

When purchasing goods in Canada do be aware that the prices displayed are usually without tax; taxes will be added on top of this displayed price. Exceptions 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.

GST Rebates for Visitors to Canada
Travellers from outside of Canada can qualify for a GST rebate for their accommodations and certain goods they buy in Canada. Only purchases over $50 are covered. Receipts must be kept and you are required to obtain "Proof of Export" for qualifying goods. (See Tax Refunds for Visitors to Canada.) Please note: The GST Rebate Program has been eliminated by the Government of Canada effective April 1, 2007.


A Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 6% is applied to most items with the exception of "groceries" and the exceptions listed above. It also applies to most non-medical services, such as haircuts and dry cleaning. You will be required to pay GST on food purchased in a restaurant. Most provinces charge an additional Provincial Sales Tax. The current rates are:

  • Ontario - adds 8% to the total taxable purchases
  • British Columbia - adds 7% to the total taxable purchases
  • Saskatchewan - adds 5% to the total taxable purchases (Down from 7% as of October 28, 2006)
  • Manitoba - adds 7% to the total taxable purchases
  • Quebec - adds 7.5% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (tax on a tax)
  • Prince Edward Island - adds 10% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (tax on a tax)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador - adds 14% (Down from 15% as of June,2006) to the total taxable purchases and the combined GST and PST and called the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST)
  • Nova Scotia - adds 14% to the total taxable purchases and the combined GST and PST and called the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST)
  • New Brunswick - adds 14% to the total taxable purchases and the combined GST and PST and called the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST)
  • Alberta - no PST
  • Northwest Territories - no PST
  • Nunavut - no PST
  • Yukon - no PST

These tax rates apply to most goods, however alcohol, food and services have differing amounts, and taxes are generally included in the pump price on gasoline, diesel, and other fuels.

Eat

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.

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.

National franchises

You will find most of the American chains with a well established presence here.

  • Tim Hortons [2] 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, although the chili is very good. The coffee is their main service, and is widely regarded as the best in Canada. You will probably find it very hard to avoid a Tim Hortons while in Canada. There are as many Timmy's per capita in Canada as there are McDonalds, Burger Kings, Pizza Huts, Wendy's and Subways per capita combined.
  • Boston Pizza [3] was founded in Edmonton, Alberta. Pizza and Pasta. Casual family dining. BP's lounges are usually a popular local watering hole.
  • Earls [4] 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 [5] 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 [6] are American Italian restaurants with a New York theme.
  • Swiss Chalet [7] sit down restaurants are operated by the same company that runs Harvey's. They specialize in rotisserie chicken and ribs.
  • The Keg [8] steak houses, usually with tables and booths for 4-6 people. Apart from the steaks they also have good salads and starters.
  • Kelsey's [9] provides casual family dining, very similar to Applebees or T.G.I. Friday's in the United States.
  • Second Cup[10] serves coffee and cakes.
  • White Spot [11] offers burgers, pasta, and "west coast style" cuisine, but only in British Columbia and some locations in Alberta.
  • Montana's [12] is a family first, 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 [13] 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[14] 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 [15] 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 perogies. Mostly in Alberta, but also some locations in the other 3 western provinces; many are open until after midnight, some 24 hours.
  • St-Hubert [16] 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 [17] 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 [18] Found all over Canada; although unrelated to the American A&W, most menu items are similar if not identical.

Drink

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.

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).

Beer

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, but the beer lover need not despair. 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.

Wine

Distilled spirits

Canada is famous in other countries for its distinctive rye whisky, 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 northern equivalent of the USA's Southern Comfort, which has a similar flavor but is based on corn whiskey (bourbon) rather than rye.

Other beverages

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.

Sleep

Accommodations in Canada vary substantially in price depending on time and place. In most cities and many tourist areas, expect to pay upwards of $100 or more for a good hotel room.

In rural areas, motels (for "motor hotel") are small, simple hotels where you might pay as little as $40 for a night's accommodation (especially in the off season.) In many areas, a B&B (bed and breakfast) is a nice option. These are normally people's homes with suites for guests. The price - anywhere from $45 a night to $140 a night - usually includes a breakfast of some kind in the morning.

Other options include cottage rentals on the lakes and in the countryside and apartment rentals in the cities. Prices compare to hotels and motels and this type of lodging provides some comfort of home while you are traveling. Some sites that offer a variety of these types of rentals are A1Vacations [19] and Canada Vacation Rentals [20].

Youth hostels are a good choice, offering lodging in shared dorms or private rooms for $15 - $40 per night. Some useful resources are Hostelling International Canada, Backpackers Hostels Canada, and Pacific Hostel Network (which also covers Alaska and the Northwestern United States). Most hostels in Canada meet very high standards.

Finally, there is a huge number of campgrounds in Canada. These range from privately owned R.V. parks to the publicly operated campgrounds in national and provincial parks, and are almost always well-kept and generally very beautiful.

Work

Canada is generally a good place to work in and with unemployment rates hovering at historic lows, there is no shortage of jobs in Canada. The minimum wage varies by province, from $7/hour in New Brunswick and Alberta to $8.50/hour in Nunavut. One should be aware that factory and manufacturing work is becoming more scarce every year and are highly sought, most factories require a highschool 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 British Columbia Interior, mostly fueled by oilfield activity throughout the province. As a result, most businesses are hiring on a constant base - 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 temporarily, or moving permanently for work, especially in rural areas.

Hiring practices are similar to those in the US.

Play

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.

Spring

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.

Summer

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.

Autumn

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.

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

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.

Nationally recognized days & events

Special activities and events are also organized across the country during cultural days that are recognized internationally and nationally by governments and cultural organizations.

Culture.ca is a cultural website provided by the Canadian Government. Visit this website for more information on Canada's cultural background. Browse the Festivals and Eventssection for more information about the many Celebrations happening across Canada annually.

Stay safe

Safety in Canada is not usually a problem, and some basic common sense will go a long way. Even in the largest cities, violent crime is not a serious problem, and very few people are ever armed. Firearm-related violence is on the rise in southern Ontario, however, but this needn't worry the average traveller, as it is generally confined to particular neighbourhoods and is rarely a random crime. If you are unfortunate enough to get your purse or wallet snatched, the local police will do whatever they can to help. Often, important identification is retrieved after thefts of this sort. Visitors to large cities should be aware that parked cars are sometimes targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, so try to avoid leaving any possessions in open view. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Auto theft in Montreal, including theft of motor homes and recreational vehicles, may occur in patrolled and overtly secure parking lots and decks. Bike theft can be a common nuisance in metropolitan areas.

Firearms

Handguns are restricted weapons in Canada, and can only be owned and carried by people properly licensed to do so. Some of the only people allowed to carry handguns are Federal, Provincial, and Municipal Police, Wildlife Officers in most Provinces, and some private security guards. If you are permitted to carry a firearm in your country, you may not be automatically permitted to carry one in Canada. Check first. Unauthorized firearms can be seized at customs - and destroyed. Separate regulations apply to sportsmen and other hunters, and travellers should check with Customs before importing firearms of any type before arrival.

Stay healthy

You are unlikely to face health problems here that you wouldn't face in any other western industrialized country. Furthermore, the health care system is very effective and widely accessible. In the past two summers, Canadians in some provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) have faced a few cases of West Nile virus, an occasionally fatal infection transmitted by mosquitoes. Also, in spring 2003, an outbreak of SARS scared some visitors into changing their plans, but since only visitors to hospitals in Toronto were ever at serious risk, the fear was greatly overblown.

Be aware that many Canadian provinces (including Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec) have banned smoking in all public buildings, including restaurants and bars, and that ban extends to even outdoor patios covered by umbrellas or awnings. These laws are particularly strongly enforced around health care facilities and require smokers to stay a minimum distance from the buildings. Many Canadians have developed a dislike for smoke indoors and will not hesitate to remind tourists of the regulations. Obversely you may get a rude response if you attempt to do the same thing, the non-smoking laws are widely accepted and enforced but are also disliked intensely and ridiculed by a portion of Canadians. Note however that most hotels still have smoking rooms available, but there are fewer available than in the past.

Respect

Canadians have a reputation for being polite to a fault. Even the most overbearing personality will usually be tolerated with unshakable aplomb, though even the most tolerant Canadian has limits. Canadians tend to have a deep sense of 'personal space,' so be sure to keep around 30cm (3 dm or 1 foot) from strangers during conversation or other interactions. Affection is welcome and handshakes or quick hugs are a common way to greet one another. This sense of space and politeness are especially common in queues. Never try to cut in line (although a particularly kind person may invite a person with a quick, small transaction to go first occasionally).

Canada is a relatively young nation and in some ways its identity is still being formulated. It is a mistake to assume all citizens are "alike", given the mosaic-like nature of the country that encourages a retention of beliefs and customs. Canadians can take exception and offence to their nation being considered subservient to or "just like" the United States or the United Kingdom. Visitors should also beware of belittling Canadian institutions (TV shows, movies, football, etc.), even if Canadians do it themselves. What sounds like a joke from a Canadian can sound condescending or hostile from a foreigner.

Canadian politics are best left to Canadians. While not likely to instigate hostility, issues tend to be complicated by historical, regional, and linguistic factors, making the learning curve steep and occasionally treacherous. Avoid making assertions on issues involving language, the Quebec "sovereigntist" or "separatist" movement, or Native Americans/First Nations. Note also that not all French speakers are Quebecois, and there can be ill-will toward Quebec from other French Canadians.

Again, however, any well-meaning mistakes will probably be taken with a chuckle and not actual offence. For the most part, Canadians are generally helpful and understanding of cultural differences.

Gay and lesbian travelers

Homosexual displays of affection are unlikely to cause upset or offence in larger cities or metropolitan areas, though the occasional outburst is not unheard of. Areas outside of larger cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, etc.) tend be more conservative in matters of social issues, so discretion may be required. Many larger cities cater directly to homosexual tourists in terms of lodging and services, and will openly advertise as such. In Canada same-sex marriage is legal across the country.

Contact

The communication infrastructure of Canada is what you would expect for an industrialized country.

By phone

The international country code for Canada is 1. Area codes and local phone numbers are basically the same as used in the United States. (Three-digit area code, seven-digit local phone number). Many cities only require a seven-digit local phone number to place a call, but some larger cities (such as Vancouver and Ottawa) require the three-digit area code.

Mobiles

Cell phones are widely used, but due to Canada's large size and relatively sparse population, some rural areas have only analogue service, or no service at all. Bell Mobility and Telus operate national CDMA networks and some regional providers operate in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada; Rogers Wireless operates the only GSM network, albeit under two brand names of Roger Wireless and Fido (the second GSM network operator, Microcell, was acquired by Rogers in 2004 and forms the base of the current Fido brand). GSM in North America operates on the 850MHz/1900MHz frequency bands, in contrast to the rest of the GSM world which use 900MHz/1800MHz. Travellers planning to bring their GSM phones with them might do well to check that their handset supports the appropriate frequencies. Wireless Internet access via GSM is prohibitively expensive.

By net

There are many ways to access the Internet, including a number of terminals at most public libraries. WiFi access is common in cities. Most large and medium-sized towns will have internet and gaming cafes. Users can expect to pay $1-3$ CDN per hour for internet access as such establishments.

By mail

Of course, there is always the postal system. While its delivery times can be hit or miss (as quick as the next day in the same city to two weeks across country), Canada Post's domestic rates and service are more competitive than its American counterpart's. However, international parcel postal services can be costly. Postal offices are usually marked by the red and white Canada Post markings. Some drug stores, such as the Shopper's Drug Mart chain, Jean Coutu, Uniprix, etc., feature smaller outlets with full service. Such outlets are often open later and on weekends, as opposed to the the standard Mon-Fri 9:00-5:00 hours of the post offices.



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