Difference between revisions of "Canada"
Revision as of 17:09, 8 April 2008
Canada  is the second largest country by area in the world (after Russia) and the largest in North America. Its only land border is with the United States, and remains the longest land border in the world. The US border is situated at Canada's Southern edge. The border with the United States varies depending on the area you are visisting. The 49th parallel is the border from Mainland BC to Ontario, but drops as low as the 41st parallel in southern Ontario. Canada also has a long border with the US State of Alaska in the Northwest. Canada is 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.
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
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
There are many cities in Canada (urban populations in brackets). Here is a small selection; others are listed under their regions.
Prince Edward Island
Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, it resembles its neighbor to the South, the United States, and shares with it the longest undefended border in the world. Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 by an act of the British parliament, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Though a medium sized country by its population, Canada has earned respect on the international stage for its strong diplomatic skills. Domestically, the country has displayed success in negotiating compromises amongst a culturally and linguistically varied population, a difficult task considering that language, culture, cuisine and even history vary significantly over the country. In contrast to the United States' image as a melting pot, Canada prefers to consider itself a mosaic of cultures and people. All Canadians are used to living and interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds on a daily basis and will usually be quite friendly and understanding if approached in public. You will never look out of place or feel like an unusual sight while traveling Canada. The information below will get you started, but be sure to check the specifics for given regions and cities. It has socialized medicine, too.
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
Trying to distill the climate of Canada into an easy to understand statement is impossible, given the vast area that this country occupies. The southernmost point of mainland southern Ontario, Point Pelee, and the nearby islands in Lake Erie are at a very similar latitude to northern California, and has a climate similar to the eastern US. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is just south of the Arctic Circle and remains very cold for most of the year.
However, as most of the Canadian population resides within a few hundred kilometers of Canada's border with the United States, visitors to most cities will probably not have to endure the weather that accompanies a trip to the northern territories. In fact, summers can be hot in parts of Canada. Summer temperatures over 28°C (82.4°F) are not unusual in extreme Southern Ontario and the southern Interior of British Columbia, with Osoyoos the hot spot of Canada. Toronto's climate is only slightly cooler than many cities in the northeastern United States, and summers in the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec are often hot and humid. In the BC Interior, Alberta and Saskatchewan, the humidity is often low during the summer, even during hot weather. In the winter, Southern Ontario is only slightly cooler than the northeastern United States, but temperatures under -10°C (14°F) are not uncommon in Southern Ontario.
The climate in Canada also depends in large part on how close to the coast you travel. Many inland cities, especially those in the Prairies, experience extreme changes in weather. Winnipeg, Manitoba (also colloquially known as 'Winterpeg') has hot summers easily exceed 35°C (95°F), yet experiences very cold winters where -40°C (-40°F) is not uncommon. The hottest temperatures in Canadian recorded history was in southern Saskatchewan, at 45°C (113°F). Conversely, coastal cities in British Columbia is generally milder year-round and gets little snow. The Atlantic Provinces are usually not as mild as the Prairies and the Territories although they constantly experience temperatures below zero in the winter. The Atlantic Provinces are also well known to experience many blizzards during the winter season. In British Columbia, Vancouver and Victoria are temperate and get very little snow, and seldom experience temperatures below 0°C or above 27°C (32-80°F).
Apart from having usually milder temperatures year-round than the interior areas of Canada, coastal areas can have very high rainfall. Areas such as coastal British Columbia get some of the highest rainfall in Canada, but it can be very dry in the southern BC Interior due to the Coastal Mountains acting as a rain shadow. The wind can be a big factor on the Canadian Prairies because there are wide open areas not unlike those in the Midwest states of the US, and makes for unpleasant windchills during cold weather in the winter. The average temperature is typically colder in Canada than in the US and Western Europe as a whole, so bring your jacket if visiting between October and May, and early and later than this if visiting areas further north. The rest of the year, in most of the country, daytime highs are generally above 15°C (60°F).
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: CanadaInternational.gc.ca.
Citizens of following countries do not need a visa to visit Canada: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Brunei, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, 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
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, Gander, Moncton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Cranbrook, Kelowna and Victoria.
Air Canada and WestJet are the country's only national air carriers, covering the entire country and international destinations. There are a few discount domestic companies, which offer flights to all major cities, with connections to smaller ones. As with most airlines, it's cheaper if you book your flight ahead of time, but bookings can be made right up to the last minute if you've got money to spare. You can find these airlines easily online.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Canada is large - the second largest country in the world after Russia. This means that you will need several days to appreciate even a part of the country. St. John's, Newfoundland is geographically closer to London, England than it is to Vancouver.
The best way to get around the country is by air. Air Canada is the main national carrier, and has by far the largest network and most frequent schedules. For travel between major centres, no frills carrier WestJet offers competitive fares. In general, airports are poorly connected to public transportation and railway transportation; expect to leave airports by road on a rental car, taxi or a privately operated bus.
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.
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.
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.
Furthermore, for Americans, Canadian gas prices are very high, ranging from $3.50-$4.50 a gallon. Try to fill up before the border
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
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.
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.
English and French are the only two official languages in Canada. All communications and services provided from the federal government are available in both languages. Many Canadians are functionally monolingual, although some parts of the country have both English and French speakers. Over a quarter of Canadians are bilingual or multilingual. Many people in Montreal are at least conversationally bilingual.
English is the dominant language in all regions except Québec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language. However, there are numerous francophone communities scattered around the country, such as:
Canadian English uses a mixture of British and American spellings, and many British terms not usually understood in the United States (like "bill" instead of "check") are widely used in Canada. Certain words also follow British instead of American pronunciations (eg. semifinal, roof).
Atlantic Canada is reported to have the greatest variety of regional accents in English-speaking North America, largely as a result of the isolated nature of the fishing communities along the Atlantic coastline prior to the advent of modern telecommunications and transportation. A visitor to the Atlantic provinces may have some difficulty understanding strong local accents rich in maritime slang and idiom, particularly in rural areas. From Ontario westward, the accent of English Canadians is more or less the same from one region to another and is akin to that spoken by those in northern US border states.
English-speaking Canadians are generally not required to take French after their first year of high school, and thus many citizens outside of Québec do not speak the French unless closely related to someone who does, or have chosen to continue French studies out of personal or professional interest. Education in many other languages are available, such as Spanish, German, Japanese, etc. However, these are rarely taken and most immigrants are required to learn English as opposed to being able to get by speaking in their native tongue.
In Québec, one can usually get by with English in the major tourist destinations, but some knowledge of French is useful for reading road signs as well as travels off the beaten path, and almost essential in many rural areas. It may also be useful to know at least a few basic French phrases in the larger cities, where some attempt by travellers to communicate in French is often appreciated. The French spoken in Québec and the Acadian regions differ in accent and vocabulary from European French. Some Franco-Europeans have difficulty understanding Canadian French.
There are also dozens of aboriginal languages spoken by many Canadians of aboriginal descent. In Nunavut more than half the population speaks Inuktitut, the traditional language of the Inuit.
See also: French phrasebook
Canada's currency is the Canadian dollar (symbol: $ proper abbreviation is CAD), commonly referred to simply as a "dollar". One dollar ($) consists of 100 cents (¢). In the 1970s, 1 Canadian dollar was worth more than 1 US dollar, but slipped to approximately USD$0.66 by the mid-1990s. By late 2007 however, with commodity prices rising and the US dollar falling against most major currencies worldwide, the Canadian dollar was once again at par with the US Dollar (1 CAD = 1 USD).
Canadian coins are of 1¢ (penny), 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter), 50¢ (rarely seen/never used), $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie). (The penny, nickel, dime, and quarter match their U.S. counterparts in size, shape, and colour, but not in metallic composition.) Canadian notes come in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green), $50 (red) and $100 (brown) denominations. The $1,000 (pinkish) bill has not been issued since 2000 as part of the fight against money laundering and organized crime. Although it remains legal tender, banks have been taking them out of circulation. In addition, the $1 (green/black) and $2 (terra-cotta) bills no longer circulate but are still considered legal tender.
Bargaining is extremely rare in ordinary retail shopping in Canada and attempts to talk a retail worker down in price will result in nothing (besides testing the employee's patience). This is rarely a problem, as most retailers in Canada price their items fairly and do not look to extort their customers due to the highly competitive market and well-off economy. For larger-ticket items, especially high-end electronics and vehicles, many employees work on commission, so bargaining is possible for these items, and sales-people may offer you a lower price than what is ticketed right from the get-go. However, in certain establishments such as flea markets, antique stores, farmer's markets, etc, you may be able to negotiate a lower price, although it is, again, often unnecessary to put forth the effort.
In all cities and towns, it is possible to convert between Canadian dollars and most major currencies at many banks. In addition, most retailers in Canada will accept US currency either at par or at slightly reduced value. All Canadian banks provide currency exchange at the daily market value. In some areas, private exchange bureaus will give better exchange rates and lower fees than banks, so if you have time during your travels to look one up, it might save you some money on the exchange both when you arrive and before you leave, because Canadian dollars may not be worth as much in your home country, particularly the coin.
Private businesses are under no obligation to exchange currency at international rates. Even in the most rural areas, converting between Canadian and American dollars should not pose a problem, although travelers expecting to convert other currencies at a Canadian bank may need to be patient. In fact, most tourist destinations will accept American dollars as such, and are most likely to give a very good exchange rate. This is particularly true of regions that rely on tourism as a cornerstone of their local economy.
Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa and MasterCard being accepted in most places, American Express somewhat less frequently and Diner's Club only in the more upscale restaurants and hotels. Generally, using a credit card also gets you a better exchange rate since your bank will convert the currency automatically at the prevailing daily rate.
The banking system is well developed, safe and technologically advanced. ATM usage in Canada is very high. There is a safe and widespread network of bank machines (ATMs) where you may be able to use your bank card to withdraw money directly from your account at home, but the fees involved can be more than for credit cards. If possible, try to use chartered bank ATM machines as the fees are often cheaper than the independent ATM machines. All Canadian banking institutions are members of the Interac international financial transaction network. Most retailers and restaurants/bars allow purchases by ATM card through Interac, even if they do not accept major credit cards. Other ATM networks, including PLUS are widely supported and will be indicated on the ATM screen.
A Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 5% is applied to most items. In addition to the GST, most provinces charge an additional Provincial Sales Tax (PST) on purchases. The Atlantic Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador have joined or "harmonized" the PST and GST. In these provinces, instead of being charged two separate taxes on a purchase, consumers will see one tax called the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
While the GST and PST or HST are charged on most goods and services, some items are currently exempt from taxation. While this list can vary by province and tax, some common examples are: basic groceries (not prepared), prescription drugs, residential housing, medical and dental services, educational services and certain childcare services.
The sales tax rates (as of 2008) are:
Additional taxes have been placed on some goods (such as alcohol and gasoline) and vary by province; however, these taxes are often included in the displayed price of the good.
English Canadians may be mystified if you ask where you can get Canadian food. Although you will find some regional specialties, especially at the Eastern and Western edges of the country, in English Canada there isn't much food known as "Canadian" except for nanaimo bars (chocolate-topped no-bake squares with custard or vanilla butter filling and crumb base), buttertarts (tarts made with butter, sugar and eggs), beaver tails (fried dough topped with icing sugar), fiddleheads (curled heads of young ferns), and a few other examples. They are an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. In other respects, English Canadian cuisine is very similar to that of the northern United States. Canadians may be unaware that they even have national dishes, especially in the more urbanized areas, such as Toronto, and if you ask for a beaver tail or fiddlehead, you may receive nothing but a strange look or a polite giggle. That being said, there is a rising trend among Canadian chefs and restauranteurs to offer locally-produced ingredients, and most major cities have bistros which specialize in local cuisine. This can even include game meat dishes such as caribou, venison, moose, grouse or wild turkey prepared in a variety of European styles.
French-Canadian cuisine is distinctive and includes such specialties as tourtière (meat pie), cipaille (meat and vegetable pie), cretons (mince of pork drippings), ragoût de pattes (pigs' feet stew), plorine (pork pie), oreilles de Christ (fried larding bacon), poutine (French fries with cheese and gravy), croquignoles (home-made doughnuts cooked in shortening), tarte à la farlouche (pie made of raisins, flour and molasses), tarte au sucre (sugar pie), and numerous cheeses and maple syrup products. Staples include baked beans, peas and ham. French-Canadian cuisine also incorporates elements of the cuisines of English-speaking North America, and, unsurprisingly, France.
One peculiar tradition that you may notice in nearly every small town is the Chinese-Canadian restaurant. A lot of the reason for this is the role Chinese immigration played historically in the early settlement of Canada, particularly in the building of the railroad. These establishments sell the usual Chinese cuisine marketed towards North American Fast Food customers. In Toronto and Vancouver, two large centres of Chinese immigration, one can find authentic Chinese cuisine that rivals that of Hong Kong and Shanghai. In Toronto, head to Markham.
Montreal is well known for its Central and Eastern European Jewish specialties, including local varieties of bagels and smoked meat. In the prairie provinces you can find great Ukrainian food, such as perogies, due to large amounts of Ukrainian immigrants.
If you are more adventurous, in the larger cities especially, you will find a great variety of ethnic tastes from all over Europe, Asia and elsewhere. You can find just about any taste and style of food in Canada, from a 20oz. T-Bone with all the trimmings to Japanese sushi (indeed, much of the salmon used in sushi in Japan comes from Canada). Consult local travel brochures upon arrival. They can be found at almost any hotel and are free at any provincial or municipal tourist information centre.
Americans will find many of their types of cuisine and brands with subtle differences, and many products unique to Canada, such as brands of chocolate bars and the availability of authentic maple syrup.
You will find most of the American chains with a well established presence here.
The drinking age in Canada varies from province to province. In Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec the age is 18, while in the rest of the provinces and territories it is 19. A peculiarity of many Canadian Provinces (a holdover from Prohibition) is that liquor and beer can only be sold in licensed stores and this usually excludes supermarkets. In Ontario alcoholic beverages can only be sold in licensed restaurants and bars and "Liquor Control Board" (LCBO) stores that are run by the Province. Supermarkets in other Provinces generally have their own liquor store nearby. Québec has the least restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and one can usually find alcohol at convenience stores (depanneur), in addition to the government-owned Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) stores. Alberta is the only province where alcohol sales are completely decentralized, so many supermarket chains will have separate liquor stores near the actual supermarket.
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).
Canadian mass-market beers (e.g., Molson's, Labatt's) are generally a pale gold lager, with an alcohol of 5% to 6%. This alcohol level may be higher than popular beers in the US or Great Britain, so it pays to be careful if you're a visitor. Like most mass-market beers, they are not very distinctive, however, the Canadians beer drinkers have been known to support local brewers. In recent years, there's been a major increase in the number and the quality of beers from micro-breweries. Although many of these beers are only available near where they are produced, it behooves you to ask at mid-scale to top-end bars for some of the local choices: they will be fresh, often non-pasteurized, and have a much wider range of styles and flavors than you would expect by looking at the mass-market product lines. Many major cities have one or more brew pubs, which brew and serve their own beers, often with a full kitchen backing the bar. These spots offer a great chance to sample different beers and to enjoy food selected to complement the beers.
Ice wine, a (very) sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes is a Canadian specialty, with Inniskillin  in particular found at airport duty-free stores around the world. However, due to the tiny yields (5-10% compared to normal wine) it's relatively expensive, with half-bottles (375 ml) starting at $50.
Canada is famous in other countries for its distinctive rye whiskey, a beverage too common locally to be much appreciated by Canadians. In addition to the plentiful selection of inexpensive blended ryes, you may find it worth exploring the premium blended and unblended ryes available at most liquor stores. One of the most-recognized unblended ryes is Alberta Premium, which has been recognized as the "Canadian Whiskey of the Year" by famed whiskey writer Jim Murray.
Canada also makes a small number of distinctive liqueurs. One of the most well-known, and a fine beverage for winter drinking, is Yukon Jack, a whiskey-based liqueur with citrus overtones. It's the Canadian equivalent of the USA's Southern Comfort, which has a similar flavor but is based on corn whiskey (bourbon) rather than rye.
You can find most nonalcoholic beverages you would find in any other country. Carbonated beverages (referred to as "pop", "soda" and "soft drinks" in different regions) are very popular. Clean, safe drinking water is available from the tap in all cities and towns across Canada. Bottled water is widely sold, but it is no better in quality than tap water, so you'll save a lot of money by buying a reusable water bottle and filling it up from the tap.
A non-alcoholic drink one might drink in Canada is coffee. Tim Horton's is the most ubiquitous and popular coffee shop in the country. Starbucks is massively popular in Vancouver and becoming more so in other large centres such as Calgary (where it is larger than Tim Hortons), and Toronto. There is a Starbucks in most every city, along with local coffeeshops and national chains such as Second Cup.
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.
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.
Canada is generally a good place to work. With unemployment rates hovering at historic lows, there is no shortage of jobs in Canada. The minimum wage varies by province, from $7/hour in New Brunswick and $8/hour Alberta to $8.75/hour in Ontario (with Ontario planning to raise their minimum to $10.25 as of 2010). As with most of the developed world, the economy is shifting from one dominated by manufacturing to one dominated by services. Thus, factory and manufacturing work is becoming scarcer every year and are highly sought, with most factories requiring a high school education. Minimum wage jobs are becoming more common every year, though there is still a fair amount of good construction jobs to be had.
There is currently a massive labour shortage in Alberta and the interior of British Columbia, mostly fueled by oilfield activity throughout the province. As a result, most businesses are hiring on a constant basis - but note that with the labour shortage comes a housing shortage, so expect high rent costs to be coupled with high salaries. You'll find many people from economically depressed areas of the country working in Alberta.
Hiring practices are similar to those in the US.
Canada is a country with a rich cultural heritage. In Canada, festivals and events are held annually to celebrate the multicultural landscape of this great nation. Each festival represents a single cultural facet belonging to the diverse population of Canada. These festivals are easily identified by season.
In some parts of the country, April and May mark the beginning of Canadian music festival season. Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories celebrates spring with the Cariblues Festival, Halifax showcases chamber music with the Scotia Festival of Music and Ottawa highlights concerts, flowers and history at the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Canada is also renowned the world over for its theatre festivals such as Ontario’s Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival, which begin at this time and continue through to the fall. There are also a number of children’s festivals including the Calgary International Children's Festival and the annual Saskatchewan International Film Festival for Young People.
June 21 to July 1 marks 10 days of celebrations in Canada. The festivities begin on June 21 with National Aboriginal Day and celebrations across the country continue on June 24 with Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, in honour of the patron saint of French Canadians, on June 27 with Canadian Multiculturalism Day, and culminate with Canada Day with parties everywhere on July 1st.
In addition, there are many musical and cultural summer festivals taking place across the country. Here is just a taste: Yellowknife’s Summer Solstice Festival, Calgary’s Reggaefest, Windsor's International Freedom Festival (with Detroit), the Calgary Stampede, Winnipeg’s Folklorama, Toronto’s Caribana, Les Francofolies de Montreal, as well as Montreal's Jazz and Comedy festivals, New Brunswick’s Festival acadien de Caraquet, London's Rib-fest, the Jazz and Blues Festival in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Collingwood, Ontario.
The autumn is traditionally a time for literary festivals and film festivals. Lovers of the written and spoken word may like the Trois-Rivières’ bilingual Festival International de la Poésie, Halifax’s Atlantic Canada Storytelling Festival, and Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. Film lovers can choose from the Toronto International Film Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival, the Atlantic Film Festival, and St. John's International Women's Film Festival in Newfoundland, among many others.
Fall is also a time for families to enjoy the autumn splendour of nature in fall festivals or in simple activities where one enjoys the beautiful countryside.
Winter is the time when Canadians and their families take to the slopes and hit the ice at ski resorts and community hockey rinks across the country. Canada’s world-famous winter festivals take place in late January and February including Carnaval de Québec in Quebec City and Winterlude/Bal de neige in Ottawa and Gatineau. There are also winter events that pay homage to Canada’s hardy pioneers such as the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg and the Yukon Sourdough Rendez-vous Festival set in Whitehorse.
In Calgary, the month of January is devoted to showcasing challenging national and international theatre, dance, and music in The High Performance Rodeo, one of Canada’s leading festivals of new and experimental theatre.
Especially popular in British Columbia, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are practiced and enjoyed regularly during the winter. British Columbia is home to many of the world's top ski resorts, including Whistler. The 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics will take part in Whistler and Vancouver. Vancouverites can easily access smaller ski resorts, such as Cypress Mountain, Mount Seymour, and Grouse Mountain. This is typically a 15-30 minute drive from Downtown Vancouver.
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.
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. Even though major urban areas are experiencing higher than average rates it should be noted that these rates still remain extremely low compared to similiar sized urban areas in the United States and the rest of the world.
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.
Possession, purchase, and use of any firearms requires proper licenses for the weapons and the user, and is subject to federal laws. Firearms are classed (mainly based on barrel length) as non-restricted (subject to the least amount of training and licensing), restricted (more licensing and training required) and prohibited (not legally available). Most rifles and shotguns are non-restricted, as they are used extensively for hunting, on farms, or for protection in remote areas. Handguns or pistols are restricted weapons, but may be obtained and used legally with the proper licenses. Generally the only people who carry handguns are Federal, Provincial, and Municipal Police, Wildlife Officers in most provinces, private security guards and people who work in remote "wilderness" areas who are properly licensed. It is possible to import non-prohibited firearms such as most types of rifle and shotgun for sporting purposes like target shooting and hunting, and non-prohibited handguns for target shooting may also be imported with the correct paperwork. Prohibited firearms will be seized at customs and destroyed. Travellers should check with the Canada Firearms Centre and the Canada Border Services Agency before importing firearms of any type before arrival.
Illicit Drug Use
Marijuana use is common in the western province of British Columbia where the attitude towards it is very relaxed. Outside of B.C. use is less obvious as there is more social stigma attached to its use, particularly with older generations. Because of its popularity, easy availability and allowances for "medical purposes", many visitors (and even some Canadians) believe that its use is legal. While it is illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada, Ontario courts has declared possession of up to 30g legal back in 2003 (British Columbia, PEI, and Nova Scotia have also struck down the laws against possession of up to this amount). In other parts of the country any possession are still illegal, though enforcement varies (in Montreal, you probably will only get a warning and have your weed confiscated, while even possessing a joint in Alberta and Saskatchewan will lead to arrest). Several cases in 2007 in Ontario have upheld this ruling.
However, cocaine, heroin, and other hard drugs WILL lead to prosecution.
Canadians take drunk driving very seriously, and driving while under the influence of alcohol is not a mere traffic violation in Canada. It is punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada and can involve jail time, particularly for repeat offenses. If you "blow over" the legal limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) on a roadside breathalyzer machine test, you will be arrested and spend at least a few hours in jail. Being convicted for driving under the influence (DUI) will almost certainly mean the end of your trip to Canada, a criminal record and you being barred from re-entering Canada for at least 5 years. 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.08%) is the legal limit for a criminal conviction. Many jurisdictions call for fines, license suspension and vehicle impoundment at 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, or if the officer reasonably believes you are too intoxicated to drive. Note this difference; while having a BAC of 0.07% when tested at a police checkpoint ('Checkstop', which is designed to catch drunk drivers) will not result in arrest, having the same BAC after being pulled over for driving erratically may result in being charged with DUI.
Hate speech - communication that may incite violence toward an identifiable group - is illegal in Canada and can lead to prosecution, jail time and deportation.
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 most Canadian provinces have banned all indoor smoking in public places and near entrances. Some bans include areas such as bus shelters and outdoor patios. See Smoking.
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 (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 Peoples (often known officially as '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. Winnipeg is known to be particularly gay-friendly, having elected North America's first openly gay mayor. 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.
Compared to the United States, medical care in Canada is available at about 30 to 60 percent savings, according to the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.  And the World Health Organization's "World Health Report 2000" ranks Canada as the 30th best healthcare system in the world. Medical tourism firms help visitors to obtain medical care such as cosmetic surgery and joint replacement in major cities including Vancouver and Montreal. After their treatments, patients can enjoy a vacation and relax in a cabin in the Canadian Rockies, explore colorful Montreal, or, other activities.
The communication infrastructure of Canada is what you would expect for an industrialized country.
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). Some cities only require a seven-digit local phone number to place a call, but some cities require the three-digit area code.
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.
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.
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.