WORLD TRAVEL NEWS ARTICLE
It’s the second largest country in the world, so any guide to Canada has to cover a lot. The country spans 9,984,670 square kilometres (3,855,103 square miles) of land, but at the same time, it has the fourth lowest population density in the world. Over 80 percent of Canadians live in the southern towns and cities, and the north of the country is much more sparsely populated, due to the harsher climates. To put the size of the population into perspective, there are only 25 cities of more than 100,000 people in the whole of Canada – and these cities make up less than one percent of the country’s total area – so Canada is a great place to visit if solitude is your thing. For current visa requirements, visit www.projectvisa.com
Canada is a country of contradictions, from vast prairies in the south to the Arctic barrenness of Nunavut and Yukon in the north. There are six different time zones, and if you decided to drive from one side of the country to the other, from Halifax in the east to Vancouver in the west days it would take you seven whole days (seven hours flying time).
Canada has a diverse population and because of this it’s often described as ‘a nation of immigrants’. The first Canadians were actually Aborigines, and there are three groups of Aboriginals still living there. These three groups,the First Nations, Métis and Inuits – speak over 50 languages between them, and most of these languages are only ever heard in Canada.
Canada officially became a country in its own right on 1st July 1867. Until then, it had been governed first by the French and then the British, who confusingly both brought their own language, laws and culture as well as different systems of government to the country. Britain fought the French to rule over Canada, and after a long war, the Brits gained control in 1763 and renamed Canada ‘British North America’. The rivalry between British and French factions is still evident now, with Canada having its very own ‘French Quarter’ in Quebec.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Canada became the place to emigrate, and large numbers of Europeans pitched up for the better lifestyle on offer. The country also appealed to Asians, who settled mostly in the west. More Europeans followed after both World Wars, and in modern times Canada is one of the top destinations for immigration, mostly down to its reputation for being immigrant friendly, tolerant and having a high quality of life.
English and French are the two official languages of Canada: English is the most common language in all of the provinces except Quebec, where French is the number one.
The world’s longest national highway, the Trans-Canada Highway, runs thousands of miles through Canada from east to west. There are around 500 airports linking the country, including nine international airports:
Calgary International Airport in Alberta is 17 kilometres north west from the city centre.
Edmonton International Airport in Alberta is 26 kilometres south west from the city centre.
Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport in Nova Scotia is 35 kilometres north from the city centre.
Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Quebec is 20 kilometres from the city centre.
Ottawa Macdonald Cartier International Airport in Ontario is 10.2 kilometres south from the city centre.
St John’s International Airport in Newfoundland is 5.6 kilometres north west from the city centre.
Toronto Pearson International Airport in Ontario is 27 kilometres north west from the city centre.
Vancouver International Airport in British Columbia is 12 kilometres from the city centre.
Winnipeg St. Andrews Airport in Manitoba is 19 kilometres north east of St. Andrews.
Greyhound Buses connect the main cities, and you can see the country from the comfort of a train on one of the four main rail routes which are run by Via Rail. Other than these four, long distance train services are few and far between, although some of the bigger cities like Toronto and Calgary have good subway services across the city and into the suburbs.
The British influence can definitely be felt in Canada – they’ve adopted a few British ways. Canadians like to be on time, and are as happy as a group of Brits usually are to form a queue. Canadians are also well known for being polite and considerate as a rule – and they don’t tend to haggle over prices in shops, so there’s little confusion there.
The currency used in Canada is the Canadian Dollar, which you’ll sometimes hear called a ‘Loonie’. For the latest exchange rates, visit www.xe.com
There are five different areas of Canada, split into 13 smaller provinces and territories:
• The East, also called the Atlantic Province, includes Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
• The Central region includes the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
• The Prairies are generally Manitoba, Saskatchewan and some parts of Alberta.
• The West includes the two provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
• The North consists of three territories – Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Alberta is one of the western provinces, well known for its oil and gas resources, and also for its beef. The main city is Edmonton, the spiritual home of shopaholics, where you can find the West Edmonton Mall – the largest shopping mall in North America. The mall has over 800 shops, so it’s not the kind of place to hang out if your credit card is maxed out...
If you’ve always had an appreciation for cowboy films, Alberta really is the cowboy province, and Calgary is home to the spectacular Calgary Stampede – a tradition which happens every July. The stampede was first held in 1912 and now stretches to ten days of rodeos, carnivals and fairground rides that celebrate Alberta’s cowboy roots and attract over a million visitors every year.
Moraine Lake - Alberta
Alberta is also home to some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada. The majestic Rocky Mountains stretch through the province, providing the perfect backdrop to some of the most famous resort towns in Canada. Banff National Park is so popular that you can’t buy property there unless you work or study in the area, own a business there or are an ‘eligible resident’. There are no exceptions and no holiday homes – you have to demonstrate a certain level of commitment to the area to be allowed to buy a home there; you’d also need a pretty hefty level of income to afford it.
If skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports are your idea of fun, Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise are world-famous winter sports destinations, featuring world-class ski runs. For some awe-inspiring beauty, travel on the scenic Icefields Parkway which stretches 230 kilometres (142 miles) from Jasper to Lake Louise along Highway 93. If you get the chance on an Alberta road trip, the Columbia Icefield is visible from the Parkway, and is definitely worth stopping off for. Several tour companies run specific icefield tours and you can actually get out on to the Athabasca Glacier.
British Columbia is a fabulously diverse province to the west of Canada, where you’ll find everything from a Pacific Ocean coastline to the start of the stunning Rocky Mountains. British Columbia played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics, which were held in Vancouver and Whistler.
The capital of British Columbia is Victoria, often described as a little England for its temperate climate, historic buildings, blooming gardens and embrace of English traditions including high tea and fish and chips – you can even hop on a double-decker bus to ferry you around to the numerous pubs. This is a great place to enjoy whale watching, or why not explore Chinatown with the narrowest street in the whole of Canada. You can travel around Victoria by traditional transport, or in true tourist style hire a rickshaw or horse-drawn carriage. Victoria is on Vancouver Island, and the island is easy to get to by ferry from Vancouver.
Vancouver is the biggest city in British Columbia and it’s a popular city, too. Vancouver was voted the Most Liveable City in the World by the Economist Intelligence Unit, so the place is well worth a visit even if it’s just to compare notes and to find out what it is that you’re missing. British Columbia is obviously designed with little people in mind, as the narrowest building in the world is located there, too. If you’re feeling brave, you can take in some spectacular views from the Capilano Suspension Bridge – and the shopping in Vancouver is also worth a mention.
For sporty types, Whistler is a world-famous winter sports resort – one of the top four in North America. If you’re more of a seer than a doer, you can watch other people falling off their snowboards while taking a leisurely gondola trip up across the Whistler Valley. If you want to be really extreme, you can travel across Fitzsimmons Creek on a zipline (attached to a full body harness, of course) or bungee jump 160 feet off a bridge...
Manitoba is polar bear province! Anyone wanting to experience the ice-cold thrill-of-a-lifetime of touring the tundra in search of polar bears should go to Churchill on the Hudson Bay, where experienced guides will drive groups of tourists out into the vast wilderness in the hope of spotting one of these native creatures. October is the best time of year for polar bear spotting. Wapusk National Park is another place to go if you want to be awed by the Canadian wildlife. You can either fly into Churchill, or get the train across from Winnipeg.
Most of the culture in Manitoba is probably to be found in Winnipeg. Although Manitoba is generally known for its long, cold winters, you might be surprised to learn that it also showcases some fantastic sandy beaches, and can even get quite warm in the summer. The Forks is a popular Winnipegian hangout and if you really want to get a dose of culture, the city is home to its very own ballet company. Winnipeg is often overlooked as a destination – right in the centre of Canada, Manitoba is generally written off as being very cold and only for people who want to see polar bears...but it’s certainly worth a visit.
Nunavut is one of the northern Canadian territories, and it’s also the newest. Relatively unspoiled and with a population of only around 26,000, it’s not known for being a major tourist destination yet, although it’s trying to prove itself with tours and expeditions to the sort of places you might only get to see once in a lifetime. The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit, part of the Baffin Island area, which is home to some of Canada’s native Inuit population (don’t call them Eskimos as it’s politically incorrect).
If you’re planning on visiting Iqaluit – or most of Nunavut to be fair – you’ll need to be pretty hardy, but the area is beautiful and in the summer there’s plenty of wildlife. Nunavut’s legislative assembly, with its Inuit-inspired design, can be visited in downtown Iqaluit, and there’s a museum housing Inuit artefacts, The very first Hudson’s Bay Company buildings are in nearby Apex. You can take a trip to the Illaulittuuq Outpost Camp, or a sledding expedition across Frobisher Bay, plus there are plenty of kayaking, canoeing and wildlife tours on offer.
If you’re there in March, watch the Snow Challenge snowmobile race from Iqaluit to Kimmirut and back.
Marble Island is a slightly spooky white stone island that’s the stuff of legend. The island is said to have strong spiritual links for the Inuit, and it’s been the final resting place for many a boat crew, as the wrecks of the sunken ships that line the harbour prove.
For a real taste of native Canadian culture, head to Whale Cove in April and take part in their igloo-building festival!
Ontario is one of the most populated provinces in Canada and is also home to many of its best-known tourist attractions. One of the most famous must-be-seen attractions is the spectacular Niagara Falls, which is just as stunning if you see it during the winter months with icicles forming on the trees below, or in the summer.
Just down the road from the falls is Niagara-on-the-Lake – a quaint little town without a casino in sight and home to some lovely cafes, shops and historical buildings. Niagara-on-the-Lake was originally Ontario’s capital city, the modern capital being Ottawa.
In Ottawa you’ll find the majestic Parliament Hill – take a guided tour and you’ll see its gorgeous Victorian Gothic architecture, along with statues of historical figures and views of the Ottawa River.
For skating fanatics, the world’s longest skating rink is a cool place to visit in the winter months when the Rideau Canal freezes and its 7 kilometre pathway becomes home to Ontario’s very own winter games. You can hire skates, sleighs and all sorts if you want to get out there on the ice and make the most of the cold.
Those seeking peace and quiet or an out-of-doors lifestyle should head off to the Ottawa Valley with its 6 million acres of pristine waterways, rolling woodlands and dramatic landforms. Stop to admire the natural wonder of the Bonnechere Caves.
Also in Ontario is Toronto – fantastic for shopping, and if you like heights you have to take a trip up to the top of the CN Tower (the world’s tallest land-based freestanding structure) for amazing views across Toronto. If you feel like a completely new dining experience, book into the restaurant at the top of the tower and eat your meal while the world quite literally revolves around you! If you’re going to be in Toronto for a while, check out the Air Canada Centre for events, and for sports fans it’s the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team.
New Brunswick appeals to those who like their travel with a maritime theme, being one of Canada’s three ‘maritime provinces’.
Fundy National Park
The province is famous for, among other things, the highest tides in the world at the Bay of Fundy, and the Fundy National Park where you can take in some of the last remaining wilderness of southern New Brunswick and admire the scenic Caledonia Highlands.
Fredericton is the capital, and it’s home to three parks – Odell, Wilmot and Killarney Lake Park where you can have a freshwater swim if that takes your fancy. Combining nature with culture, the city also boasts a playhouse, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and plays host to the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in September.
Along the west of the province towards Chaleur Bay, the Appalachian Mountains are a stunning backdrop to the natural beauty of New Brunswick. As with most of Canada’s parks and areas of natural beauty, they are there to be explored – hiked, biked, camped and picnicked in. If you’re feeling energetic you could join the International Appalachian Trail – North America’s only long-distance, international hiking trail.
The coastline of New Brunswick is suitably stunning too, and taking in a beach or two is a must if you’re visiting. Saint John is the principle port for New Brunswick and is a lively town with an interesting in-door market and the famous Reversing Falls. Crystal Beach is a quiet hideaway with amenities for changing and refreshments, or there’s the popular Lac Baker Municipal Park Beach which caters for just about everyone, with volleyball and tennis courts as well. You’ll find Lac Baker along the River Valley Scenic Drive, north of Edmundston. Or get a blast from the past from St Andrew’s – one of Canada’s oldest seaside resorts, which comes complete with whale- watching opportunities and amazing oceanic scenery.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is tucked away on the most eastern edge of Canada, geographically closer to Greenland than America, and is apparently one of the country's best-kept secrets, home to some particularly hardy people who are immune to cold winters who are mainly of Irish descent with the Inuit population principally found in Labrador.
Newfoundland is home to North America's oldest city, St John's – and this is the capital of the province. There are some absolutely awesome views of the harbour to be had if you take a walk up the historic Signal Hill, which is a designated National Historic Site.
For hikers, the James Callaghan Trail is a hard-going, 16 kilometre (10 mile) long hike up to the top of Gros Morne Mountain, one of the highest peaks in Newfoundland. It can be worth the exertion if you’re a wildlife lover though, as it’s not unusual to spot woodland caribou or Arctic hare on the trail.
Labrador is a great place to see the Northern Lights, as well as some truly breathtaking glacial scenery, mountains and fjords. The Torngats National Park is on the Labrador peninsula, and the park's name comes from the Inuktitut word ‘Torngait’, meaning ‘place of spirits’.
Nova Scotia, or ‘New Scotland’, is a scenic province with Celtic roots and a maritime background; it’s part of the ‘Atlantic Canada’ region. The capital of the province is Halifax, the largest municipality in the whole of the Atlantic Canada region, located on a peninsula and also one of the largest deep-water harbours in the world.
Most of the attractions in Halifax are very much maritime-themed, including the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and Pier 21 which showcases Canada’s immigrant heritage. Halifax is where some of the victims of the Titanic disaster are buried and it’s also just a short drive to Peggy’s Cove, home to the world’s most photographed lighthouse.
Nova Scotia really celebrates its Celtic roots at Cape Breton Island. Famous for Celtic music festivals and very good golf courses, this little bit of Scotland is well worth paying a visit.
Quebec is the odd-province-out in Canada – whereas the others all have English as their first language, when you stroll around Quebec you’ll see road signs in French first, translated into English.
Quebec is a province that’s totally immersed in tradition and history; it keeps hold of its French origins and embraces the lifestyle and culture of the nation that governed it for so long in the last millennium. Quebec City, otherwise known as Ville de Quebec, is the capital of the province – the only city in North America which is still fortified by its original city walls, earning it its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Quebec City is one of the oldest settlements in Canada, and divided into the Old Quarter and Lower Town. If you visit Quebec in the winter you might coincide with the famous Quebec Winter Carnival; its annual celebrations include an ice palace, an internationally renowned ice sculpture competition and a fabulous snowy carnival.
Montreal is the other main city in Quebec, also very French and as cosmopolitan as Quebec City. Nowhere is the French influence more obvious than in the Notre-Dame Basilica, one of the largest churches in the whole of North America and home to one of the biggest pipe organs. Culture buffs will appreciate the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which according to critics is one of the country’s best as well as oldest arts museums. There’s also a venue for lovers of all things creepy crawly – Montreal has its very own Insectarium!
Get away from the city and into the tranquillity of the mountains, and spend some time exploring the Laurentians. This majestic range adds some awe-inspiring scenery to the Quebec landscape, the highest peak being Mont Tremblant. The south Quebec region also features stunning lakes and rivers, dense forests, agricultural plains and many little picturesque villages to take in.
The mountains of course make the region famous with the winter sports elite, who flock to Tremblant and the other ski resorts in the area, to take advantage of the magnificent slopes.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island (usually just abbreviated to ‘PEI’ by the natives) is Canada’s smallest province, located among the Atlantic provinces on the east of the country. Charlottetown is the island’s capital, a town that has a great deal of cultural significance to the Canadians; in 1864 it hosted the Charlottetown Conference, which led to the Canadian Confederation, and was thought of as the seat of colonial government. As a result, the town is steeped in history, with Government House, the Province House National Historic Site and Ardgowan National Historic Park to admire.
The whole island has a kind of charming quaintness about it. If you’re a literature lover, Cavendish was the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, as it was where she lived as a girl. You might enjoy Avonlea Village – a historically themed amusement park with an Anne of Green Gables slant.
Saskatchewan is located in the heart of the Canadian Prairies, with the province of Alberta to its west and Manitoba to the east. Not really a touristy province, the area does have its attractions, most of them natural and wildlife related as Saskatchewan is a pretty rural province dedicated more to agriculture than tourism.
The capital of Saskatchewan is Regina, where you’ll find the Provincial Legislative Building – the largest legislative building in the whole of Canada and full of history, so it’s well worth a visit if you tire of the shopping and eating opportunities that Regina affords. There’s also a very good interactive Saskatchewan Science Centre.
Saskatoon is the largest city in Saskatchewan, and it’s also home to some of the province’s most beautiful attractions. If you’re a bit of a sun worshipper, you should head towards Saskatoon as it’s rumoured to be the sunniest city in Canada. You can enjoy the glorious weather (hopefully) in some of the gorgeous parklands and wildlife centres – try Wanuksewin Heritage Park, the Farm Park and Saskatoon Zoo.
If you’re bored with the cities and want to experience some of the true beauty of Canada at its most rural, the Prince Albert National Park is perfect for hiking, canoeing, fishing and skiing in winter.
The province borders North Dakota and Montana in the US, so the culture is very cowboy and country and western oriented – join in the Craven Country Jamboree in Regina in July or the Jazz Festival in Saskatoon in June and you can experience the reputed hospitality of the natives for yourself...
Yukon is the place to be if scenic wilderness and the chance of viewing the Aurora Borealis appeals to you. The territory was made famous in the times of the Klondike Gold Rush, and since the Alaska Highway was constructed in the 1940s the area has become considerably easier to access, which has led to a blossoming of Yukon and the emerging tourist industry.
The capital, Whitehorse, is known as the Wilderness City for its beautiful hiking trails, the Yukon River which flows right through the centre of the city, and it’s proximity to nature. Despite Whitehorse being home to a mere 25,000 residents, it also boasts culture and all the amenities you would expect in a modern town.
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Whitehorse, where a guided excursion takes you to see the local wildlife in its natural habitat. You might catch sight of the Northern Lights on one of the many specialist ‘Aurora Borealis’ tours that run from Whitehorse; some of them include a cabin for the night and even offer you the chance to take part in the traditional Canadian pursuits of dog sledding, snowshoeing and ice fishing! Late August to mid-April is the best time of year to spot the Northern Lights, although being a natural phenomenon, there are no guarantees.
If you love spas, try a different spa experience in the Takhini Hot Springs – a natural mineral water spa where you can chill out with scenic views and stay overnight in a cabin.
Dawson City is the gold rush town; there are only 1,500 people living here these days but at the height of the gold rush it was a very popular place to be. Even now, it’s the second most populated town in the territory. You can almost believe you’re in an old film as you wander down the wooden boardwalks and take in the beautifully restored buildings.
Beaver Creek is the most westerly community in Canada, also known as the Gateway to Alaska. Because it’s so helpfully positioned by the Canada/US border, it’s become a natural stopping-off point for people on their way in and out of the country along the Alaska Highway, so there’s plenty of accommodation and hospitality to make the most of.
Canada’s Northwest Territories is sure to appeal to serious wildlife lovers. Although wild and in some parts inhospitable, NWT is home of the beautiful Nahanni National Park, where you can try all the usual outdoorsy Canadian sports such as canoeing, hiking, snowmobiling and dog sledding.
Yellowknife, the capital of NWT, is one of Canada’s northernmost cities and is also the main starting point for most of the excursions and activities that take place in this territory. The rugged landscapes offer two big natural attractions – the very long summer days of the Midnight Sun, and the Northern Lights which show themselves from late August until January.
For sheer natural beauty, Fort Simpson is hard to beat. Being the meeting point of two rivers, the Mackenzie and Athabasca, Fort Simpson has been an important gathering place for travellers over the centuries.
Whether you like the continental vibes of Quebec, the cosmopolitan mix of Toronto, the wilds of Newfoundland and Labrador or the beauty of the Rockies in Alberta and British Columbia, there is going to be something in this vast, diverse and actually rather welcoming country that will keep you happy, and keep you wanting to come back to explore more of it.
For information about weather conditions, visit www.worldweather.org
You may also like to read
Tour-smart shows you the delights of taking a weekend break amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford.
Tour-smart introduces you to the gardening delights of the Eden Project with its famous Biomes.