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Quick Facts
CapitalOttawa
Governmentconfederation with parliamentary democracy
CurrencyCanadian dollar (CAD)
Area9,976,140 sq km
Population32,207,113 (July 2003 est.)
LanguageEnglish 59.3% (official), French 23.2% (official), other 17.5%
ReligionRoman Catholic 43.6%, Protestant 29.2%, No religious affiliation 16.5%, Other 10.7% (2001 Census)

Canada is a large country in North America. It shares its major border to the south with the United States of America. After Russia, Canada is the second largest country in the world by area.

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.

  • British Columbia -- Buzzing, high-tech, woodsy, cosmopolitan, multicultural
  • Ontario -- Canada's most populous and multicultural province
  • Quebec -- French-speaking province, festival culture
  • Atlantic Provinces -- Rugged lifestyle, great seafood
  • The British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) and 3 territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut).

    Cities

    There are many cities in Canada. These are some of the most prominent ones.

    • Calgary
    • Edmonton
    • Halifax
    • Kelowna
    • Moncton
    • Montreal
    • Ottawa
    • Quebec City
    • Saint John
    • St. John's
    • Sudbury
    • Toronto
    • Vancouver
    • Victoria
    • Whitehorse
    • Winnipeg
    • Yellowknife
    • Saskatoon
    • Regina

    Understand

    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 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 succeeds instead in negotiating compromises amongst a culturally and linguistically varied population. In Canada's different regions, you will find as many differences as similarities. Language, culture, cuisine and even history vary quite a bit over the country. The information below will get you started, but be sure to check the specifics for given regions and cities.

    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.

    • Yukon and most of British Columbia are within Pacific Standard Time
    • Northwest Territories, Alberta, parts of eastern British Columbia and part of western Nunavut are within Mountain Standard Time
    • Saskatchewan, unlike the rest of Canada, does not participate in Daylight Savings Time. This means that in the winter, it is in the same time zone as Manitoba, and in the summer it is in the same time zone as Alberta.
    • Manitoba and Ontario west of Thunder Bay, as well as central Nunavut are within Central Standard Time
    • Ontario from Thunder Bay east, most of Quebec and eastern Nunavut are within Eastern Standard Time
    • Most of Labrador, north-eastern Quebec and all of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia are within Atlantic Standard Time
    • The island of Newfoundland has its own time zone, Newfoundland Standard Time. The south-eastern corner of Labrador is also within this time zone, which is only a half-hour different than Atlantic Standard Time

    Climate

    Trying to distill the climate of Canada into an easy to understand statement is quite difficult, given the vast area that the country occupies. The southernmost point of mainland southern Ontario, Point Pelee, and the nearby islands in Lake Erie have a climate similar to northern California, while Baffin Island is within the Arctic Circle and remains extremely cold for nearly the entire 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. Many cities experience extreme changes in weather--Winnipeg, Manitoba has a warm summer (up to 35 degrees Celsius), yet experiences a very cold winter (down to minus 40 degrees Celsius) with lots of snow. On the other hand, Victoria, British Columbia, on the west coast, gets very little snow, and seldom experiences temperatures below 0 or above 25 degrees Celsius.

    Get in

    Although the citizens of many countries are exempt (most notably the United States and most European countries) you may need a Temporary Resident Visa to enter the country. If so, you will want to consider a visa for multiple entries if you also plan to visit the United States. Working while in the country is forbidden without a work permit, although Canada does have several temporary work permits for youth from specific countries. The Government of Canada maintains quite an informative website for non-Canadians wishing to travel to Canada: Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver (the 3 largest cities, from East to West.)

    By car

    Although less likely, you might also enter the country by road or rail 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.

    By train

    Toronto and Montreal, and thruway service between Seattle and Vancouver.

    By bus

    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

    The CAT car ferry travels between Rochester, NY and Ontario in about two hours.

    Get around

    Canada is large -- the second largest country in the world after Russia.

    By plane

    The best way to get around the country is by air. 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 Hitchhiking in Canada is generally excellent. Waits in Alberta and Maritimes are known to be slightly longer. Legal unless otherwise posted; usually tolerated anyway. It is often better to stand directly on the motorway. Crossing the whole country takes about one week on the Trans-Canada Highway.

    Talk

    English and French are the two official languages in Canada. 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. English is the dominant language in every province except Quebec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language. There are francophone communities around the country, though. A list of areas where you will probably encounter the French language: New Brunswick (an officially bilingual province; the city of Moncton is famous for its unusual dialect); 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.

    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. It is worth noting that the French widely spoken in Quebec and Acadian regions differs in some respects from the French of France. 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: $ or occasionally CDN$) but also known informally as a "loonie" after the loon, a waterfowl pictured on the dollar coin. One dollar ($) consists of 100 cents (�). It has traded until recently at about 1.5 to the US dollar, but is currently running at about 1.20 due to Canada's consistently strong economic performance since the mid 1990s.

    Canadian coins are of 1� (penny), 5� (nickel), 10� (dime), 25� (quarter), 50� (50-cent piece; rarely seen), $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie). Canadian notes come in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green), $50 (red), and $100 (brown) denominations.

    The banking system is well developed, safe and technologically advanced. In all large cities, 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. Private businesses are under no obligation to exchange currency at international rates. 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 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. There is a safe and widespread network of bank machines 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. All Canadian banking institutions are members of the Interac international financial transaction network.

    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. A Goods and Services Tax of 7% is applied to most items with the exception of "groceries". 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 8%, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba 7%, Quebec 7.5%, Prince Edward Island 10%, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combine the GST and PST into a single Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) of 15%. Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon have no PST. Do also be aware that the PST in Quebec and Prince Edward Island are applied after the GST has been added, and not to the list price. 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.

    It should be noted that travellers from outside of Canada can qualify for a GST rebate for their accommodations and certain goods they buy in Canada. Receipts must be kept and you are required to obtain "Proof of Export" for qualifying goods. (See the Canada Revenue Agency webpage (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tax/nonresidents/visitors/tax-e.html).)

    Eat

    Canadians themselves may laugh 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, there isn't much food known as "Canadian" except for poutine, beaver tail pastries, fiddleheads, and a few other examples. They are an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. One peculiar tradition that you may notice in nearly every small town is the Chinese-Canadian restaurant. These establishments sell the usual Chinese cuisine marketed towards North American Fast Food customers. 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 any taste and style of food under the rainbow in Canada, from a quick burger and fries, to a 20oz. T-Bone with all the trimmings. 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.

    National Franchises

    • You will find most of the American chains with a well established presence here.
    • Tim Hortons. Edmonton, Alberta. Pizza and Pasta. Casual family dining. BP's lounges are usually a popular local watering hole.
    • Harvey's. 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 somewhat overblown.

      Respect

      Canadians have a well-deserved reputation as being some of the most polite people on the planet. Even the most overbearing boor will usually be tolerated with unshakeable Canadian aplomb. Your experience in Canada will probably be better, however, if you don't overtax Canadians' admirable levels of tolerance.

      Remember that Canada is not the United States. Although the two countries share many common values and a similar way of life (most often called "North American culture" by Canadians), there are important differences. Canadians treasure these differences as an integral part of their identity, and it would be a mistake to brush them aside. Saying that Canada is "practically" part of the US will probably not win many Canadian friends.

      At the same time, Canada is not Britain. Canada's relationship to the UK has been mostly positive, but it is not a colony, and has not been for many decades. Like Australians, South Africans, and New Zealanders, Canadians have developed a separate culture based on their location and history-- not merely an outpost of Empire.

      Canada's status as a bilingual country is a source of pride and also a source of discomfort. Although it's not quite as hot a topic, it's probably similar to race in the United States as far as difficulty for discussions. Unless you're ready to start a heated argument, avoid discussions of Quebecois separatism or the respective rights of francophones and anglophones.

      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.

      Mobiles

      Cell phones are widely used, but due to Canada's large size and relatively sparse population, some rural areas in northern Canada have only analog service or no service at all, however most of northern Canada does. Providers generally use the CDMA/TDMA systems but some newtworks adopt the GSM technology. Even those, however, may not be compatible with phones from other countries, as they often operate in the 850Mhz frequency whereas European phones, for instance, are usually geared for the 1800/1900Mhz range. Some providers such as Fido and Rogers also work on the 1900Mhz frequency. Check ahead if you plan to buy a SIM card for your mobile in Canada.

      By net

      In cities, there are many ways to access the internet, including a number of terminals at most public libraries.

      By mail

      Of course, there is always the postal system. Although it is very reliable, it is not always speedy. Also, international parcel postal services can be costly.

      External links