Thirty-five million people live in this country of almost ten million km². Yes, there’s plenty of room for everybody in Canada, an amazingly diverse country with a variety of climates, rugged landscapes, great food and a strong emphasis on an outdoor life. You can lose yourself in mountaineering, off-road biking or snowboarding, or engage in a wide variety of watersports. This country crosses five time zones and is famously laid-back, with Canadians often keen to needle their southern neighbours in the United States over their way of life.
Although the natives are very laid-back, they still place heavy emphasis on tolerance, respect, social consciousness and equality. Many different cultures get along very nicely next to each other here. You don’t have to worry too much about offending the Canadians if you visit, but do remember to take your shoes off before you enter somebody’s house and try not to portray this country simply as an extension of their more forward-facing southern neighbour, if you can.
Certain parts of Canada have a great affinity with the French, most notably Québec. Religious beliefs are predominantly either Roman Catholic or some form of Christian.
When is the best time to visit? This depends on your plans upon arrival as Canada is a very different country in the summer as compared to the winter. Snow will cover almost the entire country for months on end during the winter, but in summer you can truly enjoy outdoor activities like mountain biking or climbing. It’s difficult to cite an average temperature for the country due to its enormous size and the influence of the northern snowmass on individual areas. For example, winters in Toronto range from -5° up to 8, with summers being much milder and typically up into the mid-20s.
The public transportation network within the big cities is very advanced. You will come across a plethora of buses, trains and taxis. Don’t expect these to run overnight, however, as many of them are based on the needs of the commuter. If you’re thinking about travelling between cities, there are a number of domestic airports, but if you’re very adventurous you could rent a car and see just how vast this nation is.
Australians do not need a visa for short stays, but they do need the newly implemented electronic travel authorisation before planning a trip. When they get there, they should remember that you need to be 18 or 19 years of age to drink alcohol, depending on the region. You should also budget for tipping as this is expected. It should be a minimum of 10% and up to 25% for the best service.
Driving takes place on the right-hand side of the road. You will need both a converter and an adapter for your electrical devices, as they run off only 120 V. The Australian dollar is almost at parity with the Canadian these days. Don’t forget that if you go to certain parts like Montréal, it would be an advantage to speak French.
Canadian Travel Experiences
In many respects, Canada is very much like Australia. Big pockets of civilisation are concentrated near the coastline, with a huge expanse of unpopulated land in the middle. The Canadian interior is also very untamed, but you’re more likely to see endless miles of pinewood forests here rather than scrub and outback.
Five big cities are world-famous and are significant attractions in their own right. Toronto is the best-known and is extremely cosmopolitan as a consequence. The skyline can match anything found in the US or Australia, there are a range of shopping malls with the best stores and deals and an enviable nightlife. However, you don’t have to go too far towards the suburbs to get the feel of a small town. This philosophy is even more pronounced in the capital, Ottawa. Here you are bound to make a lot of new friends and go away impressed by the classic Victorian architecture.
Vancouver is known as the gateway to the east for North Americans and has been called the most liveable city in the world. It has something of a European feel, architecturally, and natives love the nearby coastland dotted with some intriguing islands. Whether you love music, art or food, you’re going to be well catered for here.
Banff is “ski central” and is perched high in the Canadian Rockies. This is one of the most sophisticated winter sports towns you will ever find, with accommodations ranging from budget to luxurious for all tastes. Montréal is renowned for its culture and cuisine and has a great affinity with the French. Depending on where you go, this will be the first language spoken, especially if you savour some of the top-class restaurants and fashion boutiques to be found in the city.
The Canadian Rockies are equally as impressive as their more famous counterparts to the south. Straddling between British Columbia and Alberta, this huge mountain range has everything for the winter enthusiast. Whether you like climbing, skiing or hiking, or something at a slightly slower pace, the Rockies will step up to the plate. This is not to say that summer is a loss, however, as many Eastern Canadians choose to spend their holidays here playing golf, fishing or canoeing in the daytime and relaxing in one of many natural hot springs at night.
Niagara Falls is one of the top tourist destinations of all and is situated near to Toronto, on the border with the US. Three different cascades come together to make up this attraction, including Bridal Veil, American and Horseshoe Falls. It is estimated that this is the most prolific waterfall complex in the world and you’ll love the opportunity to get really close and personal by taking to the Maid of the Mists boat tour. The tourist town of the same name is nearby so you can get those obligatory mementos.
Regular visitors to Canada might advise you to take an all-inclusive adventure by sampling some truly authentic experiences. For example, you’ve got to get to know the native polar bear. All the work is done for you as a safari in Manitoba can deliver. Bungee jumping may have been invented in Canada and they boast some of the highest freefalls available. It is said that the rebound action at the most outrageous attraction is even higher than the original jumping height of most other bungee attractions in the States.
Dogsledding is another famous Canadian pastime. You can try your hand at this as well. See if you can hang on to those powerful dogs as they make off across the snowpack, presumably towards their dinner. If all this excitement isn’t enough for you, what about river rafting in the Rockies? Over the centuries, water has chipped away at rock formations to form two amazing canyons near to Banff, where you will be welcomed for your white-knuckle ride.
Way up north is the Yukon, the ultimate definition of wilderness. If Banff was too low-key for you, you need to head to Mount Logan, 6000 m above sea level. Once again, a wide variety of outdoor sports await, such as dogsledding, ice climbing or kayaking.
If you don’t want to venture too far away from Vancouver, you can visit one of the continent’s more popular skiing resorts. Whistler has two mountain ranges and a number of chalet style towns, with thousands of acres of ski pack and many vertical rises. You needn’t worry about inconsistent snowfall here, as the ski season is six months long.
All of this activity may have worked up a considerable appetite and Canada won’t disappoint you when it comes time to sitting around the dinner table. Beaver tails are not a part of the actual animal, but very tasty and resemble a donut. Poutine is made from cheese curd and chips and covered with gravy, with a peppery taste. You may need some tomato juice after that, made with clam broth, tomato and some spices, although some people prefer this to be a component of their evening cocktail instead.
The province of Québec is unique within Canada, both for its geography and its culture. Many people say that it is very similar to rural France in its demeanour, with rolling countryside and great architecture. The city of Québec itself is one of the oldest on the continent and is recognised as a world heritage site. It is a walled town, with plenty of narrow alleyways and amazing stone architecture. You don’t have to speak French to visit here, but the locals do like it if you make an attempt at their first language.
Many people are looking for bargains when they’re on holiday and it just so happens that the largest shopping complex on the continent is located here, the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta. It’s so big that it has its own amusement park, themepark, hotel and water attractions, complete with a full-sized wave generator. Give yourself plenty of time, though, as there are more than 800 stores to browse.
Many Australians may not be familiar with the sport of ice hockey, but it is a quintessential Canadian passion. The National Hockey League is most popular in the season and runs over the winter time. You might find it difficult to get tickets, as they are in high demand, but you can often join in the fun by watching the activity on large, outdoor screens in the big cities. If you want to really understand the game, try visiting the Hall of Fame in Toronto, where you could even try your hand at following the puck and scoring some points.
Staying Safe In Canada
If there’s ever such a thing as a safe place, perhaps Canada is it. Despite its size, it’s still famous for its easy-going inhabitants and people don’t seem to get on top of each other too much here. There may not be as many problems, threats or warnings as other countries, but there are still a few things to bear in mind if you’re going to have a great time.
Firstly, natural disasters can pop up from time to time. Much of Canada is covered by pine forest and in the summer fires can occasionally get out of hand, especially in the West. In the winter, however, excessive snowfall can sometimes lead to avalanches or winter storms. These can make driving treacherous, even though most highways are well treated and prepared. Be ready for delays due to incoming winter storms and always heed local warnings with regard to skiing in areas that could be dangerous.
Wind driven storms can pop up from time to time, although they are not as prevalent as you may find in the USA. Hurricanes have been known to impact coastal areas to the east in the autumn months, while tornadoes can be a threat in the spring and summer, when predominant weather patterns are changing. Thunderstorms are more likely and even these can be very destructive and lead to transportation delays across the summer months. Offshore earthquakes in the Pacific basin can present a threat to coastal communities in British Columbia and this area in general is very close to a major seismic fault, so this is worth bearing in mind.
When travelling in heavily populated areas, be aware of the threat of pickpockets. More organised criminals will sometimes target motor homes parked in rural areas, especially if they can see belongings through the window. Never leave your vehicle unlocked, either, as the police will also take a dim view of this and could present you with a fine.
Even though many areas of Canada are known to be very laid-back, remember that recreational marijuana use is still illegal. Also, be careful not to have one too many and take to the road. Canadians have a very harsh view of this. If you’re convicted of one offence, you won’t be able to visit Canada again in the future.
Always be careful when visiting Canada in the winter, as temperatures can be exceptionally cold, especially if you’re used to the temperate conditions in southern Australia. Be on the lookout for signs of hypothermia and always dress in layers.
Finally, use the same type of commonsense in Canada as you would if you were driving in rural Australia. Road conditions can vary and weather can draw in at any moment. Be prepared by carrying warm clothing, food and water and try and stick to known routes if possible in case you get lost.