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Introduction to Canada

Those expecting Canada to be a blander version of the USA should check their assumptions at the door. Canada's wild northern frontier, which has etched itself into the national psyche, and its distinct patchwork of peoples have created a country that is decidedly different from its brash neighbour.

It's the edginess between Canada's indigenous, French and British traditions that gives the nation its complex three-dimensional character. Add to this a constant infusion of US culture and a plethora of traditions brought by migrants, and you have a thriving multicultural society.

With its history, people, landscape and natural beauty, Canada offers an abundance of well-known cities, attractions, parks and regions that make for wonderful destinations whether you're looking for a trip that's educational, inspiring or just plain fun. But don't pass up a chance to explore the less-travelled areas, too - at the fringes of the inhabited world, great challenges, eye-opening experiences and hospitable people await.

Full country name: Canada

Area: 9.97 million sq km

Population: 31.82 million

Capital City: Ottawa

People: British descent, French descent, Italian descent, aboriginal peoples, plus significant minorities of Irish, German, Ukrainian, Dutch, Greek, Polish and Chinese descent

Language: English, French

Religion: Catholic (45%), Protestant (36%) and minorities from most of the world's major religions

Government: constitutional monarchy

GDP: US$1.02 trillion

GDP per capita: US$31,500

Annual Growth: 3%

Inflation: 3%

Major Industries: Processed and unprocessed minerals, food products, wood and paper products, transportation equipment, chemicals, fish products, petroleum and natural gas.

Major Trading Partners: USA, Japan, EU (UK, Germany, Netherlands), China and South Korea

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Most Western visitors don't need a visa to visit Canada for up to 180 days. Travellers from South Africa, China, North Korea, Taiwan, Eastern European and developing countries do require them. Entry stamps for visits of up to six months are free.

Health risks: Giardiasis (A parasitic infection of the small intestine. Symptoms may include nausea, bloating, cramps and diarrhea. To protect yourself from Giardia, avoid drinking directly from lakes, ponds, streams and rivers, which may be contaminated by animal or human feces. The infection can also be transmitted from person to person if proper hand washing is not performed. Giardiasis is easily diagnosed by a stool test and readily treated with antibiotics), rabies (A viral infection of the brain and spinal cord that is almost always fatal. The virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is typically transmitted through an animal bite, though contamination of any break in the skin with infected saliva may result in rabies. In Canada, most cases of human rabies are related to exposure to bats, but may also be contracted from raccoons, skunks, foxes and unvaccinated cats and dogs. If there is any possibility, however small, that you have been exposed to rabies, you should seek preventative treatment. In particular, any contact with a bat should be discussed with health authorities, because bats have small teeth which may not leave obvious bite marks), Lyme disease (Lyme Disease is a risk in wooded regions. Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks, which are only 1-2 mm long. Most cases occur in the late spring and summer. The first symptom is usually an expanding red rash that is often pale in the centre, known as a bull's eye rash. However, in many cases, no rash is observed. Flu-like symptoms are common, including fever, headache, joint pains, body aches, and malaise. When the infection is treated promptly with an appropriate antibiotic, usually doxycycline or amoxicillin, the cure rate is high. Luckily, since the tick must be attached for 36 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease, most cases can be prevented by performing a thorough tick check after you've been outdoors), (A virus transmitted by Culex mosquitoes, which are active in late summer and early fall and generally bite after dusk. Most infections are mild or asymptomatic, but the virus may infect the central nervous system leading to fever, headache, confusion, lethargy, coma and sometimes death. There is no treatment)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -7 (Mountain Standard Time), GMT/UTC -6 (Central Standard Time), GMT/UTC -5 (Eastern Standard Time), GMT/UTC -4 (Atlantic Standard Time), GMT/UTC -3.5 (Newfoundland Standard Time), GMT/UTC -8 (Pacific Standard Time)

Dialling Code: 1

Electricity: 110-120V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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The Quebec City Winter Carnival, which takes place during the last two weeks of February, features parades, ice sculptures, a snow slide, dances and music. Ottawa's three-week Winterlude fetes all things snowy in February. The Montreal Jazz Festival at the end of June and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival in July both attract international and local players. Two major events in Toronto are Caribana, held in August, which is a cultural exchange offering ethnic music, dance and food, and the Gay Pride Day Parade through the downtown area, which takes place in June. In September, there's the Toronto International Film Festival. Calgary hosts the popular Calgary Stampede in July, the highlight of which is the chuck wagon race and rodeo. In the west, Victoria celebrates the First Peoples' Festival in August with traditional craftwork, dancing and war-canoe rides.

Some public holidays are only celebrated regionally. They are: 3rd Monday in February - Family Day (Alberta); Monday nearest March 17 - St Patrick's Day (Newfoundland); Monday nearest April 23 - St George's Day (Newfoundland); June 24 - National Day (or St-Jean-Baptiste Day, Québec); Monday nearest June 24 - Discovery Day (Newfoundland); Monday nearest July 12 - Orangemen's Day (Newfoundland), and 3rd Monday in August - Discovery Day (Yukon).

Public Holidays

26 Dec - Boxing day

25 Dec - Christmas day

11 Nov - Remembrance Day

2nd Mon in Oct - Thanksgiving

1st Mon in Sep - Labour Day

1st Mon in Aug - Civic Holiday

1 Jul - Canada Day

Mar/Apr - Good Friday

1 Jan - New Year's Day

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Best time to Visit

Spring, summer and autumn are all ideal for touring, though if you want to ski you'll naturally have to come in winter or early spring. For campers and those who want to visit the far north, the summer months of July and August are best. Summer is also when many of the country's festivals take place. Note that the peak tourist season is between Victoria Day (late May) and Labour Day (early September). Although spring and autumn have fewer crowds, lower prices and a more relaxed pace than the summer months, some visitor-oriented facilities and attractions may be closed during these shoulder seasons.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Canadian Dollar


Budget: under 8

Mid-range: 9-20

High: 20-40

Deluxe: 40+


Budget: under-70

Mid-range: 70125

High: 125-175

Deluxe: 175+

Widely different income levels in Canada mean you can find accommodation, food and entertainment to suit any budget. In general the three northern territories are the costliest, followed by Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Québec and the Maritimes will put the least pressure on your wallet. For most visitors, the largest expense will be accommodation. Food prices are generally much lower than those in Western Europe, but are a little higher than those in the USA. If you stay in budget accommodation and eat in cafes, expect to spend around US$45 a day. If you stay in motels and eat at restaurants occasionally, you're looking at around US$80 a day.

A 7% Goods & Services Tax (GST) is applicable to all transport, accommodation, restaurant meals and just about anything else you're likely to purchase, including newspapers. On top of this, in most of Canada, a provincial sales tax also must be paid. This can, in some provinces, add 17% to the quoted price, so factor it into your expenses so you don't get a nasty surprise at the cash register.

You will find ATMs in many grocery stores, malls, airports and so on, and most are linked to the international networks, the most common being Cirrus, Plus, Star and Maestro. You can also grab cash from an ATM if you use a major credit card although this method tends to be more expensive because, in addition to a service fee, you'll be charged interest immediately.

Be aware that shops and businesses rarely accept personal cheques, but credit cards are widely accepted (except perhaps in remote, rural communities where cash is king). Still, you'll find it hard or impossible to rent a car, book a room or order tickets over the phone without having a piece of plastic.

It's considered normal to tip 10-15% of a restaurant bill. Tips are also usually given to waiters, cab drivers, hairdressers, hotel attendants and, by savvy drinkers, bar staff.

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Canada's capital bearhugs the southern bank of the Ottawa River, on Ontario's eastern tip. It's a government town, dominated physically and spiritually by the neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings. While not exactly excitement central, the air's clean, the streets are wide and the people are friendly.

The city has the usual plethora of impressive buildings common to capital cities: the Canadian War Museum, the Royal Canadian Mint, various grand old homes inhabited by ministers of state and a swag of museums to do justice to the country's icons: nature, aviation, science and technology, skiing and agriculture.


As the capital of Canada's smallest province, it's only fitting that Charlottetown comes across as an old, quiet country town. The issue of Canada's unity was first officially discussed here in 1864, and nowadays the tiny capital is known as the birthplace of Canadian confederation.

The pace is slow, the atmosphere still colonial, and the tree-lined Victorian streets are very easy on the eye. The oldest part of town is clustered around the waterfront area, with the usual renovated buildings and dollar-chasing recreation facilities.


Edmonton is the capital of Alberta, the most westerly of the prairie provinces. While Calgary milks the wild west image, Edmonton prefers to hit the headlines for housing the world's largest shopping and entertainment mall, but still enjoys an attractively wooded riverside setting.

The province's famed mineral legacy is explored in the Royal Alberta Museum, and there's also Canada's largest planetarium, unsurprisingly accompanied by an IMAX theatre. The gem south of the river is Old Strathcona, a residential area of gorgeous old buildings dating from 1891.


Perched on one of the world's largest natural harbours, fog-bound Halifax has gone from old-salt port to deluxe destination, with its historic areas gussied up into sleek tourist precincts. More and more travellers are setting course for Nova Scotia's capital.

Most of Halifax's attractions centre, unsurprisingly, around a maritime theme. The city was the base of rescue operations for the Titanic tragedy and so nabbed much of the highly sought-after flotsam. Its museums, historic warehouses and downtown area, and landmark fort all have a salty flavour.


Montréal's charm lies in its relaxed atmosphere rather than its star attractions. Nonetheless, this city of immigrants has managed to carve out a place for itself as Québec's economic and cultural centre. That it's friendly and easy to get around helps.

The old town of Montréal is a wonderful feast for the senses. The streets are filled with musicians, restaurants, groovy shops and squares. Grab an outside table, shut your eyes and take in the smells, sounds and general atmosphere of bonhomie.


The immense Northwest Territories were subdivided in 1999 to create Canada's newest territory, the eastern Arctic Inuit region of Nunavut. It's wild and isolated, stretching north above the tree line from Hudson Bay up to Ellesmere Island National Park, within spitting distance of the North Pole.

The provincial capital is Iqaluit, formerly called Frobisher Bay, on the east coast of Baffin Island. It's more a stopping-off and supply spot than an attraction in itself, though there are hiking trails in the vicinity. Most visitors pass through en route to Auyuittuq National Park, Canada's third largest national park, and one of only a few in the world north of the Arctic Circle. The pristine wilderness of mountains, valleys, fjords and meadows is a spectacular must for experienced hikers, and climbers flock to Mount Thor (1500m/4920ft), the tallest uninterrupted cliff face on earth.

Quebec City

Québec City is the rather European-flavoured capital of Québec province. The city is divided between an Old Town bristling with historic ramparts, churches, narrow lanes and former battlefields, and districts revamped with museums, cafes, bars, restaurants and all the other mod-cons of international tourism.

St John's

Newfoundland & Labrador's rugged island capital is St John's, North America's oldest city (1528). The hilly town is splendidly located on a series of terraces rising up from the waterfront - stairs are everywhere, leading to narrow, winding streets lined with multicoloured clapboard houses.

St John's has a quaint, homey feel, and reminders of its fishing village origins are never far away. Not coincidentally, the number of drinking establishments in town is huge. The extinct Beothuk tribe who once lived here and the Vikings who used to visit are explored at the provincal museum, housed within the Rooms complex.


Although the famous Niagara Falls are nearby, Toronto isn't a city with a checklist full of attractions. It's a city that grows on you slowly. Its summer festivals, the spicy corners of its markets, the beachfront boardwalks and the music pouring out of its neighbourhood eateries seduce you.

Toronto is an experiential city that reveals its secrets slowly. Apart from icons like the cloud-brushing CN tower, the best experiences you'll have in Toronto come from wandering through its ethnically-flavoured neighbourhoods, checking out Victorian architecture and quirky museums.


There aren't many cities in the world that offer Vancouver's combination of big-city lifestyle and outdoor fun in such cheek-by-jowl proximity. Ski in the morning, sail in the afternoon and still make it back to town in time for a cocktail or three.

Taking in some First Nations art and culture is a good way to begin a tour through Vancouver. Continue through its many green spaces, its countercultural and cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, and Gastown, the city's original settlement, now transformed into a gussied-up historical quarter.


Canada's wild west begins in the prairie province of Manitoba, and Winnipeg is its capital. But this culturally alive city is anything but provincial: with its US ambience and architecture, it's often compared to its grain-handling, transportation counterpart, Chicago.

The similarities don't end there, as Winnipeg is said to have the windiest downtown corner on the continent (steer clear of the Portage Ave and Main St intersection). Downtown is the place to head for the historic sites and museums, and there are 6000 years of history on show at The Forks National Historic Site.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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