Moraine Lake
photo by Satoru Kikuchi

Canada is the second largest country in the world and the largest in North America. Renowned worldwide for its vast, untouched landscape and its unique culture, Canada is a major tourist destination and one of the world's wealthiest countries.


Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, it resembles its neighbour to the south, the United States, although there are significant differences between the two countries. 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, and even history can 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. 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.

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.

  • GMT-8 Pacific Time (Yukon, British Columbia)

  • GMT-7 Mountain Time (Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut)

  • GMT-6 Central Time (Saskatchewan, Manitoba)

  • GMT-5 Eastern Time (Ontario, Quebec)

  • GMT-4 Atlantic Time (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island)

  • GMT-3.5 Newfoundland Time (Newfoundland and Labrador)


Canada's official measurement is metric, however many people (especially those 40 and over) will still use the imperial system for many things. One of the most common holdovers from the imperial system is the use of feet and inches for measurement of distances and heights, and you will still hear older Canadians use the term 'mile' when referring to informal distances, and may also give temperatures in fahrenheit. All weather forcasts will be in °C.

Trying to distill the climate of Canada into an easy-to-understand statement is impossible, given the vast area that this country occupies. Much of southern Ontario has a climate similar to the northeastern United States. On the other hand, 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 (Edmonton and Calgary being the only major cities that aren't), visitors to most cities will most likely 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 35°C (95°F) are not unusual in extreme Southern Ontario and the southern Interior of British Columbia, with Osoyoos being 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 (British Columbian) 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 -20°C (14°F) are not uncommon.

The climate in Canada also depends 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 that can easily exceed 35°C (95°F), yet experiences very cold winters where temperatures around -40°C (-40°F) are not uncommon. The hottest temperature in Canadian ever recorded was in southern Saskatchewan, at 45°C (113°F). Conversely, southern coastal cities in British Columbia are generally milder year-round and get 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. It is also popular with the highest tourists. 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).


In addition to most western holidays (Christmas, New Year's, Good Friday, Easter, Labour Day), Canada has the following national holidays that aren't celebrated elsewhere:

  • Canada Day—July 1

  • Victoria Day—Last Monday in May before May 24

  • Thanksgiving—Second Monday in October

  • Remembrance Day—November 11


  • There are five main parties on the country's political spectrum: the Conservative Party (right of centre), the Liberal Party (centrist), the New Democratic Party (left of centre), the Bloc Quebecois (a party that promotes separation of Quebec from Canada - rather disliked outside of rural Quebec), and the Green Party (environmentally oriented).

  • The Conservative Party currently holds more seats than any other party in the House of Commons, and therefore forms the government.

  • Since the Conservative Party does not hold the majority of seats (which would be 50% + 1 or 155 of 308 seats), it has formed what is known as a minority government. This means it needs the support of at least one other party to pass legislation.

  • Since the current government is a minority government, it can be defeated in a "vote of non-confidence" in the House of Commons, which would result in a country-wide general election. It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented for a minority government to last its full term of 5 years, so don't be surprised if you arrive in Canada in the midst of a general election campaign.

  • The current Prime Minister is Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party who represents the south-western portion of Calgary in the House of Commons.

  • The Official Opposition is the Liberal Party, which holds the seconded highest number of seats.

  • The Leader of the Opposition is Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party who represents part of Toronto in Parliament.

  • The last federal election was October 2008.

Each province and territory also has its own legislative assembly. These are also Westminster style legislatures, which elect their own Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs), also known as Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in some provinces. A peculiarity is the 3 territories' legislative assemblies which do not use the political party system.


Canada's official measurement is metric, however many people (especially those 40 and over) will still use the imperial system for many things. One of the most common holdovers from the imperial system is the use of feet and inches for measurement of distances and heights, and you will still hear older Canadians use the term 'mile' when referring to informal distances, and may also give temperatures in fahrenheit. All weather forcasts will be in °C.

Trying to distill the climate of Canada into an easy-to-understand statement is impossible, given the vast area that this country occupies. Much of southern Ontario has a climate similar to the northeastern United States. On the other hand, 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 (Edmonton and Calgary being the only major cities that aren't), visitors to most cities will most likely 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 35°C (95°F) are not unusual in extreme Southern Ontario and the southern Interior of British Columbia, with Osoyoos being 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 (British Columbian) 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 -20°C (14°F) are not uncommon.

The climate in Canada also depends 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 that can easily exceed 35°C (95°F), yet experiences very cold winters where temperatures around -40°C (-40°F) are not uncommon. The hottest temperature in Canadian ever recorded was in southern Saskatchewan, at 45°C (113°F). Conversely, southern coastal cities in British Columbia are generally milder year-round and get 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. It is also popular with the highest tourists. 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).

Getting there

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 may be inadmissible to Canada, and should make enquiries prior to your trip. If you have a conviction over 5 years old then you can apply for 'rehabilitation' approval in advance. The government of Canada maintains an informative website for non-Canadians wishing to travel to Canada .

Citizens of following countries do not need a visa to visit Canada: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Brunei, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, 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

If you are travelling to Canada from the United States and you are not a permanent resident of either country you need to be careful to satisfy the U.S. authorities on any subsequent trip that you have not exceeded their limits on stays in North America. Your time in Canada counts towards your maximum allowed United States stay if you are returning to the U.S. prior to your departure from North America.

  • If you are returning to the US in this trip, keep your visa documents. Do not hand over your US visa or visa waiver card (I-94 or I-94W) to border control. You can enter the US multiple times during the time allocated to your visa (for Western tourists, normally 90 days), but you need to have the immigration document as well to validate the visa. If you come back from the US without that document, you will not only have to apply again for a visa or visa waiver but also will also need to satisfy U.S. immigration of the validity of your trip.

  • If your default US time is going to run out while you are in Canada, and you want to return to the US direct from Canada, you need to apply for a US visa with a longer time period (eg B-1/B-2, or a C-1 transit visa) before your first trip through the US. For example, if you are going to stay in Canada for six months, and you transit through the US on a visa waiver, then the US will regard your six months in Canada as not allowing you to return to the US without leaving North America first, as you have stayed more than 90 days in North America in total. Note that in this scenario, you have not done anything wrong by visiting the US and then staying in Canada for a long time, simply that the US will not allow you to return directly from Canada, you have to reset their clock by leaving North America. Visa waiver travelers may be able to avoid this by returning their I-94W (green) form to their airline upon departing the United States; since the US has no outbound immigration check, it's up to the traveler to remember this.

  • If you are intending to leave North America entirely without returning to the United States on this trip, return any visa documents at the time of leaving the US for Canada. If you do not, you will need to prove to the United States that you didn't overstay in order to be admitted on future trips.

By plane

You are likely to arrive to Canada by air, most likely into Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver (the 3 largest cities, from East to West). Many other cities have international airports as well, with the following being of particular use to visitors: Halifax, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, Cranbrook, and Victoria.

Air Canada , WestJet and Air Transat are the country's only national air carriers, covering the entire country and international destinations (Note that a number of regional domestic airlines also exist).

As a rule of thumb, all Canadian three-letter IATA airport codes start with a "Y".

By car

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 $500,000) 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, Vancouver or Toronto keep in mind that these cities are densely populated and parking can be difficult to find and/or expensive. All three cities provide extensive public transit, so it is easy to park in a central location, or at your hotel or lodging, and still travel in the metropolitan area.

By train

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 an inexpensive way to get into Canada, with tickets starting from as low as US$43 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

By bus

Greyhound Canada serves many destinations in Canada, with connecting service to regional lines and U.S. Greyhound coaches. Be sure to inquire about discounts and travel packages that allow for frequent stops as you travel across Canada. Many routes connect major Canadian and American cities including Montreal - New York City which is operated by New York Trailways , Vancouver - Seattle operated by Greyhound and Toronto - New York City via Buffalo, this route in particular is operated by a number of bus companies: Greyhound, Coach Canada , New York Trailways and two new discount services: Megabus and Ne-On .

By boat

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.

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.

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.

Several cruise lines run cruises between the eastern United States and Halifax. Most freight routes run to Montreal on the east coast and Vancouver on the west coast. International passengers will be required to pass through customs in their port of arrival.

Traveling around

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. In fact, St. John's, Newfoundland is geographically closer to London, England than it is to Vancouver.

By plane

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. Most major airports (with the exception of Edmonton) are served by public transit. This consists of feeder buses running at peak frequencies ranging from every five minutes or less (Toronto, Winnipeg) to hourly (Ottawa). Service may be spotty or nonexistent late at night or on weekends if you are outside the three major centres of Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver. To travel to the city centre/downtown, one or more connections are required in all cities except Vancouver and Winnipeg, making a taxi or shuttle a better idea for large groups or those with a lot of luggage.

By bus

Travel by intercity coach is available between most major cities in Canada. Service is best in the densely packed Windsor - Quebec City corridor which includes the major cities of Toronto and Montreal as well as the national capital, Ottawa. Service in this corridor is provided by a number of companies, chief among them being: Coach Canada whose main route is the heavily used Toronto - Montreal route, Greyhound who runs the Toronto - Ottawa route, the Montreal - Ottawa route and routes between Toronto and southwestern Ontario and Orleans Express who runs the Montreal - Quebec City route using modern, leather-upholstered coaches with North American and European electrical sockets at every seat. To the west of this corridor most routes are operated by Greyhound and to the east routes are operated by Acadian a subsidiary of Orleans Express. In Canada, only one company is given a license to run a particular route, as a result there is little to no competition among providers and fares can be unusually high and can be raised without notice. Routes in the prairies can be extremely long, some of them taking several days; as a result, passengers should be sure they will be able to bear sitting in a seat for 48 or more hours with only rare stops for food and toilet breaks. Despite a recent violent murder on a bus in the prairies, intercity buses in Canada are generally very safe, however travelers should be aware of their belongings at all times and make sure that their valuables are on their person if they intend to sleep. In contrast to the United States, most Canadian bus stations are not owned or run by the coach companies serving them, they are generally run by the municipal government or, in the case of Montreal and Ottawa, a separate third-party corporation. Also unlike the United States, bus stations in Canada are not generally in the worst parts of the city, in fact, in Toronto, the bus station is located between a major theatre and shopping district and a neighbourhood full of large, wealthy, research-intensive hospitals.

By car

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, there are many limitations and drawbacks on car rentals in canada. To name a few of them:

  • there can be very high surcharges associated with dropping off the car at a different location than where it was picked up.

  • Unlimited km are usually offered for the province you rent it in only, as soon as you enter another province, even for a few km, your entire trip gets limited (mostly to 200km a day).

  • Driving is usually permitted on paved roads only.

  • There are no manual transmission rental cars available in Canada. Don't bother searching.

Basically said, if you really want to get around in Canada it is best to have or buy your own car.

In Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, public transit is a strongly recommended alternative to driving.

Gas prices are (09/2009) in the range of C$0.75-C$0.90 per litre (US$2.30-US$2.75 per gallon) in most urbanized areas in the country, but that is typical and usually goes up in March, just in time for summer driving season. Year round, prices tend to be about 50% higher than those in the U.S. after converting litres into gallons and the currency exchange rate.

Be aware that in some provinces such as Ontario, highways may be owned by private corporations as opposed to the government. These highways are typically toll highways, and are expensive to use - sometimes upwards of C$14.50 for one use. It would be advisable to investigate the highways along your route to determine which are toll routes and which are not.

Of particular note is highway 407/ETR (Express Toll Route) in Ontario, which circles around the northern flank of Toronto. The 407 is an electronic toll road, in that tolls are billed to the vehicle's owner based on license plate number, or transponder account. Be sure to check your rental agencies' policy regarding use of this road as some firms have been known to add fees and surcharges that can easily double or triple the original toll.

Many jurisdictions also have red light cameras that issue fines via mail to the car's registered owner, again via license plate when the car is automatically photographed running (disobeying) a red traffic light. The above warning regarding rental agency policies applies to these as well. Your best bet to avoid this nasty surprise is to simply not run any red lights.


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

  • In the province of Quebec, roadsigns are written solely in French.

  • Canadians drive on the right of the road.

  • Some major streets in several of Canada's larger cities contain lanes known as "Diamond Lanes". Their uses vary from place to place, however, they are generally reserved for local buses and sometimes taxis and/or bicycles. These lanes will nearly always be the right lane, and other vehicles are not allowed to travel in them. However, they may use them to turn at the next intersection. There will usually be a sign indicating which vehicles are allowed to the Diamond lanes and when, but if there is no sign it is generally best to stay out of the lane as fines for misuse can be hefty.

  • Canadians use the metric system for measurements (hence speed is quoted in kilometres per hour, and distances in kilometres). Inches, feet and pounds are understood and are mostly used as figures of speech. Use of other imperial measurements are uncommon.

  • In many areas of Canada (with the exception of Montreal) it is legal to turn right (after stopping) on a red light, so be careful when crossing the street on foot.

  • Many secondary (less busy) intersections that are four (or three) way stops have no traffic lights, but have stop signs instead. You must bring your car to a complete stop and let everyone that stopped before you go first. If two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, the car to the right has precedence.

  • In Canada, you must always yield to a police car, fire truck, or ambulance when their emergency lights are flashing - if they are approaching from behind, you must pull to the right and stop. In many jurisdictions, motorists are also required to slow down and move into a non-adjacent lane when passing a stopped emergency vehicle. In rural Ontario, private vehicles displaying flashing green lights are being operated by volunteer firefighters and medical first responders on their way to calls. While there is no legal requirement to pull to the right and stop, as with emergency vehicles, doing so for those displaying green flashers is considered to be both courteous and 'common sense'.

  • It is illegal to park in front of a fire hydrant.

  • In many cities across Canada, laws against jaywalking are often more strictly enforced by police and by law officers. However, jaywalking is incredibly common, and one shouldn't worry too much about getting in trouble for it.

  • Beware: In British Columbia, a (slow) flashing green light means the traffic light is green (you can go) but it is controlled by the pedestrian. The light will remain flashing green until a pedestrian pushes the button to cross the street. When you see a flashing green light, traffic coming towards you will also see a flashing green light. In Ontario, Québec and Nova Scotia, a (fast) flashing green light indicates advanced turn, signaling the driver can make a left hand turn across oncoming traffic because oncoming traffic has a red light.

  • At crosswalks and corners, the pedestrian has the right of way. If you are a driver, there are often hefty fines for not giving them this right of way. If you are a pedestrian, though, don't always expect people to stop for you. This law is not as widely respected or enforced in Toronto, Quebec City, and Windsor (Canadian city bordering Detroit) as it is in other regions of Canada.

  • Some provinces have drink-drive limits of 0.05%. The national Criminal Code limit is 0.08% - a foreign national exceeding this can expect to be deported.

  • During winter, a flashing blue light usually identifies a snow removal vehicle (e.g. snowplough) and drivers should stay far back when following. Snow removal vehicals in the four western provinces use amber, orange, or red lights. While it is legal to pass one of these vehicles, it may be safer to stay behind and travel on the cleared road.

  • In certain provinces of the country, the fines for using a mobile handset while driving can be very steep. Using them while stopped is prohibited as well. The only time it is legal is to dial emergency services.

By train

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. See also: Rail travel in Canada

By thumb

Canada is a great place for hitchhiking, and is still quite common among younger travellers strapped for cash, or seeking adventure. It's most common in the far western provinces, where there are generally more travellers. Hitch hiking in the urban areas of Southern Ontario, and Montreal is not a sure thing as many drivers will not pick up hitch hikers in these regions.

As anywhere in the world, use your common sense when taking a ride.

By ride sharing

Ride sharing is increasing in Canada, as well as the United States, due in large part to the internet website and dedicated ridesharing sites such as and . This method of transport works best between major centers, for example Toronto-Montreal or Vancouver-Calgary. Generally anything along the Trans-Canada Highway corridor (Victoria, Vancouver, Banff, Canmore, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, St Johns, Halifax, PEI) should be no problem if your dates are flexible.

Some tourist destinations, especially those popular with young people, can be accessed via rideshare as well, for example: Vancouver-Whistler or Calgary-Banff. People sharing a ride will usually be expected to pay for their fair share of the fuel cost, and may also be asked to do some of the driving on long hauls.

For best results be sure to post a request listing, and start checking for offer listings at least one week prior to your anticipated ride date. Backpacker's hostel notice boards are also a good resource for ride sharing.

Like hitchhiking, some common sense and discretion is advisable.


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 maple syrup, 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, a meat pie dish that dates back to the founding of Quebec in the 1600s, 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, a dish consisting of French fries, cheese curds and gravy (its popularity has spread across the country and can be found from coast to coast), 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, visit the Chinatown area of Spadina-Dundas; if north of the city, consider a visit to the Markham area, which has recently seen an influx of newer Chinese immigrants.

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.

National franchises

You will find that many American chains have a well-established presence here.

Canadian chains include:

  • Tim Hortons franchises are spread across the country. Started by a hockey player as a chain of doughnut shops, their coffee has become an obsession for many Canadians. A common joke holds that if a Tim Hortons was placed on every corner of every street, there would still be a lineup out the door. Even though coffee is what they are famous for, their menu is worth considering, especially if you're tired of hamburgers and deep fried items. Tim Hortons is so popular that visitors from other countries are often shocked and amused by the Tim Hortons franchises (and coffee cups) found nearly everywhere. You will probably find it very hard to avoid a Tim Hortons while in Canada, however they are somewhat less prevalent in the west. Order a 'double double' if you want your coffee sweet and creamy.

  • Boston Pizza was founded in Edmonton, Alberta. Pizza and Pasta. Casual family dining. BP's lounges are usually a popular local watering hole.

  • Earls is a chain of casual full service restaurants found only in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (although there are also two locations in the western United States). Like Boston Pizza, it also opened its first restaurant in Edmonton.

  • Harvey's is a fast food chain, common in Ontario and found in almost every province, that features made-to-order hamburgers and other sandwiches.

  • East Side Marios are American Italian restaurants with a New York theme.

  • Swiss Chalet sit down restaurants are operated by the same company that runs Harvey's. They specialize in rotisserie chicken and ribs.

  • The Keg steak houses, usually with tables and booths for 4-6 people. Apart from the steaks they also have good salads and starters. The Keg Mansion in Toronto is worth a visit.

  • Kelsey's provides casual family dining, very similar to Applebees or T.G.I. Friday's in the United States.

  • Lick's Homeburgers & Ice Cream is a restaurant chain famous for its fresh, thick, juicy burgers, which are called "homeburgers".

  • Second Cup serves coffee and cakes. This chain is very similar to Starbucks, in terms of atmosphere and product offerings.

  • Timothy's World Coffee (a.k.a. Timothy's) is the third-largest Canadian-owned chain of cafés, behind Tim Hortons and Second Cup.

  • mmmuffins is a coffee, muffin and doughnut retailer. Currently owned and operated by Timothy's World Coffee Inc. as an independent brand.

  • Country Style is a chain of coffee shops operating in Ontario, which serves donuts, soups, sandwiches, salads, and coffee.

  • Coffee Time is a chain of fast-serve doughnut restaurants. The company claims to be the main competitor of Tim Hortons chain in the Greater Toronto Area.

  • White Spot offers burgers, pasta, and "west coast style" cuisine, but only in British Columbia and some locations in Alberta.

  • Montana's is a family oriented, outdoor wilderness themed restaurant. Montana's promises hearty portions of home-style cooking and friendly, efficient service in a lodge setting.

  • Lone Star Texas Grill , started by a Texan who played pro football with the Ottawa Roughriders, offers Tex-Mex food and now has locations in Toronto, Ottawa, Etobicoke, Kingston, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Sault St. Marie, Halifax, and Moncton. Lone Star is famous for fajitas served on a sizzlin' skillet and makes fresh homemade tortillas throughout the day. The menu also offers other Tex-Mex classics and American favourites.

  • Mary Brown's can be found in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Nunavut in addition to Newfoundland, where they can be found in nearly every community. Offering unique chicken and famous for its taters, it would be considered a fast-food restaurant. "Mary Brown's got the best legs in town"

  • Humpty's specializes in its all day breakfasts but also serves dishes for lunch and dinner as well, and is one of the few chain restaurants to feature pirogies. Mostly in Alberta, but also some locations in the other 3 western provinces; many are open until after midnight, some 24 hours.

  • St-Hubert is a French-Canadian restaurant with a cuisine similar to that of Swiss Chalet, popular for its roasted chicken and coleslaw. It has many locations throughout Quebec, and a small number of locations in Ontario and New Brunswick. You can also buy their sauce mixes in some grocery stores.

  • Jimmy the Greek is a quick service restaurant franchise serving Greek cuisine which has 37 locations in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.

  • La Belle Province is one of the most popular fast-food restaurants in Québec, especially among teenagers and young adults. They serve cheap hot-dogs, hamburgers, poutine etc...

  • A&W Found all over Canada; although unrelated to the American A&W, many menu items are similar if not identical. It's targeted mostly to the boomer demographic, and as such has offerings of an arguably higher quality than most American chains, but prices can approach those of cheaper sit-down restaurants, with a combo meal (a "trio" in Québec) usually setting one back no less than $7.

  • Mr. Sub is a submarine sandwich store chain.

  • New York Fries is a fast food restaurant that mainly serves french fries and hot dogs. There are locations in all ten provinces throughout Canada.

  • Pizza Pizza is a chain of pizza restaurants mainly located in the province of Ontario. Other locations operate in western Quebec, in western Canada (chiefly Alberta) under the name "Pizza 73", and in non-traditional locations such as university campuses and movie theatres throughout Canada. It has over 500 locations, including over 150 non-traditional locations. Pizza Pizza is well-known in Toronto for it's phone number, 967-11-11, which most Torontonians have memorized.

  • Yogen Fruz is a leading frozen yogurt chain featuring Probiotic frozen yogurt, which was founded in Canada in 1986. Yogen Fruz is a staple in malls all over Canada.

  • Cora's started in Quebec, and is expanding across the country. Cora's serves only breakfast and lunch. If you want a hearty, North American style breakfast that makes you feel that you started your day right, Cora's is the place to go.

  • Reginos Pizza A small but emerging pizza chain located in the Greater Toronto Area.


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. Prices may seem high to Americans from certain states, bringing alcohol in to Canada (up to 1l of hard liquor, 1.5l of wine, or a 24 pack of beer), is advisable. American cigarettes are also quite popular to bring in as they are not sold in Canada.

Canadian adults enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages quite often. Watching sports, especially hockey, is a popular time to consume these type of drinks.


Canadian mass-market beers (e.g., Molson's, Labatt's) are generally a pale gold lager, with an alcohol content 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 (although Americans will notice that there are beers made by these companies that are not sold in the States), however, Canadian 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 flavours 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.


The two largest wine-producing regions in Canada are the Niagara Region in Ontario and the Okanagan in British Columbia. Other wine-producing areas include the shores of Lake Erie and Prince Edward County in Ontario, and the Similkameen valley, southern Fraser River valley, southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. There are also small scale productions of wine in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia. Canada has a history of producing mostly utterly terrible wines. This has changed over the past few decades; there are now a few that are very good.

Ice wine, a (very) sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes is a Canadian specialty, with products made by Inniskillin vinery in particular found at airport duty-free stores around the world. In contrast to most other wine-producing regions in the world, Canada, particularly the Niagara Region, consistently undergoes freezing in winter and has become the world's largest ice wine producer. However, due to the tiny yields (5-10% compared to normal wine) it's relatively expensive, with half-bottles (375 ml) starting at $50. It is worth noting that Canadian Ice Wine is somewhat sweeter than German variety.

Distilled spirits

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 flavour but is based on corn whiskey (bourbon) rather than rye.

Other beverages

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. Furthermore, while tap water contains fluoride (a natural chemical that strengthens enamel), bottled water does not. Tap water is actually more beneficial to drink than its bottled counterpart.

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, Timothy's, mmmuffins (currently owned by Timothy's Coffees of the World but operated under original trade name), Country Style, Coffee Time. Tea is available in most coffeeshops, with most shops carrying at least half dozen varieties (black, green, mint, etc.)


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. If inquiring always ask if taxes are included, because some offer it with taxes included, some not.

Hotels play an integral part of Canadian history, with some of the country's most well known landmarks being hotels. The Canadian Railway Hotels are a series of grand hotels that were construced in major cities (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, St. John's and Halifax) in the early 1900s. Most of these are still standing and owned by corporations such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. The Grand Railway Hotels are all four star franchises, with prices ranging from C$150-C$400 a night depending on the city and the size of the room. These hotels are architecturally stunning and sumptously decorated, and in addition to being exceptional places to stay, are tourist attractions in their own right. Even if you are not staying in a Grand Railway hotel, it would be more than worth it to explore the main lobby or dine at the hotel restaurant.

In rural areas, motels (short for "motor hotel") are small, simple hotels where you might pay as little as $40-$60 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. Try for listings.

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 ($20-$40) or private rooms ($45-$80). Some useful resources are Hostelling International Canada , Backpackers Hostels Canada , SameSun Backpacker Lodges and Pacific Hostel Network (which also covers Alaska and the Northwestern United States). Most hostels in Canada meet very high standards.

Some universities will rent their dormitory ( more commonly called "residence" or "rez") rooms in the academic off season -May- August. Check university websites for more information.

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's currency is the Canadian dollar (symbol: $ proper abbreviation is CAD), commonly referred to simply as a "dollar", or "buck" (slang). One dollar ($) consists of 100 cents (¢). In the 1970s, the Canadian dollar was worth more than the US dollar, but it slipped to about 66 cents US by the mid-1990s. Currency traders made jokes about the "Hudson's Bay Peso". In late 2007, with the US dollar falling against most major currencies worldwide, the Canadian dollar was briefly worth slightly more than the US Dollar again. As of October 2009, it is down to about 96 US cents.

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.

In comparison to the United States, Canada tends to be more expensive with some things costing almost double as to what they would in the United States. Be aware that Canada sells fuel (gasoline, diesel, etc.) in liters, as opposed to gallons. However, as of August 2009, many of the goods on sale in Canada have a price equivalent to that of the United States when the exchange rate is taken into account. American prices have surged due to the world economic crisis, and most US products are far more expensive than they were a year ago. A sweater on sale in the United States that costs US$40 will typically be valued at C$50, which is approximately the same. When you factor in cross border duties and taxes, the sweater will actually be cheaper in Canada. While many Canadians are under the impression that shopping south of the border is less expensive, as of late, it has been cheaper to shop in Canada.


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. Some large retail stores will offer you a discount if you can prove to them that one of their competitors is selling the same product for a lower price. 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.

Currency exchange

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.

Many business across Canada accepts US Currency based on their own exchange rate for general purchases. Bills are taken with the exchange rate but coins are taken one to one (that means, CAN 1.00 = USD 1.00 in pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, loonies and toonies only), almost all automatic vending machines will reject US coins.

Credit cards

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. Discover is usually accepted at places geared towards Americans such as hotels and car rental agencies. 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.

Electronic banking/purchasing

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, and many Canadians rarely use cash at all, prefering electronic forms of payment. Other ATM networks, including PLUS are widely supported and will be indicated on the ATM screen.


No more GST rebates

Until 2007, travellers to Canada could claim back their GST on leaving the country, but this is no longer possible.

Be aware that (in contrast to other countries where what you see is what you pay and so called "hidden costs" are forbidden by law) you will almost always pay more than the prices displayed. They usually exclude sales tax and any number of very inventive extras and/or more or less mandatory tips. So don't get your dollar ready when you to the cashier in a thrift shop, because he will ask you for 1.12 ...

Taxes will be added on top of the displayed price at the cashier. Exceptions where the displayed price includes all applicable taxes are gasoline (the amount you pay is as it appears on the pump), parking fees, liquor bought from liquor stores, and medical services such as eye exams or dentistry.

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:

  • Alberta - no PST, GST total only (5% total)

  • British Columbia - adds 7% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (12% total)

  • Manitoba - adds 7% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (12% total)

  • New Brunswick - adds 13% to the total taxable purchases as the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) (13% total)

  • Newfoundland and Labrador - adds 13% to the total taxable purchases as the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) (13% total)

  • Northwest Territories - no PST, GST total only (5% total)

  • Nova Scotia - adds 13% to the total taxable purchases as the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) (13% total)

  • Nunavut - no PST, GST total only (5% total)

  • Ontario - adds 8% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (13% total)

  • Prince Edward Island - adds 10% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (15% total)

  • Quebec - adds 7.5% to the total of taxable purchases and the GST - the GST is taxed (12.875% total)

  • Saskatchewan - adds 5% to the total taxable purchases plus the GST total (10% total)

  • Yukon - no PST, GST total only (5% total)

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 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:

  • the national capital region around Ottawa,

  • some parts of eastern and northern Ontario,

  • the city of Winnipeg and areas to the south,

  • many parts of the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada, scattered across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the French Shores of Newfoundland). Likewise, there are anglophone communities in Québec, such as some of the western suburbs of Montreal.

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.

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 or use 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 or French 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.

Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are home to large Chinese migrant populations, and Cantonese is commonly spoken in the Chinatowns in these cities.

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


As emphasized in many places Canada is a multicultural country - as such the paramount point of respect to embrace this attitude as much as possible. Outward displays of racism, sexism, or homophobia will be met with hostility. Even slight preferences may be noticed and noted.

Of equal importance is to avoid assuming positions or cultures based on identifiable signs. For example the Chinese girl you might meet may speak no word of Chinese and have never been anywhere near China. This point is especially true for individuals from areas with ethnic strife - don't assume that anyone you meet is either personally connected to, or shares the viewpoints of their ethnic-origin Nation.

Beyond that be aware of the complicated Canadian-American relationship. Canadians can wax and wane about the US for hours but rarely invite opinions, or comparisons to the US. Equal to that is references to British or French relationships as those are either in decline or rife with potential faux pas.

Be aware of politics - there is a large degree of Regionalism in Canada, and the learning curve is steep when you attempt to explore these differences. Along with this regionalism is a question of Quebec and it's distinct society

Finally First Nations Canadians are generally among the poorest in Canada, both as a legacy of the Residential School System and general maltreatment. For both Natives and Canadians this is a painful subject and you would well advised to avoid discussions on it.

Gay and lesbian travelers

Canada is very open to all forms of LGBT travelers, indeed Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are all famed for their LGBT communities. Outside these three Metropolitan areas, open displays of affection shouldn't generally present a problem despite a more conservative outlook. However certain rural areas may be more problematic; as always use your discretion. Human Rights Codes protect against discrimination in all areas; including accommodation, access to health care and employment - should you encounter any negative responses, especially violent or threatening episodes immediately phone the police and they will be glad to help you.

Stay healthy

You are unlikely to face health problems here that you wouldn't face in any other western industrialized country (despite claims of long waiting lists and inferior care, which often varies by hospital and is usually exaggerated). Furthermore, the health care system is one of the best on the planet, and 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 several diseases like whooping cough, measles, and tuberculosis are common in rural and inner city Canada. Visitors should note that, while Canada has free health care for residents, health care is not free for visitors, therefore it is important to make sure you are covered by your insurance while traveling in Canada. It should also be noted that, while large hospitals in major cities can be very good, hospitals in mid-sized cities without a large medical school tend to be chronically underfunded and understaffed, hospitals in working class neighbourhoods of large cities tend to suffer from the same problems.

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.

Food preparation

Canada has quite high standards for restaurant and grocer cleanliness and such if there is a problem with the food you have bought then talk with the manager to report it. You will usually be compensated for the meal, and many managers appreciate patrons who are willing to come forth as opposed to staying silent about it (as long as you aren't rude). Getting sick from contaminated food is unlikely.

Medical Tourism

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. 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 colourful Montreal, or, other activities.


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. Drug-related crimes also happen. Street battles between gangs happen rarely. Even though major urban areas are experiencing higher than average rates it should be noted that these rates still remain extremely low compared to similar sized urban areas in the United States and the rest of the world (though violent crime rates may be higher than western European cities).


Police in Canada are usually hardworking, trustworthy individuals. If you ever encounter any problems during your stay, even if it's as simple as being lost, approaching a police officer is a good idea. There are three types of police forces in Canada: federal, provincial and municipal. The federal police force is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or "Mounties"), with a widespread presence in all parts of the country other than Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland & Labrador, which maintain their own provincial police forces. These are the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Surete du Quebec and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulatory. All the other provinces and territories contract their provincial duties to the RCMP. Cities, towns and regions often have their own police forces, with the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal forces being three of the largest. All three types of police forces can enforce any type of law, be it federal, provincial or municipal. Their jurisdiction overlaps, with the RCMP being able to arrest within the confines of Ontario, the OPP being able to arrest within Toronto, etc.

Snatching of Luggage

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.

Winter storms

Canada is very prone to winter storms (including ice storms and blizzards). In Eastern Canada, they are the most likely, but the occasional small one will pop up west of NW Ontario. Driving is all right so long as you are slow, consious of other drivers, and paying attention but if you can, take transit. It's best to carry an emergency kit, in case you have no choice but to spend the night stuck in snow on the highway (yes, this does happen occasionally, especially in more isolated areas).

If you are touring on foot, it is best to bundle up as much as possible; winter storms can bring with them extreme winds alongside frigid temperatures and frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes.


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, Border Services Officers, Wildlife Officers in most provinces, Sheriff's Officers in some provinces, private security guards who transport money 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.


If you are anywhere east of eastern Ontario, you should be fine from forest fires. Forest fires usually occur in summer in the western Provinces, NW Ontario and some parts of the north. Always check the news for info on forest fires and if you must go through them, be very cautious. A lot of times the roads will be closed off. They are extremely unlikely in major cities, but in smaller places, be prepared for evacuation.

Fires in British Columbia are particularly vicious and wide spread. The combination of dry summers and large forests isn't a good one, and widespread forest fires are common throughout the northern part of the province, mercifully far away from the tourist hubs of Whistler, Victoria and Vancouver. The province had serious issues with forest fires in the summer of 2009, with thousands having to be evacuated.

Illicit Drug Use

Marijuana use is illegal in Canada. Under the present conservative government the tide is turning back toward stricter penalties for drug offences. Several new laws have come out in the last year, curtailing the use of marijuana and other controlled substances, all extending the prison sentences vastly.

Because of its popularity, easy availability and allowances for "medical purposes", many visitors believe that its use is legal. Arrests for possession are almost unheard of, but if approached by a police officer you should be as polite as possible and comply with their requests. If you do decide to smoke weed, discretion is advisable, and should not be done in public.

Driving while impaired by drugs (including marijuana and even legal "drowsy" drugs) is a criminal code offense and is treated in the same way as driving under the influence of alcohol, with severe penalties. Do not attempt to drive while high; visitors can expect to be deported after serving jail time or paying very large fines.

Be advised that unlike many other counties, Khat is illegal in Canada, and will get you arrested and deported if you try to pack it in your luggage and get caught by customs.

It shouldn't need to be said, but under no circumstances should you attempt to bring any amount of anything that even resembles a controlled substance into the United States from Canada. This includes marijuana. Penalties in the U.S. for drug smuggling are much more severe than in Canada, with prison sentences being 20 years to life for trafficking. Be sure to inspect all of your pockets and wash your clothes prior to crossing the border if you have been partaking in illegal drug use in Canada. A U.S. customs drug dog sniffing your luggage can really ruin your day to say the least, even if all that is found is a roach or some residue.

Drunk Driving

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.

Those crossing the land border into Canada from the USA while driving under the influence will get arrested by the Border Services Officers.

Hate Speech

Canada is a very multicultural society, and the vast majority of Canadians are open minded and accepting. Thus, it is very unlikely to meet ridicule in major urban centres on the basis of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, as most Canadians have encountered every type of person and personal preference imaginable.

Hate speech - communication that may incite violence toward an identifiable group - is illegal in Canada and can lead to prosecution, jail time and deportation.


Visiting Canada all in one trip is a massive undertaking. Over 5000 Kilometres separate St. John's, Newfoundland from Victoria, British Columbia (about the same distance separates London and Riyadh, or Tokyo and Calcutta). To drive from one end of the country could take 7-10 days or more (and that assumes you're not stopping to sight see on the way). A flight from Toronto to Vancouver takes over 4 hours. When speaking of specific destinations within Canada, it is better to consider its distinct regions

  • Atlantic Provinces - maritime culture, small fishing villages, rich folk traditions
  • Quebec - French-speaking province, stylish and romantic Montreal, historic and European Quebec City, lush farmland, quaint villages
  • Ontario - multicultural and vibrant Toronto, the Niagara wine region, the immense Boreal and Taiga forests, Ottawa—the capital, the Great Lakes coastal areas, small rural towns
  • Prairies - vast open and flat spaces, rocky mountains, forests, sleepy farm towns; Calgary is a foothill metropolis, Edmonton is a shopping capital, and Winnipeg a historic city are the main areas.
  • British Columbia - cosmopolitan Vancouver city, the Rocky Mountains, ancient temperate rainforest, pristine wilderness, skiing and hiking opportunities abound
  • The North - subarctic and arctic wilderness, mountains, glaciers and lakes and home to vibrant native cultures


There are many cities in Canada, all of which are distinctive, welcoming to tourists, and well worth visiting. Here are the nine most popular cities:


Canada is generally a good place to work. The minimum wage varies by province, from $7.75/hour in New Brunswick and $8/hour Alberta to $9.50/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, however with the housing market booming there is still a fair amount of good construction jobs to be had.

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, Bayfest in Sarnia, 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.

Kitchener-Waterloo hosts the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside Bavaria. This nine-day festival features numerous cultural and entertainment activities. Many local venues are converted into biergartens (Beer Gardens) and take on Germanic names for the duration of the festival. Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest attracts over 700,000 visitors annually.

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.


The communication infrastructure of Canada is what you would expect for an industrialized country.

By phone

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 all major centres except Winnipeg and Halifax 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 should check that their handset supports the appropriate frequencies (a tri-band phone would usually suffice). Internet via GSM is prohibitively expensive. Due to the nearly complete dominance of three companies, mobile rates in Canada are among the highest in the world. The Canadian government continually promises to open up the market and help smaller companies compete and continually fails to do so.

By net

There are many ways to access the Internet, including a number of terminals at most public libraries.

Most large and medium-sized towns will have Internet and gaming cafes.

WiFi access is common in cities and can be found at most coffee shops, although some such as Starbucks charge an excessive fee for it's use while others, such as Blenz coffee houses provide free WiFi. Note that purchasing the establishment's product is expected, even if they are charging for internet access. Buying a small coffee or tea typically meets this requirement. See for a partial listing of establishments offering free WiFi.

By mail

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. Sending a parcel from Canada to the United States is generally about five to ten times more expensive than sending the same parcel to Canada from the United States. Ordering items online is generally prohibitively expensive for this very reason; a handful of hardcover books, for instance, may cost hundreds of dollars to ship. 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 M-F 9AM-5PM hours of the post offices.

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