Where else can you find a land with six different time zones and ecosystems so diverse you could encounter polar bears and grizzly bears along the way? With its rugged wilderness, it’s easy for any travel guide to highlight Canada’s natural wonders. But Canada also has world-class food, vibrant art scenes and even an array of artisan cocktails. It’s one of those rare places that you might paddle in the morning and sip deliciously crafted cocktails at night.
A Historical Review
It has been suggested that North and South America were the last continents to be inhabited by humans, and although the exact timing remains unclear, roughly 16,000 years ago, glacial melt allowed people to travel from Beringia to Canada. In the Archaic period, many groups were mobile hunter-gatherers because of massive glacial ice sheets, including Queen Charlotte Islands, Bluefish Caves, and Old Crow Flats.
It has been believed that the Iroquois Confederacy (centered in northern New York) began in 1142. Paleo-Eskimos lived in the Arctic archipelago in the north, who were eventually replaced by Inuits in 1500. Their influence extended as far as southern Ontario.
It is widely thought that the first European contact with the First Nations in Canada was as early as 1000 CE. Around 1400, Norwegian explorer Leif Erikson established a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. In 1497, Italian explorer John Cabot became the first to land on Canadian soil after his predecessors. French interests in Canada began a small amount of time later when Francis I sent Giovanni de Verrazzano to explore between Newfoundland and Florida. In 1524, Jacques Cartier tried to establish some permanent settlements with little success. The French exploration of the area cemented their influence and secured Edward VI’s claim to the region.
The establishment of a fur trade in North America in 1604 proved a pivotal economic venture for the area. Four years later, Samuel de Champlain established Québec City, the first permanent settlement in Canada.
By 1700, English and Scottish settlers outnumbered the French settlers. Four French and Indian Wars and two battles between the colonies of America and New France marked this era.
New France was dissolved after the Treaty of Paris (1763), which abolished France’s claims to its North American territory. Nearly 800,000 people immigrated to British North America from the Napoleonic Wars until approximately 1850, mainly as a result of the Irish Famine. The Dominion of Canada was officially established on July 1, 1867, aided by an increase in population and increased stability.
During World War I, the Canadian Forces forged a stronger sense of nationhood between Britain and Canada, which led to the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931. (The Canada Act of 1982 granted Canada full sovereignty.) It gave it the same political and legislative standing as other British commonwealths.
After struggling through the Great Depression, Canada played an important role in World War II and enjoyed a return to prosperity in the postwar years. In 2005, Canada became just the fourth country in the world to legalize gay marriage after developing several comprehensive social programs, including a universal health care system, veterans’ pensions, and old-age pensions.
With its pristine wilderness, vibrant metropolis, and reputation for safety, Canada remains a popular tourist destination today.
As a result of its geopolitical ties to both Britain and France, Canada and its cultural expressions have been significantly influenced by those two countries. Immigration has also constituted a cornerstone of Canadian society, and their federal government has historically been a proponent of multiculturalism. Canadian culture is rich, varied, and interesting because it embraces the different groups that make up the nation.
There is a wide range of visual art, from the early works of indigenous people to the modern work of William Ronald and Jack Bush. Canada has been home to a number of literary talent, including Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, the singer-songwriter and novelist Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, Yann Martel, Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood, and many others.
From mainstream (James Cameron) to avant-garde (David Cronenberg), Canadians dominate the film and television industries.
The most popular sports in Canada are ice hockey, curling, lacrosse, and Canadian football.
Good to know
Keep these things in mind when traveling in Canada:
While Canada uses the Canadian dollar, retailers—particularly in large, populated areas—are not uncommon to accept US dollars. You should expect to receive a less-than-favorable exchange rate if you don’t pay in the local currency. It is most likely that border crossings and towns very near the border accept US dollars, and they usually offer a decent exchange rate.
You should always have Canadian dollars on hand, as well as credit cards, which are widely accepted throughout the country. Of the major credit cards, Mastercard and Visa are the most widely accepted. You might be charged a foreign transaction fee for every use of your foreign-issued debit card if it is not accepted for retail purchases.
There are ATMs available throughout Canada, including banks, shopping malls, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and more. It’s best to call your bank before you leave so you know if you can use your US-issued card in a Canadian machine without any problems. Your Canadian transactions are less likely to be flagged as suspicious if you let your bank know ahead of time about your travel dates.
The tipping system
Though tipping is always a voluntary gesture, it has become a tradition in Canada. Restaurants do not usually include gratuities in the bill, and it is common to add an additional 15 to 20 percent. When the service is particularly poor, many choose not to tip at all or leave a smaller tip. Some restaurants automatically add a gratuity to your bill if you have a large group (usually eight or more). Tipping is not required if this has already been added.
Tipping porters, cleaning staff, valet attendants, and concierges is a nice gesture in hotels.
A visitor from the United States will feel right at home in Canada, as it is a developed, Western country.
Despite the fact that no generalized statement can apply to all citizens of a nation, the stereotype of the “polite Canadian” is somewhat accurate. Canadians tend to be friendly, honest and humble people. Furthermore, there is a strong sense of respect for and desire for privacy, as well as an effort to respect others’ privacy.
In general, children are encouraged to be outspoken and independent from a young age, and this often leads to them speaking casually to adults (even teachers or authority figures).
Senior citizens are generally treated with extra politeness and deference, and authority figures, such as police officers, are also generally given extra courtesy. Any authority figure who appears to be acting improperly can, however, be questioned – or disobeyed – by Canadians with significant legal leeway.
Current of Electricity
In Canada, the voltage is 120 volts, and the frequency is 60 hertz. (This is the same as in the United States.) The sockets are either Type A (two flat and parallel prongs) or Type B (two flat and parallel prongs and a grounding prong).
It’s unlikely you’ll need a converter or adapter if you’re traveling from the United States. If you’re traveling from another country, consider packing a universal adapter and converter.
There is no need for Western visitors to be confused by the public bathrooms in Canada, but the terminology might be a little confusing. The term “washroom” is reserved for your own bathroom, while the term “public restroom” is used for public restrooms. In French-speaking regions of Canada, you can expect to find “toilettes” or “WCs.” These facilities are relatively clean and have toilet paper and handwashing facilities available.
It is safe to drink water directly from the tap in most parts of Canada because it has been treated to a quality standard that doesn’t require filtration or sanitation.
In 2017, nearly one hundred Canadian reserves, including Serpent River First Nation Reserve, experienced water treatment plant failures. If you are traveling through or staying on reserve land, you should be aware of water advisories and clearly marked.
When is the best time to visit?
As Canada is a vast country with wildly varying climate patterns, the best time to visit Vancouver is probably not the best time to visit Montreal. When planning your itinerary, keep your intended destinations in mind.
The best and warmest weather, however, can be found in the summer months, such as July and August, so plan a summer stay if hiking and outdoor adventures are on your to-do list. The winter is the best time to visit Canadian ski resorts (or even Québec Ice Hotel) if, however, you prefer skiing.