Canada has a lot of geography, as every Canadian schoolchild is taught in the verse: ‘A thousand miles of mountain; two thousand miles of plain; a thousand miles of forest; and then the sea again.’ From the wild Pacific west coast of Vancouver Island with its rainforests and vast surf beaches, over the huge wilderness areas of the Rocky Mountains, across the sweep of the prairies, through the lakes and forests of northern Ontario and Quebec, to the rugged cliffs and coves of the Maritime provinces forming the Atlantic coast, Canada invites the visitor to get up close and personal with its geography and to take advantage of the many opportunities to explore it by canoe or kayak, by ski or bike, or on foot.
Canada’s history is largely one of a battle between man and nature, of people carving out settlements in an inhospitable wilderness and making their living out of extracting natural resources – fish, furs, lumber and metals – from a supply they didn’t know was exhaustible. The best way of appreciating Canada’s heritage is to visit one of its reconstructed old towns, such as Upper Canada Village in Ontario, or by spending time in one of the excellent provincial museums where scenes depicting the lives of early Canadians have been carefully recreated to give the visitor a critical awareness of Canada’s past.
Canada has the second largest landmass in the world, totalling 9,984,670 square kilometres. This gigantic country has 10 internal provinces and boarders the USA both to the south and Alaska in the North West. The capital of Canada is Ottawa, which is situated in Ontario, Ottawa has a population of 895,000 people and is the forth largest city in Canada. As of 2015 the total population of Canada is 35.9 million people. Around 20% of Canadian speak French, the majority of French speakers live in Quebec where French is the sole language.
Another important aspect of Canada’s culture, that of its First Nations, after decades of being more or less hidden, is now celebrated and made accessible to residents and visitors alike who care to visit native designed and organised Friendship and Culture centres or to attend a public potlatch. Canada’s cities are cosmopolitan and are generally safe and fun places to explore and discover the high quality of eating and performing arts opportunities.
In 2013, Canada welcomed 16.6 million international visitors. Interestingly, Canada is one of the few places in the world that has experienced a decline in international visitors over the past decade (in 2002, Canada welcomed over 20 million international travellers). This lower number of tourists makes it the perfect time to visit Canada – when planning your visit, ensure you experience a tram ride & ice hockey game in Toronto, skiing in Banff and a visit to the wild Vancouver island. Getting around cities is usually easy; but travelling from place to place in Canada, unless you do it by air or car, can be a challenge, although most places can be reached by bus. Canadians have a deserved reputation for courtesy and hospitality. They want you to have a good experience in their country and will often go out of their way to help you.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Indigenous people – Cultural Loss and Tourism:
As we have extended the scope of our holidays into remote places, we now see ‘remote people’ as part of our holiday landscape. Our interest in other people’s cultures is not always sensitive. What are the implications, for example, of tourists viewing, filming & photographing tribal peoples who now demand payment in exchange for becoming models in their finery?
Performing for tourists has become an income earner for tribal groups all over the world. But the income comes with a price.
To learn more, check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Indigenous people and tourism:
Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
According to Right-Tourism.com, several animal welfare organisations have called for an outright tourist boycott on Canada, on account of the country’s refusal to ban seal culling. Since 2015, over the last three years the Canadian Government has sanctioned the slaughter of over 300,000 seals. Most seals are only a few days old when they are shot or brutally clubbed to death.
Polar Bear Hunting:
Acording to Right-Tourism.com, each year the Canadian Government issues a number of licenses which permit the killing of polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay Population. Tourists pay huge sums of money to be taken on ‘hunt safaris’, where a group of people, often pulled along by dogs, seek out polar bears to shoot for trophies. Not only is this extremely cruel, causing the animal extreme pain and distress, it is also a shocking conservation infraction, further depleting the dwindling polar bear population.
National Parks and Carrying capacities:
Canada is home to some of the most spectacular and vast National Parks in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year. Tourist’s and locals alike head to the national parks for camping, canoeing, cycling, diving, fishing, hiking, surfing, and even whale watching. Some natural parks have become so popular that the tourism is having an adverse impact on the local ecosystem.
To avoid overpopulation and decrease the risk of erosion, reservation systems have been instituted in many natural parks. Pollution and waste have also increased with the popularity as a tourism destination – sewerage, camping waste left behind and even chewing gum have become rife. If you visit natural parks anywhere in the world, ensure you are a low impact visitor and take all of your trash with you.
Canada has a massive landmass and therefore the climate ranges from the extreme cold of the Arctic to the dry heat of the southern prairies. However, it is the winter records that Canada is famous for. Only Vancouver Island and the southwest coast of British Columbia have average winter temperatures above the freezing mark. Snag in Yukon, holds the record for the lowest recorded temperature in Canada at -62.8°c. At these temperatures exposed skin froze in less than 3 minutes.
Canada is a vast and wild country, home to a great array of Fauna and Flora. Some Canadian animals, like the beaver or the polar bear, are among the country’s most recognizable icons. However Canada is home to a huge array of creatures including more than 190 mammals, 420 birds, 40 reptiles, 40 amphibians, 1,100 fish and 18,500 insects.
The Canadian flora is famous for its incredible array of pine and Coniferous trees. Most famous include red maples, yellow birch, beech trees, red spruce, balsam fir, white cedar, aspen and jack pine. Many types of grasses grow on the interior plains and the great Arctic region is covered with low-growing grasses, mosses, and bushes.
The Canadian fauna is just as grand, home to deer, black bear, grizzly bear, polar bear, reindeer, mountain goat, lynx, timber wolf, moose, cougar, and alpine flying squirrel, red squirrels, otter, beaver, and skunk. Off the Coastal waters you can walrus, seals, and whales and Birdlife include eastern bluebird, woodpecker, hawk, bittern, heron, black duck, and loon.
In regards to Canada’s national parks, there are now more than 40 national parks and national park reserves in Canada. There is a major emphasis on national parks encouraging public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of these special natural areas. Some of the most famous parks include Banff National Park, the prairies of Grasslands National Park and the Arctic tundra of Ivvavik National Park. The simultaneous preservation of national park and encouragement of safe public use of the parks remains a challenge.
Environmental policy in Canada has very much fallen behind in global rankings – to the extent they have been labelled ‘climate villains’. This surprises many people due to the Canadian sterotype of vast open spaces and stunning environment. The ‘Centre for Global Development’ assesses 27 wealthy nations annually on their commitment to seven areas that impact the world’s poor. Canada ranked 27th in the environmental protection category and was the only country with an environment score which has gone down since 2003. The major reasons for Canada’s poor environmental score is a combination of having one of the highest levels of greenhouse gas production per capita, low gasoline taxes, and high subsidies for fishing, which impacts fish stocks.
However, environmental priorities look like changing with the introduction of a new prime minister in 2015. Justin Trudeau declared a new direction for environmental policy in Canada, this started with Canada agreeing to the 2015 climate talks in Paris (COP 21) and further initiatives towards green energy and infrastructure investment.
Canada can be divided into two distinct societies: French-speaking and English-speaking. However, most Canadians identify themselves very strongly with their province and it is wise to have a rough understanding of the local geography:
- Atlantic Canada: Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island – residents are primarily of British descent
- Ontario: Canada’s most populous province and the country’s economic, political and cultural hub.
- Western Canada: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – Renowned for their open, relaxed, friendly personality.
- British Columbia: Canada’s westernmost province.
- Quebec: Home to French Canadians, and especially the Québécois (citizens of Quebec, pronounced “keh-beck-wah”).
- The North: The sparsely populated artic region
In general, Canadians are more reserved, quietly spoken and polite than Americans, and take matters of etiquette a little more seriously. When meeting a local for the first time, shake hands and introduce yourself whilst maintaining eye contact. In Quebec, kissing on the cheeks in the French manner is quite common. In regards to titles, Canadians are also more formal than Americans. Use last names and appropriate titles until invited by your Canadian hosts to use their first names.
Local people appreciate it if you have at least some understanding of Canadian history, culture and geography. American people have a bad reputation for having little idea about Canadian history. Finally, do not use the term “Native Americans” to refer to indigenous peoples. Many Canadians find the term offensive, instead use the term “people of the First Nations.”
Similar to the USA and Australia, Canada is a multi-ethnic country and therefore it is difficult to define what exactly “Canadian food” is. Most Canadians eat a largely “western” diet with a focus on processed grain and dairy products, farm-grown beef and chicken, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure you try a couple of these unique Foods of Canada:
- Poutine: The single most famous Canadian food. An unhealthy dish produced by smothering French fries with gravy and white cheese curd.
- Maple syrup on Pancakes: The national symbol you can eat! You can also find all sorts of maple-flavoured cookies, candies and treats.
- Tourtiere: A French-Canadian favourite. A savoury pie made with ground beef and spices.
Linguistic diversity is incredibly high in the 10 and 3 — named for Canada’s 10 provinces and 3 territories. There are more than 200 languages reported in the 2011 Census. Canada has two official languages, and the level of English-French bilingualism is continuing to increase. Interestingly 17.5% of the Canadian population, or 5.8 million people, speak at least two languages at home.
In Quebec, around 70% of the population speak only French at home. In the rest of Canada, approximately 75% of the population speak only English at home. The vast majority of Canadians claim some form of European ancestry:
- Four in nine Canadians have distant British ancestry
- One in three Canadians have French ancestry, 80% of the residents in Quebec have French ancestry.
- Other European groups include Italians, Germans and Ukrainians
The principal religion in Canada is Christianity. In the 2011 census, 39% of Canadians claimed to be Roman Catholic and a further 27% as Protestant. Prior to European settlement, Aboriginal peoples practised a wide variety of religions. Many Aboriginal persons and groups were converted to Christianity through missionary work, however in recent years there has been a revival of Aboriginal religions. Below are the top 5 religions in Canada
- Christianity -22,708,040: 76.6%
- Muslim – 579,640: 2.0%
- Jewish – 329,995: 1.1%
- Buddhist – 300,345: 1.0%
- Hindu – 297,200: 1.0%