Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
These thundering falls are one of Canada's top tourist destinations, drawing over 13 million people annually. Although hundreds of the world's waterfalls are actually taller than Niagara Falls, in terms of sheer volume, these are hard to beat: the equivalent of over a million bathtubs full of water goes over every minute.
The falls themselves are certainly impressive, particularly the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. They look good by day and by night, when colourful spotlights flicker across the misty foam. Even in winter, when the flow is partially hidden and the edges frozen solid - like a freeze-framed film - it's quite a spectacle.
Very occasionally the falls stop altogether. The first recorded instance of this occurred on the morning of Easter Sunday 1848, and it caused some to speculate that the end of the world was nigh. An ice jam had completely cut off the flow of water. Some residents even took the opportunity to scavenge the riverbed beneath the falls.
It is said that Napoléon's brother rode from New Orleans in a stagecoach with his new bride to view the falls and that it has been a honeymoon attraction ever since. In fact, the town is sometimes humorously but disparagingly called a spot 'for newlyweds and nearly deads'. Recently, it's been called Viagra Falls.
Basilique Nôtre Dame
Montréal's famous landmark, Notre-Dame Basilica, is a visually pleasing if slightly gaudy symphony of carved wood, paintings, gilded sculptures and stained glass windows. Built in 1829 on the site of an older and smaller church, it also sports a famous Casavant organ and the Gros Bourdon, said to be the biggest bell in North America.
The interior looks especially impressive during an otherwise overly melodramatic sound and light show staged from Tuesday to Saturday nights.
The basilica made headlines in 1994 when singer Céline Dion got married under its soaring midnight-blue ceiling, and again in 2000 when Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro shared pall-bearing honours at the state funeral of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
This mesmerising complex is a legacy of the 1967 Olympic summer games. The one time velodrome has morphed into the Biôdome, a natural history museum with a twist: below the giant cupola are four beautifully re-created ecosystems, including a tropical forest and a polar world inhabited by playful penguins.
Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre
A restored masterpiece, the Elgin & Winter Garden represents the last operating double-decker theatre in the world. In 1913 the breathtaking Winter Garden was built as the flagship for a vaudeville chain that never really took off, while the downstairs Elgin was converted into a movie house in the 1920s.
The Ontario Heritage Foundation saved both theatres from being demolished in 1981. During its multi-million restoration effort, bread dough was used to uncover original rose-garden frescoes, the Belgian company that made the original carpeting was contacted for fresh rolls, and the beautiful foliage hanging from the ceiling of the upstairs Winter Garden Theatre was replaced, leaf by painstaking leaf. Seats were bought from Chicago's infamous Biograph Theater.
Banff & Jasper National Parks
It all seems almost too surreal to be true, so picture perfect you'll think you're dreaming. Mountains scrape the sky - a jumble of colours and shapes. Cerulean blue meets snowcapped majesty. The sparkling lakes are emerald-green or milky-turquoise - you may have to blink a few times before your eyes can absorb their gloriously intense colours.
The glaciers cling to rugged precipices, intense ice blue merges with slate gray. Rivers rush by, fed on melted snow and spring rains. Lush forests and high alpine meadows explode in a kaleidoscope of colours when the wildflowers bloom. A grizzly bear ambles past, swinging his head from side to side, searching for food. A moose pauses at a fast flowing river for a drink.
Welcome to Banff and Jasper National Parks, heart of the Canadian Rockies, and home to some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent. Much of the Rocky Mountains area of Alberta, running along the British Columbia border, is contained and protected within these two huge, adjacent national parks: Banff to the south and Jasper to the north. The Icefields Parkway links the two, though there is no real boundary. Adjoining the southern boundary of Banff National Park is Kananaskis Country, a provincial recreation area.
The Québec City Winter Carnival, which takes place during the first two weeks of February, features parades, ice sculptures, a snow slide, dances and music. Ottawa's three-week Winterlude fetes all things snowy and starts in early February. The Montréal Jazz Festival in late June or early July and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival in late July both attract international and local players. Two major events in Toronto are Caribana, held in July, which is a Caribbean festival of music, dancing and wild costumes, and the Pride Week, whose events are held throughout the downtown area in late June, culminating in an outrageous Pride Parade. In September, there's the Toronto International Film Festival. Calgary hosts the popular Calgary Stampede in the second week of July; the highlights are the chuck wagon race and rodeo. In the west, Victoria celebrates the First Peoples' Festival in early August with traditional craftwork, dancing and war-canoe rides.
Some public holidays are only celebrated regionally. They are: 3rd Monday in February - Family Day (Alberta); Monday nearest March 17 - St Patrick's Day (Newfoundland); Monday nearest April 23 - St George's Day (Newfoundland); June 24 - National Day (or St-Jean-Baptiste Day, Québec); Monday nearest June 24 - Discovery Day (Newfoundland); Monday nearest July 12 - Orangemen's Day (Newfoundland), and 3rd Monday in August - Discovery Day (Yukon).
When to go?
Spring, summer and autumn are all ideal for touring, though if you want to ski you'll naturally have to come in winter or early spring. For campers and those who want to visit the far north, the summer months of July and August are best. Summer is also when many of the country's festivals take place. Note that the peak tourist season is between Victoria Day (late May) and Labour Day (early September). Although spring and autumn have fewer crowds, lower prices and a more relaxed pace than the summer months, some visitor-oriented facilities and attractions may be closed during these shoulder seasons.
Travel Visa Overview
Citizens of dozens of countries - including the USA, most Western European and Commonwealth countries, as well as Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Israel - don't need visas to enter Canada for stays of up to 180 days. US permanent residents are also exempt.
Nationals of around 150 other countries, including South Africa and China, need to apply to the Canadian visa office in their home country for a temporary resident visa (TRV). The website maintained by Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca) has full details, including office addresses and the latest requirements. A separate visa is required if you plan to study or work in Canada.
American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin
plug with two parallel flat blades
A viral infection of the brain and spinal cord that is almost always fatal. The virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is typically transmitted through an animal bite, though contamination of any break in the skin with infected saliva may result in rabies. In Canada, most cases of human rabies are related to exposure to bats, but may also be contracted from raccoons, skunks, foxes and unvaccinated cats and dogs.
If there is any possibility, however small, that you have been exposed to rabies, you should seek preventative treatment. In particular, any contact with a bat should be discussed with health authorities, because bats have small teeth which may not leave obvious bite marks.
A parasitic infection of the small intestine. Symptoms may include nausea, bloating, cramps and diarrhea. To protect yourself from Giardia, avoid drinking directly from lakes, ponds, streams and rivers, which may be contaminated by animal or human feces. The infection can also be transmitted from person to person if proper hand washing is not performed. Giardiasis is easily diagnosed by a stool test and readily treated with antibiotics.
Lyme Disease is a risk in wooded regions.
Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks, which are only 1-2 mm long. Most cases occur in the late spring and summer. The first symptom is usually an expanding red rash that is often pale in the centre, known as a bull's eye rash. However, in many cases, no rash is observed. Flu-like symptoms are common, including fever, headache, joint pains, body aches, and malaise. When the infection is treated promptly with an appropriate antibiotic, usually doxycycline or amoxicillin, the cure rate is high. Luckily, since the tick must be attached for 36 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease, most cases can be prevented by performing a thorough tick check after you've been outdoors.
West Nile virus
A virus transmitted by Culex mosquitoes, which are active in late summer and early fall and generally bite after dusk. Most infections are mild or asymptomatic, but the virus may infect the central nervous system leading to fever, headache, confusion, lethargy, coma and sometimes death. There is no treatment.
Canada has four distinct seasons, although their arrival times vary across the country. The single most significant factor in climate is latitude. As a rule of thumb, it gets colder the further north you go, so it's no accident that the warmest areas in the south are also the most populated. The western and eastern coasts are both very wet, though much of the rain falls during winter. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba and eastern Alberta the prairies are fairly dry all year. Canadian winters are long and hard: in more than two-thirds of the country, the average January temperature is a shivering -18°C (-0.4°F). July and August are the warmest months, when temperatures in the south are usually in the upper 20°Cs (low 80°Fs).
History and Culture
Canada has a deliciously rich culture and it's worth taking time to explore it and view it as distinct from its louder neighbour. Its cultural heritage draws from the traditions of its native peoples, the French influence and English flavours, all manifesting themselves in the work of some amazing writers including Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Mordecai Richler and Douglas Coupland, to name a few; world-renowned musicians such as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and kd lang; and innovative film makers (Denys Arcand, David Cronenberg, Atom Agoyan) who capture the elusive nature of the Canadian psyche.
Pre-20th Centure History
Well before Columbus sailed the ocean blue back in 1492, prehistoric tribes from Asia had come to Canada across the Bering Strait. The first European visitors were the Vikings, who arrived about 1000 AD and tried to settle in northern Newfoundland. Eventually, however, they grew tired of hostilities with the indigenous tribes and withdrew, leaving Canada's aboriginal population to develop a multitude of languages, customs, religious beliefs, trading patterns, arts and crafts, laws and governments. European interest in Canada only heated up again in the 15th century, when various monarchs sponsored expeditions in search for the Northwest Passage, gold and various other things. They found none of them but that didn't deter explorer Jacques Cartier, who made the first claim on the area surrounding the St Lawrence River for France in 1534.
Another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, founded Québec City in the early 1600s. In 1663 Canada, now home to about 3000 French settlers, became a province of France. Just as the French started to thrive on the fur trade, the British entered the scene, founding the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 to add a bit of 'friendly' competition. For a while, the two European cultures coexisted peacefully. But the hostilities of the Seven Year's War, which pitted France and Britain against one another in Europe, spilled over into North America in 1754. After several years of fighting the British captured Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. The turning point in the war arrived when the British defeated the French at Québec City in 1759. At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France handed Canada over to Britain.
By the end of the American Revolution (1775-83), a migration of about 50,000 British 'Loyalists' from the USA created a more even balance between the French and British populations. Still, the two factions continued to quarrel for almost another century, until fears of being annexed by the increasingly self-confident USA made them realise that they needed to join forces. In 1867 the British North American Act (BNA Act) gave birth to modern, self-governing Canada - the Dominion of Canada - and essentially became Canada's equivalent of a constitution. By 1885 the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway - one of Canada's great historical sagas - joined the country's east and west coasts. By 1912 all provinces had become part of the central government except Newfoundland, which didn't join in until 1949.
After WWI Canada grew slowly in stature and prosperity; it managed to formalise its independence from Britain in 1931 with the passage of the Statute of Westminster. With the onset of WWII, though, Canada once again fought alongside Britain against Germany, though this time it also entered into defense agreements with the USA, declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In the years after WWII, Canada experienced a huge wave of European immigration, with a further influx of Asians, Arabs, Indians, Italians, Hispanics and Caribbeans arriving in the 1960s. The postwar era was a period of economic expansion and prosperity. In 1967 Canada celebrated its 100th anniversary with Expo, the World's Fair in Montreal, as one of the highlights. Since 1975, a series of land rights agreements has been signed with Canada's aboriginal peoples, giving them some control over vast swathes of the northern portion of the country.
The social upheavals of the 1960s brought to the surface the festering resentments that French-speaking Québec had with English-speaking Canada. In 1976 the Parti Québecois (PQ), advocating separatism, won the provincial election in Québec, though sentiments on the issue have since waxed and waned. In the 1980 sovereignty referendum, the separatists were defeated by 60% of the vote. A second round of voting in October 1995 brought the country within a few thousand votes of breaking up. The prime minister, Jean Chrétien, has since attempted to appease the Quebeckers by recognising the province as a 'distinct society'.
In the early years of the new millennium, Canada was focused on maintaining social programs, dealing with high taxes, and tackling national security in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA.
The Canadian national elections in January 2006 brought a major change as the Liberal party, which had been governing for a dozen years, lost its power to the Conservative party under Prime Minister Stephen Harper; the party was returned in 2008.
The movement for Québec independence championed by the Bloc Québecois has lost some steam, and Québecois, it seems, don't feel that forming a sovereign nation is ultimately to their advantage.
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