Canada Guide

Northern lights seen beside a sign announcing the start of the Arctic Circle in far north Canada

Northern lights on the edge of the Arctic Circle in far north Canada. Photo by madmack66.

Visiting Canada

This is not just a greener, gentler version of USA but a chilly, picturesque, sparsely populated country with a hardy outdoors attitude and a multicultural identity.

Holidays in Canada are particularly enticing for outdoor types, winter sports lovers in winter and hikers, bikers, kayakers in summer, especially in the magnificent Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta provinces and the isolated grandeur of the North, though the relaxed urbanity of Vancouver, the sophistication of Toronto and the astonishing Frenchness of gorgeous Old Quebec City or lively Montreal draw urban spacemen too.

Wildlife is easy to view too, from whales and seals on both coasts to prolific numbers of bears, moose, deer and many more creatures inland and of course polar bears up north in Churchill.

Canada is safe, spacious, spectacular, serves good, varied cuisine and half of it speaks your language (the other half mostly speaks it too, but don’t want to! ).

Downsides

• Although extremely cold in many places (-20C is not uncommon), the short summers can be hot and humid (30C+).
• It’s not cheap (then again, nor is it expensive, unless you need to fly long-haul to get there).
• Summer outdoors may provide unwelcome wildlife in the form of mosquitoes and other biting critters.
• distances are vast so be prepared for serious time on the road.

Weather

Best season: May-September, summertime.
Worst: November-March (cold, wet, or both), unless going for winter sports.

Canada’s main attractions

Best cities: Vancouver (British Columbia), Toronto ( Ontario), Quebec City and Montreal (Quebec) province.

Best wildlife: Churchill (Manitoba), British Columbia, Alberta.

Best winter festival: Ottawa Winterlude, Ontario.

Best summer festival: Calgary Stampede, Alberta.

Best beaches: New Brunswick (Atlantic Provinces) and Vancouver (British Columbia).

Best natural wonders: Banff lakes and mountains (Alberta), Niagara Falls (Ontario).

Best cuisine: Quebec province.

Best landscapes: British Columbia, Alberta and North West Territories.

Destinations

This is such a huge country that seeing the lot in one go is impractical for the normal tourist so we’ve split Canada into manageable zones.

Alberta, West Canada

Peyto Lake in Banff NP, Alberta, Canada

The famously turquoise Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta. Photo by Tobias Alt.

A Black Bear and cub at Christina Lake at Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Canada

A Black Bear and cub at Christina Lake at Wood Buffalo, Alberta. Photo by Eviatar Bach.

Consistently rated as Canada’s best natural attraction, Alberta’s Banff National Park in the Rockies is justly famous and crammed with magnificent peaks, astonishing emerald lakes, well organised hiking trails, scenic drives and much, much more.

Get there via Calgary and enjoy a stampede too! Jasper NP is also brilliant; less easy to access but much less touristy.

British Columbia (BC), West Canada

Laurel Point Park in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Laurel Point Park in Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Brandon Godfrey.

BC encompasses Vancouver city, little old Victoria and the wild Whistler resort area.

City life is comfortable and stimulating in Vancouver, with parks and stunning Rocky Mountain scenery all around, pity about the dreary urban architecture. Excellent outdoor activities of all sorts are on tap in BC, including whale watching.

Vancouver

Vancouver’s English Bay. Photo by Kenny Louie.

Ontario, Central Canada

Niagara Falls, Canadian side, near Toronto, Canada

Niagara Falls, Canadian side, near Toronto. Photo by Bosintang.

Winterlude Festival drummers seen in Ontario, Canada

One of many events happening in Ottawa’s Ontario during the Winterlude Festival. Photo by Saffron Blaze.

Ottawa is especially attractive during the Winterlude festival, Toronto excellent for lively and diverse big city life as well as easy access to Niagara Falls.

Quebec and Montreal, French east Canada

Quebec City, Frontenac Castle, Canada

Frontenac Castle, Quebec City, Quebec. Photo by Wladyslaw Benutzer.

The French speaking province of Quebec offers great night life and cuisine especially la petite, jolie Quebec City and her big brother Montreal, but there’s also plenty of outdoor action though lacking the Rocky Mountain highs.

The Atlantic Provinces, east Canada

The Change Islands in Newfoundland, Canada

The Change Islands in Newfoundland, Atlantic coast.

The Atlantic Provinces encompass Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, offering tourists the laid back, rustic charms of little fishing villages and splendid hiking, biking or driving routes full of rugged coastal views.

There’s terrific golfing and fishing, Canada’s best beaches (though Vancouver might argue the point) and good seal or whale watching.

Grizzly Valley in the Ogilvie Mountains of north Canada

Grizzly Valley in the Ogilvie Mountains of north Canada. Photo by Rick McCharles.

The primary tourist attractions in north Canada are bleak arctic landscapes, northern lights (aurora borealis) and wildlife, especially polar bears, arctic foxes and seals around Churchill, though outdoor activities ranging from winter sports that include snow cycling to summer hikes with big views are popular with local people who like to escape the huddled masses.

A young polar bear investigating a Tundra Buggy near Churchill in Manitoba, Canada

A young polar bear investigating a mobile meat locker – aka Tundra Buggy – near Churchill in Manitoba.

Best Canadian Festivals

H2Orchestra performing Balnaphonein Winterlude Festival, Ontario, Canada

H2Orchestra performing on a Balnaphone at the Winterlude Festival, Ontario.

January-February, weekends only, La Fete des Neiges (Snow Festival), Montreal (Qu), dominated by a huge and labyrinthine snow castle.

February, weekends only, Ottawa (Ont) Winterlude festival features parades, dances, snow races, ice sculptures, sleigh rides and more, but especially skating.

January-February, Quebec City, Carnaval de Québec, a vigorous 10 day celebration of parades, themed parties, ice sculptures and, bien sur, winter sports of every description.

April, World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler (BC), snow and music combined!

June – July, Montreal (Qu) International Jazz Festival.

Mid-May, Ottawa (Ont) Tulip Festival, a five day city-wide street party for all ages surrounded by 100, 000’s of tulips.

July, Just For Laughs, Montreal (Qu), a world comedy festival.

Summertime sees lunatic ‘Fringe’ theatre festivals all over Canada, from Victoria to Montreal.

August, Montreal Pride, a huge performing arts festival, gay, but not exclusively so. Free concerts, shows, parties conferences and more.

Summer, one week, Toronto (Ont), Caribana West Indian carnival, complete with parades of calypso bands, parties, ethnic foodstuffs and dancing in the street.

July, Calgary Stampede, a 10 day world-class rodeo riot.

Early November, Whistler (BC) Winterstart Festival, carnival and events galore.

For some precise dates see: English Speaking Festivals

The far north USA state of Alaska is also wild, unspoilt and speaks English!

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