21 Things You Should Know Before You Move to Canada
It’s hard not to get enthusiastic about Canada. The place is beautiful and the people are famous for their niceness. You have a bowl of maple syrup for breakfast, ski to work and say ‘sorry’ to everyone along the way. Just be careful not to bump into any bears. We’d like to tell you all the most important things about life in the Great White North, from ice-hockey and double-doubles to bagged milk. Read on!
An iconic Canadian elk wanders through the woods
1. Canada is huge
Canada’s great for people who like it, because there’s absolutely loads of it. The country is the second largest in the world (behind Russia), measuring nearly ten million square kilometres. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, think of this: you could fit the United Kingdom into Canada over 40 times. It would take you over four years to walk its coastline, if you ever felt like doing that. The city of St John’s in Newfoundland (east coast) is actually closer to London than it is to Vancouver (west coast). Wood Buffalo National Park is bigger than the Netherlands. To make everything a bit more manageable, Canada is divided into thirteen parts (ten ‘provinces’ and three ‘territories’). Just take the country one piece at a time.
2. The cities are world class
Urban life in Canada is the bee’s knees. In the Economist’s 2017 ranking of the world’s most liveable cities, no less than three Canadian cities placed in the top ten. They were Vancouver (third), Toronto (fourth) and Calgary (fifth). The five factors were healthcare, education, environment, infrastructure and stability. That’s right, these cities are practically begging to be lived in. When it comes to the important stuff, the Canucks just ca-knock the ball right out of the park. Oh, and the capital of Canada is Ottawa, not Toronto.
The not-so-capital city of Toronto looking beautiful in the sunshine
3. It’s very multicultural
People just love moving to Canada, and Canada just loves having them over. More than 20% of Canadians were born in another country, and this is expected to reach nearly 50% by 2031. That’s a crazy rate of immigration, but there’s more than enough space to go around. There are nearly 200 nationalities across the country (and over 250 ethnic origins), including lots of Aboriginal people. We guess Canada is just a big, beautiful rainbow.
4. Two official languages
One official language was not enough for the Canadians, so English and French have equal status over there. If you think that sounds difficult, imagine being in Singapore (four official languages) or India (sixteen official languages). You don’t really notice the Frenchness of the country unless you’re in the eastern province of Quebec, where people are trying very hard to keep things as French as possible. There are laws enforced by the OQLF (basically the language police) to make sure everyone uses enough French. If a shop doesn’t put French on its signs and greet its customers in French, it’s in difficulté.
5. The healthcare is universal
Canada’s healthcare is the envy of their American neighbours to the south. It’s a tax-funded Medicare system where the government pays for people’s basic health insurance, which is then delivered by the private sector. It’s like the NHS; if you require any essential medical services, you get them for free. It just involves a bit of waiting. In fact, Canada’s wait times aren’t great; a 2017 Commonwealth Fund survey found that only 43% of Canadians see a medical professional on the same day as seeking help. Fortunately there are loads of ways around this, such as being friends with a doctor, marrying a doctor or indeed becoming a doctor.
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6. The landscapes are beautiful
Yes, the cities are good, but the spaces between the cities are even better. 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the American border, which means there’s a serious amount of room for exploring in the north. If you want to get away from other humans for a while (or indeed forever) then the opportunity’s there. Aside from boiling deserts and tropical rainforests, Canada pretty much has every landscape going. There’s the rugged coastline of Pacific Rim, the magical Meadows in the Sky, and the granite mountains of Gros Morne, to name just a few. The Alberta Badlands are particularly good if you want to feel like a cowboy in an old western film. Yee-haw!
Saskatchewan River Crossing on a golden autumn day
7. Lakes, lakes and more lakes
You know the old saying: everyone’s either a freshwater person or a saltwater person? Well, with the longest coastline in the world and 20% of the Earth’s lakes, Canada’s got the best of both worlds. Fresh people and salty people can live together in harmony. There are about two million lakes in Canada, including the absolutely whopping Lake Superior, which is about the size of Maine. You can do all the fun watersports that the Australians do, but without having to worry about the sharks. It’s one big worry-free splash party over there.
8. It’s freezing cold
There’s no place for words like ‘chilly’ and ‘nippy’ in Canada. When we say it gets cold, we mean really bloody cold. Apart from the country’s west coast in British Columbia, nowhere else in Canada does the average temperature exceed zero in winter time. Vast parts of the country can dip as low as -30°C or -40°C, which makes going outside fairly unenjoyable. Chuck in the severe wind chill and the great outdoors are a no-go. The coldest temperature ever recorded in North America was in Yukon, Canada in 1947 at -63°C, which is literally the same as the surface temperature of Mars. Suddenly those lakes don’t seem very appealing.
9. They’re obsessed with ice-hockey
Hitting a heavy object around with sticks wasn’t dangerous enough for the Canadians, so they decided to do it on ice. What else are you meant to do with all those frozen lakes in the winter? Known simply as “hockey” over there (no other type of hockey matters), the sport is basically a religion. Just to give you an idea, the Canada vs USA men’s hockey final at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 was the most watched TV broadcast in Canadian history. There’s even a picture of kids playing hockey on a frozen pond (known as shinny) on the Canadian $5 bill. It turns out the sport was actually invented in England, but don’t tell any Canadians that.
A couple of kids fight it out for the puck in an ice-hockey match
10. Milk comes in bags
If you think buying a big plastic sack of milk sounds weird, you are absolutely correct. It’s a strange practice that goes on throughout Ontario and Quebec. Three individual bags of milk are placed in one larger sack, which the keen Canadian milk-drinker then lugs home. The traditional bottle of milk seems to work for everyone else, but in some parts of Canada it’s the bag or nothing. Once the country switched to the metric system in 1970, milk manufacturers had to change all their machines so they could produce different sized bottles. Bagging it up just seemed a lot easier. So here we are.
11. Everyone loves poutine
Poutine is Canada’s national dish. The word “poutine” is slang in Quebec for “a mess”, which is pretty much what you get. Chips covered in gravy and half-melted cheese curds. It doesn’t sound like a particularly dainty meal, but the Canadians love it all the same. It was invented in 1957 when a trucker asked someone to put cheese on his chips and gravy. One guy wanted a bit of cheese and suddenly a national dish was born. Chefs around the country have tried to make it a bit more fancy, throwing in things like lobster and foie gras, but it’s a losing battle. Just watch out for those calories; a side order of poutine in Burger King contains 740 of them. Heavy.
12. And maple syrup
Yes, the stereotype is true; Canadians are mad for maple syrup. That sweet, sugary goo can be found in nearly every kitchen across the country. The stuff practically flows through their veins. Maple trees are all over Canada and they’re beautiful, turning a bright red colour in the autumn. Back in the day, natives in Quebec showed the French how to collect the sap from maple trees, and then the French boiled it to create the syrup. It was a happy collaboration that Canada is very proud of. The boiling process increases the sugar content in the sap from around 2-8% to a massive 70%, which is absolutely disastrous for your teeth. Today, Canada produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup, and the US is their biggest customer. Back in 2012, thieves raided Canada’s maple syrup reserves and stole US$30 million worth of maple syrup. That is one sweet heist.
A boy and his dog investigate a bucket in a maple syrup farm
13. They had a flag design competition
How do you create a national flag that the whole country is happy with? You ask them to design it. In 1965, Canada realised that they still didn’t have an official flag, so the people at the top decided they should get one. Other countries had already taken all the simple designs, so the Canadians had to get creative. And boy did they deliver! A total of 3541 flag designs were submitted by citizens across the country, with most of them including either a maple leaf, a beaver, a fleurs-de-lys or a Union Jack (and sometimes all four at once). The winning entry came from Colonel George F. G. Stanley, with his simple red and white maple leaf design. The one we all know and love. And the one that all Canadian travellers insist on having on their backpacks.
14. The education is top notch
In Canada, school is cool. When it comes to teaching their kids, the Canadians don’t mess around. In the OECD’s 2017 ranking of countries’ adult education levels (based on the percentage of 25-64 year olds with a degree), Canada came first with 56.27%. It might be bad for your teeth, but maple syrup clearly does something for the brain. If you end up in a pub quiz against a bunch of Canadians, it’s probably best to go home before it gets too embarrassing.
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15. Learn the slang
‘Canadian English’ is a special kind of English. The Canucks speak their own lingo and it can confuse the hell out of any unprepared foreigner. There are only so many times you can ask someone to repeat themselves before you just nod and smile. The most famous phrase is ‘eh’, which Canadians like to slap on the end of almost any sentence. Statements, questions, insults, commands; everything is fair game when it comes to ‘eh’. If someone goes to the “biffy” then they’re off to the toilet. If it’s cold then you’ll need a “toque” (a beanie) on your head. A $1 coin is a “loonie” and a $2 coin is a “toonie”. The jazzy word for a kilometre is a “klick”. If anyone talks to you about “the 6ix”, they’re talking about Toronto. When they say “about”, it sounds like “aboat”. It’s all very overwhelming.
“Poutine” – the Canadian national dish made up of chips, gravy and bits of melted cheese
“Sorry” is Canada’s most important word. Every Canadian is just desperate to apologise to other Canadians at any given opportunity. They’re a famously polite bunch, and the word “sorry” is their bread and butter. Throw enough “sorry”s at a situation and everything will be fine. Walk down a street or through a supermarket and you’ll never stop hearing it. In fact, Canadians use the word so much that in 2009 they had to pass an ‘Apology Act’ in Ontario. It means that if any Canadian says ‘sorry’ at the time of a crime or incident, it won’t count as an admission of guilt – just an expression of sympathy. Without this, there’d probably be a lot of apologetic Canadians in prison.
17. Timmies is everywhere
In a list of very Canadian things, Tim Hortons is probably third – just after maple syrup and apologies. Known affectionately as ‘Timmies’, it’s a chain of coffee & donut shops and there are branches everywhere. They’re in shopping malls, train stations, cinemas, national parks, the list goes on. Pretty much every town across Canada has a Timmies. If a space opens up on the high street, it will get filled with a Timmies. Leave your garden long enough and it will eventually sprout a Timmies. Apparently eight out of every ten cups of coffee purchased in Canada are from Timmies (source: Timmies). A national favourite is the Timmies “double-double”, which is a coffee with two sugars and two creams. An extra large one of those has 340 calories. Have too many double-doubles and you’ll be in trouble-trouble.
18. Canada’s furry friends
The moose and the beaver are Canada’s national mascots. They’re both on the currency, and the pair of them were queuing up right behind the maple leaf to go on the flag. However, as with most national animals, they’ve become a bit of a pest. A moose normally weighs between 350-450kg (depending on gender), which is fine. But they just love to cross roads, and they’re not very good at it. Moose-vehicle collisions can be very serious, so you’ll see lots of warning signs on Canadian roads. The beavers are up to no good either. They’re attacking dogs, biting hands, flooding roads and just generally causing havoc. Certain people have tried to cull them but it’s very controversial. Just look at how cute a baby beaver is (called a kit). Imagine culling that.
An adorable baby beaver – known as a “kit” – waddling through a shallow river
19. Beware of the bears
Canadian bears. They’re a bit less “fun and fluffy” than the beavers and a bit more “big and dangerous”. If a bear wants to kill you, it can and it will. There are three kinds of bears to worry about, from least to most scary: black bears, grizzly bears and polar bears. Black bears don’t tend to go near humans unless they’re actually starving. They’re great tree-climbers and there are about 500,000 of them across the country. Grizzly bears are much bigger (about seven feet tall when standing), so they can’t climb trees but they can run over 30 mph. Numbering around 20,000, grizzlies are much more likely to attack humans than their little black brothers. Finally, there’s the polar bears. There are about 17,000 polar bears in Canada, which is about 70% of the entire global population. Ice cold, these ones need no invitation to attack you. Residents of Churchill, Manitoba actually leave their car doors unlocked in case someone needs shelter. Luckily polar bears still haven’t worked out how to open a car door.
A Canadian black bear enjoying some proper Canadian scenery
20. There are bridges for animals
One solution to all the animal-vehicle crashes in Canada is to build bridges for them. And it actually works. The bridges are grassy, leafy and just a lovely way to cross the road. They’re a smash hit with the animals in Banff National Park; between 1996 and 2012, eleven species of large mammal were recorded using these bridges over 150,000 times. This includes moose and bears – animals that would certainly have caused a serious accident if they took the usual road route. Certain moose were so keen to use the bridges that they were crossing over them before they’d even finished being built. Banff has set the trend and now places across Canada have got bridge fever, such as British Columbia and Alberta. It’s a win-win for all.
It might look like a cat has just walked across the keyboard, but this is actually a place in Canada. It’s a lake and its name (in the native Cree language) means “where the wild trout are caught by fishing with hooks”. Delightfully, there is no shortage of ridiculous place names in Canada. Some people just haven’t taken the job seriously enough. Check out these towns and villages: Goobies, Dildo (Newfoundland), Balls Creek, Lower Economy, Mushaboom (Nova Scotia), Punkeydoodles Corners, Crotch Lake, Ball’s Falls (Ontario), Finger, Flin Flon (Manitoba), Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean Man, Eyebrow and Big Beaver (Saskatchewan). Best of all, there’s Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! In Quebec. Yes, there are actually two ‘Ha!’s.
Hopefully you’re feeling pretty Canada-crazy after reading that. It’s a vast, beautiful and multicultural country with more than enough fun to go around. Get yourself a hockey stick and a bag of milk and you’ll be a full-blown Canadian before you know it. And you shouldn’t let the bears put you off – they just make going outside a bit more exciting.