Area: 9,976,000 sq km (3.9 million sq mi)
Capital City: Ottawa (pop: 1,010,500)
People: British descent (28%), French descent (23%), Italian descent (3%), aboriginal peoples (2%), plus significant minorities of German, Ukrainian, Dutch, Greek, Polish and Chinese descent
Languages: English, French and 53 native languages
Religion: Catholic (45%), Protestant (36%) and minorities from most of the world’s major religions
Government: Parliamentary democracy
Prime Minister: Stephen Harper
Governor-General: David Johnst
GDP: US$774 billion
GDP per head: US$25,000
Annual Growth: 3%
Major products/industries: processed and unprocessed minerals, food products, wood and paper products, transportation equipment, chemicals, fish products, petroleum and natural gas
Major trading partners: USA, Japan, EU (UK, Germany, Netherlands), China and South Korea
February: Winter Carnival in Quebec City features parades, ice sculptures, a snow slide, dances and music.
June: The Montreal Jazz Festival.
July: The Ottawa International Jazz Festival attracts international and local players.
August: First Peoples’ Festival, Victoria, traditional craftwork, dancing and war-canoe rides.
September: Toronto International Film Festival.
Currency: Canadian dollar
It’s best to change money at recognized companies, which specialize in international transactions. If you can’t find a money exchange office or booth, try a bank. American Express and Thomas Cook are the best travelers’ checks to have, and you should make sure they are either in US or Canadian dollar denominations. Credit cards are widely accepted. It’s considered normal to tip 10-15% of the bill.
The Rockies are sprawled along the Alberta-British Columbia border and span between two gigantic national parks – Banff to the South and Jasper to the north. Banff is the nation’s number one resort spot year round. But Jasper National Park has a larger, wilder and less explored landscape on show. Banff’s glorious turquoise Moraine Lake , while in danger of suffering cliche overload, is one of Canada’s most idyllic natural attractions. Connecting Banff and Jasper parks is the Columbia Ice field, a vast bowl of ice made up of about 30 glaciers, a remnant of the last Ice Age.
Starting at the foot of the Rockies and heading out long, wide and flat through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba is Canada’s heartland prairie country. Golden fields of wheat, or sunflowers, stretch forever in these parts. Alberta’s busiest prairie attraction is the quaintly named Blackfoot Indian heritage site – Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, near Fort Macleod. The 3000 sq km Riding Mountain National Park is a forested oasis in the Manitoba prairies, where bison and bike riders roam. Next door in Saskatchewan the prairies are scattered with evocatively named national parks, and canoe routes often outnumber roads.
East Ontario’s Algonquin Park is one of Canada’s best-loved parks, with a dazzling array of hiking and canoeing options. The lake-dotted semi-wilderness has 1600 km of charted canoe routes to explore, the waterfall-filled Barron Canyon to jump around in, and bear, moose and wolves to run away from. Hikers can opt for a half-hour jaunt or spend days crisscrossing the park’s many trails.
Perched on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, just north of Cape Onion, L’Anse-aux-Meadows is the oldest European habitation site in North America. Now protected as a national park, the historic site is set on the edge of the Strait of Belle Isle, across from Labrador, in a rough, rocky northern environment. It’s a fascinating place, made all the more special by the unobtrusive, low-key approach taken in its development. The Viking settlement includes replicas of sod buildings, complete with smoky scent, and there are also eight unearthed originals of wood and sod.
One of Canada’s few accessible northern outposts, remote Churchill’s lifeblood is the 1.5-day train journey linking the town with Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital, a mere 1600 km away to the south. Churchill is a major grain-handling port, but eco-tourism is an increasingly important industry for the town. Despite the sub-zero temperatures and minimal facilities, visitors flock to see the region’s huge array of arctic wildlife – from polar bears and beluga whales to caribou and Arctic foxes – and to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis.
Well before Columbus ‘discovered’ America in 1492, prehistoric tribes from Asia had come across the Bering Strait; and around AD 1000, the Vikings, the first European visitors, had tried to settle in northern Newfoundland. By the time subsequent Europeans arrived, Canada’s Indian tribes had already developed a multitude of languages, customs, religious beliefs, trading patterns, arts and crafts, laws and governments. Although a number of European countries were interested in establishing settlements in the Americas, it was French explorer Jacques Cartier who made the first claim on the area surrounding the St Lawrence River in 1534.
Another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, founded Quebec 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. Then, in 1745, British troops captured a French fort in Nova Scotia – the struggle for control of the new land was on. The turning point in what became known as the Seven Years’ War arrived when the British defeated the French at Quebec 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. After the War of 1812 – the last war between Canada and the USA, in which Canada was victorious – Britain, fearful of losing Canada as it had the American Colonies, proclaimed the British North America Act (BNA Act) in 1867. The Act established the Dominion of Canada and 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 finally joined in 1949.
After WW I Canada grew slowly in stature and prosperity, becoming a voluntary member of the Commonwealth in 1931. With the onset of WW II, 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 WW II, 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 native 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 Quebec had with English-speaking Canada. In 1976 the Parti Quebecois (PQ), advocating separatism, won the provincial election in Quebec, though sentiments on the issue have since waxed and waned. In the 1980 sovereignty referendum, the separatists were defeated by 60% of the vote. In October 1995, the vote was extremely close, with Canada coming within a few thousand votes of breaking up. The prime minister, Jean Chratien, has since attempted to appease the Quebeckers by recognizing the province as a ‘distinct society’.
Canada’s most distinctive art is that of the Inuit of the north, particularly their stone and bone sculptures and carvings. Native Indian artists also excel at printmaking, basketry and carving. The country has also produced a torrent of great writers, including Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, and Rajean Ducharme, as well as world-renowned musicians, such as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Diana Krall.
English and French are the country’s two official languages, though the province of New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual area in the country. You will, however, notice both languages on maps, tourist brochures and product labels. The French spoken in Canada is not, for the most part, the language of France. In Quebec, where the majority of the population are of French descent, the local tongue is known as Quebecois. Most Quebeckers, however, will understand formal French.
In terms of formal religion, the population is overwhelmingly Catholic, with a multicultural mix of Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Native Indian spiritual communities as well.
Gastronomy in English Canada was long based on the British ‘bland is beautiful’ tradition, but while there are no distinctive national dishes or unique culinary delights, good food is certainly plentiful. In most cities it is not difficult to find decent Greek, Italian, East Indian or Chinese restaurants. In Quebec, however, there are some extremely idiosyncratic dishes worth sampling: French pea soup, tourtières (meat pies) and poutine (French fries covered with gravy and cheese curds).
There are a range of laws and regulations governing the sale of alcohol in Canada: as a general rule it must be bought at government stores (except in Alberta, where there are private retailers, and in Quebec, where beer and wine can be bought at local convenience stores called dipanneurs).
Situated north of the USA, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Canada is the world’s second largest country (Russia takes the first place). It extends some 7700 km east to west and 4600km north to south. Nearly 90% of Canadians huddle along the 6379km southern border with the USA. Though much of the land is lake and river-filled forest, there are mountains, plains and even a small desert. The Great Plains, or prairies, cover Manitoba, Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta.
Western Canada is known for its Rocky Mountains, while the east has the country’s major cities and also its most visited geographic feature, Niagara Falls. The Canadian Shield, an ancient, rocky and glacially sanded region, formed more than 2.5 billion years ago, covers most of the north of the country. The Arctic region, in the far north, is where you’ll find frozen tundra merging into islands that are ice-bound for most of the year.
Canada has an incredible mix of native flora and fauna. It comprises eight vegetation zones, most of which are dominated by forest. Some of the common tree species include white and black spruce, balsam and Douglas fir, western red cedar, white pine and the sugar maple, one of Canada’s best-known symbols – the maple leaf appears on the country’s flag. Endemic animals include the grizzly, black, brown and polar bears, beaver, buffalo, wolf, coyote, lynx, cougar, deer, caribou, elk and moose. There are also 500 species of birds, such as the great blue heron, Canada geese and many varieties of duck.
Overseas visitors flying into Canada usually head for Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal or Halifax. Visitors entering the country from major continental US cities can choose to arrive by plane, train, bus or car. There are three main rail routes from the USA: New York-Montreal, New York-Toronto and Chicago-Toronto. The USA’s Greyhound network connects with most major destinations in Canada. There are numerous road border crossings.
In Canada, land travel is much cheaper and much more interesting than flying. The bus network is the most extensive public transportation system and is generally less expensive than the limited train service. Air fares are fairly expensive but, if you’re strapped for time, the distances you may need to travel are so great that you’ll probably have to fly. Air Canada (which swallowed Canadian Airlines in 1999) is the major domestic airline. In many ways, the best way to experience the country is to hire a car. Canadians drive on the right side of the road, as in the USA. A valid driver’s license from any country is good in Canada for three months. Canada is so large, cyclists find it hard to cover much ground.
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.
The Niagara Falls, located on the Niagara River draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, is the collective name for the Horseshoe Falls and the adjacent American Falls along with the comparatively small Bridal Veil Falls, which combined form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world and has a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m). Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall (vertical height along with flow rate) in North America. Niagara Falls forms the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York, also forming the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. The falls are located 17 miles (27 km) north-northwest of Buffalo, New York and 75 miles (121 km) south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.
Kamloops is a city in south central British Columbia, at the confluence of the two branches of the Thompson River and near Kamloops Lake. It is the largest community in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the location of the regional district’s offices. The surrounding region is more commonly referred to as the Thompson Country. It is ranked 37th on the list of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in Canada and represents the 44th largest census agglomeration nationwide, with 92,882 residents in 2006.
Jasper is a specialized municipality in western Alberta, Canada. It is the commercial centre of Jasper National Park, located in the Canadian Rockies in the Athabasca River valley.
Jasper is 362 kilometres (225 mi) west of Edmonton. Jasper is 290 kilometres (180 mi) north of Banff, Alberta, with the Icefields Parkway connecting the Jasper townsite to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. It was established as a specialized municipality on July 20, 2001 and the governance of Jasper is shared between the Municipality of Jasper and the federal Parks Canada agency.
Banff is a town within Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. It is located in Alberta’s Rockies along the Trans-Canada Highway. Banff is a resort town and one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations, known for its mountainous surroundings and hot springs. It is a destination for outdoor sports and features extensive hiking, biking, scrambling and skiing areas within the area.
Canada’s business capital and largest city is a clean, safe and vibrant metropolis. A center for Anglo-Canadian culture, it’s also one of the great ethnic melting pots of the world. Although the famous Niagara Falls are nearby, Toronto isn’t a city with a checklist full of attractions. It’s a city that needs to be experienced, and you need some time to let its many flavors percolate. Its festivals seize you in summer, the spicy corners of its markets call you, the beachfront boardwalks and the music pouring out of its neighborhood eateries seduce you.
Area: 632 sq km (246.48 sq mi)
Population: 2.4 million
Telephone Area code: 416 & 647
Time Zone: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
May: The Toronto International Powwow, held at the Skydome, is a two-day event celebrating Native Indian culture with dancers, costumes and crafts.
June: Annual Gay Pride Week culminates in an outrageous out-of-the-closet parade on Church St.
July: Molson Indy, Toronto’s only major car race, and the Fringe Theatre Festival.
August: Caribana, an ever-growing Caribbean festival, celebrates with a weekend of reggae, steel drum and calypso music and dance.
Toronto is located in the heart of the Great Lakes region of southeastern Canada, on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. The downtown area is clasped on almost all sides by a hodgepodge of bohemian, ethnic and historic neighborhoods, with the remaining southern edge crisply defined by Lake Ontario, one of North America’s Great Lakes. Yonge St, the main north-south artery, stretches about 18 km north from Lake Ontario.
Bloor and College Sts are the main east-west streets. At the lakeshore (south) end of Yonge St is the semi-developed Harbourfront area. Two blocks west is the CN Tower and the Skydome, Toronto’s vast sports arena. North of the arena, Chinatown starts along Dundas St, just west of Yonge. Just north of that is the bustling university area and Yorkville, and to the west, Little Italy and The Annex. To the east of downtown lies Cabbagetown, an increasingly gentrified neighborhood that retains some Irish immigrant character. The Toronto Islands sit not far off shore in Lake Ontario. Pearson International Airport is 27 km northwest of the downtown area, near Etobicoke.
When to go
Toronto has a warm summer (June-early October) filled with festivals and events, making it the best time to visit. July and August can get muggy, however. Toronto gets downright frosty in winter (November-March), with cold spells averaging between 2 and minus-10°C (35-14°F).
Niagara Falls is about a two-hour drive from Toronto. Buses run every two hours or so and trains run twice a day. The roaring spectacle of Horseshoe Falls – Canada’s half of Niagara Falls – makes the town of Niagara Falls one of Canada’s top tourist destinations, drawing over 12 million people annually. Canada’s falls are grander and more powerful than the US Bridal Veil Falls, plunging 56 m down into the Maid of the Mist pool and clouding views of the falls from afar.
There are numerous pay-for-view options to see the falls. Maid of the Mist boats take passengers up close for a loud and wet view from the bottom of the falls. From near Table Rock Information Center you can don a plastic poncho and walk down through rock-cut tunnels halfway down the Cliffside.
Stratford is a fairly typical slow-paced, rural Ontario town, although it’s consciously prettier than most, not to mention home to a world-famous Shakespearean festival. The Bard’s words are the thing here, and visitors have from May until October each year to hear them. Productions are first rate, as are the costumes, and respected actors are always on stage. The town’s three theaters also produce contemporary drama, music and opera.
Plays aside, a popular way to pass time in the town is to take in the history and architecture with a walking tour. The Shakespearean Gardens, Queen’s Park, Stratford Perth Museum, The Gallery/Stratford and Victoria Costumiere are among the highlights.
Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve
To the southeast of Brantford, and larger than the city itself, is Ohsweken, the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve. Established in the late 18th century, it’s now one of the largest and most politically active Native communities in the country. You can learn more about Native culture by taking a tour of the reserve and its Band Council House, the seat of decision-making. Not far from the reserve are three more sites: the Woodland Cultural Center Museum; Her Majesty’s Chapel of the Mohawks, the world’s only Royal Indian Chapel; and Kanata, an authentic handmade replica of an Iroquois longhouse village.
Various gatherings are held during the year, including the Six Nations Pageant, a summer theater program and an annual handicraft bazaar in November. The Grand River Pow Wow, held for two days in late July, is a major event, featuring hundreds of colorful dancers, traditional drumming and singing, and Native foods and craft sales.
Toronto is built for walking. The two-hour Humber River Discovery Walk offers an interesting route, while true outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the Don River Valley ravine walk. Just east of the Beach neighborhood, Scarborough Bluffs has several parks with paths leading down to the lake and up to sweeping views. Free public swimming pools are found throughout the city, and there are sandy beaches and shady parks at The Beaches.
Toronto also has some great places for bicycle riding and in-line skating. The Martin Goodman Trail along the waterfront is especially worthwhile, passing the Harbourfront and the downtown area on its way to the Humber River in the west. Excellent golfing can be had on the first ever Jack Nicklaus-designed course, in the suburb of Oakville. In winter, there are good, free places for ice-skating.
Seneca Indians lived in the Toronto area until around 1720, when the French established a fur trading post and mission in what’s now the western end of the city. The French eventually succumbed to the British, who made Toronto the capital of Upper Canada in 1793 and renamed the burgeoning village York to help make them feel more at home.
During the War of 1812, the Americans held York for six days, looting and razing the town. Somewhat miffed, the British struck back by heading to Washington and torching what is now known as the White House (it was painted white to hide the burn marks). At the war’s end, York began to expand and the town’s inaugural mayor saw to it that York went back to being Toronto, a native Indian name meaning ‘meeting place.’
Throughout the Victorian era of the late 1800s there was seemingly nothing but progress for Toronto, with impressive buildings going up, a steadily increasing population and the arrival of the first European immigrants. In 1904, a good portion of the inner city went up in smoke, leveling more than a hundred buildings. During this time the city became known as ‘Toronto the Good’ for its straight-laced, highly moral, mannered culture. By the 1920s the city was booming, but during the Depression everything stopped short. Anti-immigrant hostilities ran high, with anti-Semitic riots, the banning of all Chinese immigration and racism against blacks – all the more lamentable for Ontario’s role in the Underground Railroad, which brought slaves to freedom in Canada. Despite this regrettable history, following WW II new immigrants began to flood in, bringing with them new cultures and livening up the place once thought to be rather staid.
Toronto became one of the fastest-growing cities in North America, with the city’s optimism continuing right through the boom times of the 80s. Of course, things had to go bust sometime, and they did in the recession of the early 90s. Toronto has largely now recovered, thanks in part to continued infusions of immigrants. In 1998, when five surrounding suburbs were incorporated into its environs, Toronto became the largest city in Canada and the fourth-largest in North America.
Toronto is a very walkable city and its grid layout makes it relatively simple to navigate. It has a good subway, bus and streetcar system, operating under the umbrella of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Once your fare is paid, you can transfer to any bus, subway or streetcar within an hour at no extra charge.
Traffic congestion and expensive parking makes driving a better bet for out-of-town excursions. If you’re fit enough, walking, cycling and in-line skating are the best ways to explore central Toronto. There are plenty of places to rent bikes and skates, and 40 km of bicycle-only routes ensures pleasant cycling.
Kingston is a Canadian city located in Eastern Ontario where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. Kingston is nicknamed the Limestone City because of the many historic buildings built from the local limestone. Kingston is known for its historic properties, as reflected in the city’s motto of where history and innovation thrive.
Canada’s capital sprawls along the southern bank of the Ottawa River, on the eastern tip of Ontario. It’s a government town, dominated physically and spiritually by the neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings. The air’s clean, the streets are wide, there are lots of public parks and the people seem happy and healthy as they jog or cycle their way to work. The city has the usual plethora of impressive buildings common to capital cities: the War Museum (with a life-sized replica of a WW I trench), the Royal Mint, various grand old homes inhabited by ministers of state and a swag of museums to do justice to the country’s icons: nature, aviation, science and technology, skiing and agriculture.
Passion and pride run as deep as the waters around this stylish, bilingual island city. Founded on religious zeal and a mountain of skinned animals, Montreal has seen its fair share of bloodshed, but these days the battle between French and English is left to the increasingly sluggish referendum ballot. Dubbed one of the world’s most livable cities, Montreal’s charm lies in its relaxed atmosphere rather than its star attractions, and a quiet amble can be as memorable as a visit to the sights. The city is named for park-covered Mont Royal, a striking 232 m geological structure that’s often mistaken for an extinct volcano, which towers over the city’s central neighborhoods. The cobblestone streets of Montreal’s old precinct are lined with stone houses, Paris-like cafes and architectural beauties like the 18th-century Pointe Ã Calliere (Museum of Archaeology & History).
At once both stylish and elegant, Montreal boasts a joie de vivre among its inhabitants, whose culturally diverse outlook defines this as a most unique and interesting city. Although the complexities of the separatist debate are never too far from the surface, Montreal exudes a relaxed yet exciting ambience that captures a pride and confidence in its own worth.
Area: 499 sq km (310 sq mi) (Montreal City)
Population: 3.4 million (1.8 million Montreal City
Telephone Area code: 514
Time Zone: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
June: Montreal Jazz Festival.
July: Just For Laughs Festival and the Montreal International Film Festival.
August: Gay & Lesbian Pride Week.
Montreal is on an island 40 km long and 15 km wide, where the Ottawa River flows into the Saint Lawrence River in Canada’s southeast. The most striking landmark is Mont Royal, a 232 m remnant of volcanic rock known locally as ‘the mountain’. The core of the city is quite small and is below the mountain in the south-central part of the island.
The city is conveniently laid out in a grid pattern and defined by neighborhoods and districts. The main downtown heart of Montreal is the area south of Mont Royal, with Rue Sainte Catherine, the main shopping street, running east to west through its center. McGill University marks the channel of space leading from downtown to the impressive views of the mountain. To the east of the mountain is the chic district of Plateau Mont Royal, with its fabulous 19th-century architecture and hopping nightlife.
Directly to the east of downtown, over The Main, Rue Sainte Catherine Ouest (west) becomes Rue Sainte Catherine Est (East) and runs into the strongly French flavored Quartier Latin. The area is dominated by the emblematic Universite du Quebec Ã Montreal, and the waft of good coffee, steaming bagels and strong cigarettes.
Montreal has two airports. Dorval 22.5 km west of downtown, serves most domestic, US and overseas flights. Mirabel, 55 km northeast of downtown, serves mostly charter flights.
When to go:
Montreal has a notoriously arctic winter (December-March) that makes it great as a base for winter sports, but with the sort of spiteful temperatures that would probably frighten a polar bear. Thankfully, Montreal gets around the problem with its ‘Underground City’, a unique climate-controlled labyrinth of 2000 shops and 29km (18mi) of corridors. This makes the city an alluring year-round tourist drawcard.
Built for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, the massive Parc Olympique cost Montrealers more than $US1 billion and was shrouded in scandal, indignation and allegations of corruption. The irony is that the complex, 3km (2mi) east of downtown, is undeniably magnificent and an incredibly popular drawcard for the city. Finally completed in 1990, its grandiose multipurpose showpiece, the Stade Olympique (or ‘Big O’ to its friends), has carried on the controversial tradition, including a collapsed beam during a football game a year after completion, mechanical mishaps and a laughable litany of repairs.
Housed within the former velodrome at the Olympic Complex is the spectacular BiodÃ´me, which re-creates four distinct ecosystems and is home to 5000 plants and 4000 animals, including the too-cute penguins, monkeys and alligators. Elsewhere within Olympic Park are the Jardin Botanique, the third-largest Botanical Gardens in the world; with over 30 different garden settings and plant species galore.
About an hour’s drive northwest of Montreal is the Rouge River, one of the best white-water rivers in North America. Said to be fantastic fun, day and weekend trips are available with lunch included. A restaurant-lodge and pool ensure visitors don’t have too tough a time of it. The area is also popular for kayaking trips, mountain biking and rock climbing, not to mention plenty of nude sunbathing.
Montrealers sure do love their outdoors. The city has fantastic parks and gardens. The huge Parc du Mont Royal offers outdoor action aplenty: walking, picnicking, jogging, horseback riding, bicycling and frisbeeing. If that isn’t exhausting enough, in the winter there’s ice-skating, tobogganing and cross-country skiing.
It isn’t surprising to discover that Montreal has about 400 km of bike paths, including one that links Vieux (Old) Montreal with the Parc des ales and the historic suburb of Lachine along the city’s old canal. On the ale Notre Dame, the Grand Prix track becomes a haven for inline skating, while its summer-use rowing basin becomes a monster ice-skating rink in the winter.
Montreal’s past accounts for a lot of the politics of Canada today. Even before the French came to Quebec with ideas of Napoleon’s Second Empire, the Algonkian, Huron and Iroquois shared the area, not always peacefully. Jacques Cartier was the first European to set foot on the island of Montreal, but it wasn’t until 1642 that a permanent European settlement was established and ‘the mountain’ was named Mont Royal, from which the city took its name.
It soon became a major fur-trading post, a business the Iroquois wanted for themselves, and attacks on the colony occurred regularly until 1701 when a peace treaty was signed. With a burgeoning fur trade, Montreal became an exploration base and the commercial hub of France’s North American empire, Nouvelle France. Many of the buildings from the period can still be seen in Vieux Montreal today.
However, trouble bubbled away, first with the protracted French and the Indian war (1754-63), which marked the turning point in French influence throughout North America. This paved the way for the British to take Quebec City in 1759 and before long Montreal also fell. In 1763, Canada officially became a British colony and settlers began to pour in. However, the anti-British rebelling American colonies also had designs on the territory and took Montreal. But without French-Canadian support, they were soon forced to beat a hasty retreat from Quebec City and Montreal.
Despite the decline of Montreal as a fur-trading player, the city continued to grow and prosper as expanding shipping and rail lines turned the city into Canada’s commercial and cultural center by 1900. Much of its diversity came from Central and Eastern European immigrants looking for work, and ethnic districts continued to expand into the 20th century with a huge influx of Jewish Europeans.
By the early 1950s a new mayor, Jean Drapeau, was drawing up plans that would change the face of the city. Labeled a megalomaniac by critics, Drapeau nonetheless succeeded in cleaning up the city, encouraging redevelopment and enhancing Montreal’s international reputation with both the World’s Fair in 1967 (pulling in over 50 million visitors) and the Olympic Games in 1976. Apart from a five-year period in the early ’60s, Drapeau remained a popular mayor until the mid-’80s. Nonetheless, during this time Toronto had well surpassed Montreal as Canada’s economic capital. This was in no small part due to the uncertainties stirred up by a growing Quebec separatist movement that became a dominant political cause in the 1960s. This launched the ‘Quiet Revolution’ that eventually gave French Quebecers more sway in industry and politics and saw the supremacy of the French language in the province. The down side of the movement was the relocation of foreign investors to less turbulent waters. This hurt Montreal greatly, exacerbating the deep recession of the early 1990s during which poverty was a major problem. The issue of separatism however, failed to diminish with referendums and the rise to political power of the separatist-leaning Parti Quebecois (PQ). Montreal’s residents voted firmly to stay with Canada, although the issue is no less passionate or complex even today.
On the back of growing high-tech industries Montreal managed to emerge from economic hardship, and modernization of the city took off again throughout the 1990s as the riverfront and Vieux Port area were redeveloped and enhanced.
Montreal’s main airport, Dorval, is 22.5km west of downtown and serves most domestic, US and overseas flights. Direct flights between major US and Canadian cities are abundant. Europe’s main airports and major carriers all serve Montreal frequently.
Bus is the cheapest form of long-distance travel to/from Montreal and there are regular services to other major Canadian cities in the west. Services to the US include New York City and Boston. Buses leave from the Station Centrale de l’Autobus in the Quartier Latin, just east of the university.
Train is a more comfortable, and more expensive and luxurious means of long-distance travel. VIA Rail Canada operates out of Gare Centrale (Central Station) in downtown and mostly deals with the Quebec City-Windsor route that goes to Niagara Falls.
Dorval airport is conveniently 22.5 km from the city center and the best way into downtown is by bus or Metro (subway). Taxis are useful for those with lots of luggage and the fare to downtown Montreal is a flat $28. Montreal has an extremely modern and convenient bus and Metro (subway) system, and the subway ‘trains’ run quickly and quietly on rubber tires, just like the ones in Paris.
Driving in Montreal is for crazy people, not for those on vacation, but if you must, be warned that prices for gasoline and parking are quite exorbitant. Taxis are an expensive way of getting around. The best way to get around (by far) is bicycle, Montrealers enjoy a network of over 400 km bike paths.
The bilingual and utterly European capital of Quebec province divides its time between an Old Town bristling with historic ramparts, churches, narrow lanes and former battlefields, and districts revamped with museums, cafes, bars, restaurants and all the other mod-cons of international tourism.
Area: 93 sq km (36 sq mi)
Time: GMT/UTC minus five hours (minus four hours April through October)
Telephone Area Code: +1-418
February: Winter Carnival, featuring parades, ice sculptures, dances, and the vigorous downing of locally brewed beers.
March: The coming of spring is heralded with the Festival de la Neige.
June: FÃªte Nationale de la St Jean Baptiste.
July: Les Grands Feux Loto-Quebec, a fireworks spectacular.
Quebec City is the compact capital of sprawling Quebec, Canada’s largest province. Located in the south of the province near the border with the US state of Maine, it is pooled on top of and below the cliffs of Cape Diamond (Cap Diamant) at the confluence of the St Charles and St Lawrence rivers. In early 2002, its municipal limits were expanded a hundredfold to engulf all of the surrounding cities, including Levis and Ste Foy. The heart of this enigmatic provincial capital is its walled Old Town (Vieux Quebec), which takes up the northeastern end of Upper Town and was World Heritage-listed in 1985. The heart’s main artery is Rue St Jean, clogged with bars, cafes, restaurants and drifting clots of tourists, while running along the cliff edge is a boardwalk called Terrasse Dufferin. Just north of busy Place Royal at the eastern end of Lower Town, and surrounded by the oldest network of streets in the city, is Old Port (Vieux Port).
When to go:
This historic, charming and lively city snaffles visitors year-round (in excess of four million rubbernecks annually), even in the middle of winter when local tourism operators start handing out downhill and cross-country skis, and when classical delights like opera and ballet take to the stage. The crowds are at their most bustling throughout summer (June through August), particularly over the last two weeks of July when Canadian factory workers and other heavy-industry personnel traditionally lay down their tools and take a long break.
In 1832, a group of British soldiers returned to Quebec City from a stint in India and unknowingly introduced the populace to cholera – around 3500 people (or 10% of the population) subsequently died. To prevent such scourges, the local authorities set up a quarantine station on Grosse ale, a small island in the St Lawrence River to the city’s east. The station handled mainly European immigrants, processing over four million people before its closure in 1937. One of its busiest periods was during the 1840s, when the Irish potato famine drove 100,000 people to Canada, 7500 of whom died on Grosse ale of typhus.
Since 1994 it’s been possible to take guided tours of Grosse ale to inspect the old disinfection chambers, hospital, cemetery and immigrants’ living quarters. The tours are conducted from a marina in the village of Berthier sur Mer, which is located on the southern bank of the St Lawrence roughly 60km (37mi) from Quebec City. Grosse ale floats just off the north-eastern corner of the much larger ale d’Orleans, a highly popular holiday destination due to its centuries-old cottages and manors, abundant galleries of island art, and lovely river-enhanced scenery.
Parc de la Jacques Cartier
If you’ve had enough of man-made attractions and are hankering to see some of the wilderness stowed away in the expanses of Quebec province, put aside some time to visit one or more of the parks within a one-to-two-hour road trip of the capital. The largest, 40km (25mi) north of Quebec City, is the Parc de la Jacques Cartier, where canoeing, mountain biking, hiking, camping and cross-country skiing are all ardently pursued. Parc du Mont Ste Anne, 50km (31mi) east of town, has several hundred kilometers of cross-country skiing or hiking trails (depending on the season), while Reserve National de Faune Cap Tourmente, a further 15km (9mi) east, is a bird sanctuary that’s particularly popular with snow geese. Less appealing due to its tourist turnover, but still an impressive sight for building-weary eyes, is Parc de la Chute Montmorency, a reserve established around a set of higher-than-Niagara waterfalls in Beauport, 7km (4.3mi) east of Quebec City – visitors can catch a cable-car up the mountain and clamber across a footbridge above the falls, which are at their loudest in winter.
If you prefer to spend your leisure time outdoors, there are more than a few options to leave you feeling indecisive. The snug central cityscape is custom-made for walking, whether your feet carry you along the restaurant and bar-hemmed boulevards of the newer parts of the city, side-step you through the crowds trying to make their way up and down the cape’s narrowest lanes, or join one of the many organized walking tours (thematic excursions range from ‘Parks of the City’ to the more appealing ‘Vice and Drunkenness’). Those who like to watch can feast their eyes on hockey, cycling and canoeing events around the capital. Alternatively you can have your own adrenalin rush, particularly in winter when skating, snowboarding and downhill and cross-country skiing are the coolest endeavors.
Fans of the great indoors can stagger between bars on Rue St Jean, go clubbing on Grande Allee, or immerse themselves in performing arts at places like Grand TheÃ¢tre de Quebec (in St Jean Baptiste) or TheÃ¢tre de la Bordee (at the western end of Old Town).
Before Europeans imposed themselves on Quebecois soil, the province’s vast tracts of land were the domain of native Canadian societies who are today referred to as the First Nations. There are 11 First Nations in Quebec: the Inuit, Cree, Innu (Montagnais), Attikamekw, Algonquin, Micmac, Malecite, Abenaki, Mohawk, Naskapi and Huron-Wendat. The once-powerful Huron-Wendat established a village called Stadacona on the site of present-day Quebec City, but their nation was almost extinguished in the first half of the 17th century, when disease and intertribal wars reduced its members (who mainly lived in the Great Lakes region) from 30,000 to several hundred. The survivors of that period eventually resettled themselves at a place called Wendake, where many of the 3000-strong Huron-Wendat population still live today.
In 1535, the French explorer Jacques Cartier landed at Stadacona and spent a year in the area, giving every geographical feature in sight a French name and planting crosses in the name of the King of France to further make his colonial point. He floated back six years later and tried to establish a permanent base further upstream, but failed despite a lot of toil and left with fumee billowing out of his ears. It wasn’t until 1608 that the French finally managed to lay the groundwork for today’s city, when Samuel de Champlain got the native Canadian inhabitants heavily interested in the fur trade, planted some soldiers on Cape Diamond and declared the settlement of Kebec – named via an Algonquin word meaning ‘where the river narrows’ – open for business.
The fur trade got so big that it inspired an entrepreneurial cardinal back home to start shipping hundreds of settlers (Roman Catholic, of course) to Quebec City each year to help harvest pelts and exploit the other natural resources at hand. The English snatched control of the burgeoning city in 1629, but a few years later said they were really sorry (while keeping their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs), signed a treaty and gave it back to the French. The conflict between England and France continued to simmer and numerous British attacks culminated in a decisive victory over the French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 – both the English general Wolfe and the French general Montcalm died in that battle. English sovereignty over Canada was formalized in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
After spending most of the next century slowly adding to its well-established urbanity, due in part to a shift from agriculture to industrialization, Quebec City asserted its real tourist potential with the opening of the first Winter Carnival in 1954. It has been effectively building on this ever since, though it was distracted until 1959 by the corrupt and corporation-favouring reign of Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis, the provincial and sometimes violent reawakening of French nationhood in the 1960s and 70s and the referendum on separation from the rest of Canada in 1995 (the ‘No’ vote won by less than 1%).
Jean Lesage International Airport is the aerial gateway into Quebec City and is located about 10 km west of town. It fields international flights from several US destinations, including Boston and Newark, as well as from Mexico and Paris. The main domestic carrier touching down here is Air Canada, which forges connections with other chief Canadian cities such as Ottawa, in the neighboring province of Ontario.
Montreal is the place where buses trundle into Quebec province from the USA – there are no international coaches running direct between Quebec City and the international border to the south. Next door to the bus station is the most central of Quebec City’s three train stations, the strikingly renovated Gare du Palais. Ferries navigate the breadth of the St Lawrence River between Quebec City on the north shore (docking at Place Royale) and Levis (technically now part of Greater Quebec) on the south.
Autobus La Quebecoise runs an airport shuttle that picks up from downtown hotels. Quebec City is covered by a reasonably priced and efficient bus system, the hub of which is Gare Centrale d’Autobus on Boulevard Charest Est in St Roch. You can also move around the city in horse-drawn coaches and bicycles.
Nestled between mountains and sea, Vancouver lies on a strip of land bounded on the north by the Burrard Inlet and on the south by Fraser River. It is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North – wander the streets and you’ll hear a dozen different languages. One drawback to this place is the rain, particularly in winter, when it rarely stops. Even in summer, a soggy spell can last for weeks.
Population: 2 million
Province: British Columbia
Time Zone: Pacific Time (GMT/UTC -8)
Telephone area code: 604
January: Vancouver kicks off the year with an icy dip in English Bay called the Polar Bear Swim, a New Year’s Day event since 1819.
February: Chinese New Year celebrations, which feature dancing dragons, parades and the constant crackle of firecrackers, all in Chinatown.
June: Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
August: Pacific National Exhibition offers a little bit of everything – parades, livestock shows, concerts, sporting events and carnival rides.
September: The Vancouver Fringe Festival is a mix of drama, musicals, comedy and dance from around the world.
October: Vancouver International Writers (& Readers) Festival.
Vancouver lies in the southwestern corner of British Columbia, the south westernmost province in Canada. It’s on the Pacific coast, backed by the Coast Mountains. The center of downtown is Pacific Center, a three-block complex of offices, restaurants, shops and theaters at the corner of Robson and Howe Sts. Robson and Georgia St (two blocks north) are the two principal northwest-southeast streets. Both run into Stanley Park, the city’s largest park, which occupies the tip of the peninsula.
Vancouver International Airport is about 10 km south of the city on Sea Island, between Vancouver and the city of Richmond. Both rail and long-distance bus services are located at the Pacific Central Station, on Station St between National and Terminal Aves.
When to go:
The best time to visit is from early June to early October, when there’s less rain, temperatures are warm, daylight hours are long and the transportation routes are open. Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are good times for whale-watching.
Steveston, Canada’s largest commercial fishing port, was settled largely by Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century. However, during WW III nearly all the Japanese Canadians were sent to internment camps inland, and their boats and homes were auctioned off.
The old part of town that fronts onto Fraser River is quite charming, and has a number of good restaurants and pubs. There’s lots of activity in the harbor, and the sights and smells of the fishing fleets make for a good escape from the rush of downtown Vancouver.
Mt Seymour Provincial Park
This park is a quick escape from the city. There’s a road most of the way up to the peak of Mt Seymour, or you can relax on the chair lift. There are several hiking trails and the views of the city and surrounds are beautiful. The park is 13 km northeast of downtown across the Burrard Inlet.
A number of beaches offer good surfing. You can swim at 11 beaches around Vancouver or at one of the city’s aquatic centers. The rich and varied marine life in the local waters make scuba diving very rewarding. Canoeing, boating and kayaking are popular on the Fraser and Chilliwack rivers, which run south of the city, and the Gulf Islands southwest of Vancouver. Rivers close to Vancouver offering whitewater rafting include the Fraser, Thompson and Chilliwack. If fishing is your thing, several spots around Vancouver Island vie for the title ‘Salmon Capital of the World.’
Just minutes away from downtown, the mountains north of Vancouver have some great downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding. Grouse Mountain is the closest to downtown and is known for night skiing. There’s also cycling, inline skating and running; beach areas and the city’s parks are all good places to head. And if all that’s not enough, there are over 70 golf courses in the region, gyms aplenty, ice skating rinks and tennis courts.
The Salish Indians were the first inhabitants of Vancouver, whose history can be traced back to 1867. The town took its name from the British explorer Captain George Vancouver and started off as a trading center and transportation hub.
The opening of the Panama Canal, which was completed in 1914, brought about a boom Vancouver. Big business grew and so did big unions. Whereas the parties clashed over pay rates and working conditions, they came together in opposing the growing population of non-white workers. On several occasions, Vancouver’s Chinatown and Little Tokyo were the scene of white mob violence.
WW II and the Wall Street crash of 1929 brought severe economic depression and hardship to Canada. Vancouver, with its pleasant climate, became a magnet for young unemployed Canadian men. But Vancouver had neither work nor answers, and soon its streets were filled with demonstrations and rioting. Immigrants suffered through difficult times as well. During WW II, the city’s Germans saw their businesses burned to the ground, and Japanese Canadians were taken away from their land and put into internment camps.
Prosperity only returned with the advent of WW III, which catapulted the city into the modern era, and from then on it changed rapidly. Redevelopment included housing as well as office buildings, and this set the basis for the modern, livable city Vancouver is today. Vancouver’s international reputation grew with a very successful World’s Fair (Expo ’86) and a summit meeting between Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton in 1993.
Vancouver International Airport (YVR), about 10 km south of the city on Sea Island, is the largest airport on the Canadian west coast. It is a major hub of domestic and international flights, dominated by Air Canada. Besides frequent service to other cities in Canada, there are regular flights to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Pacific Central Station, off Main St, is the western terminus for VIA Rail. Amtrak trains also leave from this station, connecting Vancouver to Bellingham and Seattle with one train daily. Trains leave from North Vancouver at the BC Rail Station, with services to Squamish, Whistler, Lillooet, 100 Mile House and more. There is also a bus station at Pacific Central Station, with Amtrak, Greyhound and other operators running services to Seattle and other US destinations, as well as cities in Eastern Canada.
You can drive from the USA and other parts of Canada to Vancouver. It’s possible to cycle to Vancouver, but bicycles aren’t allowed on the freeway section of the Trans-Canada Hwy or the Upper Levels Hwy.
Vancouver has an integrated public transport system, Trans Link. There are electric trolley buses and standard diesel buses, the fully computerized Sky Train elevated light-rail system that runs from Waterfront Station to King George Station, Sea Bus passenger ferries that zip back and forth across Burrard Inlet, and West Coast Express peak-time trains.
Taxis are generally reliable and can be hailed at big hotels or by telephone. Cycling is a good way to get around town – there are several bike paths and lots of bike rental outlets.
Canada’s greatest attribute is its natural environment. Hiking is one of the most popular activities here. Many national parks provide outfitters for canoeing, kayaking and white-water rafting. Some of the best paddling can befound at Nova Scotia’s Kejiumkujik National Park. For beach activities, surf’s up on the east coast at Ingonish Beach in Nova Scotia and in the warmer waters of Melmerby and Caribou beaches near New Glasgow. Skiers are spoilt for choice, with good cross-country skiing found all across the land.
There’s also rock climbing. Fishing is abundant and popular, even in winter. You’ll need a license though. Some of the most popular cycling areas are the hilly Gaspé Peninsula in Québec and the Atlantic Provinces, excluding Newfoundland. There’s also good cycling in the Rocky Mountains (especially off-road mountain biking) and throughout British Columbia.