It’s challenging to remain enthused about relocating to Canada. The area is stunning, and the locals are renowned for being friendly. You start your day with a bowl of maple syrup, ski to work and apologise to everyone you encounter. Just take care to avoid running into any bears. From ice hockey to double-doubles to bagged milk, we’d like to share the most significant facts about living in the Great White North. Read on!
1. Canada is huge
Canada’s great for people who like it, because there’s 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 closer to London than Vancouver (west coast). Wood Buffalo National Park is bigger than the Netherlands. To make everything 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 were 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, and these cities are practically begging to be lived in. Regarding the important stuff, the Canucks ca-knock the ball right out of the park. Oh, and the capital of Canada is Ottawa, not Toronto.
3. It’s very multicultural
People love moving to Canada, and Canada loves having them over. More than 20% of Canadians were born in another country, which 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 many Aboriginal people. So 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 had equal status. If you think that sounds not easy, imagine being in Singapore (four official languages) or India (sixteen official languages). You don’t 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 ensure 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. You’ve got good healthcare options
Canada’s healthcare is the envy of its 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 essential medical services, you get them for free. It just involves a bit of waiting.
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 becoming a doctor.
Considering your private healthcare options is pretty sensible, particularly if you want to dodge those long waiting times.
We’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in Canada. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.
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6. The landscapes are beautiful
Yes, the cities are good, but the spaces between the cities are even better. For example, 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the American border, meaning there’s a lot of room for exploring in the north. So if you want to get away from other humans for a while (or forever), then the opportunity’s there. Aside from boiling deserts and tropical rainforests, Canada has every landscape going. There’s the rugged coastline of the 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? 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 whopping Lake Superior, about the size of Maine. So you can do all the fun watersports Australians do without worrying about the sharks. It’s one big worry-free splash party over there.
8. It’s cold
There’s no place for words like ‘chilly’ and ‘nippy’ in Canada. When we say it gets cold, we mean bloody cold. Apart from the country’s west coast in British Columbia, nowhere else in Canada does the average temperature exceed zero in wintertime. 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 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 a religion. To give you an idea, 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. The sport was invented in England, but don’t tell Canadians that.
10. Milk comes in bags
You are correct if you think buying a big plastic milk sack sounds weird. It’s a strange practice that goes on throughout Ontario and Quebec. Three bags of milk are placed in one larger sack, which the keen Canadian milk-drinker then lugs home. Unfortunately, the traditional milk bottle 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 to produce different-sized bottles. So 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 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. Watch out for those calories; a side order of poutine in Burger King contains 740. 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 are 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 disastrous for your teeth. Today, Canada produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup, and the US is their biggest customer. In 2012, thieves raided Canada’s maple syrup reserves and stole US$30 million worth of maple syrup. That is one sweet heist.
13. They had a flag design competition
How do you create a national flag with which the whole country is happy? You ask them to design it. In 1965, Canada realised 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! Citizens across the country submitted 3541 flag designs, including a maple leaf, a beaver, a fleur-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. Canadians don’t mess around when it comes to teaching their kids. 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 does something for the brain. So 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 dialect, 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 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”, they’re off to the toilet. You’ll need a “toque” (a beanie) on your head if it’s cold. 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.
“Sorry” is Canada’s most important word. Every Canadian is 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. 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 are everywhere
Tim Hortons is probably third – just after maple syrup and apologies in a list of very Canadian things. Known affectionately as ‘Timmies’, it’s a chain of coffee & doughnut shops with branches everywhere. They’re in shopping malls, train stations, cinemas, national parks, etc. Pretty much every town across Canada has Timmies. If space on the high street opens up, it will get filled with Timmies. Leave your garden long enough, and it will eventually sprout, Timmies. Eight of every ten cups of coffee purchased in Canada are from Timmies (source: Timmies). A national favourite is the Timmies “double-double”, a coffee with two sugars and two creams. An extra large one of those has 340 calories. So have too many double-doubles, and you’ll be in 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 queued 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 350-450kg (depending on gender), which is fine. But they love crossroads and are not very good at it. Moose-vehicle collisions can be very serious, so you’ll see many warning signs on Canadian roads. The beavers are up to no good either. They’re attacking dogs, biting hands, flooding roads, and generally causing havoc. Certain people have tried to cull them, but it’s very controversial. Look at how cute a baby beaver is (called a kit). Imagine culling that.
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 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 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 can run over 30 mph. Numbering around 20,000, grizzlies are much more likely to attack humans than their little black brothers. Finally, there are the polar bears—about 17,000 polar bears in Canada, about 70% of the global population. Ice cold, these need no invitation to attack you. Residents of Churchill, Manitoba, leave their car doors unlocked if someone needs shelter. Luckily polar bears still haven’t worked out how to open a car door.
20. There are bridges for animals
One solution to all the animal-vehicle crashes in Canada is to build bridges for them. And it 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 large mammal species 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 crossed over them before they’d even finished being built. Banff has set the trend, and now places across Canada have 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 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 is two ‘Ha! ‘s.