I love visiting Canada, but I didn’t always feel that way. For some reason as a youth, I had a kind of violent ambivalence to our northern neighbors and I don’t know why. They annoyed me in almost every way and even now looking back at it I can’t really explain why. Maybe it was societal, maybe it was familial (my Mainer grandparents didn’t often have nice things to say about Canadians) but I am happy to say that once I started visited Canada as a tourist, my opinions immediately changed. Today Canada is quite honestly one of my favorite countries to explore (not Toronto, ever) but in doing so I realized there are some aspects to the country that not only Americans tend to forget, but the rest of the world as well. So with this in mind, and in the interest in promoting greater understanding of our maple syrup-loving friends, here are a few important facts about Canada that everyone should know and which just might change your impression of this beautiful country.
1. Canada is huge
Stop and go look at a map; really look at it and I think you’ll be surprised at just how very large Canada is. It’s actually the second largest country in the world after Russia, yet if asked I bet few people would know that. The main reason is of course nearly all Canadians live huddled up against the warm border with the United States, leaving gigantic swathes of the country untended. As a tourist, this usually means we skip these areas as well. Toronto, Quebec, Vancouver, sure we’ve all heard of them but Nunavut? Whitehorse? No, not so much. So when thinking about traveling in Canada, step back and really take a look at it. Sure, a lot of those northern areas are harder to reach, but they’re certainly well worth visiting.
2. More than moose and trees
At the same time, Canada is not defined by its natural splendor. Ask any American what comes to mind when they think of Canada and it’ll be a mix of maple syrup, hockey, moose and Mounties. But Canada is a lot more than just moose and pancake toppings; it’s a modern, dynamic country with fascinating urban centers that have a lot to offer. Traveling through most of Canada’s major cities, it is immediately apparent that they are amongst the most diverse in the world. People from all walks of life and nationalities descend on these cities to work and eventually call them home. With them they have brought fascinating and diverse cultures and amazing food too, of course. Toronto’s food scene is more like the UN cafeteria than it is a Canadian city. Sure, you’ll find poutine there, but the real finds are the amazing Thai and Vietnamese places scattered all around town. Many, many folks visit Canada to experience the great outdoors, which is fine, but the country’s urban centers shouldn’t be ignored either.
3. Interesting history
Believe it or not, Canada does indeed have a history that is not necessarily tied to Great Britain. I actually think that Canada has done the best job of any country in relating the history and stories of the original inhabitants, what they typically call First Nations Peoples. Just like the US, Native Americans had a long and rich history before the arrival of the first European settlers and evidence of this can be found all around the country, from the Maritimes to the Pacific Northwest. There’s also a lot more recent history and if you’re a history buff, then the events surrounding the War of 1812 should be of interest to you. If you’re an American like me, you’ll learn why Canada should probably be part of the US had we not so badly bungled the war. No matter your interest, Canada has a lot to offer those looking to learn a little more about history and culture, aside from maple syrup production.
4. Americans don’t spend enough time
A lot of my friends have been to Canada for leisure travel but I honestly cannot think of one who has spent more than 5 days visiting. For whatever reason, we Americans just don’t see Canada as a long vacation destination and I’m not entirely sure why. We’ll spend a week on a Caribbean cruise, but when we visit Canada we spend 3 days in Montreal or 5 days in Banff, but anything longer is not at all common. Time to change that. Two of my visits to Canada have been a week in length and those were honestly not nearly long enough. There is a lot to see and do up there, deceptively so, and I think the variety of activities makes Canada well suited for a week or two of exploration. General education is the main problem. There isn’t enough written in the Lower 48 about the width and breadth of Canadian experiences. Sure, we know about the major sites, but more should be told about Saskatchewan’s lakes or Alberta’s Badlands; heck, a week in Nova Scotia or the Maritimes would be perfect. So when planning your next long trip somewhere, look north and give it some thought.
5. Just a really pleasant place to be
I love visiting new and foreign places, seeing if I can get by on my wits and poor language skills. Canada doesn’t offer that, but what it does offer is a really pleasant travel experience. After my last trip to Canada, I came to the realization that I just really like being there. I’d live in Canada in a heartbeat, given the opportunity. The people are legendarily nice, a stereotype that absolutely holds up, everyone is warm, kind, polite and welcoming. The cities make sense, are generally clean, interesting and fun to explore. The vast open spaces are beautiful almost beyond comprehension and offer a seemingly endless array of experiences and activities. Things aren’t too expensive, they drive on the correct side of the road and aside from adding ‘u’s to a few words, understanding Canadians is pretty easy. Traveling through Canada is just an all-around pleasant experience and I know I’ll never get tired of visiting.
These are just a few facts and interesting tidbits I think the world needs to keep in mind when considering a trip to Canada. I think as a nation it oftentimes gets short shrift and it’s high time we change that.
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