Canada is a vast country – the second largest in the world – located just north of the continental United States. The majority of Canada is scarcely populated, with mountain ranges, glaciers, waterways and forests covering a large amount of its area. Canada is known for two things: the friendliness of its people, and the extremely cold weather that makes it the coldest country in the world.
The weather does not prevent Canada from housing wonderful and welcoming cities full of happy and down-to-earth residents. Toronto is not only the largest city in Canada, it is also the closest to the United States, only a few hours away from New York City. Like New York, Toronto’s residents come primarily from other places, flocking to Toronto for the juxtaposition of a big city feel with small town charm.
Montreal is another vibrant Canadian city, located in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Montreal is known for being extremely European; locals can often be seen sitting out on the cobblestone streets eating poutine. To the east, flat plains and the vast coast create a seafaring atmosphere, with amazing fishing and cozy bars populating the expanse of rural ocean-side towns. Great adventures can be had in the wild natural environment to the north, so long as you don’t freeze in the barren tundra. Head west to beautiful British Columbia for outdoor adventures like skiing, fishing, golfing, or hiking. No matter where you are you can find all types of music – from electronic to Canadian folk.
Both the geography and the immigrants that make up the country have greatly influenced the music and culture of Canada. The proximity to the US and the migration between the two countries has also heavily influenced the music, art, and entertainment of Canada.
The Canadian government established rules to help combat the flight of Canadian musicians to the US, and ensure foreign artists do not dominate radio airplay. The late 20th century saw an explosion of Canadian pop musicians dominating the airwaves thanks to a law stating that stations must play 35% Canadian content.
Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all have large, thriving music scenes. Toronto has by far the largest, partially because of its size, but also because it is home to Canada’s media headquarters, record companies and publishing companies. Montreal, an artsy and bohemian city, tends to have some of the best music festivals in Canada (Montreal Jazz Fest, Pop Montreal, etc). Vancouver has a large DIY scene and many touring bands that make a stop in Toronto also play Vancouver.
- How do I get to Canada? How do I get around once I'm there?
- What do I need to know about money?
- Do I need a Visa?
- What is the climate like?
- What are business hours?
- What are some laws that I should be aware of?
- What are some local customs that I should be aware of?
- Anything else I need to know?
How do I get to Canada? How do I get around once I'm there?
Canada has large international airports in all of the major cities, including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Because Canada is geographically immense, make sure you are flying into the airport that is closest to your destination, as traveling from city to city can take a long time due to sheer distance. Smaller airports are also present throughout Canada; Porter, Canada?s predominant budget airline, is your best bet if you need to a quick and inexpensive way to travel between cities. The airline has flights from 18 locations throughout Canada and the northern US.
Both Amtrak and Greyhound run from the nearest major American cities to their Canadian counterparts. Canada also has its own VIA Rail system, as well as Greyhound Canada. In general, it is wise to carefully weigh the cost of flying against the inconvenience of taking a bus or train, as the price difference is often negligible, and the vast geographic distances can make traveling by land extremely time consuming.
Public transportation systems within the major cities such as Toronto and Montreal are quite good, so if you are planning on staying within a certain city, renting a car is not really necessary. Again, due to the vast distances, driving between cities would take a long time, and should again be weighed against the cost and convenience of flying.
What do I need to know about money?
Canada uses the Canadian Dollar, which, in terms of exchange rate, is quite similar to the American Dollar. Travel costs are similar to those of the average American city. Banks and ATMs are easily accessible, even in smaller towns, and most places accept major international credit cards.
Tipping is standard practice across Canada, and is similar to American expectations. In restaurants, leaving a 15% tip is standard; tipping is also expected for bar service. At hotels, tip bellhops about $1 to $2 per bag, and leaving a few dollars for the room cleaners is always a welcome gesture. Cab drivers, hairdressers and barbers also expect a tip, usually 10% to 15%.
Goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (GST/HST) may apply to various goods and services you purchase during your stay in Canada. The GST rate is 5%, and the HST rate varies depending on the province.
Do I need a Visa?
Citizens of dozens of countries, including the United States, most Western European and Commonwealth countries, as well as Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Israel, don't need visas to enter Canada for stays of up to 180 days. United States permanent residents are also exempt. Nationals of around 150 other countries, including South Africa and China, need to apply to the Canadian Visa Office in their home country for a temporary resident visa. CLICK HERE for a list of countries and territories whose citizens need visas to enter Canada as visitors.
What is the climate like?
Canada can get very, very cold; therefore, it is not recommended that you visit some areas outside of the summer months, if you can avoid it. Summers in the more southern regions of Canada, such as Toronto, are warm, but a chilly breeze is never far away. Canadian winters are long, dark, and freezing cold, so staying indoors is preferable to braving the snowstorms, even in the larger cities.
What are business hours?
Most stores and restaurants keep standard business hours that remain fairly uniform across Canada, with most places operating between the hours of 9am to 6pm. Liquor can only be purchased in designated stores, as the industry is privatized, and these stores close at 2am. Bars and clubs also close at 2am, but if you do a bit of digging you can find your way into the booming after-hours scene that keeps partying all night.
What are some laws that I should be aware of?
Marijuana is decriminalized in Canada, which means that if you are caught with a small amount for personal use, the penalty is a fine that will not appear anywhere on your record. Even then, this penalty is rarely enforced.
What are some local customs that I should be aware of?
Canadians have a reputation for being some of the nicest people you will ever meet. This can be seen not only in the way they behave towards strangers, friends, and family, but also in the manner in which they interact with their society. For example, Canadians will patiently wait their turn at the bar rather than attempt to call the bartender over, and will stand on the sidewalk waiting for the light to change rather than run across the street in the absence of cars. If you are from a larger and more aggressive city, be sure to keep this in mind, as politeness is valued over all else, and lack of respect for others in your environment is considered to be extremely rude.
Anything else I need to know?
The residents of Quebec consider themselves to be part of their own country, due to the high level of cultural differences between their province and the rest of Canada. In 1994, there was even a referendum that sought to secede Quebec from Canada. While the referendum did not pass, Quebec still views itself to be quite separate, upholding French as their primary language and observing customs and ways of life that are rooted in old Europe.