The subcontinent of Canada – for that is what it truly is – covers nearly ten thousand square kilometers, which makes Canada the world's second largest country after Russia. Land size is not the only thing that is big in Canada. It also boasts massive mountains, huge glaciers, wide-open frozen tundra's, and multi-colored skies, not to mention big grizzly bears, bulky moose, and humpback whales.
Another thing that is big in Canada is the kindness and generosity of the people. Canada has extended a welcome to visitors and immigrants alike over the years.
Canada is an exciting blend of mountains, history, fun cities, farms, and huge natural spaces. Modern cities like Vancouver and Toronto are comfortable side by side with historic settler towns like St John's, Newfoundland. Further afield in the open spaces beneath the sky lie opportunities for hiking, snowboarding, or skiing in the snowy mountains of the Jasper and Banff National Parks. If you prefer warmer temperatures, then the endless wheaten prairies of Saskatchewan beckon, as do vineyards of Kelowna.
It gets cold in Canada in winter, in fact very cold, especially in the northern parts where the earth is frozen all year round and the temperature has been known to drop as low as minus 62 degrees Celsius.
GeographyThe huge country borders on the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, and the United States to the south and to the west where it meets Alaska. Most of the population lives along the southern border where the climate is milder. There are ten provinces – the Capital City of Ottawa is located in Ontario, near the Great Lakes.
The scenery varies from fertile agricultural land to lakes and mountains and finally to permanently frozen tundra. Canada has many mountain ranges, including the Laurentians, Appalachian Mountains, and Torngat Mountains in the eastern regions, the Rocky Mountains, Coast Mountains, and Mackenzie Mountains in the western regions, and Mount Saint Elias and the Pelly Mountains in the northern country.
The country also has approximately two million lakes, covering 7.5% of the land area, and including the famous Great Lakes that form the backbone of bulk transport in the area. They are huge by any standards – the biggest lakes are Lake Huron (36,000 square kilometers), Lake Great Bear (31,328 square kilometers), and Lake Superior (82,100 square kilometers), followed by Lake Winnipeg, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario which receives the thundering Niagara Falls.
The longest river is the 4,241 kilometer long McKenzie that meanders through the Northwest Territories. Other large ones include the St. Lawrence, Yukon, Columbia, Nelson, Churchill, and Fraser River.
ClimateCanadian weather can be quite severe. Tornadoes occur regularly, especially between May and September, across a band stretching from Thunder Bay to Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as well as in southern Ontario, Alberta, and southeastern Quebec. Summer thunderstorms are common throughout the country too, and can be dangerous. Earth tremors are known in the western mountains, and forest fires may break out at any time in the grasslands and forests of western Canada.
What to WearWhat follows applies to the settled areas of southern Canada along the American border and inland. Travelers to the north of Canada, including the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Labrador are advised to pack warm clothing regardless of the time of year, except for the mid-summer months when short sleeves and shorts are still not recommended.
The cycle of seasons is as follows:
January and February – Heart of winter with snowfalls in most provinces. Wear warm clothing such as hats, gloves, boots, and overcoats.
March – Spring arrives with moderate temperatures. Add medium weight clothing such as topcoat and umbrella to your winter wardrobe.
April – Milder days arrive, but the evenings are still cool. Hang on to your topcoat and umbrella for now.
May – the arrival of summer brings warm days, although it will still be cool at night. Medium weight and summer clothing is advised for cooler nights and balmier days.
June – Still much like May and the perfect time for outdoor fun and traveling.
July and August – The warmest months. You will just need lightweight summer clothing.
September – the days are still warm, but it is back to medium weight clothing in the evenings.
October – Cool days and frosty evenings. Leave the summer gear at home
November – Winter is back, snow starts to fall. It is time for overcoats, hats, gloves, and boots again.
December – Heart of winter again, with snowfalls in most provinces. Wear warm clothing.
When to VisitMost people prefer to visit Canada when temperatures are pleasant and the nation moves outside again. Summer varies across the vast subcontinent. While it lasts from late May to early September in southern Canada, in the harsher northern areas it can start as late as mid-June and stop abruptly with the first snowfalls in mid-September. Many tourists are unaware that the weather around summer is also pleasant - March to May, and September to October are also enjoyable, and there are fewer tourists to pack the attractions. Fall is the perfect time to visit forested areas, which transform into kaleidoscopes of color.
Canada's National ParksA visit to Canada is incomplete without a visit to at least a few of the country's National Parks. They are truly among the world’s finest. Originally created to preserve the environment, the parks now also exist to serve visitors, who arrive daily to relax. These wild places exist in every territory and province and vary from mountains to grassy plains, damp arboreal forests to frozen tundra, lakes to glaciers, and much more.
Canadian National Parks exist along the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, and across the vast interior of mountains, plains, and lakes. Their magnificent scenery and natural surroundings provide a wonderful retreat and cause us to remember how precious our environment is. The same parks also preserve the records of our human ancestors who went before us, from early aboriginal life through European settlement to present times.
Visitors to the Parks are actively encouraged to experience them first hand, as they paddle canoes down rivers flowing through mighty canyons, walk along trails through mighty forests, and ascend mighty mountains. The rules are simple – respect nature, your own abilities, and do not take risks with your life, your health, or your safety.
More great Things to Do in CanadaCanada's great cities all offer much of interest to the traveler. Not to be missed are Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. Following are a few of Canada's great natural attractions.
Niagara FallsAt the extreme southern end of the Province of Ontario, the waters of Lake Erie plummet sixty meters into Lake Ontario below. The Niagara Falls are among the biggest and most beautiful on this earth. First discovered by a Jesuit missionary in 1678 who followed the rushing sound upstream, Niagara Falls attracts around twelve million visitors each year.
St John's, NewfoundlandSt John's, which is arguably the oldest settler town in North America, sits spectacularly above a fine natural harbor entered by a two hundred meter wide passage between tall cliffs. Historical square, flat-roofed, multicolor wooden houses dating from Victorian times squat on steep rocky slopes – sadly just a few of the older ones survived the fires of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Banff National ParkBanff National Park is in a region of the glaciated Rocky Mountain ridge around one hundred and thirty five miles from Calgary. It adjoins its sister Jasper National Park across the Icefields Parkway and sits next Yoho and Kootenay National Parks along its western border. The four neighboring parks have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1984 and attract millions of visitors every year. They come to marvel at the snow-covered peaks that reflect in turquoise lakes, glaciers and mountain forests, and gushing waterfalls and grassy mountain meadows.
Whistler Ski ResortAt the foot of the Whistler and Black Comb Mountains lies Whistler Ski Resort, one of the largest winter sport resorts in North America. Two cable cars and more than twenty five chair and t-bar lifts whisk visitors up the snowy massifs, from whence they can choose a variety of adrenalin pumping rides back home – the longest piste drops 1,600 meters. Snowmobile trips, heli-skiing, and ski marathons are popular among adventurers. Other local activities include tennis, golf, and riding, as well as white-water rafting and backpacking.
Where to Stay when Visiting CanadaWhen you choose an accommodation in a huge country like Canada, it is safest to rely on star ratings awarded by provincial tourist authorities, unless you are following personal recommendations. You will find a full range of options available to suit every pocket, ranging from fine city hotels to resorts to B&Bs to simple log cabins set deep in forests. My advice is to stay away from the chain hotels unless on business, because they are the same wherever you go. Why not go for something different and receive a friendly local welcome that reflects the essence of the place you are visiting.
Canada is a tremendous tourist destination that offers a great deal to suit every desire and budget. The hardest thing after saving up the money is deciding where to go and how long to stay at each destination.