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Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Canada

Area: 9,976,000 sq km (3.9 million sq mi)

Population: 31,280,000

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: Jean Chrétien

Governor-General: Adrienne Clarkson


Situated north of the USA, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Canada is the world's second largest country (Russia takes the guernsey). It extends some 7700km (4775mi) east to west and 4600km (2850mi) north to south. Nearly 90% of Canadians huddle along the 6379km (3955mi) 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. These former grasslands are now responsible for Canada's abundant wheat crop. 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. Moves are afoot to ensure protection for endangered species like the beluga whale, burrowing owl whooping crane and eastern wolf. Canada has 39 national parks, 145 parks-administered national historic sites and 13 areas of such natural significance that they are on the UN World Heritage list.

Canada has four distinct seasons, although their arrival times vary across the country. The single most significant factor in climate is latitude. As a rule of thumb, it gets colder the further north you go, so it's no accident that the warmest areas in the south are also the most populated. The western and eastern coasts are both very wet, though much of the rain falls during winter. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba and eastern Alberta the prairies are fairly dry all year. Canadian winters are long and hard: in more than two-thirds of the country, the average January temperature is a shivering -18°C (-0.4°F). July and August are the warmest months, when temperatures in the south are usually in the upper-20°Cs (low-80°Fs).

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$774 billion

GDP per head: US$25,000

Annual growth: 3%

Inflation: 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

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Most western visitors don't need a visa to visit Canada. Travelers from South Africa, China, North Korea, Taiwan, Eastern European and developing countries do require them. Entry stamps for visits of up to six months are free.

Health risks: Giardia, Rabies and Lyme Disease (in wooded regions)

Time: There are six time zones ranging from Newfoundland Standard Time in the East (GMT/UTC -3.5) to Pacific Standard Time in the West (GMT/UTC -8). During Daylight Saving Time (Apr-Oct), the range is -2.5 to -7)

Electricity: 110/120V 60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Tourism: 50 million visitors (approx) per year, 90% of whom are US citizens

Money & Costs
 Currency:Canadian dollar
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$5-15
  • Mid-range: US$15-30
  • Top-end: US$30 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$15-30
  • Mid-range: US$30-80
  • Top-end: US$80 and upwards
  • Widely different income levels in Canada mean you can find accommodation, food and entertainment to suit any budget. In general the three northern territories are the costliest, followed by Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Québec and Atlantic Canada will put the least pressure on your wallet. For most visitors, the largest expense will be accommodation. Food prices are generally much lower than those in Western Europe, but are a little higher than those in the USA. If you stay in budget accommodation and eat in cafes, expect to spend around US$45 a day, not including long-distance transport. If you stay in motels and eat at restaurants occasionally, you're looking at around US$80 a day.

    It's best to change money at companies such as Thomas Cook, which specializes 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, especially Visa, MasterCard and American Express. ABMs (ATMs) are common throughout Canada, with the Interac system the quickest and most convenient way to replenish cash.

    A 7% Goods & Services Tax (GST) is applicable to all transport, accommodation, restaurant meals and just about anything else you're likely to purchase, including newspapers. On top of this, in most of Canada, a provincial sales tax also must be paid. This can, in some provinces, add 15% to the quoted price, so factor it into your expenses so you don't get a nasty surprise at the cash register.

    It's considered normal to tip 10-15% of the bill. Tips are usually given to waiters, cab drivers, hairdressers, hotel attendants and, by savvy drinkers, bar staff.

    When to Go

    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. Note that the peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September. Although spring and autumn have fewer crowds, lower prices and a more relaxed pace than the summer months, some visitor-oriented facilities and attractions may be closed during these shoulder seasons.

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