Canada is by size, the largest country in North America, second in the world overall (behind only Russia). Renowned worldwide for its vast, untouched landscape, its blend of cultures and multifaceted history, Canada is one of the world’s wealthiest countries and a major tourist destination.
“With or without the Royals, we are not Americans. Nor are we British. Or French. Or Void. We are something else And the sooner we define this, the better.” — Will Ferguson
Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, and in many other ways she closely resembles her neighbour to the south, the United States, although there are significant differences between the two countries. While both countries have a long and continuing history of colonialism over the Indigenous people of their countries, Canada is perfectly happy with its British heritage and many Canadians are proud of this. Much of Canada’s current built environment and influence has come primarily from immigrants from two European nations, Britain and France. This dual nature is very different than in the United States, and in some parts of Canada, particularly Quebec and parts of New Brunswick, Canadians primarily speak French. Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 by an act of the British parliament, and is still a proud member of the Commonwealth of Nations. By 1931 it was more or less fully independent of the United Kingdom, although true independence did not occur until 1982. Canada’s past and ongoing colonialism is still of some contention between Indigenous people, Canadians, and the Canadian government. Though a medium-sized country by its population (35 million), Canada has earned respect on the international stage for its strong diplomatic skills, peacekeeping efforts, and respect for human rights. Canadians generally enjoy a very high quality of life – Canada consistently scores very well on indices of economic freedom, corruption, respect for civil rights, and more. Domestically, the country has displayed some success in negotiating compromises amongst its own culturally and linguistically varied populations, a difficult task considering that language, culture, and even history can vary significantly throughout the whole country. Similarly to the United States’ traditional image of itself as a melting pot, there are many different minorities from all over the world living in Canada, particularly in urban centres. Canadians are, for the most part, used to living and interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds on a daily basis and will usually be quite friendly and understanding if approached in public. The country is largely urban-based, where peoples of all backgrounds may rub elbows with one another.
The Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming first proposed time zones for the entire world in 1876, and Canada, being a continental country, is covered coast to coast with multiple zones. Canada uses the 12-hour clock system, however the 24-hour clock system is used in the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick where French is an official language and this clock system is used with that language; and where ambiguity must be avoided, such as train or airline schedules when given in both English and French, because they will be indicated in each clock system. Daylight Saving Time, when clocks are moved forward by one hour, is observed in most of the country from 02:00 on the second Sunday in March until 02:00 on the second Sunday in November; during this time, for example, British Columbia is observing GMT-7 while Alberta is observing GMT-6. Saskatchewan does not observe Daylight Savings Time, but the City of Lloydminster does.
GMT-8 Pacific Time (Yukon, British Columbia)
GMT-7 Mountain Time (Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut)
GMT-6 Central Time (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario)
GMT-5 Eastern Time (Ontario, Quebec)
GMT-4 Atlantic Time (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island)
GMT-3.5 Newfoundland Time (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Canada’s official measurements are metric, however some people, especially those aged 40 and over, will still use the imperial system for many things. One of the most common holdovers from the imperial system is the use of feet and inches for measurement of short distances and heights, and especially the use of pounds for masses, even among younger Canadians. However in the province of Quebec, the metric system is used more widely by the population. You will still hear older Canadians use the term ‘mile’ when referring to informal distances, and may also give temperatures in Fahrenheit when referring to pools and hot tubs. All weather forecasts will be in °C, except for border towns such as Windsor and Niagara Falls where media often give weather forecasts in °F.
Trying to distil the climate of Canada into an easy-to-understand statement is impossible, given the vast area and diverse geography within the country. Overall, in most places, winters are harsh compared to much of the world, on par with northern Eurasia. The most populated region, southern Ontario, has a less severe climate, similar to the bordering regions of the midwestern and northeastern United States. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is just south of the Arctic Circle and remains very cold except for the months of July and August, when the July average maximum is only 12°C (54°F). On the other hand, the coastlines of British Columbia are very mild for their latitude, remaining above freezing for most of winter, yet they are not far away from some of the largest mountain glaciers found on the continent.
Most of the large Canadian urban areas are within 200 kilometres (124 mi) of Canada’s border with the United States (Edmonton and Calgary being the only exceptions). Visitors to most cities will most likely not have to endure the weather that accompanies a trip to more remote northern or mountainous areas often pictured on postcards of Canada. Summers in the most populated parts of Canada are generally short and hot. Summer temperatures over 35°C (95°F) are not unusual in Southern Ontario, the southern Prairies and the southern Interior of B.C., with Osoyoos being the hot spot of Canada for average daily maximums. Toronto’s climate is only slightly cooler than many of the larger cities in the northeastern United States, and summers in the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec (includes Montreal) are often hot and humid. In contrast, humidity is often low in the western interior during the summer, even during hot weather, and more cooling occurs at night. In the winter, eastern Canada, particularly the Atlantic Provinces, are sometimes subject to inclement weather systems entering from the U.S. bringing snow, high wind, rain, sleet, and temperatures in their wake of under -10°C (14°F).
Many inland cities, especially those in the Prairies, experience extreme temperature fluctuations, sometimes very rapidly. Owing to a dry climate (more arid west than east on the southern Prairies), bright sunshine hours are plentiful in the 2300-2600 annual hours range. Winnipeg (also colloquially known as ‘Winterpeg’) has hot summers with bouts of aggressive humidity, yet experiences very cold winters where temperatures around -40°C (-40°F) are not uncommon and can stay below -15°C (5°F) for long stretches. The official hottest temperature in Canada ever recorded was in southern Saskatchewan, at 45°C (113°F), while the coldest was in Snag, Yukon -63°C (-81°F). Summer storms in the Prairies and Ontario can be violent and sometimes unleash strong damaging winds, hail, and rarely, tornadoes. On the west coast of British Columbia, Vancouver and Victoria are far more temperate and get very little snow, average low wind speeds and seldom experience temperatures below 0°C or above 27°C (32-80°F) but receive high rainfall amounts in winter then in turn dry, sunny, pleasant summers.
The average temperature is typically colder in Canada than in the U.S. and Western Europe as a whole, so bring a warm jacket and other winter clothing if visiting between October and April. The rest of the year, over most of the country, daytime highs are generally well above 15°C (60°F) and usually into the 20s-30s°C(70s-90s°F) range during the day.
Canada recognizes and celebrates the following national holidays (some provinces may have minor differences):
New years day — 1 January
Family Day — 3rd Monday in February (not observed in all provinces, known as Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, Islander Day in PEI)
Good Friday — typically sometime during week of April, always on a Friday
Easter Sunday — typically first Sunday in April
Victoria Day—Last Monday in May before 24 May (always one week before the U.S. holiday of Memorial Day)
Canada Day—1 July
Civic Day — first Monday in August (only applies in some provinces, under different names ie. in Ontario its referred to as Simcoe Day after an early Lieutenant Governor)
Labour Day — first Monday in September
Thanksgiving—Second Monday in October (the same day as the U.S. holiday of Columbus Day)
Remembrance Day —11 November (this day is observed in the U.S. as Veterans Day)
Christmas — 25 December
Boxing day—26 December
Note also that Canada’s Labour Day is not celebrated on 1 May, as in much of the world, but on the first Monday in September (the same day as the U.S. celebrates its Labor Day).
Canada’s government is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system inherited from the British and similar to that of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Canada is formally a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. She is represented in Canada by the Governor-General, currently Julie Payette, who carries out her duties. The monarchy serves mostly as a figurehead, though, and in practice the Prime Minister, his or her cabinet, and the Parliament are the source of almost all real political power.
Canada is a federal state, and Canadian provinces have a great deal of autonomy. Each province has its own legislature and provincial government, and the Canadian constitution defines certain areas of exclusively provincial jurisdiction. For example, each province sets its own drinking age, minimum wage, sales tax, labour regulations, and administers their own road, healthcare and education systems. Two of the three territories’ legislative assemblies (Nunavut and the Northwest Territories) are peculiar, as they are non-partisan – no political parties are represented.
There are three main parliamentary parties at the federal level: the currently-governing Liberal Party (centre), the opposition Conservative Party (right of centre), and the New Democratic Party (left of centre)
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