When people think about North America, they often think of the United States of America.
When people think about vacationing in North America, they often think of Florida, Jamaica, Cuba or Mexico. Often times, Canada is forgotten, both by tourists and the international community. Which to me is very odd.
Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world, covering almost 10 million square kilometers. It is larger than Europe, if you don't count Russia. Although it's large in size, the population is actually very low. 41 United Kingdoms can fit in Canada, but Canada only has half the population of the United Kingdom. With 33 million Canadians, each person can have about 1/3 of a squared kilometer all to themselves.
Canada is a young country, not even 150 years old, with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador only joining in 1949. Although a young country, it has a incredibly long history that has impacted the world in many ways. One way in particular is even believed to have been mentioned in the first book in the Bible, Genesis.
The belief is that around 8,000 years ago, when the world was moving out of it's last Ice Age, there was a great ice dam blocking Hudson's Bay in northern Canada. This dam caused much of Canada to become a massive clean water lake. This can still be seen in the marine life fossils found in Saskatchewan's soil, a province that doesn't touch any oceans. Once this dam broke, over 160,000 cubic kilometers of water, more water than all the lakes in the world combined, gushed into the Arctic Ocean and directly into the Gulf Stream. Heading towards Europe, this water is responsible for separating the United Kingdom from mainland Europe, and some believe is responsible for wide spread flooding in the Mediterranean, possibly including that of the Great Flood in Genesis.
By this time, the Aboriginal peoples had long migrated across the Bering land bridge from Asia to North America, and as the flooding occurred, they were effectively sealed off from the rest of the world. Living by themselves for over 20,000 years, these people migrated South and East, covering North and South America from edge to edge. For 20,000 years these people were unknown to Europe, up until just over one thousand years ago.
The first Europeans to set foot on North American soil were not Spanish or British settlers, but a Norse explorer from Iceland named Lief Erikson. Erikson was a Christian who was attempting to spread Christianity into Greenland. He was blown off course, the story goes, and landed somewhere in Nova Scotia. He claimed this land "Vinland", but after violent conflicts with the Aboriginals in the area, his ship disembarked back to Europe, never to return.
500 years later, on his way to the Far East, Christopher Columbus bumped into the Bahamas. Within decades, more and more European settlers came to North America to call it home. The French and British were the main countries to colonize Canada and their heritage remains here still. Other cultures attempted to plant roots in Canada, such as the Acadians (they went on to become the "Cajuns" in Louisiana) but failed.
Wars in North America, as well as in Europe, shaped the culture of Canada, with the British and French fighting for land and power. Russia was involved too, and for a short time owned what is now known as Alaska. In time, the newly founded United States of America also attempted to invade Canada and take it as her own. The Canadians and British worked together to repel the American forced and invaded their country, setting the White House on fire. Since then, the USA and Canadians have become friends.
Immigration has also been the backbone of Canadian history. Almost every culture in the world has had roots in Canada, one way or another. From the Europeans to the Chinese, from the Africans and to the Middle East, Canada has offered safety to all.
One example comes from the Underground Railroad in the United States. The railway brought an influx of African Americans into Canada, which at that time was a prominently Caucasian country. Although not always welcome in this country, these slaves were treated as free men, although not always treated fairly or without prejudice. With them they brought their culture, their religion and their beliefs, which in blossomed and grew in Eastern Canada.
In 1867 Canada officially became a country, although much smaller than what it is today. A railroad was proposed to be built across the country to unify Canada with the settlement on the West coast. Because there were very few people in the West, Chinese immigrants were brought over to build the railroad, with promises of earning enough money to bring their families with them. These Chinese workers were treated horribly and some say there are two dead Chinese workers for every mile of the railway. Once the railway was completed, the new Canadian government put a head-tax on all the Chinese people, demanding they pay to stay in Canada. Three times the government increased this tax, until it was $500 as recent as 1903. By this time, the Chinese were forced underground and worked and lived in tunnels. These tunnels have now become a tourist attraction in some cities, such as in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Other groups such as the Russian Doukhobors, the Ukrainians, the Japanese, the Jews, the American "Draft Dodgers", and the Cubans have also came to Canada over the years. Some unwanted groups have came as well, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the famous gangster Al Capone. Some even said Albert Einstein came up to Canada to find recluse from his study to play hockey.
Although our country is incredibly large, and holds different values and cultures from around the world, it is believed Canada really defined itself on the world stage during World War I when it recaptured Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge was a French ridge under German control that the British, French and Americans were unable to take. People who witnessed the battle say that was the day the nation of Canada was born. It is one of our finest moments in history. In honor of the sacrifice the soldiers gave, a monument has been built on the ridge, and is known as one of the most beautiful monuments in the world.
Canada has seen many accomplishments through its history, from building the CanadArm, to the AM Radio, as well as inventing basketball, the telephone, pacemakers and insulin. Canada has also known for its internal struggles, mostly with its Aboriginal and Metis population. One most recent struggle was the Oka Crisis in Quebec over the Quebec government building a golf course on Aboriginal land. Other crisis have included the Red River Rebellion and the North West Rebellion, in which the Aboriginals fought to defend their land from the encroaching Europeans.
Another group that has had continuous struggle in Canada has been its French population, specifically Quebec. In 1995, things had gotten so bad that Quebec threatened to separate from Canada and held a referendum. It was defeated in a 51-49% majority, and the province has moved towards accepting its English counterparts, however there is still plenty of distaste on both sides of the border.
Canada is no stranger to terrorism either. The shootings on Parliament Hill on October 22, 2014 only add to the long list of terrorism in our country, from violent separatists group like the FLQ, to the Squamish Five, the Sons of Freedom (they're well known for parading nude), the Toronto Five and more. Attacks against other groups in Canada are also common, such as the bazooka attack in Ottawa on the Cuban embassy and the bombing of the Air India Flight 182 in 1985.
Being a country as large as Europe, public opinions often differ from one coast to another. The West believes the East are ignorant and selfish, while the East believes the West are inbred and uneducated. The South believes the North are barbaric and primitive and the North believes the South are greedy and uncaring. However, across the board Canadians all love their country. They love the land, the nature, the culture and their freedom. Living in Canada can sometimes be difficult with intense heat in the summer and frigid cold in the winter, with flood waters in the spring and a frost that comes too early for farming in the fall. Catastrophic storms are all too common, with part of Canada being in the famous "Tornado Alley" which covers the United States. The weather is known to paralyze cities, from Vancouver all the way to Halifax, may it be because of strong winds, ice and snow, rain or a mix of them all.
Being a young country, Canada is full of history, some dark and some inspiring. It is a modest country, never gloating of its fame or its fortune. It's a country of hardworking, polite men and women who strive not to offend cultures, but to embrace them. It's a country built on dreams, determination, snow and maple syrup. It will poke fun of itself, mock its heritage, and stand up for its freedoms. Although only sharing a border with one other country, it is known around the world for its people, its beliefs and its kindness.
Although I missed the 50th anniversary of our flag, I am still a proud Canadian and I am glad I live in such a beautiful country.
And, just to clarify, we don't always say "eh", eh.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
150 years ago, Canada became a country, albeit a much smaller one. Since then, Canada has grown much in size, reputation and as a favorite for travellers from around the world. Lonely Planet recognized these accomplishments last year and ranked Canada as the #1 travel destination in 2017. With the addition of free National Parks all year long, 2017 is the perfect time to visit the Great White North!
I am always interested in Canadian adventures, so I thought I'd check out G Adventure's website to see what tours they have planned this year. Since G Adventures is a Canadian based travel company, I figured they would have something going on this year to celebrate our sesquicentennial. Instead, all I saw were the same eight tours as last year, and the year before. Thinking maybe there was some big announcement coming for 2017, I emailed G Adventures asking about it, hoping, praying, that maybe there was something, something, anything at all… but I received no response.
Now, don't get me wrong. G Adventures has eight great Canadian tours, and they all look really awesome, but they only show off a small sliver of what Canada has to offer. In fact, four of the tours are almost exactly the same:
Love poutine, Justin Trudeau and just about everything Québécois? G Adventures had the right idea including Montréal in two of their Canadian tours, but Montréal isn't the only noteworthy place to visit in Québec. Now, this tour doesn't give Québec the justice it deserves either, but hopefully it inspires you to take your time to explore the wonders it has to offer. Québec is a beautiful province with a long history, stretching back over four centuries, so this tour is dedicated to the incredible history and culture of French Canada.
Our fictional tour starts in Montréal. If you've read my Five Historic Canadian Cities article last week, you already know Montréal is one of Canada's most lively cities. Packed with some of Canada's most impressive scientific museums, Montréal is also home to an archeological and historical museum, Pointe-à-Callière. Inside one of the most unique buildings in Old Montréal, this museum ventures deep into the history of the city and explores its foundation, its struggles and its changes. With 375 years of history, to uncover this museum starts off with the discovery of Hochelaga and showcases various sections of the original sewer system. The museum also has several illustrations showing the plagues and fires that once decimated the early city. The museum also has an interactive section about the pirates that once terrorized the St. Lawrence River. This museum is one of my absolute favorites, so if you love museums as much as I, you'll want to check it out.