The True North, Strong and Free

An Introduction to the Canadian Way of Life

Moving to Montreal, Canada was one of the best decisions I took in my life. From sightseeing and enjoying world-renowned festivals, to savouring the great outdoors and delicious cuisines, Canada has much to offer to a variety of tourists, visitors, and expats. The great white north, the second largest country in the world, has all the elements to make your stay the most memorable. A multi-cultural, bilingual (French/English) country, Canada is known for its hospitality and politeness. Its economical conditions are relatively good and offer a high quality of life. As a Canadian, I benefit from health and employment insurance for all, parental leaves, affordable housing, in a unique environment promoting openness, diversity, and tolerance. For an active, effervescent lifestyle, Montreal (Quebec), Toronto (Ontario), and Vancouver (British Columbia) — the cosmopolitan metropoles of Canada — are my cities of choice. For a more laid-back, nature-oriented experience, I usually opt for remote towns, and national and provincial parks across the country. Coming from the Middle East, it was easy for me to adapt and fit in: I felt welcomed and was able to stay connected with my community as there is a large Middle Eastern diaspora in Canada, mostly in the great metropoles.

Canadian Nature and Its Four Seasons

Hiking in Canada

Canada makes me experience the four seasons to their full potential. Depending on where you are in the country, summers are generally warm or hot and humid. I usually escape the city to cottages in remote regions, where I spend my weekends and vacations on a lake, enjoying canoeing, kayaking, camping and biking. Mount Orford (Quebec) and Bruce Peninsula are usually my go-to summer vacation spots. I once embarked on on an epic road trip from Montreal to Prince Edward Island, the smallest province of Canada and the land of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. The island’s picturesque red-sand beaches and smooth ocean breeze were a true bliss. It was one of my most memorable trips as I got to immerse myself in true Canadian nature and hospitality, in the world of my childhood’s heroine, Anne.

Nordic Ski

Winters in Canada vary between snowy and cold, very cold, or freezing, depending on your location. Although the first snowstorm was, to me, very whimsical, my first winter in Montreal was rather brutal. I was always cold when outside, and felt trapped with nothing to do. I was missing the outdoors. A good Canadian friend of mine once told me: “to truly enjoy the snow season, one must practice a winter sport,” such as downhill ski, nordic/cross-country ski, ice skating, snowmobile, or snow-fishing. And so, with his advice in mind, I picked up nordic ski to keep myself in shape, while taking full advantage of what Canadian winters have to offer. I usually ski in the regional forest behind my house after work and on weekends. On my daily ski outings, I often encounter deer, making my workout a little more enjoyable! Also, I once spent my winter holidays in British Columbia. Not only is its coastal climate moderate, but also the province is situated right next to one of the country’s best ski destinations: the Rocky Mountains (Alberta). After trying a few (beginners) slops, I decided to spend the rest of the day in an outdoors spa in the mountains, followed by a wine and dine session with friends and friendly locals.

Ice fishing in La Tuque Quebec

Canadian springs are usually wet and unstable, depending on your location. Spring arrives early on the west coast (February) and around April in the rest of the country. Rain boots are my best friends during this season. My favourite spring activity is to spend a day with friends at a sugar shack in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. There, we start the day with a typical Canadian brunch composed of eggs, ham, beans, pea soup, pancakes, and a lot of maple syrup. We then observe and take part in the making of Canada’s beloved maple syrup.

Fall in Canada

Fall in Canada — my favourite Canadian season — offers a breath-taking spectacle of colourful landscapes, with fiery golden and red leaves adorning the trees of the numerous Canadian forests. This is why fall is, to me, the perfect season for hiking in the national and provincial parks across the country, especially those in Ontario and Quebec. It is now a tradition of mine to go apple picking in Canada during the fall. Never in my life have I tasted apples as fresh, sour-sweet, and crisp as the ones picked at Canadian apple orchards.

Culture

Canada shines beyond its boundaries with its rich Indigenous art, strong values, and contagious love of nature and hockey. At least, this is the image I had of Canada before moving here. And it is not far from the reality. Being in Montreal, I quickly became a Canadians fan. Hockey here is like a religion.

I also learned more about the history of Canada, mostly its art and culture. Thousands of years prior to the European colonization — a period that drastically reshaped the Canadian territory’s cultural strata — Indigenous artists were producing sculptures and crafts representing daily activities and myths. These artistic traditions have survived and, today, are central to the country’s visual culture, and rich history, along with poignant landscape paintings by the Group of Seven (http://mcmichael.com/collection/group-of-seven/), Leonard Cohen’s legendary ballades, and Margaret Atwood’s outstanding oeuvre, to name a few. I often find myself wandering in the Canadian art galleries of museums across the country, trying to understand its people, history, and roots a little better.

Canadian culture is as diverse as its history, cuisine, and people.

Canadian Festivals

Festivals are popular cultural gatherings in Canada, especially around the three metropoles. In September, I often travel to Toronto to check out some movies at the Toronto International Film Festival, the most important film festival after Cannes. Summers in Montreal are the best for festivals. Just for Laughs (https://www.hahaha.com/en), JazzFest (http://www.montrealjazzfest.com), Nuits d’Afrique (http://www.festivalnuitsdafrique.com/en), and Francofolies (https://www.francosmontreal.com) are among my favourites. The city becomes crowded with people, especially around Quartier des Spectacles (https://www.quartierdesspectacles.com/en/), while remaining safe and enjoyable. An annual rodeo festival with various agricultural exhibitions, the Calgary Stampede (https://www.calgarystampede.com/stampede) is on my bucket list. During the Stampede, visitors can also learn more about the Indigenous Peoples of Canada as five aboriginal nations unite to create an Amerindian village — Elbow River Camp — with tipis, pow wows, traditional dances, and crafts. All in all, the country’s diverse festivals testify for its people’s openness to the world, true festive spirit, and joie de vivre.

Food

Chez Milo et Fine

Because of its diverse population, Canada offers great international cuisines, such as Portuguese, Lebanese, Thai, Cambodian, Mexican, Mongolian, Armenian, Ethiopian, Japanese, and Chinese, to name a few. The multi-culturally varied cuisine of Canada makes me travel around the world, one meal at a time! A real haven for a foodie like me, Montreal (Quebec) has an array of fresh, affordable, local cuisines, at walking/bicycle/metro distance. One special weekends with visiting friends, I usually start my day with a traditional Montreal bagel from Fairmount or St-Viateur (Mile-End), followed by a coffee at Chez Milo & Fine (Rosemont-la-Petite-Patrie). For lunch, we grab a baguette, cheese, and charcuteries from Première Moisson and have a picnic in the Old Port. Then, we wander around with an ice cream cone, on one of the cobble-stoned pedestrian streets in Old Montreal, where we hear a symphony of words in different languages (French, English, Spanish, Arabic,…) being exchanged among the tourists and locals that we encounter on our way. We end the day with dinner at Au Pied du Cochon (Plateau-Mont-Royal), by renowned chef Martin Picard, where you will experience the most rustic, delicious, authentic, and truly decadent meal of your life. We usually pursuit the night in nightclubs and bars in Montreal, around the Plateau Mont-Royal, Griffintown, and Downtown/Golden Square Mile. In the province of Quebec, bars and nightclubs close at 3AM, and 2AM in the rest of the country.

As I am a seafood enthusiast, the Maritimes (Nova-Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island) are my go-to Canadian food destinations. There, I get to taste the most delicious and surprisingly affordable lobsters, oysters, mussels, and snow crabs. On the west coast, British Columbia is another seafood destination, with its abundance of salmon, oyster, shellfish, sea urchin (uni), and prawn. Because of its many South and East Asia expats, I get to choose from an excellent array of delicious cuisines from these corners of the world. It is customary to leave a minimum of 15% tip, pre-taxes, in all the provinces and territories of the country.

This was Canada, in a nutshell. To discover, experience, and enjoy this beautiful country: pack your suitcase, fasten your seatbelt, and get ready to take off for the adventure of a lifetime!

Written by Anna from Canada

 

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