- Pramod de Silva
A visit to Canada during this year feels so special. That is because Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year. Well, Canada had been inhabited much earlier by First Nation or native people, but Canada only came together as a confederation of 10 provinces and three territories in 1867.
Canada is the world’s second largest country and shares the world’s longest land border with the United States of America. The US State of Alaska, which is not on the US mainland, also borders Canada. It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
The name “Canada” likely comes from the native Indian Huron-Iroquois word “Kanata,” meaning “village” or “settlement.” In 1535, two Aboriginal youths told French explorer Jacques Cartier about the route to kanata; they were actually referring to the village of Stadacona, the site of the present-day City of Québec. The name stuck and 150 years later, Canada is one of the most developed and diverse countries in the world.
Did you know that both Sinhala and Tamil are spoken widely in Canada ? Indeed, around 500,000 Sri Lankans are now domiciled in Canada. The two dominant languages of Canada are English and French, which is widely spoken in the province of Quebec.
This year, the Government of Canada has organized several events to mark the country’s 150th anniversary. During a recent visit, I was able to attend some of these celebrations. It is a year-long celebration, so whatever time of the year you visit, there will be an event or two where the Maple Leaf flag will flutter high.
A visit to Canada usually begins in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city. The number one attraction in the city itself is the iconic CN Tower – you can take a lift to the top to admire 360 degree city views and even dine in the sky.
But Canada’s best known attraction is not in Toronto – it is about 250 Km away on the US border. The Niagara Falls is easily the most visited location in Canada. Although you can also view the Falls from the US side, the Canadian site has the best view.
Do not forget to take the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride that takes you to the very edge of the falls. Canada has many other natural attractions and parks (admission is free this year) worth a visit.
Ottawa is Canada’s historic capital city, a short train ride away from Toronto. In Ottawa, you can see many historic sites including the Parliament. No visit to Canada is complete without visiting Montreal in Quebec.
There are plenty of attractions in Montreal and also in Quebec City. French is the official language in these parts, but you can get by with English.
On the extreme other end of the country and four hours away by air lies British Columbia (BC), often said to be the most beautiful Canadian province. Vancouver is the seafront capital city with stunning views of the ocean.
But the best thing about BC is the picturesque Victoria Island, a short ferry ride away. BC and its neighboring provinces/territories Yukon, Alberta and Northwest Territories are also famous for excellent skiing slopes and facilities.
Among the other well known cities in Canada are Edmonton and Calgary (Alberta), Winnipeg (Manitoba), Whitehorse (Yukon), Regina (Saskatchewan), Halifax (Nova Scotia), St. John (New Found land) and Hamilton (Ontario). Since the distances are so vast, the best option for travel within Canada is flying, though Canada’s VIA Rail operates a scenic train from Vancouver to Toronto that takes almost one week to complete the trek.
Canada is a heaven for shopping and dining. The Hudson’s Bay Company is one of the world’s oldest retailers. Canada has many Michelin starred restaurants that have to be booked in advance.
If you can’t afford those, try the street food which can rival anything found in neighboring USA. When in Canada, try the Maple Syrup obtained from the maple tree, Canada’s national symbol. You can take a bottle home too. The other Canadian food item is Poutine, which is really French fries in gravy.
Canada is a world in itself and takes a lifetime to explore. Once visited, Canada will draw you in for the rest of your life. And what better time to go there than on its 150th birthday ?