How to behave like a Canadian

This is a non exhaustive (and non serious) list about typical Canadian behaviors, applying mostly to Eastern Canadians.

  • You grab coffee at Tim Horton’s, and nowhere else. Several times a day.
  • You don’t like to be compared to Americans because you feel superior.
  • You have relatives in Europe.
  • If you were born in Quebec and your mothertongue is French, people from France will still not understand you when you talk.
  • You call the Canadian one dollar coin a Loonie.
  • You’re very tolerant and openminded, and in favor of LGBT rights, even if you’re not part of the scene.
  • If you’ve travelled once to Paris, London or Greece, you say you’ve been to «Europe».
  • Flying from Eastern Canada to Europe is actually cheaper than flying from Eastern Canada to Western Canada.
  • You’re used to see mooses on highways. And to eat them in a burger or in a soup.
  • You most likely own your own kayak.
  • You call people from Newfoundland «newfies».
  • You call winter days with minus 15 degrees mild.
  • You eat “Poutine”. Not the Russian president, but fries with a brown sauce on it. And you like it (see picture below).

 

Poutine Canadian dish

“Poutine”

 

Highlights of Eastern Canada

From Quebec to Newfoundland: These were my highlights from our road trip through Eastern Canada.

This was a trip I had on my bucket list for a while: A road trip through Canada. After having visited Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec with my brother, a friend from Toronto joined us and we rented a car from Quebec on. Final destination: Newfoundland. We visited many different places in three weeks, so here are my highlights of the trip.

Hiking on rocks

One of the most stunning places on our trip was the Fundy Bay National Park where we visited the Hopewell Rocks. This spot is famous because there are the highest tides in the world. At low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor and have a look at the fantastic stone formations from close. At high tide, everything is covered by water up to 15 meters. On the official website or at the entrance of the park, you can check out at which time is high tide, as it changes each day.

Hopewell Rocks

Hopewell Rocks – Photo: Jonas Hirschi

We went there at low tide which to me was more fascinating as we were able to walk around and even climbed over the rocks to the other side. A very funny – and muddy! – experience. After this small hike, we realised why there was brushes and water at the entrance of the park; our shoes really needed them. But for me, it was totally worth it!

Lobster rolls fresh from the Sea

On our way through New Brunswick, we stopped in Alma to eat delightful lobster at Alma’s lobster shop. This place is a family business and if you’re going to the bathrooms, you can even get a glimpse of the production. Here, you can either buy lobster to cook yourself – or do it the easy way as we did : get some lobster rolls – a kind of a sandwich with pieces of lobster, celery and mayonnaise – delicious !

Delicious lobster rolls at Alma's Lobster Shop.

Delicious lobster rolls at Alma’s Lobster Shop – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Generally, New Brunswick is a great place for seafood. Even in pubs, you get delicious food, for example, fish cakes or fish and chips at James Joyce Pub in Fredericton or fresh and local mussels at Saint John Ale House in Saint John. Then you should continue to Picaroon’s to have a couple of awesome craft beers.

Kayaking on the Sea

img_20160618_165902Enough about food, let’s get into the action: we found the perfect place for kayaking! On the southern coast of Nova Scotia, at Blue Rocks. In the middle of a hand full of islands you’re protected from the waves from the Sea and you get to discover the beautiful landscape and islands which accommodate a lot of birds – and if you’re lucky (as I was!) you even get to see a bald headed eagle!

We rented the kayaks at the company Pleasant Paddling. The guys are really nice and give good recommendations for the itinerary considering the current weather conditions. For 35 dollars you get two hours in a single kayak (50 dollars for a double) with a map, life suits and even a waterproofed pouch for your mobile phone included. I would definitely recommend this experience!

From Blue Rocks we passed by Peggy’s Cove while driving the coast northwards. Here stands the probably most photographed lighthouse in Canada, or even in the world.

Peggy's Cove

Peggy’s Cove – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Admittedly, the scenery is truly beautiful: The lighthouse is situated on some smooth rocks and if you get there by sunset, the sun dips everything in a beautiful warm light. It’s easy to take a perfect picture there.

The must: Newfoundland

Most tourists end their East Canadian trip in Saint John in Nova Scotia, but you should continue to St John’s (don’t confuse them!) in Newfoundland. From Sydney, you can take the ferry to the island Newfoundland including decks for your car. Small tip: Bring some beers to drink in your cabin, at the boat’s bar they are ridiculously expensive. Also: go to the top deck in the morning to see the ferry approaching the coast. Sometimes you can even spot a whale from the ferry.

From Port aux Basques, we drove directly to Gros Morne national park. The drive through the park alone was incredibly beautiful. You can do many different hikes from there and we got some nice ideas from the information centre.

On a trip with the iceberg man

The Iceberg Man

The Iceberg Man

Arriving at the east coast, you should pass by Twilingate. The village itself is not necessarily worth a trip (even though they have a place where they sell moose burgers!) but there is another attraction: Icebergs! It’s not rare that parts of icebergs from Greenland find their way down to Newfoundland. Sometimes they even get stuck in the harbour but mostly they are outside in the ocean close to the shore. It’s definitely worth it to book a guided boat tour. The «Iceberg man» was the first person to offer those types of tours and I highly recommend his tour. I’ve never seen a person talk with so much passion and emotion about ice… You will definitely learn a lot about icebergs but also about the ocean, Twilingate, and Canada.

Secret tip for whale watching

How we learned about the whale watching tours of «Sea of Whales» is a long story, but it’s the best trip I’ve ever taken in my life. I’ve been on two whale watching tours before but this one was way different. Instead of taking a boat, we took a zodiac. And our guide, Chris Prince, truly knows how to find whales.

He drove the zodiac expertly with ease and with remarkable speed! Chris is said to be the best whale expert of all Canada. Already before we left he talked to some fisherman to know if they’ve spotted some whales. We went to one bay and saw a minkey whale just a few meters away from us. Amazing!

Whale watching tour on a zodiac

Whale watching tour on a zodiac – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Then, Chris turned to us and asked what we wanted to see – more minkey whales, icebergs, or big whales. We definitely wanted to see some big ones. Quickly we changed directions and on the way to the other side, Chris showed us a nice stone cave where we were able to pass with the zodiac (by the way, it’s just underneath the place they turned the movie The Grand Seduction) and he spotted two bald headed eagles. We even saw a caribou next to the trees on top of the shore.

Then Chris spotted the blow of a big whale. He shifted into max speed and we rushed in the direction of the whale. The regular blow (every seven minutes to be precise) became visible to us too and at one point, Chris stopped the boat and we waited. And a few minutes later there it was! Just a few meters away from our boat, a fin whale (second largest animal on earth!) turned up – it was simply breathtaking! This was my favourite highlight of the trip.

My (literally...) biggest highlight of this trip: a fin whale.

My (literally…) biggest highlight of this trip – Photo: Chris from “Sea of Whales”

Trip to Montreal

Heading from Toronto to the East coast, a stop in the beautiful city of Montreal is necessary – and the best introduction to the French Canadian culture.

By arriving in Montreal, we also arrived in the province of Quebec: the French-speaking part of Canada. But be aware: If you studied French in Europe or even if you were born in France, you’ll need to get used to the dialect spoken here.

Frenchiness

Even if in the whole of Canada, French is a small minority (20%), the francophones are concentrated in this area (and also in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province of Canada).

French Canada

Festival de la francofolie – Photo: Eva Hirschi

The French culture is very important, and you can feel it. I got the impression that they try to avoid including English words in their language even more than in France. Québecois won’t say «weekend» but «fin de la semaine» for example.

Stop sign in bilingual Canada

Even stop signs are bilingual – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also, I was told that there was protest when the coffee chain «Second cup» refused to change its brand’s name to «Deuxième tasse» – apparently the protesters even put a bomb inside one of the cafés – which ended up in being free publicity for the company, without them changing their name…

Student city

Even though Montreal is smaller than Toronto, it definitely has its own charm. In Canada, Montreal is known for its university: McGill University. A walk on the campus is definitely worth it, the old buildings are beautiful and there is even a small natural historic museum in one of them – with free entry. There you’ll find – among other things – very impressive dinosaur bones.

Very animated city

A walk along the harbour and the streets next to it is really nice too. Even if the streets parallel to the harbour are somewhat touristic, it’s still very charming with many people sitting on the patios of the restaurants and bars and enjoying life.

Harbour in Montreal

Harbour in Montreal

What surprised me most about Montreal are the numerous events that happen here. I first thought we just arrived on a special weekend : The formula 1 race on Notre-Dame Island (one of the few urban races), the beer festival, the science festival, and the festival de la francofolie with free concerts in the city centre took place at the same time…

But people from Montreal confirmed that this is a normal weekend, there are events going on all the time in summer. Since the summer is not that long in this part of the world, the inhabitants try to enjoy their time the most possible apparently.

The small mountain (or big hill)

To get a nice view over the city, you should get on top of Mont Royal. People from here say you should hike on this mountain, but since I’m Swiss I’d rather say you should walk on this hill, but anyhow: the view is beautiful and the park slash forest is very pretty.

It was actually designed by the same landscape architects as the Central Park in New York. You’ll find many runners and people walking their dogs and kids. On top, there is a very artificial looking small lake, which is a pity.

Mont Royal in Montreal, Canada

Mont Royal

Bagels you shouldn’t miss

When you walk down the mountain (Swiss: read hill) you should make sure to end up on the east side of the hill, in the area called Mile End. It’s a beautiful area with pretty buildings (pay attention to buildings with stairs at the outside, a really nice architecture you won’t find in Europe) and many green spots with trees and flowers.

Also, make sure to get a bagel at Fairmount Bagels Bakery – the best place for bagels in Montreal (for me even in the world, as far as my bagel experience goes…). From the counter, you can actually see how they bake the bagels, including the old stone oven. Just get the classic: a regular sesame bagel with cream cheese and cold smoked salmon – delicious! Unsurprisingly, sometimes the waiting line even starts on the street.

Fairmount bagels bakery

Fairmount bagels bakery

Another very nice place is the café of Pâtisserie au kouign amann. It’s very small, there are only three tables with a couple of chairs in it, but if you’re able to get one of these, you feel like in a cozy old living room, with the permanent smell of fresh croissants! Even some French people say their croissants are the best in the world…

If you’re not so much into croissants, you should try their maple tarte – a small cake with maple syrup in it, really tasty! And from my whole Canada trip it was here that I had the best coffee. Enough reasons not to skip this city, right?

Pâtisserie au kouign amann

Pâtisserie au kouign amann – Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

 

Trip to Toronto

Toronto is probably the most laid back city I’ve ever been to – not in the sense of boredom, banality, and passiveness – on the contrary – but in a sense of tolerance, multiculturalism, and peacefulness.

Toronto looks a little bit like New York – but clean and organized. My Canadian friend confirmed that people say Toronto is how New York would look like if it was run by the Swiss. So you can imagine that I liked the biggest city in Canada right away.

Toronto skyline

Skyline of Toronto – Photo: Eva Hirschi

On (not so) thin ice

The most known attraction in Toronto is – even if it wasn’t built for this purpose – the CN Tower. Now a symbol of the city and open for tourists to go up, the CN Tower was first constructed as a communications tower for the transport company CN Rail. For 35 Canadian Dollars, a lift with windows takes you up to the main floor. For a few extra dollars, you can go even higher, but apparently, it’s not a huge gain in view.

CN Tower

Anyhow, the main attraction is not even the view of the city – even though it’s really nice, too! – but the window floor. And take it literally : There is one part of the floor which is covered by glass. You’re even allowed to step on it. It can hold four killer whales, they say.

Still, you will see adults walking carefully and fearfully over the glass, while children are jumping on it and laughing. If it doesn’t scare you too much to walk on this floor, try to sit down – it’s a totally different feeling.

Statue with its own hashtag

Another typical photogenic place is Nathan Philipps Square in front of the City Hall. TORONTO is spelt with two-meter-high capital letters – and it even has it’s own hashtag (#xoTO). At night, those letters are illuminated with different colours.

Toronto

Photogenic Toronto 😉 – Photo: Eva Hirschi

This place isn’t just nice for photos, there is also a small water fountain with some benches and a nice view of the new and the old City Hall. The new one is a deception from behind, looking like nothing. But in return, from the front side it’s incredibly beautiful!

Hipster place to be

One area that is quite in right now is the Distillery District – a former industrial area focused on alcohol production that turned into a hip urban place to be. It’s a few kilometres outside the main centre of the city, but still worth the trip. Small (really nice but expensive!) boutiques, cafés, and bars are situated in the old brick buildings.

Mill Street Brewery

Tasting craft beer at Mill Street Brewery – Photo: Eva Hirschi

You should definitely go to the Mill Street Brew Pub, one of the largest craft beer producers in Canada. On the lovely patio you can enjoy a beer sampler with eight different craft beers. There is some hype about the Original Organic Lager but I would instead recommend their IPAs…

A small different world

A place you should definitely not miss while in Toronto is Kensington Market. Actually, it’s not a market at all but an alternative area with some colourful houses, which host small shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants. Do you know the «independent» town of Christiana in Copenhagen? Well, it’s like Christiana, just cooler and nicer!

Kensington Market

Colourful Kensington Market – Photo: Eva Hirschi

So here too it’s not unusual to smell some weed in the streets, but it is part of the special atmosphere of Kensington Market. You’ll also find an organic coffee shop or a guy selling sugar cane juice. Interesting anecdote: I was told that Starbucks had planned to open one of their cafés in Kensington Market, but their inhabitants fought against it – with success. The alternative spirit is still alive!

Inuit art

For a more traditional cultural experience, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of the most well-known museums in Eastern Canada. The building itself is already worth a visit, and next door there is also the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) which is worth a trip to photograph the pencils and paintbrushes which form the structural pillars of the building.

College of Art

The College of Art – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Inside the AGO, you will find art from all over the world. The most fascinating works though are the Inuit art – sculptures and paintings from the aboriginal population of Northern Canada. We enjoyed it as a nice introduction to our Canada trip!

Art Gallery of Ontario

Inuit art in the Art Gallery of Ontario – Photo: Eva Hirschi