Few countries in the world offer as many choices to the traveller as Canada. Whether your passion is skiing, sailing, museum-combing or indulging in exceptional cuisine, Canada has it all. Western Canada is renowned for its stunningly beautiful countryside; Eastern Canada mixes the flavour and charm of Europe with the bustle of New York; wildlife viewing is at its best in Northern Canada; and everywhere you will be surprised by how much more there is to this country than just maple syrup and Mounties.
However, Canada also has its fair share of unsavoury history. Indigenous peoples (including the Inuit of the far north and members of Canada's First Nations) maintain that traditional lands were taken from them by force or subterfuge by previous governments. There have been some small measures to tackle their grievances: in 1993, a land claim settlement gave the Inuit control over a 350,000 sq km (135,135 sq miles) area of the Northwest Territories; in 1999, the federal government created the new territory of Nunavut from these and additional lands.
There is certainly room in Canada to accommodate these peoples: despite Canada's gigantic size, the country is sparsely populated. Most people congregate around urban centres; venturing into more remote rural areas, you may well have only the country's stunning scenery as your companion. Indeed, Canada is so beautifully diverse that it's easy to comprehend why so many people fought for possession of it.
During the 18th century, the Anglo-French war over Canada ended with the capitulation of New France to the English. The Americans made a number of efforts to seize control of Britain's Canadian territories after Britain's defeat in the American War of Independence, but failed. Canada now promotes itself as a country of peace, most notably in recent times in its opposition to the USA-led war against Iraq. Canada governs itself independently but still has the British monarch as its head of state, with relatively little dissent. These factors are typical of a country that somehow succeeds in unifying incredible range. After all, it spans six time zones and borders three oceans.
Culture and History:
The first Europeans to reach Canada were descendants of Norse seafarers who had settled in Iceland and in Greenland during the 9th and 10th centuries; the second wave of European arrivals, led by the Italian navigator Giovanni Caboto (better known as John Cabot), were seeking a passage to Asia, in 1497.
Over the next 100 years, attracted by rich fishing grounds, English and French commercial interests flocked to Newfoundland. During the 17th century, the French accelerated trading with the New France Company. The creation of England's Hudson's Bay Company initiated a long period of rivalry, culminating in the Anglo-French war of the early 1760s; this ended with the surrender of the French Canadian capital, Québec, to the English forces. The Treaty of Paris, in 1763, gave all French territories in north-east America to the British. Within two decades, however, the English had been ousted from their American colonies following defeat in the American War of Independence.
Eastern Canada was then settled by loyalists from the USA holding allegiance to the defeated British Crown. In 1791, Canada was divided between regions occupied by the English-speaking and the longer-established French-speaking community, but the arrangement did not work and was replaced by a unified system. In the mid-19th century, Canada was granted the status of a Dominion of the British Empire, with an autonomous government but with the British monarch as Head of State. From 1968 to 1984, politics were dominated by the charismatic figure of Pierre Trudeau. Brian Mulroney was elected in 1984, and the Québec issue came to the fore once more.
A 1995 referendum in Québec resulted in an extremely narrow vote in favour of remaining inside Canada. Liberal Party leader Jean Chrétien - Prime Minister from 1993-2003 - was succeeded by Paul Martin. Stephen Harper was elected as Prime Minister in 2006.
Handshaking predominates as the normal mode of greeting. Close friends often exchange kisses on the cheeks, particularly in French-speaking areas. Codes of practice for visiting homes are the same as in other Western countries: flowers, chocolates or a bottle of wine are common gifts for hosts, and dress is generally informal and practical according to climate. It is common for black tie and other required dress to be indicated on invitations. Exclusive clubs and restaurants often require more formal dress. Smoking has been banned in most public areas. Most restaurants, theatres and cinemas, if they permit smoking, have large 'no smoking' areas.
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