Queuing for Beavertails pastries in the snow, Ottawa
Queuing for Beavertails pastries in the snow, Ottawa

Welcome to the “How to immigrate to Canada” series, ten articles covering the basics—immigration categories, rights and duties as a permanent resident, first steps as a newcomer and more.

Update September 2020

It’s time to tackle ten myths and misconceptions about Canada!

It snows year-round in Canada

Mention Canada and next thing you know, you’ll hear “it’s cold up there, isn’t it?” or “so, snowball fights year-round, right?”

I’m not going to claim Canada is a tropical country. It does get really cold and winters are notoriously harsh. But most of the population (95%, actually) lives close to the US border—not because we’re super in love with our American neighbours, but because the Arctic is a challenging place to live.

It’s very cold in Nunavut, for instance, where even average summer temperatures hover around 10 °C (and the average winter temperature is -30 °C). But in most of Canada, snow melts in the spring (late April or May) and it gets very hot in summer. It doesn’t usually snow again until winter (November, December…).

Canadians have a strong accent

Eh? There are unique Canadian expressions and Canadianisms, but to most non-native speakers, Canadian and American accents sound alike and the difference, if any, is subtle.

According to Canadians, the “Newfie” (Newfoundland) accent is the outlier in Canada. And most francophones from around the world need a bit of time to get used to the flavour of French spoken in Quebec.

Everybody speaks English

There are two official languages in Canada—French and English.

In 2011, English was the mother tongue of nearly 58% of the population of Canada (or 19.1 million persons), and French was that of nearly 22% (or 7.2 million persons). English was the language most spoken at home by 66% of the population and for 21%, it was French.

In addition, many Canadians speak a non-official language at home, such as Chinese, Punjabi, Spanish or Italian.

The national sport is hockey

Although hockey is a national pastime, the national sport was originally Lacrosse.

It’s only in 1994 that hockey became the national winter sport and Lacrosse became the national summer sport—yes, we have a National Sport of Canada Act!

The Canadian healthcare system is “socialized” medicine

Americans claim that we have a “socialist” healthcare system while Europeans tend to assume we have to pay a $10,000 bill every time we go see a doctor, much like in the US.

I find the Canadian healthcare system is very similar to most European healthcare systems. Permanent residents and Canadian citizens are covered by their provincial or territorial health plan. Healthcare isn’t “free” because it is financed through taxes but as users, we don’t have out-of-pocket expenses for essential basic care.

It’s not a perfect system—there’s a doctor shortage and waiting lists can be long for non-urgent care. However, we’re all covered, regardless of pre-existing conditions and employment status. Bottom line is, if you go see a doctor in Canada, all you have to do is show your health card and you won’t pay a cent.

Canada is a monarchy

Not exactly—Canada is a constitutional monarchy.

In practice, the Queen is Canada’s “official” head of state and she is represented by the Governor General. However, we have our own constitution and Canada is in no way dependent on Britain for laws or governing the country.

The royal familial mostly plays a symbolic and cultural role.

There are only two cities in Canada—Vancouver and Toronto

Tell people you’re Canadian and the next question will be “where do you live? In Toronto or in Vancouver?”

Trust me, there are more than two cities in Canada—Ottawa (the federal capital, which is not Toronto), Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, St John… just to name a few.

Canada is basically like the US, just colder

It’s true that Canada has more things in common with the US than with Russia, Yemen or Indonesia. Canada and the US share a very long common border, a language, a “new world” mindset, media, food, sports, franchises, etc.

But there’s also a long list of political, social, geographical and cultural differences—education, healthcare, political systems, social issues, etc.

Canada is super expensive

In a 2020 Comparison of worldwide cost of living, Canada made it to the 20th position on the list, just behind the United Kingdom. If you’re from Denmark, Norway, Singapore or Australia, you’ll probably find Canada cheaper. If you’re from Argentina, China or Mexico, you’ll find it expensive.

It’s worth noting that Toronto and Vancouver, Canada’s two most expensive big cities, never come top of rankings of the world’s most expensive cities.

Canadians live in the wilderness

I personally love this stereotype of Canadians canoeing to work and hunting bears when they feel like grabbing something to eat.

Sure, I’ve seen people skating on the Rideau Canal to go to work and even skiing to get around during big snow storms. But the rest of the time, we just drive. And let’s face it, most densely populated part of the country is the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor where you’re unlikely to come face to face with a polar bear. Sorry, eh!

 

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21 Comments

  1. Cynthia January 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Lol, all very true ! But I still like, once in a while, to say that I was raised in a teepee with a polar bear 😉
    .-= Cynthia´s last blog ..Passé et futur =-.

    Reply
  2. Jennie January 16, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Even in the book I’m currently reading, Irreductibles Quebecois, written by a French woman who immigrated to Quebec, she mentions more than once that taxes & cost of living are higher and salaries are lower in Quebec than in France. I was like, ummm no, that’s completely backwards!!! Canada and the US are so insanely cheap to me now after having to deal with the stupid euro for years.
    .-= Jennie´s last blog ..French Dictionary for Non-Native Speakers of French =-.

    Reply
  3. Soleil January 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    These are so funny! Of course in the US we tell a lot of these myths, especially the one about the snow and everyone living out in the wilderness. But Canada being more expensive than Europe? Please! One of the biggest shocks when I came back from France was how much cheaper everything is here!
    .-= Soleil´s last blog ..Epic Week =-.

    Reply
  4. khengsiong January 16, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    I have heard that in Canadian Prairie, summer is practically one-week long only. Is that a myth or a truth?
    .-= khengsiong´s last blog ..Giant’s No Plastic Bag Day =-.

    Reply
  5. Zhu January 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    @Cynthia – And then people look at you and go “wow, really?” I hate shattering their dreams! 😆

    @Jennie – I totally agree with you. As for salaries, for some professions they could be lower in North America but it goes with the standard of living, doesn’t it? Seems logic to me…

    @Soleil – I know, this is one thing I truly don’t understand. One of the explanation I came up with, is that a lot of French visit Canada during a two-weeks holidays circuit, such as Toronto – Québec. Obviously, they spend a lot (flight + tours + extra stuffs because this is holidays etc). But life is much more affordable here, unless you hunt foreign products such as true French cheese, European perfume etc.

    Reply
  6. London Caller January 16, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    You know what? I find it hard to tell Canadian and American apart?
    I have to say their accents sound very similar to me.
    Likewise, I cannot tell Australian and New Zealander apart!
    Ha ha… But I can, if you put a Yankee and an Aussie together!
    Regional English accents can differ a lot too!

    I guess, you have similar situation in Canada. Maybe it’s East/ West divide?
    England is rather North/ South divide.
    In the middle, we have Birmingham. It’s really “melodic”!
    .-= London Caller´s last blog ..Mr & Mrs Gold / 金夫妇 / Tuan Emas & Isteri / 金夫妻 =-.

    Reply
  7. Nigel Babu January 17, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Canada is expensive from an Asian standpoint, things are cheaper here I suppose.

    Personally, I love the “Canadians live in the wild” 😉 Did you ski to work? :-O
    .-= Nigel Babu´s last blog ..Ubuntu User Day =-.

    Reply
  8. Rémy January 17, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Nice list. It was interesting for me to complete yours with the one published in the magazine “L’express HS 16 juillet-août 2009” titled “S’installer au Canada” (Setup in Canada). According to them, there are also 10 Myths about this country:
    1°) It is cold (Il fait frette)
    Like you said, Canada is cold, but people ajusted quite well (clothes, activities, etc…). A French girl said in the interview : “It was more difficult to learn English than to face the cold” 😉
    2°) My cottage in Canada
    All Canadians live in a cottage next to the river.
    3°) Real-Wrong ecological paradise
    In France, Canada has the reputation to be a “green” land, but the facts are differents.
    4°) The Quebecois are the cousins of the French people
    Don’t go to Québec thinking that it will just be another departement of France.
    5°) Everybody is nice and friendly (Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est gentil)
    In Canada the grumpy people are always wrong. Canadian are polite and friendly, but be aware that for them this behaviour does not involve a relationship.
    6°) Double language
    One country, two languages, but only one officially bilingual province.
    7°) United colors of Canada
    Numerous nationalities put together under the same flag.
    8°) Entrepreneurs, everything is possible
    Canadians have the “You can do it” atitude, but like everywhere else, the 3 first years will be difficult.
    9°) Invincible Québec (Irréductible Québec)
    Québecois are Noth American, but want to preserve their own national identity.
    10°) The bestest country of the world (Le plus meilleur pays du monde)
    Canada a model? Yes for others, but not yet for Canadians

    Reply
  9. Seraphine January 17, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    i like remy’s remark: “in Canada, grumpy people are always wrong.”
    because it’s wrong to be grumpy anywhere, not just in canada.
    (i’d be grumpy if i lived in an igloo)
    and why why why why do grumpy people take jobs in customer service?
    .-= Seraphine´s last blog ..Camel Assisted Therapy =-.

    Reply
  10. Rich B January 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    I find that anglophone canadians enunciate their words more than Americans where I live (upstate NY). It is true they pronounce “about” (we say “a-bout”), while they say “aboot”! They deny it but you catch em every time!
    They do have different accents throughout though-my friend’s from Nova Scotia and his accent is WAY different from his wife from Kitchener Ontario. I don’t know about the prairie provinces or BC though. Any body have any ideas? Zhu?
    I don’t see these people ever.
    Accents are great. Everyone’s got one, it’s just about perspective and points of view. They make life interesting.

    Reply
  11. Sidney January 17, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    You busted my myths about Canada! Well done !

    Reply
  12. Kim January 18, 2010 at 8:21 am

    An interesting list, a few of which I thought were true until a few years ago!

    I can’t tell the difference between American and Canadian accents for the most part (similarly SO MANY people can’t tell the difference between NZ and Australian accents which I find pretty easy to pick, being a NZer). I had a friend from Newfoundland though and I couldn’t tell what country he came from!! I thought his accent sounded somewhat Irish. And his wife was French-Canadian and when she spoke English I couldn’t figure out which country she was from either. But he definitely did the “eh” thing and saying “about” like “aboot”.

    I assumed that Canadians spoke English and then in the French speaking parts the people would be bilingual. I found out through my Canadian friends that her parents didn’t really speak English at all and he had to learn French when they started seeing each other.

    Silly me also, I didn’t really think about Canada being part of the commonwealth – I’m sure I “knew” about it but it didn’t really register until I went to Canada (for the day :)! – I was staying in Buffalo for a few weeks) and saw the coins with the queen and was like “hey, they’re just like at home!”
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..What I’m watching at the moment… =-.

    Reply
  13. Yogi January 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Very interesting. I’m really interested right now in how different countries handle their health care. People here in the US either hate the Canadian System or love it, neither group seems to know much about it though.
    .-= Yogi´s last blog ..My World – Washing Irving Park – Bixby, Oklahoma =-.

    Reply
  14. Tanya January 19, 2010 at 5:33 am

    What people think of as a Canadian accent is also apparently what they think of as a Minnesotan accent. If people in the southern U.S. don’t guess that I’m from Minnesota, they guess Canada!
    .-= Tanya´s last blog ..Good Morning, Paris =-.

    Reply
  15. Linguist-in-Waiting January 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Haha, I like this post. By the way, in the case of Buffalo, sometimes we have worse winters than Toronto, for example, simply because we’re on the wrong side of the lake!
    .-= Linguist-in-Waiting´s last blog ..Cavalier Cooking =-.

    Reply
  16. Zhu January 23, 2010 at 12:59 am

    @khengsiong – I’m pretty sure it’s a myth. Spring is super short because you go from snow to snow melting to summer in a very short time. But summer is still long.

    @London Caller – You would spot some accents, like the Maritims. But I find the English very “neutral” in Ontario. I can always recognize true English (UK) accent though!

    @Seraphine – Shhhht…. it’s a secret…

    @Nigel Babu -No kidding, a couple of my former students did in 2007 because we had so much snow and it was quicker than taking the bus. But it was mostly for fun!

    @Rémy – Very interesting! I think I read this Express, it was a “hors serie”, right? I usually read French magazines at Chapter (Chapter is like the FNAC but better – they all have a Starbucks coffee inside and chairs and you can spend hours sipping coffee and reading magazine without buying anything!).

    The list makes a lot of sense to me and tackles myths a lot of French have about Québec (who are definitely NOT our cousins!).

    @Seraphine – 😆 This is so true! Must be a requirement in some customer service job. Under skills: must be grumpy.

    @Rich B – I can only speak for Winnipeg and I found the accent pretty similar to Ontario. Now folks in the country tend to say “eh” a lot more from my experience, that’s about it.

    I really can’t pick the different but I can usually tell Canadians and Americans apart. Just the attitude I guess (and I don’t mean to be sarcastic!).

    @Sidney – Glad you learned something!

    @Kim – 😆 I had a similar experience going to NZ (that was before I settled in Canada). When I arrived in Auckland after a 36 hours flight I was like “oh, it’s so British”! Er… yeah…? 😆

    I can tell the difference between OZ and NZ accents. Not sure why but they don’t sound the same to me. I mean, “kia ora” vs. “g’day mate”, you can tell, right? 😆

    @Yogi – Hi and thanks for visiting! I think you are right, we don’t really understand each other’s systems. And as a French, I can tell you a lot of people love or hate French health system without really knowing it!

    @Rich B – Thanks Rick for the reference, I’m interested too! NPR has great program, I always listen to it.

    @Tanya – Really? Well, I can usually tell US Southern accents!

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – The weather definitely sucks in Buffalo, I can testify – I felt like I was still in Canada!!

    Reply
  17. Seb January 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I’ve always thought that say, outside of the major city like Toronto, Canada wouldn’t be too expensive. Same goes for the US, your dollar can go a lot further in some places than others, mostly rural areas your money goes further.
    .-= Seb´s last blog ..New Tshirts for Sale! =-.

    Reply
  18. Nomadic Pinoy January 25, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    It’s wonderful knowing more about my neighbors up north. As you pointed out, there’s a lot of misconceptions. I could only wish the US have a better health care system for the uninsured.

    Reply
  19. Yasmine January 27, 2010 at 12:42 am

    I don’t know what are you paying for your food in Ontario, but I definitely find food expensive in Quebec. I was in Germany last December and I was shocked by the low food prices! After that, I really feel ripped off every time I shop. Imagine, in Qc I have to pay 6$ for the package of “real” Mozzarella cheese and in Germany you can find it starting at 0,49 Euro! And vine prices,it hurts! Almost everything in food department costs five to ten times more here…
    .-= Yasmine´s last blog ..Living as a couple in foreign country =-.

    Reply

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