Life in Canada

15 Things Canada is Famous For



Here are some of the traditions, customs and other things that our great country is known for. These are the first things that come to mind for most people around the world when asked about Canada.

1. Ice hockey

There is not a single past time that is more associated with being Canadian than the sport of hockey. If you were born and raised in Canada, there is a high probability that you played hockey as a kid, or were at least exposed to the National Hockey League and/or the Olympics. 

It is believed that ice hockey evolved from the use of a simple stick moving around a ball in the 18th and 19th century in the United Kingdom. These games were then brought over to Canada, more sophisticated rules were developed and formal equipment was utilized.

It is because of this that Canada is known as the creator of the sport and the contemporary application of the rules. The first indoor hockey game was played on March 3, 1875. Leagues quickly than developed, eventually leading to the creation of the Stanley Cup in 1893 to celebrate the Canadian champions of ice hockey.

2. Maple syrup

If you grew up in Canada, it is likely that you went on a field trip to learn about how maple syrup is made and produced. The sweet sugary delicacy is commonly used on pancakes, waffles, french toast, and even bacon. Canada is the world’s leading producer and exporter of maple syrup, with Quebec leading at 92% of Canada’s maple syrup production. 

The concept of straining sap out of maple trees was first discovered by the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands, years before European settlers discovered their technique. They would use the sugar to cook venison, which was the origin of culinary style of maple-cured meat preservation. Maple sugar began mass production once European arrived, drilling holes into maples and fitting them with wooden sprouts to guide the sap into buckets in the late 1700s.

3. Marijuana

  • Legalization: October 17, 2018 
  • Sales: $1.2 billion on legal non-medical cannabis in 2019

Canada was the second country (after Uruguay) to begin the process of legalizing marijuana, and then to actually follow through on it. This medicinal and recreational drug was first added to the list of schedule banned drugs in Canada in 1923. The long prohibition ended in October of 2018, instantly marking Canada as the Amersterdam of the North. 

Canada is one of only 4 countries in the world that where a person can legally possess and use recreational marijuana, the others are Georgia, South Africa, and Uruguay.

The legal purchasing and smoking age is 18, and a single person is legally allowed to have 40 grams on their person. That costs anywhere between $160 to $400, depending upon where you are in Canada. Travellers all over the globe, particularly Americans, have travelled here in order to have this unique experience.

It isn’t all about recreational use though. Cannabis has been used as a medicinal drug for research purposes for years and has benefited people with pain, anxiety and depression. People who do not want to smoke or vape the drug are able to ingest it via edibles or can use CBD (cannabidiol) oil.

4. Politeness

Credit: Drew Shannon
  • Began: Post World War II
  • Known for: Constantly saying sorry
  • Social customs: Tipping, greetings, gift-giving

If you have ever travelled outside of Canada, informing others that you are from the Great White North will generally get you a positive reaction. Canadians have been known for quite some time as America’s polite sibling; the trope of constant apologies and general use of manners has been the source of comedic material for decades. But where does it come from? And most importantly, is it really true?

The director of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto has several theories as to where this tired cliche comes from. He proposes that these traits thrived during wartime because subordination is what was expected of us. It is also supposed that many of the original settlers in Canada were British, and those traditions of manners and conservatism have carried on like a gene.

It is difficult to prove something so intangible, but it is likely that Canadians are perceived as being so polite because of the comparison to the relentless self-consideration of Americans. Americans have historically been known to be selfish, which rendered Canadians the opposite in some minds of some countries’ citizens.

The use of the word “sorry” to apologize led directly to the passing of the The Apology Act in 2009 which clarifies that an apology of any kind is not “an admission of fault or liability in connection with the matter to which the words or actions relate”.

5. Stunning landscapes

Some of the most beautiful places on earth reside in Canada, and you don’t have to be Canadian to admit that. If you are a hiker, a traveller, a photographer, or just a general adventurer, Canada is one of the top countries to hit for some breathtaking aesthetics.

Canadians are also known for enjoying nature and reserving time to explore the various mountains, lakes (it has the highest number of natural lakes than any country in the world), forests, and unique habitats for wildlife.

Canadians make a special effort to preserve that wildlife as well, with 48 national parks and over 1,000 provincial and territorial parks across the country. Seasonal changes do not stop Canadians from exploring.

6. Northern lights

  • Best places to see the lights: Lake Superior Ontario (near Thunder Bay), Takhini Hot Pools (Whitehorse Yellowknife), Athabasca, Alberta (near Edmonton). 
  • Time of year: Late August and September through to the beginning of April.

Speaking of stunning visuals here is another natural phenomenon that our great country is famous for: the beautiful, colourful dance of the Northern Lights. These stunning displays are also called the Aurora Borealis, which means ‘dawn of the North’. This name is based on the Roman myth of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn.

People travel from all over the globe to observe this natural occurrence in person. Although you are able to see some of the lights all year round, scientists suggest that winter in the north is the best time and place, as there are long periods of darkness free from light pollution and clearer air. Capturing the pulsing colours is something out of a fairy tale to those fortunate to have witnessed these paintings in the sky. 

Technically, the lights of the aurora are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun and come into the earth’s atmosphere. They appear in many colours, including pale green and pink as the most common, but shades of red, yellow, green, blue and violet have been reported.

7. Poutine

Who knew that a sloppy delicious meal would become associated with being Canadian? The poutine is a Canadian side dish consisting of a genius combination of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy (although many variations now exist) that is famous all over the world. Poutine is actually Quebec slang for ‘a mess’, and Canadians are inclined to agree. 

There have been multiple claims as to who and when this iconic dish came to fruition. It was always accepted to be a Canadian dish, but multiple Québécois chefs have attempted to take the credit for it. The most commonly considered inventor was Fernand Lachance who created it in 1957 when a trucker asked him to add cheese curds to his fries.

Since then, hundreds of variations have been created all over the country, and even in the United States; some add meat, different kinds of cheeses, some are sold out of food truck stops, and some are even considered an expensive delicacy.

8. The National Flag

  • Year created: 1965
  • Design by: George Stanley 
  • Previous flag: The Red Ensign; from 1892-1965

The Canadian flag is famous for its simplicity and ability to embody the country’s core values. Until 1965, Canada did not have its own flag – it hung the Red Ensign over Parliament buildings, which signified its attachment to Britain.

Canada was growing tired of its association with Britain, as they were constantly making decisions that did not consider Canada as an independent nation. It took some time before the final design was drawn up by George Stanley, whose main goal was to create a flag that symbolized a union of all of the country’s peoples.

As previously mentioned, the maple leaf in itself is distinctively Canadian as it is associated with the trees and syrup. It manages to encompass the sense of independence that the country needed at the time, as well as the complete inclusion of all of the nation’s unique individuals.

9. Niagara Falls

Many Canadians, especially Ontarians, probably take the sight of this stunning natural phenomena for granted. Niagara Falls’ waters that flow year-round are the backdrop for many family excursions and has topped the charts for years as the world’s most popular honeymoon destination.

The falls span from Ontario to New York, straddling the border between the two countries. The largest section is the most famous one located in Canada, called either the Horseshoe Falls or The Canadian Falls. 

Mention of the falls goes as far back to the 17th century by the Iroquois peoples. The name could have originated from them as well, having had the town named Onguiaahra, meaning ‘point of land cut in two’. Bruce Trigger, an Iroquoian scholar, believes the word was Mohawk. The falls were also sketched by Samuel de Champlain during his exploration of Canada in 1604.

10. Snow and ice

Some people used to think that Canadians only lived in igloos. It is also a commonly accepted stereotype that Canadians know how to embrace the winter cold due to its presence for a large portion of the year – from as early as September to April (depending upon which province you’re in). When you think about Canada, you think about ice and snow.

Because of Canada’s notoriously snowy and chilly weather, a significant amount of research on cold climates has been done by scientists all around the country. Canadian scientist and researcher Ken Libbrecht grew his own snowflakes in order to determine whether or not the assumption that ‘no two snowflakes are exactly alike’ is accurate or not.

Snowflakes are generally dissimilar because they take their own unique path through the atmosphere, but Ken discovered within his lab, that if he created an identical set of conditions, he could create identical snowflakes.

11. Craft beer

Credit: Beer Me BC

Even though craft beer breweries have seemingly only been a thing for the past 5 years, the craze actually began in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s – initially, just after the second world war. Before this, Canada’s market was mainly monopolized by big brewery companies, such as Molson, Labatt, and Carling O’Keefe, owning 96% of the market in the early 1980s.

It was through this observation that microbreweries forged a new path that hadn’t been seen in Canada for decades. It was in 1984 that the country’s first microbrewery Granville Island Brewing opened in Vancouver British Columbia. It was only five years later that 42 new microbreweries opened their doors, mainly in Ontario and British Columbia and as of 2015, there were 640 across Canada.

Beer, in general, is commonly associated with Canada and is a large contributor to Canada’s economy. The development of microbreweries in the mid-1990s, which is defined as a smaller scale operation distributed primarily to the local community, lead to the boom of craft beer.

Craft beer is essentially beer that is created using traditional methods to create their own unique recipes rather than the generalized flavour of commercial beers. The sales of craft beer have risen tenfold in the last decade, and it now accounts for 6% of the Canadian market.

12. Moose

  • Where: Every province and territory across Canada, except for Prince Edward Island
  • Population: Approximately 500,000 to 1,000,000 

The moose, along with the beaver, snow, ice hockey, and the sight of igloos, is one of Canada’s most iconic symbols. This is because the moose is found in a number of Canadian provinces in vast numbers. It is said to represent the country’s dedication to its wildlife.

It appears as statues, is embedded on the coat of arms for Newfoundland, Labrador and Ontario, and appears on a number of collectible Canadian coins. The moose is often confused with a caribou, who is a relative of the moose, featured on the Canadian quarter until 2012. It was that year that moose was then placed on the quarter.

13. Free health care

  • Established: 1984
  • First Proposed By: Tommy Douglas
  • Misconceptions: Everything is ‘free’

Canada’s health care system is famous in countries like the United States mainly because of perception. Medication, surgeries, and ambulance rides in the United States have to be paid for directly, which makes life incredibly difficult for people living below the poverty line.

Canada, on the other hand, virtually all essential care is covered through the province’s health card use and registration. Because of this simple summary, Americans commonly refer to Canada as their polar opposite in health care and consideration. 

But Canadian health care does not cover everything. Mental health services are only covered to a certain extent, as are prescriptions and home care for the elderly. The health care system is incredibly beneficial, but there are still strides to be made regarding efficiencies and costs.

14. The RCMP

  • Established: February 1, 1920
  • Know For: Unique uniforms and riding horses
  • Motto: “Maintain the right, or uphold the law.”

It is a general assumption that all Canadian police wear what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police do; bright red uniforms, widely brimmed hats, puffy pants, and riding horses. In reality, these individuals are the national police service, providing law enforcement at the federal level.

They also provide policing in a handful of provinces, such as Alberta, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia. Despite their name, they are no longer a mounted police force, and only using use horses in traditional ceremonies. They are most famous for their uniforms, which became known as the Red Surge, ever since the uniform was created in 1904. 

15. Famous Canadians

  • Actors: Rachel Macadams, Ryan Gosling, Jim Carey
  • Singers/rappers: Justin Beiber, Drake, Celine Dion
  • Film directors: James Cameron, Denis Villeneuve, David Kronenberg. 

Many talented artists who achieve celebrity status are from Canada, which seems to be surprising to many people in other countries. Some of the most famous artists in the entertainment industry may be recognized under this list: Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Celine Dion, Margaret Atwood, Justin Beiber, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, and one of the first artists and writers, Emily Carr.

About the author

Samantha Burton
Samantha Burton is a freelance writer, photographer, and filmmaker out of Pickering Ontario. She is a feminist, activist, and mental health advocate. Read more

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1 comment

  1. Hello Samantha,

    Thank you for a wonderful article about Canada. It truly is a lovely country. I have one correction, though. In the US all medications, surgeries and ambulance rides do not have to be paid for up front. Every insurance plan is different of course, but my medications and surgeries are covered by insurance first and then I pay the balance. A payment plan is also possible for expensive surgeries.
    Thank you and I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles!
    Jane Rubino