Cultural Highlights of Canada: Know Before You Go

An important part of traveling is learning about the people, culture, and history of the place we're visiting. Here, Nomad Matt gives gives us a rundown on how you can immerse yourself into Canada's unique, multicultural experiences.


Photo © iStock/shaunl

Canada is probably one of the most culturally-diverse countries in the world. Multiculturalism is a national policy, which is easy to see when visiting cities like VancouverToronto and French-speaking Montreal.

One of the reasons why this exists is that Canada was founded upon multiple cultures, including the original inhabitants – the Aboriginal (First Nations) people and Inuit – alongside newer arrivals: the English, French, and Métis.

Immigration has continued since European colonials arrived, which has given Canadians an identity that spans the globe.

Aboriginal (First Nations) People

There are hundreds of tribes scattered within what now makes up Canada’s borders. The Government now divides these into six main groups geographically, made up of the Woodland First Nations, Iroquoian First Nations, Plains First nations, Plateau First Nations, Pacific Coast First Nations, and First Nations of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins.

The First Nations people lived off the land using what nature provided in their geographic regions. They gathered plants and wild vegetables for nutrition and medicinal purposes, and hunted and trapped animals such as buffalo, deer, salmon and beaver using spears, bow-and-arrow or trapping methods for meat and furs. What was harvested depends on the regions of where the tribes lived – some were nomadic, following where the food was plentiful.

Due to the sheer size of Canada, it would be impossible to gain knowledge and understanding of First Nations people from one region alone. Traditional woodcarvings, mortuary poles, tapestry, clothing, language, and history vary across the country.

Inuit Culture

Inuit people reside in Canada’s far north regions, reaching into the Arctic Circle. They adapted to live in extreme weather climates and have done so (and still do) for over 5,000 years by hunting and trapping seasonal animals, and living in igloos and thules (moveable, tent-like structures made out of whale bones and animal skin).

Today, the Inuit are very much in-tune with modern times, and (contrary to popular belief) they do not live in igloos. Most live in single-story, prefabricated wooden houses which are heated with oil-burning stoves. However, housing varies across the vast regions.

On April 1st 1999, the Canadian Government finalized the division of Canada’s largest territory (Northwest Territories), creating Nunavut – a new territory inhabited and governed mostly by Inuit people. The capital, Iqaluit has a population of just over 7,000.

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Métis Culture

During the 1600s – long before Canada was united as a nation in 1867 – French and British fur traders and explorers married First Nations women, which eventuated in birthing a mixed-blood subculture known as the Métis.

A new language was eventually spawned, called Michif, a mix between European/French words and Native Canadian (mainly Cree and Ojibwe) dialect.

The Métis made a name for themselves as skilled hunter/trappers. They were known to be fiercely independent due to being looked-down-upon by European colonials and First Nations people.

This helped the Métis bond and band together, which led to the creation of a vibrant, proud community known for their decorative uniforms, horses and wagons, as well as their celebratory song and dances, featuring fiddles and drums, often enjoyed after successful buffalo hunts.

Lumberjack Culture

Lumberjacks (loggers or tree-fellers) became known across Canada for their hyper-masculinity, hard work, grit, and musky smell.

These towering, bearded men toiled six days a week in dangerous conditions to clear land for farming and providing timber for building, firewood, and pulp mills.

The culture thrived around the turn of the 18th century with shanties (cramped, sweaty boarding houses built to house Lumberjacks) sprouting up from coast to coast filled with men trying to make a living in extreme conditions.

“Johnny Canuck” is a fictional Lumberjack cartoon character created in the late 1800s that still pops up these days, most notably as a mascot and namesake for Vancouver’s NHL ice hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks. Lumberjack competitions still take place across Canada, pitting men and women against each other in tree climbing, log chopping races and wood carving skills.

Want to Learn More About Canada’s Culture?

Want to know more about Canada? Check out our podcast. We discuss when a traveler becomes a snack; the perils of wilderness adventure, a culinary tour of the provinces for foodies, and we speak to World Nomads photography scholarship mentor Richard I'Anson.

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