So You Want to Move to Canada, Eh?

Stuff to Know Before You Go


By Jennifer McCartney

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$12.99 CAD

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Laugh as you learn about America’s friendly northern neighbor with this step-by-step guide to Canadian customs, pop culture, and slang — perfect for anyone who’s considered moving to (or just visiting) maple leaf country.

Written by New York Times bestselling author (and born-and-bred Canuck) Jenn McCartney, this comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about Canada, including:
  • History
  • Bewildering residency rules, demystified
  • Unique laws and customs
  • Contributions to the arts and pop culture (Celine Dion, Margaret Atwood, Justin Bieber)
  • Colorful slang, explained
  • Creative doodles, helpful charts, and fun graphs
Hilarious and honest, this guide will delight your politically disgruntled father, nudge your bleeding-heart neighbor to hit the road, and inspire you to plan for (or daydream about) your own Canadian getaway.


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WHAT’S YOUR CANADA FANTASY? Living life as an artist in an eco-cabin on Salt Spring Island? As a hotshot financier with a condo on the fifty-third floor of a posh building overlooking the Toronto skyline? As a quiet farmer in the rural Quebec countryside who supplies produce to all the hottest restaurants in Montreal? Or perhaps your fantasy involves a lumberjack. Or just free health care. Whatever your taste, it makes perfect sense to daydream about picking up and reinventing yourself in a country that’s not only welcoming to newcomers but also affordable, safe, and, well, right next door.

Sometimes we’re inspired to make a change after noteworthy events in our lives, such as a marriage or divorce, a death in the family, or a new job opportunity. Sometimes these noteworthy events that inspire us are more global in scale. Hours after the 2016 presidential election results were announced, for example, the Canadian immigration website crashed. Americans who supported the losing candidate wanted to know how to move to Canada—and fast. Even before that, searches for “How can I move to Canada” shot up 350 percent after the then-presidential nominee clinched the Republican nomination. And why not? It’s nearby. It’s a great place to live. The health care is famously free, the crime rate is low, and the quality of life—and the life expectancy—is high. In fact, three out of the top ten best cities to live in the world are in Canada, according to the 2017 Global Livability Report.

But how to go from a cursory internet search to concrete action? What’s the first step? And what else do you really need to know in order to move there? The answer is: quite a bit if you want to immerse yourself in the full Canadian experience—which isn’t just buying a flannel shirt and learning about the Canadian Football League,1 although that’s a great start.

“Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.”

John F. Kennedy, address to the Canadian Parliament, 1961

There are a lot of stereotypes about Canada—many of them well earned. There’s tons of space, and it’s all kept pretty clean. The government is mostly honest and well meaning. The people are mostly laid back and well educated. It’s a multicultural wonderland where everyone is welcome. Right? Aside from the health care and gun stuff, it’s basically just like the United States in every other respect… isn’t it? Well, not quite.

From our love of bunny hugs and chesterfields to our embrace of big government, strong rye, and… curling, there are a ton of subtle and not-so-subtle cultural differences newcomers to Canada will discover. Not to mention our uniquely Canadian history—moose on the loose in Tim Hortons, socialists on strike in Winnipeg, and crack-smoking mayors in Toronto. So you want to move to Canada? Buckle up! You’ve got a lot to learn. (And a lot of paperwork to fill out—we’re a very bureaucratic country.)

Whether you’re an armchair traveler, you’ve fallen in love with a Canadian, or you’re simply fed up and ready for a real change, you’ll enjoy this handy guide on what to expect. Written by a Canuck with dual American-Canadian citizenship, this is an authoritative and step-by-step practical guide on how to move to the best country in the world.2

1 Argos suck.

2 First thing you’ll learn: We’re really not that modest. We think we’re fantastic.


How Many Provinces Are There?
What’s a Province?
And What’s the Deal with the Queen?

“The more I see of the country, the less I feel I know about it. There is a saying that after five years in the north every man is an expert; after ten years, a novice.”

—Pierre Berton, author


“Canada is like an old cow. The West feeds it. Ontario and Quebec milk it. And you can well imagine what it’s doing in the Maritimes.”

—Tommy Douglas

The country of Canada was founded more or less on July 1, 1867. Today Canada has ten provinces and three territories and is the world’s second-largest country after Russia. There are vast differences among the provinces and territories, and each one has their own history as well as quirks and traditions. The story of how this gigantic landmass became the country of Canada is a bit disjointed—between Upper Canada and Lower Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company and a bunch of disparate colonies and unceded Indigenous land plus a few wars with the US Army, it wasn’t exactly a straight path to nationhood. Read on to discover how each bit of Canada came to be (as well as recommendations for music, literature, and films that will offer additional insight into the culture of each province and territory—for more, see the additional resources starting on here).


CAPITAL: St. John’s

First, a lesson in pronunciation: “Newfoundland” rhymes with “understand.” Learn that one thing, and you’ll immediately endear yourself to the locals. Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the most interesting provinces geographically because it’s closer to Ireland than it is to much of the rest of Canada, which means residents have slightly Irish-sounding accents, a cutting sense of humor, and incredible musical talent. Sea shanties, love ballads, fiddling, accordions, step dancing—you name it, and you’ll find it here. Most likely in a pub. You’ll also find whale, bird, and iceberg watching; picturesque villages overlooking the Atlantic; and moose burgers. It was the last province to join Canada, with 52 percent of residents voting to join in 1949. Those who voted against joining are still a bit salty about it all. They felt everything was fine as it was.

And it was here, in the town of Gander, that thirty-eight airplanes were forced to land after US airspace was shut down on September 11, 2001. There were more people on the planes than there were in town, but locals from all over the province banded together to cook food, donate supplies, fill prescriptions, feed the numerous animals in the cargo hold of each plane, and offer comfort for the thousands of passengers stranded there for days. Local stores told passengers to come in and take what they needed at no charge. Residents opened their homes to allow passengers to shower and use the phone. Lifelong friendships were formed during this difficult time. This astonishing story of generosity has since been immortalized in the award-winning Broadway musical Come from Away.

Be sure to head out to Cape Spear and catch the first sunrise in North America from the continent’s most easterly point.

LISTEN: Great Big Sea

READ: Death on the Ice: The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914 by Cassie Brown with Harold Horwood, or The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

WATCH: The Republic of Doyle

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND (also known as P.E.I.)

CAPITAL: Charlottetown

Canada’s smallest province, both in terms of landmass and population, is a dreamy, picturesque island of about 140,000 people. It’s a bit larger than the state of Delaware, if that means anything to you. The province is known for its delicious potatoes and oysters, fabulous beaches, and traditional Celtic music. This little island has an outsized spot in Canadian history, as the Charlottetown Conference was held here in 1864. This is where representatives from the various British colonies in North America got together to discuss forming one big union that would eventually become Canada. It was apparently a bit of a haphazard affair, with Newfoundland being notified too late to join the proceedings and a big circus in town hogging all the accommodations. The island is also known as the setting for one of Canada’s most famous novels, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It’s connected to the New Brunswick mainland by Confederation Bridge, the longest bridge in the world over a body of water that freezes.

LISTEN: Saddle River String Band

READ: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

WATCH: Road to Avonlea


CAPITAL: Halifax

Nova Scotia (Latin for New Scotland) was one of the four founding provinces of Canada and is located on a peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic. You’re never more than sixty-seven kilometers (almost forty-two miles) from the ocean here, so it makes sense that the province is known for its fresh lobster and seafood. The area received a large number of Scottish settlers after the Highland clearances, which is why fiddle music is popular and Gaelic is still spoken in some communities. The Halifax explosion also occurred here—to date Canada’s greatest disaster, with around two thousand killed and nine thousand injured when a munitions ship blew up in Halifax Harbor. It was, at the time, the world’s largest man-made explosion—part of the unfortunate ship’s anchor was found two miles south—and hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with the injured. Nova Scotia is also known for its two rather famous islands, Cape Breton and Sable Island. The former is the home of Louisbourg Fort, which played a pivotal role in the French and English wars, and it’s also the site of Alexander Graham Bell and Marconi’s groundbreaking experiments. The latter is a tiny sandspit managed by the federal government and known for its adorable wild horse population—about four hundred horses roam free on the foggy little island.

LISTEN: Stan Rogers or the Rankin Family

READ: Barometer Rising by Hugh McClelland, No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod, or Heave by Christy Ann Conlin

WATCH: Maudie or Trailer Park Boys

“Canadians, like their historians, have spent too much time remembering conflicts, crises, and failures. They forgot the great, quiet continuity of life in a vast and generous land. A cautious people learns from its past; a sensible people can face its future. Canadians, on the whole, are both.”

—British military officer Desmond Morton


Capital: Fredericton

New Brunswick is one of the four Atlantic provinces and is the only officially bilingual—French and English—province in Canada, a great trivia fact because most people assume the official bilingual province must be Quebec. Inhabited since at least 7000 BC by Indigenous peoples like the Mi’kmaq, the first European contact was with French explorer Jacques Cartier, and the land eventually became part of the French colony of Acadia. When the British took over, they expelled the Acadians from the land in an act known as the Great Upheaval. In fact, the descendants of some of those displaced Acadians became today’s modern-day Cajuns in Louisiana. The province is known for its beautiful forested landscapes (and its forestry industry) and the UNESCO-designated Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world. Come for the puffin and whale watching, stay for the delicious fiddleheads.

LISTEN: Stompin’ Tom Connors or Matt Anderson

READ: The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong

WATCH: Still Mine


Capital: Québec City

Quebec is our largest province and has a long, rich, and complicated history. It’s also got some of the best food, art, and architecture in the country as a result of that history. If you’re not from Canada, your knowledge of Quebec may be limited to the fact that people there speak French (and to piggy-back on the earlier trivia fact: it is the only province in Canada where French is the sole official language). That’s a good start. But it’s also important to know that for any prime minister to win a federal election, they’re going to need to speak fluent French, participate in an all-French debate, and generally keep the left-leaning province happy. This reality isn’t always popular with the rest of Canada, but that’s the way it is. Why? Quebec was originally the French colony of New France, and it was the center of the lucrative fur trade from the early 1600s. It was populated largely by Roman Catholic settlers, European explorers, and the requisite priests and nuns. Then in 1759, during the Seven Years’ War, just outside the walls of Québec City, the French and English armies fought the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The British won, and the French eventually ceded all their land to the Brits. To ensure they didn’t have an uprising of pissed-off French people, the British strategically protected the existing French system of civil law, its Roman Catholic religion, and its language and customs, letting everyone get on pretty much the same as they always had. The effects of this policy can still be felt today. The province’s official language is French, for example, and road signs are in French only.

Lots more has happened in Quebec over the years, including an American invasion in 1775 (the United States lost); the October Crisis in 1970, when French militants kidnapped and murdered the deputy premier of Quebec, Pierre Laporte; and the 1995 referendum on sovereignty when Quebecers narrowly voted to remain part of Canada. Today the province has a large Anglophone population as well as many new Canadians with a first language other than French or English. It’s a unique tourist destination where visitors can catch a jazz festival in Montreal, take in some seventeenth-century art in Québec City, and generally eat and drink their way through the beautiful countryside (rabbit poutine anyone?).

Listen: Leonard Cohen

Read: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler or Cockroach by Rawi Hage

Watch: Jesus of Montreal or Bon Cop Bad Cop


Capital: Toronto

Ontario is the country’s most populous province, with about thirteen million residents—which means about 38 percent of all Canadians live here. It’s also home to Toronto, the country’s biggest city and the national capital of Ottawa. Below it are the states of Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York; to the east is Quebec; and to the west, Manitoba. It’s named after Lake Ontario, thought to be either a Huron word meaning “great lake” or an Iroquois word meaning “beautiful water.” The area was mostly settled by English-speaking Europeans and was known as Upper Canada for a while. After a couple of wars with the Americans, a bunch of government officials got together and decided they’d better make a proper country out of the land they currently controlled before the United States got any more ideas. Ontario became one of Canada’s original provinces in 1867 along with Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

With a quarter of a million freshwater lakes and loads of provincial parks, the more sparsely populated northern part of the province is huge—and a favorite destination for fishing, boating, hiking, and general relaxing. The southern part of the province, where most Ontarians reside (94 percent of them), is where you’ll find Niagara Falls; big cities like Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Ottawa, Hamilton, London, and Kingston; and the busy US border crossings into Buffalo, New York and Detroit, Michigan. Industry includes pretty much everything: mining and forestry, arts and education, tourism, and banking and finance. There’s also a large tech sector based in the city of Waterloo that’s been dubbed Silicon Valley North because people like to name things.


On Sale
Jun 25, 2019
Page Count
192 pages
Running Press

Jennifer McCartney

About the Author

Jennifer McCartney is the New York Times bestselling author of The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place and its follow up, The Joy of Doing Just Enough. She is also the author of Cocktails for Drinkers, Poetry from Scratch, and the bestselling novel Afloat published by Hamish Hamilton. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Vice, CBC, Teen Vogue, Apartment Therapy, BackpackerMagazine, etc. She also writes regularly for Publishers Weekly. She was born and raised in Canada.

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