Young guns head for Canada
An expanded working holiday visa scheme will attract 10,000 young Irish visitors to Canada. But it’s a vast country, with a diverse selection of cities to choose from, so where to go?
Commuting on the frozen Rideau Canal in Ottawa. Photographs: Getty
Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto
Peace Bridge in Calgary
With 10,000 18-to 35-year-olds bound for snowier climes under Canada’s newly expanded working holiday visa scheme, the big question is where to go?
And it is a big question. The first thing you’ll notice about Canada is its size. At just under 10 million square kilometres, its territory is second only to Russia. Bounded by three oceans – Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic – it has the longest coastline in the world. To travel its shores at a rate of 20 kilometres a day would take 33 years.
Under the visa scheme, you’ve got just two years to pack it all in, so choose your destination with care.
With 90 per cent of Canada’s 35 million population living along the US border and in the prairie cities of the west, its main urban centres are your best bet for combining work, play and plenty of sightseeing.
The western city of Calgary, Alberta’s largest with a population of around one million, invites inward investment, and migration, with the slogan “Be part of the energy”, which gives some clue as to the nature of the business now driving its economy – oil.
The city sits one kilometre above sea level, with mountains to the west and vast prairies to the east and, while it can seem a little isolated compared with the other big Canadian cities, the city has loads of fun diversions to keep the visitor amused.
These include 700km of pathways to walk, run and bike, the opportunity to whiz around on ziplines, bobsleds and skis at Canada Olympic Park, and a great new penguin pool at Calgary Zoo which, by itself, makes up for the rather nondescript modern architecture that makes up most of the city centre.
What’s more, as a gateway to the outdoor playground that is the Canadian Rockies, just over an hour’s drive away, there is a great mix of trails to hike and bike, plus dude ranches and dinosaur bones in the Canadian Badlands to enjoy too.
Immigration is a way of life in Canada, a country whose population has tripled since the 1940s. One upshot of this is that while the country has no real national cuisine to speak of, its cities boast a great array of ethnic and fusion restaurants and Calgary is no exception.
There are also farmers’ markets for locally sourced fresh foods, outdoor shopping streets and indoor malls, with many of its buildings linked by second storey foot-bridges, enabling you avoid the worst of the winter weather.
Also known as Cowtown, the highlight of the year here is the Calgary Stampede, held over 10 days in July and comprising a wild west mix of rodeos, chuckwagon races and live music.
Wherever you are in Canada, the great outdoors is never far away and in Calgary, you can even go trout fishing in the Bow river that runs through it. Or paddle your own canoe through the city centre.
Check out How the West was Once, at Heritage Park Historic Village, or look to the future at Telus Spark, Calgary’s new Science Centre. An eminently liveable city (unless you’re a cat, in which case your right to roam is severely restricted), it is clean, green – the train service is wind powered – and crime rates are low.
Weather Typically sunny regardless of the season, summer days are long with peak temperatures of around 24 degrees Celsius by day. Winters are harsh, sometimes down to -30 degrees at times.
Economy Over the past decade the city has experienced one of the fastest growth rates of any of Canada’s major cities and has one of the best paid workforces. The cost of living is lower than either Toronto or Vancouver and unemployment is 5 per cent with average hourly wage rates for salaried employees at CAD 38 (€25). One bedroom apartments available for around CAD 1,500 (€1,000) a month.
Who could resist a city known as the Festival Capital of Canada? Alberta’s second city – admittedly also know as Canada’s Oil Capital – has 30 big shindigs a year, everything from cowboys to cross-country skiing has an event to celebrate it here, including the country’s biggest cultural Fringe Festival, which attracts half a million spectators.
It’s also one of the sunniest spots in the country, with 2,300 hours of bright sunshine a year – not far off what you’d find in the South of France. Okay, so a lot of it is sunshine on a cold day, but at least you’ll avoid SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
There’s good shopping and socialising, with a quirky mix of boutiques and coffee shops along Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona, close to Canada’s largest regional theatre, the Catalyst.
Don’t miss the West Edmonton Mall either. It’s the biggest shopping centre in North America, with more than 800 shops vying for your money, plus its own waterpark and a full size skating rink.
There’s a great natural history museum, an award winning, if slightly puzzling, Ukranian Cultural Heritage Village, and plenty of outdoor delights such as Jasper National Park, a four-hour drive away, for hiking and skiing.
You don’t have to leave the city to get out in the wilds, however. Edmonton River Valley Park is the biggest forested urban parkway in North America, perfect for biking or paddling in the North Saskatchewan River.
Weather Summer hovers around 23 degrees but be aware of long, cold winters, with December temperatures typically around -4 degrees by day – and -14 degrees by night.
Economy Ethnically diverse, Edmonton’s oil and gas industries have helped fuel immigration, with around a quarter of the city’s population coming from Asia.
The influx has pushed housing prices up but, on the other hand, taxes are low (as in Calgary, Alberta residents pay lower taxes than those in other provinces). Unemployment is just over 5 per cent and, apart from a shortage of skills in the gas and oil sectors, there is demand for professional services too. Apartments rent for around CAD 1,000 (€660).