When you visit the United States, you quickly become aware that while English is the dominant language Spanish is also widely spoken. You can hear Spanish spoken on the streets everywhere from Florida to Las Vegas, New York to California.
There is no doubt that Spanish is the second language of the United States, and yes, just as in Canada, you will find many other languages spoken too from immigrants from all over the world, including some of their descendants.
In Canada, the two official languages that you will hear spoken are English and French, with English the dominant language spoken from Vancouver to Toronto and then French the dominant language when you get to Montreal and Quebec.
The two languages all relate back to Canada's history and development – and you can read about some of this history on the 'History of Canada' pages on this website.
The most dramatic period of time in Canada's history was no doubt the years around 1759, the year that British General Wolfe defeated the French led by French General Montcalm on the 'Plains of Abraham' just outside Quebec City.
While the battle may have been won and there was a subsequent agreement between the two sides to allow both English and French languages and cultures to co-exist, there has always been a degree of tension (although tension is maybe too strong a word) between the two language groups.
There have even been moves by Quebec Separatists in recent years to leave Canada and form their own country - such is the passion that is felt by some of the people in Quebec. Even number plates on cars in Quebec bear the words "Je me souviens" – with the implied meaning "I remember the fact that I am French!"
In some ways some Quebecois are more French than the French, and some English more English than the English, with the situation somewhat akin to the tensions between Scotland and England, where there was also a referendum in Scotland on 'separation from the United Kingdom' held in 2014. In some ways this amounts more to a sense of not losing a culture, pride and a friendly rivalry as much as it does to language or economics.
As a tourist traveller to Canada – the dual languages and 'British-ness' and 'French-ness' of Canada, makes Canada a more interesting and exciting country to visit, with the two biggest cities, Toronto being predominately British and Montreal being predominantly French.
Both cities are great cities to visit, and also quite different too -
Toronto is the biggest city in Canada with around 2.5 million people on the edge of Lake Ontario, and it is now the 5th biggest city in North America.
The City has a history going back to the time when it was the home of Seneca First Nations people, prior to the first Frenchman, Étienne Brûlé coming here in 1615. It was then over 100 years later that the French established a Fur Trading Post here in 1720 and not until 1793 that the British came here, renaming the settlement as York, after the town of the same name in Yorkshire, England.
In 1813 the town came under siege by American Troops, in the American War of Independence, who set fire to the City as they retreated south. The town of York was renamed Toronto in 1834, and this year is considered the official birth date of the City. The name 'York' however is still used as a name of a suburb in the City.
If you want to get a feel for this time in Canadian history, you can visit Fort York – a National Historic Site at 250 Fort York Boulevard, where there is more information and some of the buildings from this time. See www.fortyork.ca Also head to 'Old Town' York, which is the most historic part of Toronto, where the St Lawrence market ( see www.stlawrencemarket.com )is located and the 'Distillery Historic area' and there also other areas of the city which relate to different time periods in the City's development.
Toronto is loosely divided into districts and each has its own identity within the overall city. There is the high rise city centre, what they call the "Financial District", but also the "Entertainment District', south of Queen Street, the "Gay District" the area around Church and Wellesley Streets – and then areas defined by their immigrant history – including Chinatown, Little India, Little Poland, Korea Town, Little Italy and Greektown, a reflection on the multi-cultural aspect of the city. Each area has its own character and of course Ethnic restaurants with good food always easy to find.
There is almost another city underground too in what is called "The PATH" - the series of underground walkways that are lined with more than 1200 shops along the 30 Kilometres (19 miles) of walkways that connect the city above ground - the hotels, high rise and subway stations with the PATH. These tunnels have been built over many years as a way of protecting shoppers and workers from the cold snows in winter above ground and summer or winter it is a good place to window shop or just wander.
As with other big cities, there is lots to see and do in Toronto, from Theatre shows, to beaches, bars, galleries, museums, shopping, sporting activities, exhibitions, attending conventions and of course eating and finding great places to stay, and then there is Niagara Falls, around 130 kilometres ( 80 miles) from Toronto, which you can get to by bus, train, car or tour companies.
The main Tourist Information Office is located at 20 Dundas Street West downtown (See www.ontariotravel.net ) and another is at 207 Queens Quay West (See www.seetorontonow.com )
Weather will play a big part in what you do and see in Toronto. The middle of winter – December to February will see many days where the temperature falls just above or below freezing, but the summer months, June to September will have temperatures between 15⁰C and 25⁰C, making this the best time to see the city if you want to spend time outdoors. There are of course reasons to come here in winter, with all the delights of seeing ice-hockey, ice skating and other sports activities.
Getting around –
The main airport is Pearson International Airport, which is connected to downtown by the UP Express trains that leave every 15 minutes or so from the airport for the 25 minute journey. There are also Taxis, hire cars, buses, limos and some Shuttle services too. Buy a Presto card at one of the self -service ticket and top-up as you go to pay for the UP Express.
Downtown is quite a walkable city, and there is also a subway that connects main locations, and TTC trains, buses and streetcars and of course taxis to get around too. There are also Ferries to get you the short distance to the islands in Lake Ontario. There is also a Bike Sharing scheme called BIXI in the downtown area – see www.bixi.com
If you can get a map of downtown to make it easier to find streets that you are looking for.
If you are arriving in Toronto by train, you will arrive at Grand Union Station in the City Centre on Bay Street. This station is used by Amtrak, GO Transit trains and VIA Rail.
Where to stay –
The best place to stay is closest to the things you want to see – be that near the Convention Centre, the Financial, Distillery or Entertainment Districts, near beaches, CN Tower or a Sporting Stadium, in downtown or away from the City centre. Besides price, the other consideration is transport, so when you check out the different hotel options, also look at how close the hotel or B&B is to the subway or streetcars. I always think that the best places to stay if you are a Tourist and don't have a car is walking distance to the main city attractions. If you have a car – the choice is finding a hotel on the same criteria, but with free parking. Also check to see that the hotel or other accommodation has Free Wi-Fi . In our communication world it can be pretty frustrating if they don't have it.
Welcome to Toronto!
These are some of the places and things to see in Toronto –
As you can see there is no shortage of venues or shows to see, and then of course there are also pubs and street activities too that come and go as the year progresses.
SPORT – Toronto loves its sports and there are a number of professional teams that play here too, and of course Golf Clubs, tennis courts, yacht clubs, swimming pools, bike tracks and all of these type of facilities.
There are also a number of big stadiums where matches can be seen –
If you are looking to stay close to the snowfields or enjoy the summer outdoors, the city of Barrie, is about 90 kilometres (56 Miles) and a good place to base yourself, as it is right next to Lake Simcoe and close to the ski slopes and resorts . See www. tourismbarrie.com
The biggest thing to see when coming to Toronto is of course Niagara Falls.