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Canada's great outdoors

Wherever you are in Canada, you are never far away from the wonders of the natural world, as even the cities offer many opportunities for students to interact with the great outdoors. Bethan Norris finds out more.

Visitors often fall in love with Canada, whatever the region they are staying in, and it is not hard to see why. The country is vast, stretching from British Columbia on the west, with a coastline that faces onto the Pacific Ocean, to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador on the east overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and has a reputation for wide-open spaces, uncrowded modern cities and a relaxed, environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

Language schools in the country report that students quickly adapt to the Canadian way of life, which incorporates lots of outdoor activities whatever the season and the weather. Shawna Primeau from Intrax International Institute in Vancouver, BC, says that the city';s location near to the ocean, mountains and tropical rainforest means that skiing, kayaking and hiking are popular after-class activities. "The breathtaking view of Vancouver and its surrounds from Grouse Mountain is a highlight for many visitors," she says. "In the summer time, [students can] hike along the many walking trails, check out the loggers show, and enjoy a beer on the outdoor patio. In the winter season, Grouse is one of the three local mountains a short bus ride from the city centre that offers a plethora of winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding and snow-shoeing."

Canada has the longest shoreline of any country in the world and the ocean provides a constant source of beauty and entertainment options in both the east and west coast provinces. "Visitors to this area are always drawn to the ocean," confirms Christine Wall from East Coast School of Languages in Halifax, NS – a small-scale maritime city on the edge of the Atlantic. "On a sunny day, visitors can stroll the boardwalks and see ships from around the world, watch fishermen at their timeless tasks or sail or kayak among the many islands of our beautiful bays."

The port city of Halifax has an interesting history and was the first British town in Canada, founded in 1749. The whole state has a noticeable British influence, with more Gaelic being spoken in Nova Scotia (translated as New Scotland) than in Scotland. According to Maureen Sargent from Saint Mary';s University in Halifax, NS, the local people are known for their friendly hospitality, as well as a strong awareness of local tradition. "Nova Scotians greet their visitors in the traditional Gaelic manner, ‘Ciad mille failte'; or ‘one hundred thousand welcomes';," she says.

Despite having fewer than one million residents, the Province of Nova Scotia is known as Canada';s education province, adds Sargent. "It boasts 11 universities, 13 community colleges and more than one hundred high schools," she says, revealing one of the attractions of the area for language students wanting to continue their studies in Canada. Another important consideration for some students is the fact that Halifax has the largest number of bars per capita of any city in Canada, which, combined with the large resident student population, certainly points to the area being a hit with young language students.

Further inland, but still on the eastern side of the country, Montréal, capital city of Quebec, is another city that reveals a fascinating history. "Students coming to Montréal have the advantage of being at the hub of North American history," says Nadine Baladi from ILSC Montreal. "The city is located on an island surrounded by the waters of the St Lawrence River. Over time, the river nourished a large French speaking population in Quebec and served as a partial barrier between the US and Canada, which fought several wars for control of this vast northern region."

Today, visitors to this bilingual city can stroll through the 3,000 shops and services centred in the downtown area of the city, around Ste Catherine Street or visit the "trendy area of the Plateau Mont-Royal", according to Baladi. "There is little doubt that Montréal has some of the finest restaurants and bars in North America," she states. "Spend a week in the city and sample the widest variety from the tiny Tonkanize soup shops on ‘the Main'; in the Chinatown area to classic gourmet French dining at L';Entrepont."

Also in Quebec is the small village of Wakfield, which is home to River Echo Language School, as well as the "highest bungee jump in North America", according to Kerstin Petersson at the school. She says language students studying here are able to fully integrate into a local society "where everyone knows everyone", adding, "The people of Wakfield are very interesting. We have many artists, musicians and other strange people. And they are all interested in our students… Our students can really meet people and make friends."

Popular activities in Wakfield, particularly in the winter months, include downhill skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snow-shoeing and dog sledding, while only 20 minutes away, the capital city of Ottawa is host to the longest skating rink in the world, as well as the annual winter carnival "Winterlude". The festival is held each February and celebrates Canada';s unique Northern climate and culture. Activities include ice skating on the 7.8 kilometre-long frozen Rideau Canal Skateway, an ice sculpture competition, a large snow playground and the chance to step inside a traditional aboriginal snow shelter.

As well as hosting the Winterlude festival, Ottawa is the host of many international festivals that mark the city';s strong links with music, according to Susan Olszynko at Algonquin College in Ottawa. "July is a month of musical delight," she says, "beginning with the internationally-acclaimed Ottawa Bluesfest and followed by the Ottawa Jazz festival and the Chamber Music Festival." However, study abroad trips are not just about the number of entertainment options available and Ottawa is a particularly attractive destination for ambitious students looking for future job prospects, adds Olszynko. "Ottawa is home to over 1,800 private high-tech companies and is known as a centre of research and development in the field of technology."

Further west in the province of Alberta is the city of Edmonton, which is known as the City of Festivals due to the large number of arts and music festivals it hosts each year. Its most famous summer festival is the Klondike Days Parade, which was first held in 1879 as an agricultural show exhibiting locally produced livestock, grain, vegetables and handiwork. The fair has since been adopted as a tribute to those who took part in the Yukon goldrush in the late 19th century and today consists of parades, fireworks and the Alberta Tattoo. Students at the English Language Training College in Edmonton, AB can take part in the parade by building their own float, according to Yuka Aida at the school.

An unusual attraction of the area is the fact that it doesn';t get dark until late at night during the summer months due to the city';s northernly location, meaning that students can make the most of the long evenings. "Some students stop taking the bus to school in the summer," says Aida. "Instead, they choose to bike, walk or rollerblade. Since the sun goes down after 10pm during the summer, students can even enjoy playing 18 holes of golf after lessons."

Edmonton is one of the gateways to the Rocky Mountains – one of Canada';s most famous natural attractions – as is the small town of Lethbridge, home to the University of Lethbridge and over 700 international students. Laurel Corbiere at the university says that the town is "only two hours driving time from the city of Calgary, which was the host city for the 1988 winter Olympics, and three hours driving time from Banff National Park, one of Canada';s most popular national parks".

Canada';s national parks are wilderness areas protected by the government and providing a refuge for the country';s wildlife, as well as stunning scenery and opportunities for many leisure options. "Waterton Lakes National Park, a lesser known treasure, is only a 45-minute drive from Lethbridge and is one of Canada';s most beautiful mountain parks in the Canadian Rockies," relates Corbiere. The park is attached to the USA';s Glacier Park in nearby Montana and encompasses prairies as well as mountains, providing a range of habitats for racoons, bighorn sheep and moose. One of the park';s attractions is the "Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump" interpretative centre, which highlights the ancient methods used by native Canadians to herd buffalos off the cliff for food. The Rockies are also famous for their hot springs, which can be visited throughout the year and are a favourite trip for students, according to Linda Wilkinson from Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC, who adds that trips to Banff and summer camping are a regular organised excursion in the spring/summer semesters.

On the west coast of Canada, British Columbia is the most popular destination for international language students and the province';s capital, Vancouver, provides an idyllic location for students. The large centrally-located Stanley Park provides a rural retreat in the centre of the city and is popular with both visitors and locals. "It is a 1,000-hectare forested park with many [recreational areas] students can enjoy, including picnics/barbecue areas, beach volleyball courts, basketball courts, a water park, a cricket pitch, flower gardens, gigantic cedar trees, walking trails in the forest, a 10-kilometre paved seawall around the park on the ocean';s edge [where people can walk, run, bike or rollerblade], four beaches, an outdoor swimming pool, a lagoon, totem poles and square dancing lessons in summer," enthuses Virginia Christopher from the YMCA International College, based in the city.

Vancouver offers an endless supply of various activities for students to undertake in their spare time, but a favourite trip for students, according to Christopher, is to take the Granville Island Ferry across False Creek to Granville Island Market. "[This is a] wonderful shopping and eating area with a very large food market with everything from fruit and veggies to local seafood, handmade cheeses, delicacies from around the world, fresh bread and bagels, pastries, meats and wine," she says.

Most schools in Vancouver report that students love the fact that outdoor activities are such an integral part of the local lifestyle, while they also enjoy the great shopping and wide range of cuisine options on offer in the city. In a bid to ensure high student satisfaction, however, one school – the Canadian College of English Language in central Vancouver – has introduced a novel excursion for its students. "Students can join the school for night skiing/snowboarding on Grouse Mountain," says Terry Rogocki at the school. "Students have commented on how great it is to bring their skis and snowboards to class, jump on the bus after school, and in 30 minutes be at the top of the mountain overlooking the city lights."

Students at Pacific Global Language Centre are also offered the chance to get a different view of the city, although at a more grass-roots level. Joern Hornhardt at the school explains that students joined the volunteer crew to help organise the Vancouver Sun Run this year, Canada';s largest 10-kilometre race. "On the day of the race, [students] provided non-stop refreshments to thirsty runners at the water station," he explains. "The probably poured more than 480 litres of water for five hours. At the end of the shift they were pretty exhausted but very happy to see all the relieved smiles."

On nearby Vancouver Island, students living locally have the opportunity to witness a different kind of race, the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race, which takes place as part of the Nanaimo Marine Festival every year. The race was launched in 1967 when 200 tubbers entered the fun race, with 47 completing the 36-mile course from Nanaimo Harbour to Vancouver';s Fisherman';s Cove across the Strait of Georgia. Mark Herringer from Malaspina University College in Nainamo, BC, points out that the July Dragon boat races are also a popular attraction for students, while serious ocean lovers like the fact that Nanaimo – a port city with a busy harbourfront and the third oldest city in the province – is "recognised as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world".

Whatever a student';s interests, from the sedate and laid-back to the wacky and adventurous, it is likely that Canada will be able to match it. As Adeline Huynh from the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC points out, the local inhabitants live a very varied existence and are happy to introduce others to their immensely enjoyable way of life. "West coast people are friendly, relaxed, have cool interests and live every moment to the max," she says. "Sometimes they like to kick back with a coffee at a café; other times they';d rather be windsurfing, kite-boarding, scuba diving, hiking, mountain biking, camping, skiing or ripping down a zip cord through a rainforest canopy."

Agent viewpoint

"Canada is currently the best option for Brazilian students because it is a near destination – Toronto is only 10 flying hours from Sao Paulo – with easy access and three airlines offering students tickets for six- and 12-month stays. Canada also has diverse and breathtaking landscapes. There is a combination of history (Quebec City) with nightlife and shopping (Montréal and Toronto) and urban activities on offer (Grouse Mountain and Stanley Park in Vancouver). There are outstanding areas for all sorts of sports, such as skiing/snowboarding, soccer, cricket, diving, surfing (in the Pacific Rim), hockey, baseball, rowing, among so many others. Canada is also frequently the host of international events such as the Panamerican Games, F-1, Jazz Festival and the Canadian Cirque du Soleil."
Claudio Tyszler, Canada Brasil, Brazil

"Canada is a short distance from Colombia and offers affordable education and host family fees. The province of Quebec is highly attractive to my students due to three important characteristics: bilingualism; the human warmth of the Quebecois people; and it is cheaper to study French in Quebec than it is in France. Victoria in British Columbia also attracts my students due to its cosiness and university atmosphere."
Norckzia O Navarro, Educacion Internacional, Colombia

"Canada is a peaceful country with multicultural cities, warm families, serious and professional schools, direct flights and support from the Embassy for visas. All the students I send to Canada [enrol on] very structured programmes that keep them busy at all times."
Hugo Alberto Restrepo Ruiz, Optima International, Colombia

"In general, Canada offers a cheaper and better education than in the USA. It';s safe, clean and in Montreal, it';s part of North America, but students can feel European cultural influences as well, and learn both English and French at the same time. Students find the food there delicious, not only French, but African and Asian cuisine too. There are countless activities and Montreal is very well known for bike riding because there are some great bike paths! Yoga is popular too."
Noriko Baba, JWS International Corp, Canada

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