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20 Facts You Never Knew About Canada

For Canada Day, July 1, here's a look at some wonderful and wacky trivia about our quirky friends to the north.


Canada is the second largest country in the world

Canada is an enormous country, extending all the way up to the Arctic. With 3,855,102 square miles of total area, it’s the second largest country in the world behind Russia. The United States, though, isn’t far behind Canada, with 3,796,742 square miles. Although it has a huge amount of land mass, much of Canada is taken up by water, with more lakes than the rest of the world combined. More geography facts you didn’t learn in school? Canada also has the largest ocean coastline in the world, due to its Arctic archipelago, which has over 36,000 islands.

shutterstock_260073086Sergei Bachlakov/Shutterstock

Canada contains fewer people than Tokyo

Although it’s the second biggest country, population-wise Canada is way down at 38th, with only around 36 million people. That’s less than the Tokyo metropolitan area, which has 38 million people. Eighty percent of Canadians live in urban areas, with Ontario as the most populated province—not surprising since it contains the country’s most populated city, Toronto (which is not the capital, Ottawa is; this is one of 30 geography facts everyone keeps getting wrong). Most Canadians live in the southern part of the country within 200 miles of the U.S. border, which means that vast areas of Canada are pristine wilderness with no humans at all.

maple Cindy Creighton/Shutterstock

Canada produces the majority of the world’s maple syrup supply

Move over, Vermont: Canada produces about three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup. Maple trees are so valued that Canadians even put its leaf on their flag. As more evidence of maple syrup’s importance to the country, the Canadian province of Quebec even has its own “world syrup reserve” for maple syrup emergencies. Before you laugh, there actually was a Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist in 2012, in which millions of dollars worth of syrup was taken—file this under the most expensive things that have ever been stolen.

bag of milkBonNontawat/Shutterstock

Canadians drink milk in a bag

In Canada, particularly in the eastern part of the country, you don’t go to the store for a carton of milk: You go for a bag. This is why Canadians drink milk out of bags: In the 1960s, heavy glass bottles fell out of favor, and new plastic milk bags, which were easier to resize to the metric system Canada uses than cartons and jugs, became popular. The tradition continues today, with Canadians snipping off the corner of the bag and placing it in a pitcher for pouring. For those concerned about environmental impact, the milk bags are now recycled in Toronto; one company even makes the bags into sleeping mats for those in need.


Canadians love a concoction called poutine

A Quebecois specialty, poutine combines French fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy in a dish invented in the 1950s and now considered a French-Canadian classic. For those from New Jersey who may be thinking, “Hey, those sound like disco fries!” there is one notable difference: Disco fries are made with melted mozzarella cheese instead of cheese curds. Both, though, are known as late-night, after-party foods and are a staple of diners and greasy spoons—also called snack bars or “casse-croutes” in Quebec. Poutine is now even sold in Canada at McDonald’s, as well as more gourmet spots. You can also get poutine in the United States at one of these restaurants you never knew had secret menu items.

pizzaOlga Dubravina/Shutterstock

The Hawaiian pizza comes from Canada

You’d think Hawaiian pizza came from Hawaii. But nope, it was a Greek Canadian, Sam Panopoulos, who invented it for his restaurant, The Satellite, in Chatham, Ontario, in 1962. The question of whether ham and pineapple belong on a pizza has been a hotly debated topic among food lovers, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Team Pineapple with a Twitter post, writing, “I have a pineapple. I have a pizza. And I stand behind this delicious southwestern Ontario creation.” Find out the surprising birthplace of 20 more of your favorite foods.

mac and cheeseKeith Homan/Shutterstock

Canadians eat up Kraft Mac & Cheese—or as they say, KD

Simple comfort food seems to be a trend in Canadian cuisine. Invented by a Canadian in America in the 1930s, Kraft Mac & Cheese was originally called Kraft Dinner on both sides of the border—but the original name never caught on in the United States. For Canadians, though, Kraft Dinner became a beloved tradition, earning it the nickname KD, with the official name changed to the initials in 2015. Can you guess what these 12 brands are called in other countries?

toys r usQualityHD/Shutterstock

Canada still has Toys”R”Us

For Americans still mourning the closure of Toys”R”Us stores last year, take a quick trip across the border to Canada, where over 80 stores remain open. Instead of folding as the company did in the United States, in Canada Toys”R”Us was sold to Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited, which proclaimed the toy chain would be “here to play and here to stay” in Canada. The stores, which faltered in the United States partly due to the popularity of Internet shopping, had actually remained profitable in Canada; and the new company’s goals include giving the stores a more “experiential” feel, with events, play areas, and birthday parties.

Marian Weyo/Shutterstock

Canada can get really, really cold

You undoubtedly know that Canada has brutal winters and that the destination is one of 11 perfect vacations for people who love winter activities. But you might not know it gets this cold. The country’s lowest recorded temperature was -81.4 degrees Fahrenheit on February 3, 1947, in Snag, Yukon—a record for the entire continent of North America. A local weather officer told the Montreal Gazette that day, “The boys are glad that we’ve got Snag on the map,” and the event remains the tiny village’s claim to fame. Canada’s coldest day even earned a Google Doodle in 2014.

polar bearsoutdoorsman/Shutterstock

Canadians devise quick escapes from polar bears

The isolated town of Churchill, Manitoba—accessible only by train and plane—is called the polar bear capital of the world, and one of the few human settlements where polar bears can be seen. Because of this, residents always leave their doors and vehicles unlocked, in case anyone encounters one of the huge animals and needs to get to safety quickly. A Polar Bear Alert Program is also in effect: Just dial 204-675-BEAR if you spot one in town. Bear offenders may end up in “polar bear jail,” a holding facility that also relocates problem animals. But still, each year thousands of tourists flock to the small town for the bucket list experience of seeing the bears in the wild. Here are 13 more polar bear facts you never knew.

beaverJukka Jantunen/Shutterstock

The beaver is Canada’s national animal

Canadians may love their polar bears, but it’s not their national animal. In 1975, that honor was bestowed upon the beloved beaver. (Interestingly, Oregon is also called The Beaver State; find out how every state got its nickname.) The animal’s significance in Canadian history goes back to the fur trade, in which beaver pelts were in high demand; unfortunately, this meant the beaver was hunted to near extinction in Canada until the 19th century when the fur fell out of fashion. Today, the beaver is thriving in Canada, as evidenced by the discovery of the largest beaver dam in the world in 2007, located in a remote area of Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta.

bearIan Mcallister/National Geographic/Shutterstock

Canada has spirit bears

Even more elusive than polar bears, the “spirit bear” or “ghost bear” is actually a subspecies of black bear with white fur. It’s also called the Kermode bear after the first researcher to study it, Canadian Francis Kermode. According to genetic research, the spirit bear is the result of a recessive gene from each parent. The bear, which lives in British Columbia in one of the world’s largest remaining temperate rain forests, is sacred to the First Nations (also called Aboriginal) people of the area. A giant Kermode bear made of lights made an appearance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics’ opening ceremony.

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“Canada” is derived from an Aboriginal word

The name “Canada” comes from the native Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” which means “village” or “settlement.” The story goes that two young Aboriginal people told French explorer Jacques Cartier how to get to “Kanata,” a village on the site of today’s Quebec City; but Cartier took it to mean the entire area. The name then appeared on maps and in reference to the greater region. In 1791, the British, who then controlled Canada, divided the country into two provinces, Upper Canada and Lower Canada, officially naming the country.

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America has warred with Canada—and lost

Speaking of Canadian history, most Americans might not realize we were once at war with our now-longtime allies. First, during the American Revolution, colonial forces marched as far north as Quebec City before being forced to retreat. Then during the War of 1812 against the British, American troops invaded the then-British colony of Canada from Detroit, thinking Canadians might welcome them as liberators—but that wasn’t the case. Aided by Aboriginal nations, the Canadians sent the Americans running. More failed American attempts to invade Canada over the next couple of years led to a peace treaty in 1814. Although the two countries haven’t fought since the war did help to establish a Canadian national identity.


Canada has the only walled city in North America

The fortifications of Quebec City no doubt helped hold off the invading Americans. Now one of 10 awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites everyone needs to visit, the historic district of Quebec is the only remaining walled city on the continent. First established by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in the 17th century, Quebec added to its defenses, including gates and ramparts, over time, with the star-shaped Citadel built starting in 1820. But the city’s iconic Chateau du Frontenac wasn’t created in 1893 for defense; it began as, and remains, a hotel.


Canada and Denmark have a rivalry over an island

A land dispute between the two countries stems from the unclear border between Denmark’s autonomous territory of Greenland and Canada: Hans Island, which is basically a large rock, sits smack-dab in the middle of the Nares Strait, with both sides able to claim it under international law. For the past few decades, the two countries continued their disagreement in a tongue-in-cheek manner, leaving bottles of Canadian whiskey or Danish schnapps for each other, and each holding their own flag-raising ceremonies. Denmark even left a note saying, “Welcome to the Danish Island.” But, a task force was recently set up to settle the two nation’s claims—maybe they’ll put up condos on the barren rock, as one proposal (ironically?) suggested.


Canadian police give “positive tickets”

Getting stopped by the cops in some Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Calgary, isn’t the stressful situation it is in the United States. That’s because Canadian police hand out “positive tickets” to young people who are caught doing something good, like picking up litter or following pedestrian rules. Tickets can then be redeemed for ice cream, movie tickets, or other fun entertainment. In some communities, adults are even eligible, for good driving or cycling. The idea behind the positive-reinforcement program is to build a stronger relationship and trust between police and communities.

travel Oleksandr Khokhlyuk/Shutterstock

Canada took in 33,000 stranded air travelers on 9/11

Americans are forever grateful for Canada’s help in managing the air travel crisis that occurred during the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. All planes flying to the United States were diverted to either their point of departure or, if that was too far, to Canada. But understandably, Canada didn’t want to risk terrorist incidents in its major metropolitan areas, so many flights were routed to small airports, where the influx of 33,000 people needing food and shelter was sometimes overwhelming. The town of Gander, Newfoundland, home to less than 10,000, took in 6,700 people, welcoming them with open arms—a heartwarming story dramatized in the Broadway musical Come From Away.

Iurii Osadchi/Shutterstock

Canada has two national sports

It’s probably not a surprise that hockey is one of them: In 1994, hockey was declared the national winter sport of Canada. But you might not know that the national summer sport was declared to be lacrosse. First Nations people have been playing the game for hundreds of years, and it became popular with non-indigenous people in the 1800s, with the first rule book of the sport put into practice in 1867. The Canadian Lacrosse Association‘s “Honor Our Game” campaign recognizes and celebrates the sport’s indigenous roots.

sorry noteCarlos Amarillo/Shutterstock

Canadians say sorry so much they needed a law

Canadians couldn’t be any more friendly and polite and are known for saying “I’m sorry” for pretty much everything. Even the Canadian government admitted on Twitter that “it’s a well-known fact Canadians apologize all too often.” Canadians say sorry so much that Ontario lawmakers even had to create a rule that blurting out “I’m sorry” after a car accident can’t be considered proof of fault or liability—rather, that an apology is simply “an expression of sympathy or regret.” The “Apology Act” went into effect in 2009, one of 25 funny international laws you’d never know were real.

Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a regular contributor to’s Culture and Travel sections. She also writes about health and wellness, parenting, and pregnancy. Previously editor-in-chief of Twist magazine, Donvito has also written for Parade Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine online, among others. Here work was selected by author Elizabeth Gilbert to be included in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. She earned a BA in English and History from Rutgers University.

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