Visiting Canada – British Columbia First Impressions

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Canada Place Signboard
Canada Place

It was after 11 years that I was in North America and for the first time Visiting Canada.

I was born in Punjab where everyone dreams of visiting Canada some day. When I was doing my graduation and post-graduation at Panjab University in Chandigarh, all that a lot of young women wanted was a groom from Canada. They dreamt of a comfortable life in the developed world. During my working years, while in transit at Zurich Airport, I suddenly heard Punjabi conversation. With a lot of time to kill, I joined the conversation and again heard a lot of things about Canada from these women who spoke only Punjabi. It almost felt that if you have taken birth in Punjab, it is your Dharma to visit Canada if not try to immigrate.

Years later, I landed in Canada at the Invitation of Destination Canada. I expected to see a lot of fellow Punjabis, but I did not meet many, in the three cities that I visited – Whistler, Vancouver, and Victoria. I only spoke one of the taxi drivers who was a first-generation immigrant torn between longing for home and easy life of Canada. It was at the departure terminal on my way back that I met a whole lot of Punjabis – mostly elderly people. Air Canada flight back home could have been a Punjab Airlines flight.

As always sharing my first impressions of Visiting Canada

People of Canada

Happy travelers Visiting Canada at Capilano Bridge, Vancouver
Happy travelers at Capilano Bridge, Vancouver

Having traveled and worked extensively in the USA, I always thought of Canada as an extension of USA. I expected a similar environment. Yes, they are similar when it comes to not just their ISD codes, but in the way things work. However, what makes them apart is the people.

I found people in Canada very gentle and very humane. Whenever I sought help from anyone while walking around, the answer came with a genuine smile. In Victoria, where I walked the most, people went out of the way to point out things that I must see. John of the Discover The Past Tours took time out of his busy schedule to take me for a walk around Victoria. At Whistler, the concierge staff of Fairmont Vancouver made sure I do not leave Whistler without having a look at the Lost Lake.

My friend Peter in Vancouver showed me the city and took me to some amazing restaurants. His friend Joann took me to artist studios as part of East Vancouver Culture Crawl.

Mary of Whistler Tourism and Brianna of Vancouver Tourism helped me choose the places I could see and answered all my questions regarding visiting Canada with patience.

Each of these interactions left me with an impression that Canada is one of the friendliest countries I have visited so far.

Ethnic Diversity of Canada

Ethiopian Vegetarian Platter
Ethiopian Vegetarian Platter

Now, we all know that like most big cities Vancouver is also a diverse place. There are many ethnicities who have found a new home here. What makes it different is that there are not too many ghettos in British Columbia. Sure, there is a China Town, a Japan town, Surrey for Sardars and other neighborhoods, but none of them are devoid of other ethnicities.

When Alfred of A. E. Private Tours & Charters was taking me around Vancouver. He showed me an Italian and a Chinese neighborhood – but they were as multi-cultural as rest of the city.

Contemporary Fusion Food in Canada
Contemporary Fusion Food in Canada

Similarly, you can find a variety of food options in any neighborhood. In 2.5 days in Vancouver I had Italian, Mexican, Lebanese, Chinese, Canadian (guess Tim Hortons counts), American and Ethiopian food. I took the diversity of Vancouver right down to my tummy.

Fall Colors in November

Fall Colors – they fascinated me no end in Vancouver Downtown. Everyday I walked past trees with leaves in every shade of yellow and red. The fallen leaves created a #tapestry on every street, every pathway. Every moment there was a unique painting waiting to be admired. This one was just outside my hotel in #vancouverdowntown – every time I stepped out, I hated to step on these leaves but at the same time enjoyed the coloured pathways of #vancouver_bc – every step revealed a new arrangement. #inditales #fallcolor #explorebc #explorevancouver #explorecanada #imagesofcanada🍁 #canadaigers #colorfulleaves #fallleaves🍁🍂 #vancouverlife #britishcolumbia #visitvancouver #vancouverscenery #vancouver_canada #vancityinstaa #enjoycanada #thankyoucanada #canada_pic #travelblogs #indianbloggers #indiantraveller #worldtravelers #traveltheworld #gotravel

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What enchanted me most in Vancouver and Victoria were the fall colors. The leaves of trees along roads were in various shades of yellow, orange, pink and red. In the middle of November, there were as many leaves on the road as there were on the trees. Go a couple of weeks before that, all these leaves would be on the trees, ready to shed. Go a couple of weeks later and the trees would be totally devoid of them.

While walking on the roads, my eyes struggled between the road with colorful leaves and trees where each tree had a unique color. It is surreal to look at those trees. You can spend hours looking at them. These visuals will stay with me for a long time.

I saw so many Maple leaves in all hues that now the association of Canada and Maple leave goes way beyond its presence on their white and red flag.

November otherwise is the leanest month for tourism in British Columbia. Many tourism businesses were on break, hop-on-hop-off buses run at a lesser frequency. Key attractions like Gondolas are on their annual maintenance schedule. However, as a traveler, this means there were lesser crowds and you could see the places more peacefully.

Discovery of First Nations

Art of First Nations, British Columbia, Canada
Art of First Nations, British Columbia, Canada

I read about First Nations or the aboriginal people of North Western region of Canada after I started planning my trip to British Columbia. I saw a few images of Totem Poles and was intrigued by them. So, I put a couple of museums on my British Columbia itinerary while visiting Canada. However, as I started learning about them – right at my first stop in Whistler, I got more and more curious about them. Finally, I ended up spending my last day at Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In between, I kept reading about the Totem Poles and the various tribes that inhabited the islands before the Europeans took over.

Wait for my detailed post on First Nations and how they occupy the prominent space in British Columbia Cultural Tourism space.

Festivals of Canada

Emily Carr - The celebrated contemporary artist of British Columbia
Emily Carr – The celebrated modern artist of British Columbia

During the days I was in Canada, Whistler was celebrating Cornucopia Food Festival. I missed it as on the day I was there, they had nothing for vegetarians.

In Vancouver, I saw a bit of contemporary art scene in East Vancouver as part of annual culture crawl. It was the best thing to do to let your creative juices flow. I got so many ideas and loved the creativity of each of the artists.

In between, in different museums, I got to see the art of Emily Carr – the most celebrated modern artist of British Columbia. Many art institutes are named after her in BC.

Whenever you plan to visit BC or are visiting Canada, do check out the festival calendar, there is bound to be something for you to experience there.

Canadian Visa for Indians

Anuradha Goyal, Totem Poles, Vancouver
Yours Truly with the Totem Poles

If there is one thing that I did not appreciate about Canada – it was their Visa process. There are too many steps and you have to answer too many questions. At some point in time, I wanted to give up as the questions went just too far. As a traveling adult, who has an invitation letter from the tourism authority in Canada & all other required documents, why do they want to know the address of my parents?

I wish and hope that Canada authorities look at simplifying the Visa process and timeframe for tourists.

The good part is there is no personal interview like in many European countries and USA. They also give you one-time multiple entry Visa for the length of validity of your passport, which means the next visits would be hassle free from Visa perspective.

Once you have the Visa, getting in and out of Canada is a breeze. On landing, the immigration process is automated. While leaving you really do not need to go through any immigration steps.

Flights for Visiting Canada

While there are many airlines that fly to Canada, I chose to fly with Air Canada – as they have a direct flight from Delhi to Vancouver. It is roughly a 14-hour flight and is probably the most convenient flight to take for this long distance. A detailed post on my experience of visiting Canada with Air Canada would be coming soon.

Public Transport in British Columbia

Seaplane at Vancouver Harbour
Seaplane at Vancouver

Most people in North America like to drive. In the USA, I used to hear that getting into a car is like wearing your shoes. So, I was a bit apprehensive as I had no plans to drive there. It takes me a while to adjust to the other side of driving. However, I used various forms of travel and was perfectly fine using them:

  • Pacific Line Coaches – for traveling between Vancouver and Whistler
  • Taxis – for short distance travels within Vancouver
  • Sky Train – In Vancouver
  • Free shuttle transfer for Capilano Bridge
  • Local Buses
  • Ferries – from Victoria to Vancouver
  • Seaplane – from Vancouver to Victoria
  • Hop-on Hop-off buses – Took a full loop at Victoria
  • Private tour in an SUV – At Vancouver
  • In a friend’s car – For culture crawl
  • Zipline (not as transport but as experience) – Whistler

You just have to adjust your timings as per public transport timings.

Do you know in Vancouver Downtown, 65% people do not own a car?

Some transports like coaches cost less for local residents than visitors. I like the idea.

There is also an option to pick up a bike or a self-drive car like Car2Go from a designated place. I did not use them, but they almost make the owning of a vehicle redundant in the city.

This is the first time I flew on low height in a seaplane and I totally loved it – wait for more posts on the details.

I ziplined in snow over a creek & it was an incredible experience.

Pacific Line coaches come with free wi-fi & you can not ask for more.

Walkable British Columbia

Bright Yellow Fall Colors
Fall Colors of British Columbia – A reason for Visiting Canada

All the three cities of British Columbia that I mentioned are fairly walkable.

Whistler is, of course, a small village and unless it is snowing or raining heavily, you do not need any transport. Having said that most coaches drop you at the hotel doorstep & pick up from the same point.

Vancouver downtown is easily walkable, though as a first-timer, you may find it demanding at times. I remember on Day 1, I was trying to get to Canada Place from an Art Gallery, and Google showed it one mile away. I wanted to take a bus or a cab, but everyone said – it is just a few blocks away – walk. People are so used to walking that no one thinks of other options. Having said that I did not find many fat people in Vancouver. All this walking is keeping them fit for sure.

Victoria is where I walked the most. On a morning walk, I almost circled the whole town and then walked through its sprawling gardens. I was told this is the most walkable city in Canada. With so much beauty all around, who would mind walking there. Being a small city, it gives you ample space to enjoy walking.

Green Living

I saw a very limited use of single-use plastic bottles in Canada. Most people carry their own bottle of water. In hotels, they do keep a couple of bottles, but they are not complimentary as in India. The tap water is portable so there is no need to buy bottles.

At Butchart gardens, they sell carry along water bottles that people can refill at various water dispensers. Even at food chains like Subway, they offer you an empty paper glass that you can fill at the water dispenser instead of a water bottle.

What Did I Miss in British Columbia

Map of British Columbia
Map of British Columbia

I missed visiting the world heritage sites of British Columbia like Rocky Mountains, Sgang Gawaii. And I also missed islands like Haida Gwaii.

I usually miss my Chai on my travels, but thanks to my friends in Vancouver, I can not say it this time that I missed ‘Meri Wali Chai’.

Overall, I was very happy with my trip to British Columbia. As always, I have come back with a longer list of things to see/experience from there – hopefully, there would be another opportunity for visiting Canada to explore this lovely country.

40 COMMENTS

  1. What a lovely post Anu. I wish we could have had breakfast while you were here. I’m glad you had a good experience in my hometown! Your photos really captured Vancouver in the autumn.

  2. What an extensively helpful post on Canada. It makes me want to go right now. I had the same genuinely kind vibe from Canadians the first time i visited. I’ll have to make it back soon!

  3. I have lived in Vancouver for a year and half. This has been the most beautiful place I have ever visited and lived. I completely agree that Canadians are some of the sweetest people you can meet. Reading this post, I can only say I miss Vancouver so much 🙂

  4. This was so enjoyable to read! I was born and raised in America, but I always enjoy visiting Canada. Canadians truly are so kind and genuine people. Everything you ate looks so delicious as well. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Mind blowing pics Anuradha. I’m following you in IG and I was just dumbstruck by the beauty of nature and thanks for apt description. You have instigated the fire in me to make a trip to
    Canada soon. I just love fall and winter 😍😍😍. A good reference for me.

    • Thank you so much, Simi. I hope more people see my Instagram content – but Instagram algorithm seems to think different – waiting for it to discover me. You would love the fall in Canada.

  6. I’ve only briefly wandered through Canada this Fall and I immediately loved it. So much so that I think we might get back for more in 2018! Just like you, I’ve found people to be absolutely kind and very welcoming. And the food was to die for!

  7. What a lovely post about Canada. It sounds like you liked the country and the people. I would certainly agree with you there about how friendly Canadians are compared to many places in the USA. Canada is such a beautiful country with so many places to visit.

  8. Had no idea there was such a drive within Punjab community to visit, and even to emigrate to, Canada. Like you, I have found the people of Canada very warm and considerate, and for a Brit, their sense of humour is far more like my own than their neighbours just to the South. Their politics and culture are also more appealing to me personally, including the cultural diversity you mention. Then there’s the fantastic natural landscape and so many cities to visit.

    • Kavita – Punjabis are crazy about Canada. Do not know why – but it is there. They have a treasure when it comes to nature. Just step out of the city a bit and you are in a rainforest or some other landscape.

  9. Hi Anu, I haven’t been to Canada yet but looks like you encountered all the things that people keep repeating about Canada. That it’s friendly and safe, and less dependable on cars. With beautiful autumn colours. One reason why they may ask about your parent’s address in the visa application process might be as a next of kin kind of question? Just an idea! I agree though, they don’t have to make this so difficult for Indians to visit Canada.

    • Silke – It was not next of kin kind of question. In any case, passport contains all the family details. The questions were too intrusive, that is why I mentioned it in the post – hope someone would take it as feedback and improve the process.

  10. Thanks for this great article! I am a Punjabi born and raised on the BC west coast, who lives several months of the year in India (and also write a blog on some of my experiences in India), so it was lovely to read your BC west coast experiences as an Indian from India! I had to laugh about your visa process (sorry!). Because all tourists from the west who apply for an Indian visa complain about all the formalities of the rather drawn out process! Myself included. But not anymore, because now I have OCI, yahoo! Many blessings on your journey. Love and light from South India!

    • Indica – I know Indian Visa process is not easy either. I believe it is a bit better with e-visa now, and of course, OCI card holders are as good as Indian passport holders. Thank you so much for your blessings. If you are coming to Goa, say Hi to us.

  11. British Columbia is fabulous and Vancouver is one city that I could see living in. I have not been to Whistler or Vicotria but I have heard great things and would love to visit these areas. I like that you were able to find plenty of cultural diversity in the places you visited.

  12. I always wanted to visited Canada, I have many British friends that have moved there and the one thing they always tell me is how opening and welcome the people are. I’m sorry you had such issues with your visa, but it looks like you had such a wonderful cultural trip – I especially love the look of Vancouver.

    • Samantha – post the Visa Blues, everything else was trying to compensate for it. Vancouver was lovely with its fall colors, whistler with its snow and Victoria with its old world charm. But it was the people of Canada who left me charmed the most.

  13. I can imagine that there is a lot to discover in Canada, it’s such a vast country. I have not been to this side of the world but maybe one day we will take a trip there. I would most probably enjoy the food there, the multi cultural feel and the breathtaking nature. You were lucky to visit in autumn, it must be the most beautiful season to visit Canada! I like autumn a lot in Europe so I would pick the golden season to discover British Columbia.

    You know the visa procedures for India are even worse. They require all the details of your parents as well and to make things worse there are always misunderstanding and you have to be careful that your visa doesn’t come with mistakes because if it does and you are tight in time with your travels and the embassy is far away, you might fall into troubles. Ironically they started a new electronic visa system which should work better in the future, however they take your finger prints (!) at the airport and since it’s new the issues just pile up at the airport arrivals. So the visa system for Canada doesn’t necessarily sound that bad.

    • Helene – it is officially a non-tourist season and a lot of tourist activities are closed during this time. But, yes, the colors are the best and you also avoid crowds.

      OMG, I did not know Indian authorities give so much grief for Indian Visa. I guess I need to pass this information to tourism ministry. I was assuming that the new e-Visa regime would have made things simpler but it seems not.

  14. It’s so interesting that Canada is the dream for women in Punjab, but a great trip to have. Canada is wonderful. I’m from the U.S. and if it weren’t for the cold and snow in Canada’s winters I would want to live there. You’re right that the people are much more easy-going, as a whole, in Canada. I’m glad you finally got to fulfill your dream!

    • Paige – It was not my dream to be in Canada, I had a travelers curiosity to be there. Once I was there I was fascinated by their aboriginal culture and I know I am going to explore it more now. But, yes it is a dream for many Punjabis.

  15. The hospitality of the people of Canada seems amazing, so many people wanting to go out of their way to show you the country they love. It really does sound like such a friendly country.

    Love the multiculturalism, reminds me of home.

    I would have been so happy to have stumbled across Cornucopia. What a shame that there wasn’t anything for vegetarians 🙁

  16. Your B Columbia trip looks like a great trip! I have never been to Canada but I am happy to learn that there are walk-able cities also in North America. And great that you could learn something about the story of its first inhabitants, those poles on the picture look very intriguing

    • Elisa, I did have a great trip to BC. As someone who writes so many walking trails, I love walkable cities and all the cities I visited in BC are so damn walkable. I wish I had more time to explore them.

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