Basic Information for Living in Ontario

Canada is big. We are the second largest country in the world in terms of land mass; almost 10 million sq. km. in size. However, our population is relatively small: just 32 million. About 1/3 of Canadians live in Ontario.

Canada is a federation of 10 provinces and 3 territories. There are 4 levels of government: federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal. We have a parliamentary system of government with elections every 4-5 years. The leader of the Federal government is the Prime Minister. The leader at the Provincial level is the Premier. Elected officials at the Federal level sit in the House of Commons in the Parliament buildings, in the capital city of Ottawa.

The capital of Ontario is Toronto. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has almost 5million residents and is one of the leading commercial and cultural centres of Canada. Most Canadians live in cities and almost 1 in 6 lives in the GTA.

Canada is multicultural. English is the predominant language in Ontario, but you will find many other languages are spoken here.

Holidays. The national holiday is Canada Day on July 1. Other national civic holidays include New Years Day (Jan 1), Victoria Day, Good Friday, Easter, Labour Day, Thanksgiving (early October), and Christmas (Dec. 25).

The basic currency is the dollar. When people ask for a loonie, they are asking for a one dollar ($) coin with a loon on the back. We also have a toonie or two-dollar coin. Small change includes pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. All other denominations are paper money: $5, $10, $20 are most common. You may also see $50 and $100 bills.

One of the most popular ways for people to pay for items is through a bank debit card. You will also find that Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted.

Measurements. We use the metric measures: distances are measured in kilometers, weights are measured in litres and grams, temperatures are given in Centigrade.

A few years ago, Canada used the Imperial system and you may still hear people refer to miles and pounds. This remains true in part, because our nearest neighbour, the USA, still uses these standards.

Etiquette. Canadians are famous for their patience. When people are standing in line for something, it is considered impolite to break into the line. Take your place at the back of the queue and wait your turn.

Meetings are expected to start on time and you should arrive 5-10 minutes early and introduce yourself to the receptionist or other official. Then take a seat where indicated. You may be asked if you would like a cup of coffee or water and it is okay to say ‘yes’.

Canadians are accommodating and prefer to discuss issues to find mutually acceptable solutions. While we may negotiate ideas, you will find that the price sticker on an item is probably non-negotiable. Canadians don’t haggle in most stores.

The legal drinking age in Ontario is 19.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal protection of Canadians, under the law, without discrimination.

It is unlawful to hit your spouse or to make unwanted sexual advances or comments in the workplace. Women and men must be treated as equals.

If you find yourself lost or in trouble, you may want to speak with a member of the police. Our police are very approachable. If you find yourself in trouble with the police, be assured that there are many resources available to help you. Ask for an interpreter if you need one or, if you find yourself under arrest, insist on speaking to a lawyer. You may be eligible for legal aid to help cover the costs.

If you would like to improve your English, you will find that there are many ESL (English as a Second Language) classes available. Many of them are offered through the high schools as evening courses so they won’t interfere with your day-time training or work.

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