7 things you might not know about Canada

A long, long time ago someone asked me to do a post about Canada. I remember thinking, “About…what, exactly? Just…Canada? In general?”

Then I probably got distracted by something and I forgot all about it. UNTIL, that is, I was reading a certain smutty gossip site this evening after putting Olive to bed (we all have our vices, OK?) and there was an article about Canadian Tire money.

It then occurred to me that non-Canadians probably have no idea what Canadian Tire money is, or what the hell a “Canadian Tire” is either, for that matter.

WELL. Here is a quick post with seven things you may not have known about Canada, and it begins right where it should.

1. Canadian Tire Money

Now that I am thinking about it, Canadian Tire money is sort of an odd concept.

It’s a fake currency produced and distributed by a Canadian automotive/hardware store called, well, Canadian Tire. They sell everything from tires (obviously) and seasonal decorations to home products like brooms and dishes. When you buy something, a certain percentage of your purchase price gets given back to you like this:

You collect these ridiculously minuscule bills (I think the largest denomination is $1 and who the hell has ever gotten a whole dollar?!) and in my experience they usually spend their entire lives crumpled up under your car seat or at the bottom of your junk drawer. I don’t think I can ever remember actually using it towards the purchase of any Canadian Tire item, ever.

I have heard rumours of a bar that accepts payment in Canadian Tire money, and I know that some charities have collected it, too. These days most Canadian Tire stores have a donation bin by the front door to deposit your hefty 10c bill, and that’s where mine always end up.

2. Our healthcare isn’t really free

I mean it is in the sense that we don’t get charged based on individual usage, (e.g. It didn’t cost me anything to have Olive (or the millions of tests before I had Olive) ) but that doesn’t mean that Canadians don’t have any healthcare costs, period.

In Canada it varies by province, here in BC I pay $149 every month to cover Adam, Olive and I. That gets us access to doctors, emergency care, surgeries, walk-in clinics etc. but not prescriptions, dental or optometry. Now Alberta, where we are moving to, is a richer province so you don’t pay a thing for provincial health care. Each province has their own provincial healthcare system and you have to register and receive a new card if you move provinces.

If I was low-income, or unable to afford the $149/month it currently costs for our family of three, there are programs that offer reduced rates and/or subsidies. I’m not terribly well-versed in “The System” but I don’t think a hospital would ever deny someone treatment based on whether or not they had healthcare. Maybe someone can correct me on that?

Also, contrary to popular belief, Canadians can most definitely choose their doctors – there’s no list, or approval process. You just pick one.

Most likely based on how cold their hands are.

3. Poutine

I’m really surprised America didn’t come up with this one – it originates from our French-speaking province of Quebec and consists of french fries, cheese curds, and hot gravy.

The hot gravy melts the cheese curds atop a base of crisp golden fries and the whole thing turns into a delicious gooey cheesy gravy-y heart-clogging mess.

It’s fantastic.

4. Poutine reminded me about French

Canada is officially bilingual –  all government signs, package labels, and documents have to be available in French and English, but under 18% of Canada can speak both languages. I grew up in Toronto and had French as part of my mandatory curriculum until Grade 6, and I think it was an elective after that.

Also, I’m not sure if this is still the case but for some reason when I was applying for universities, I was allowed to submit my French mark in place of my Math mark.

Doesn’t that seem weird? Looking back that seems weird. Those two subjects have almost zero overlap yet this little loophole enabled me to arrive in a second year statistics class staring blankly at a wall of numbers thinking, “Oh, shit. Didn’t think I’d see you again.”

Of course despite taking French all the way until Grade 11, I have retained virtually none of it. I can understand far more than I speak. but my accent is so atrocious that I never even try anymore. So.

5. Moose and Beavers.

I have never seen either one in person.

6. Caesars

We have a drink called a Caesar that apparently the rest of the world does not. It’s made with clam juice – which is a lot less gross than it sounds, promise.

Also, do not be fooled, a Bloody Mary is NOT a Caesar. Caesars are delicious and spicy and as soon as you have one you want to drink approximately eleven of them and, depending where you’re drinking it, you can sometimes make a whole meal out of the garnishes (olives, pickled beans, asparagus, celery and pepperoni have been known to garnish a Caesar)

(Now every Canadian reading this is craving a Caesar. Sorry.)

7.  You can’t buy alcohol in grocery stores

And until I visited the states as a legally aged adult, I didn’t know this was even a possibility! Holy shit! How convenient is that? To be able to pick up a bottle of wine at the same time as your dinner ingredients? What IS this magical place?

Here, liquor stores are entirely separate entities. You can not buy alcohol anywhere other than licensed bars/pubs/restaurants, or specifically designated liquor stores.

I don’t know why. Lately there has been some word of this changing, but I’ll believe it when I see it. (And drink it.)

That’s all I got. (Sorry). Cheers – eh?

(If you have Canada questions, ask them in the comments and I will answer! There are no dumb questions. Except the ones I will publicly mock you for. So. )

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  • Reply Nat March 23, 2014 at 3:04 AM

    I’m not sure about the rest of the country but in Manitoba in small towns, very small towns, the liquor store often shares space with a grocery or convenience store. And if you’re really lucky they are the gas station too!

    I was surprised to hear about the healthcare charge. We do not pay for basic healthcare. Many people buy extended care which gives them coverage for prescriptions, vision, dental, etc but there is no $149 per family fee. That being said, it’s probably hidden on our taxes somewhere.

    Love your posts! I can’t remember how I found you but I’m happy I did. Often I read them during mid-night feelings.

    Enjoy your move to Edmonton. I was there almost 6 years ago and will always remember the farmers market downtown where they closed a couple blocks off. It made me wish for a kitchen instead of the hotel room we were staying in, so we could cook up some of the delicious foods available.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 23, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      Now I’m wondering if BC is the only province where you have to pay? I thought AB was the exception but maybe it’s BC!

  • Reply Nicole March 23, 2014 at 5:15 AM

    Madelaine, you’ve seriously never seen a beaver eh? Moose are a little more obscure, but a beaver? Great post! And by the way in Quebec you can buy beer and wine at the depanneur (corner store). Crazy eh?!

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 23, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      I can’t believe this! Quebec gets all the fun!

  • Reply kt March 23, 2014 at 6:52 AM

    It sounds like Canadian Tire money is the original Bitcoin.

    Clamato juice is sold in stores now. My friends use it as a mixer with beer. Your version sounds pretty tasty. How do you pronounce it, “see-ser” or “say-sar”?

    Thanks for sharing these cultural facts.

  • Reply enchantedground March 23, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    “7. You can’t buy alcohol in grocery stores”

    Just like another poster said, this isn’t the case in Quebec. When I go grocery shopping or to the convenience store (“dep”), I can pick up wine or beer. But if we want hard alcohol we have to go to an actual liquor store.

    I agree — I’ve never, ever used Canadian Tire money before either. Is this really what marks us as being “Canadian”?? How tragic…!

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 23, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      You know now that I think of it there are sometimes designated “liquor store” areas within some general stores here , too!


  • Reply Stephanie March 23, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    The liquor in grocery stores varies by state here. In Colorado you can only buy 3.2% alcohol beer in grocery stores, so really, what’s the point. But in places like Arizona you can. First time I visited there I was like, holy shit this is amazing! Also, we have beaver in the local lake and moose right on the other side of the elevation change (ie about 20 minutes away…but I also live in the mountains. They don’t just wander around downtown Denver.). Maybe Colorado is secretly Canada?

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 23, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      I think Colorado is DEFINITELY secretly canada! We should absorb it into our delicious maple-scented soil.

      And really-3.2%?? Drink water instead, it’s cheaper 😉

      • Reply Stephanie March 24, 2014 at 9:32 AM

        No kidding right? Why waste your time with 3.2?!

  • Reply Bec March 23, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    Come visit us on the East Coast! You’ll see plenty of moose, in almost terrifying numbers in NFLD and in Northern NB and Cape Breton. No monthly healthcare charge in NB either, or in NS if I remember correctly. NB is the only bilingual province. Even with French mandatory to grade 10, many of my classmates totally lost it – I only remember most of it because it was my minor in undergrad.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 23, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      I didn’t know that New Brunswick was the only bilingual province- what about Quebec, is it not mandatory there?

      • Reply Lyssa March 24, 2014 at 3:29 AM

        Nope, Quebec’s official language is French. New Brunswick are the only ones that have both officially.

        • Reply sweetmadeleine March 24, 2014 at 2:20 PM

          I did not know that! This post should have been called “7 things Madeleine didn’t know about Canada”! 😉

  • Reply becky March 23, 2014 at 11:07 AM

    This is fantastic. Living in Washington, I really enjoyed reading about the Canadian nuances. Why do so many people from BC cross the border to buy milk? And in regards to the poutine, Americans didn’t come up with it because we save the gravy for mashed potatoes. Now chilli cheese fries, that’s a different story.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 23, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      I’ve never heard of BC people crossing the border for milk- is that a thing?

      And chilli cheese fries sound delicious right about now, I must admit!


      • Reply becky March 23, 2014 at 8:12 PM

        the people in Bellingham made a big to do about Canadians going to Costco and buying all the milk. It was pretty comical.

  • Reply Maggie March 23, 2014 at 2:30 PM

    You forgot to mention Beaver Tails! Originating in Ontario but very popular in Quebec. It is a pastry that is deep fried and then you get to choose what to top it with! Toppings are mostly on the sweet side such as fruit, cinnamon sugar, syrup (chocolate or maple), Nutella, and any candy you would like to top it off with! It is called a Beaver Tail because it is shaped like a beaver’s tail!

    Also Health Care in Ontario has no extra cost except if your Doctor decides to charge for what they deem to be extras (ie: Doctor letters, transferring files, some procedures, etc.). It must be a B.C. thing this extra charge!
    I Know you did not want to hear that!

  • Reply Lyssa March 24, 2014 at 3:36 AM

    I’m in Ontario – no monthly healthcare fee here either, although like another poster added, its probably wrapped up in our taxes somewhere.

    As for CT money – we use it. There are a few local restaurants who accept it as cash (seriously!), but also, I save it in my glovebox all year long, then normally use it towards one of my husbands Christmas gifts. Depending on the year, some times its just stocking stuffers, others its tools… or this like this year, it went towards Christmas tree decorations (ok, that was for me, not the husband, but still…)

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 24, 2014 at 2:20 PM

      I am reassured somehow by this information! Good for you for actually using it!

  • Reply Stephanie March 24, 2014 at 6:04 AM

    As I read through the comments I feel cuckolded by the province of BC! Why must we ( we…as in residents of BC) pay for our health care if none of the other provinces do?! Why are we being punished?

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 24, 2014 at 2:19 PM

      Totally agree! I had no idea that no one else was paying healthcare premiums! Sigh. Unfair.

  • Reply Shannon Gibbons March 24, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    In Australia we have liquor stores inside our major supermarkets, and some smaller supermarket chains as well. Sometimes you can purchase your groceries through the liquor part but I believe you can’t take the liquor through the supermarket check outs – could be wrong…I’m old school and still buy my groceries and then walk to the liquor section and make separate transactions.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 24, 2014 at 8:11 PM

      You forgot to mention that you also have DRIVE THROUGH “bottle shops”! I was very impressed.

  • Reply bonniemills March 24, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    Maybe moving back to Alberta you’ll get to see your moose and beaver. I grew up just outside of Calgary and we practically had pet moose (they liked our swamp and munching on our hay bales).
    Also, Alberta only recently changed to including health care in taxes (cause really, people still have to pay for this stuff) – like 5 years ago or something. I was amazed cause I thought it was “free” and then they changed it just before I would have had to start paying it myself. Whew.
    And also, caesers are gross. 😛
    Now I live in Australia and there’s a crazy thing here called an AB (for abortion or after-birth, so they say! ) which is fries with various sauces (garlic mayo, bbq, tomato-ketchup, tzatziki), and yiros (donair/gyros) meat on it. Amazing.
    The end.

  • Reply Prairie March 24, 2014 at 8:20 PM

    Also in MB and, as said , no healthcare fees. Dental, optical, drugs often dealt with by additional or employment plans.

    I have totally paid for things with Canadian Tire $. I have their credit card and amass nice chunks of it for big purchases.

    I have seen lots of beavers. I have called Mooose in MB, but saw them in banff.

    I am sadly alergic to the clam in caesar’s. It’s so damn hard to get a Bloody Mary in Canada. I always binge on them when in the US.

  • Reply Eryn Harding March 25, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    I love your sense of humour and writing style. I’m always excited to see when there’s a new post up!

    So, you’re awesome.

    Ps – Go Canada! (from Ottawa ON – the annoyingly French dominated province…I’m pretty sure most of that 18% comes from here thanks to all the government jobs…and you know…Quebec being so close haha)

  • Reply Serene Criticism March 30, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    This is so enlightening since I will be making my first trip to Canada in August – staying for anywhere from two weeks to fur months (don’t ask!).

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 30, 2014 at 9:14 PM

      Ooh! Where?

      • Reply Serene Criticism April 4, 2014 at 7:07 AM

        Definitely to Montreal for two weeks for a conference and fun, then if I get the grant for my research, over to the Niagara region for four months. I could find out anytime between now and June whether I get the grant and have to move my little family up from the southern US to Canada in August?! What was I thinking?! But so super excited either way!

  • Reply Veronica April 11, 2014 at 7:42 AM

    Having lived in 3 provinces and BC was the only one to charge extra for health care. But it was also the easiest to find an actual doctor. So that was a bonus.

    Some grocery stores in QC have wine, beer, coolers & cider.

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