Keeping safe in your travels

Canada is a very safe country to visit and live in. All visitors require travel medical insurance to avoid huge bills after any treatments, should it be necessary.

Dangers do exist in the form of wild animals and also the risk of personal crime. Although both are very rare, and in the case of crime which significantly lower than in many western countries, they do happen.

Other risks come from the weather and environment. Canada’s varied and sometimes harsh weather can be troublesome.

Health advice for travellers

You do not require any special inoculations for travelling to Canada, however, if you require a visa to enter there may be special health requirements. You should check this when applying for your visa. As with all travel, you may require booster shots and it can be worth while going to your family doctor for advice.

Ensure your teeth are ok. Dentistry is not included in most medial insurance and can be costly in Canada. Bring a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses if you require them. If you lose or damage the only ones you have, finding a replacement can take time and be expensive.

If you take any medication of any kind, be sure that you have enough to last your trip. Some medication you use may not be available in Canada or they may have a different kind.

A basic medical first aid kit is recommended to be included and brought with you when trekking, biking or when you are participating in any potentially harmful activity.

When outside sunburn can be common even in the cold winter weather. Make sure you are protected from the sun in all weather.

Sun reflecting from the snow can cause ‘snow blindness’. Sunglasses with UV protection should be worn when outside in the snow and during days of strong sunlight.

The cold can also cause damage. Your skin can be dried out and result in chaffing and dehydration of the skin. This can be a painful experience and it is recommended to use chap stick and skin moisturiser for exposed skin in cold and windy weather.

Be aware of frostbite in the cold. This is caused by a combination of low temperature and wind, known as wind chill. Check the weather forecast before setting out for local information, which will usually comment, about frostbite if it is an issue. Fingers, toes, nose and ears are the most common places for frostbite. Wearing sunglasses increases the chance of frostbite on the ears so cover up with a good hat.

Having a light snack before and during travel can reduce motion sickness. Being in the middle of a bus, the centre of a boat and near the wing of a plane can all help to reduce the feeling of motion sickness. Fresh air also helps but reading does not. If you are prone to motion sickness or are going on a journey where it might affect you, taking motion sickness medicine before the journey commences is recommended. This usually has to be taken an hour before.

Altitude sickness can affect people in areas of high elevation due to the lack of oxygen. This can be a serious and sometimes fatal illness. Drink as much fluids as possible and eat high-carbohydrate meals for extra energy. Do not ingest alcohol or sedatives or anything that may increase the risk of dehydration. When mountain climbing seek advice on altitude sickness from a local ranger.

It is safe to drink water from the tap anywhere in Canada unless otherwise stated. Do not drink water from lakes or rivers unless you boil it thoroughly for at least 5 minutes. Filtering will not remove all of the organisms. It is recommended to buy bottled water, which is available from anywhere that sells drinks.

Diseases in Canada are similar to the rest of the western world. STIs, HIV and AIDS are all serious issues in Canada and precautions should be taken. Rabies is not a large problem in Canada but some foxes, raccoons, and coyotes are infected and do come into the cities or to camps. Diseases and infections can be caused by ticks and organisms in the water so be aware of this.

Dangers and safety considerations

In the countryside bears can cause problems when encountered. Bears are usually looking for an easy meal and any food you may be carrying can offer a tasty treat. Make sure campsite food is kept hanging high in a tree away from the camp. Remember bears can climb trees so take this into consideration. Bears do not eat people. Coming into a conflict with a bear can be very dangerous and should always be avoided. Always try to be noticed by the bear so it doesn’t become startled. Seek advice on dealing with a bear encounter from a national park warden.

A fed bear is a dead bear. If you feed a bear it will always come back for more and immediately looses its fear of humans. This is very dangerous and these bears will eventually loose their lives to a park warden. It is not advisable to feed any cute animals when camping or walking. They will eventually come back in the middle of the night to help themselves and often bring larger and less welcome friends.

In the northern parts of Canada mosquitoes and blackflies can be extremely irritating. Close fitting clothes and cap are recommended to avoid incessant itching. There are serious hazards from these insects but they can drive you mad.

There are some poisonous spiders in Canada such as Black Widow and the Brown Recluse Spider. Poisonous rattlesnakes, which can be found anywhere in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, are not often seen but do pose a serious threat if you are bitten.

If you have an allergy to wasps, bees or hornets, you should carry a kit with you.

Elk can prove to be dangerous especially males during rutting season and females whilst pregnant. They move at quite a speed and can cause people and vehicles serious damage. They should not be approached no matter how friendly they look.

Moose in some places can cause serious damage to vehicles and their occupants. When driving at night be careful and keep on the look out. Headlights confuse these animals and they often run towards the car. Slow down and turn off your lights if you see a moose. Beware of other vehicles before doing this to avoid someone else crashing into you. Moose collisions are often fatal.

Other dangerous animals include cougars (mountain lions) and wolves. Neither are seen often and mainly come out at night. Coyotes can pose a problem and should never be approached. They will generally not hurt people but small children should be kept an eye on if there is a chance of coyotes being around, even in city suburbs. Coyotes are not shy.

In an emergency dial 911 for all police, fire and medical emergencies. In Churchill, Manitoba, you can dial B-E-A-R (2-3-2-7) if you spot a polar bear in the city. You should report these polar bear sightings in Churchill for the safety of the residents and visitors to the city.

In urban areas, homeless people can be found all over. The number of beggars can be quite surprising and is on the increase across Canada. These people do not generally pose any threat.

Mental patients in built up areas are often left with insufficient supervision or care and left to roam the streets. They should not be approached and you should be cautious to their presence.

Seek advice when camping regarding campfires. In some places campfires can be illegal and during dry periods a fire can start easily and create huge amounts of damage. Make sure you extinguish your campfires properly when finished. The same goes for cigarettes.

Water purification

Drinking the water from the tap is safe all over Canada. Water quality is only a worry when outdoors and relying on natural sources such as rivers and springs.

Park rangers offer advice on where to collect water in most national and provincial parks. Water treatment equipment can be found in many outdoor stores and from some Parks Canada Centres. It is recommended that all water is treated when collected outdoors.

If you don’t have any treating equipment, boiling the water thoroughly for at least 3 minutes is usually all that it takes to eliminate any potential problems. When boiling water at a higher altitude, remember boiling occurs at a lower temperature and killing parasites and bacteria may not be as effective.

Filtration does not remove all problems from the water. If you are unable to boil the water after filtering then you should use chemical treatments. Use chemical treatments very carefully and always use the exact amount indicated in the instructions, too little or too much can be dangerous.