A guide to responsible travel in Canada

posted June 29, 2017


Green travel in Canada

In a country as stunning and fascinating as Canada, there is always a beautiful landscape or compelling cultural artefact to remind us of the importance of preserving the environment and its communities for future generations. However, this bounty of amazing experiences also attracts millions of visitors each year, and this scale of tourism can impact the country in one of two ways. Either, it can be enriching, supporting local communities and sharing knowledge of Canadian culture with the world, or it can end up exploiting local people and natural resources.

These days, we all know how important it is to be conscious when travelling abroad, whether to protect the environment or respect local people. So, before you head out on your dream holiday to Canada, how can you ensure you are travelling responsibly and sustainably?

Court Whelan, Ph.D., from Natural Habitat Adventures says, “I think the main thing is to consciously make tourism and conservation compatible.  This starts with the planning process and continues through the trip and especially after the trip, when returning travellers have a chance to tell their stories and inspire the world to care about these remote and fragile places.”

Here at Canadian Affair, we are committed to making every holiday we provide ‘give back’ to the local area, making sure Canada is around to be enjoyed in all its glory for generations to come. But how can you ensure that your trip to Canada follows these key principles? Find out with our guide to responsible travel in Canada.

Environmental ethics

In a country so famous for its vast, diverse wilderness, the Canadian environment is near-sacred to locals. There truly are some mind-blowing landscapes and fascinating species to enjoy here, but it is important to do so mindfully, so they can continue to thrive after you leave. Then, there is also the important consideration of global environmentalism, which means making ‘green’ choices wherever possible to avoid contributing to climate change.

Eco-friendly flights

Transat flights

Often, the biggest compromise that environmentally-conscious travellers have to make when travelling abroad is in the realm of transport. There’s no denying that air travel is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, but choosing the right airline can have real benefits for eco-friendly travellers. Some airlines are more proactive than others when it comes to environmental matters, so if this is important to you, do your research.

When you’re booking flights to Canada, look for schemes such as Air Transat’s Environmental Protection Policy, which lays out certain commitments to reducing the environmental impact of operations of the airline and its partners. Transat’s policy, for example, involves taking conscious measures to reduce consumption of resources including water, energy and forest products by recycling and using recycled goods. They also attempt to restrain the use of chemicals such as pesticides and cleaning products, reduce wastage and limit greenhouse gas emissions generated. Other things to look out for are ethical objectives such as Transat’s commitment to refrain from promoting souvenirs derived from threatened plant and wildlife species.

Take green transport

Cycling Vancouver

If you’ve gone the extra mile to ensure your flights to and from Canada are as environmentally-friendly as possible, don’t make the mistake of undermining all this hard work by forgetting to keep tabs on your transport during your holiday. Canada is a big place, so exploring it is bound to involve some long journeys. There’s no need to avoid these – you want to see everything you can – but looking for low-impact choices is always worthwhile.

Ethan from The Travel Word explains:
“Minimizing one’s travel impact is about making wise choices. During a recent trip in Canada, my family and I needed to cover a lot of ground — from Winnipeg to Vancouver. We chose the train. In three long hops — from Winnipeg to Saskatoon, then to Jasper and onward to Vancouver — we enjoyed the overnight hospitality of Via Rail Canada, not to mention the great conversation with other travellers along the way. Our environmental impact: negligible.”

If you’re planning a multi-stop tour of Canada covering a lot of ground, consider an alternative mode of transport such as the Rocky Mountaineer train journey rather than booking domestic flights. Or you could simply take matters into your own hands, and enjoy an exhilarating Canada car hire holiday. These smaller-scale transit choices often have a smaller environmental impact than commercial flights.

Even if you’re just visiting a single city such as Toronto, there are ways of minimising your transport-related carbon emissions. Ethan says that, on his Canada holiday, “Once in town, we remained conscientious, choosing for example always to take local transport, rather than jumping in taxis.” Alternatively, if you’re planning on getting yourself around, Anthony Bray from EarthTripper recommends choosing eco-friendly vehicles. He says, “Hire hybrid or electric vehicles where possible, whether they be cars or bicycles.”

Reduce your consumption

No-plastic picnic

Of course, holidays are all about enjoying yourself, so it is to be expected that you will be trying out the local dishes, enjoying a few drinks and purchasing a few keepsakes. However, Court recommends that, while in Canada or on any trip, travellers should consciously try to minimize consumption, waste and any pollution. Waste and pollution can be caused not only via the obvious means of litter and travel – almost everything we buy or use these days has a journey up until the point of use involving pollution, so try to be conscious of how you’re using natural and man-made resources.

This does not have to mean committing yourself to a no-buy rule, it’s simply about cutting out the non-necessities and disposable items that are simply going to end up in landfill. Fanny from The Green Pick eco-travel blog details exactly how something as simple as purchasing plastic bottles for hikes can have a huge accumulated impact on the environment:

“Let’s imagine the life of this plastic bottle you just bought at the gas station, or simply at the supermarket. The oil used to create your cute juice bottle has been drilled from floors and crossed oceans to end up in a refinery somewhere, US or not. Then huge amount of chemicals and other processes like polymerization have been used to extract the right product. Finally, after being created, your plastic bottle has been sold and shipped out to another factory probably thousands of miles away from refinery to be filled up with your favourite soda. Once done, shipping takes place to send your refreshing drink to the supermarket’s warehouse. Another shipment has to occur to make sure the bottle ends up in the right store! So many travels, that probably your plastic bottle has seen more of the country than you will during your holidays!”

So, she says, if you want to travel responsibly, it is essential to cut out the plastic. Fanny recommends, “Use reusable rather than disposables. Plastic is often only 70% recyclable, so whether or not you put it in a recycling bin, its journey to your hands would have cost the planet much more than your entire trip would have cost you.”

Luckily, Canada is a very environmentally-conscious country, so you will easily be able to find re-usable cups and more along your travels. There are also many brilliant eco-friendly restaurants and cafes in Canada, such as Fresh, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Toronto whose take-away packaging is both compostable and biodegradable, and who have their used cooking oil is collected by GreenDiesel, so it can be recycled for biodiesel purposes.

The vast majority of eateries in Canada also use local seasonal produce, which goes a long way into reducing the carbon footprint of the food you consume, and also supports local farmers. For those items that don’t grow naturally in the Canadian climate, like coffee, many cafes also run effective Fair Trade partnerships, such as Balzac’s Coffee Roasters (across Canada), where customers have been enjoying Fair Trade Organic coffee, cocoa and sugar since 1997.

Leave no trace trekking

Leave no trace trekking in BC

One of the main reasons for visiting Canada is often to experience a few days in the great Canadian outdoors. Whilst hiking among old-growth forests in British Columbia or lakeside trails in Ontario is a brilliant way to get close to nature, it’s important to ensure you’re heading home after a long walk leaving the area just as natural as it was before. This is the basis of the ‘leave no trace’ principle in outdoor pursuits – the idea that there should be no evidence of human activity in the environment after a day’s exploring. Nothing should be taken from the landscape, either – instead, appreciate the flowers and shells in their natural place. Take only pictures, leave only footprints!

No-one wants to hike along a trail strewn with litter, or kayak through a creek that is contaminated with human refuse. When venturing into the Canadian landscape, try to leave the area just as beautiful and pristine as you found it for the next people to enjoy. For the local wildlife, this is more than a case of aesthetics – human damage can cause real health hazards – whether it be rubbish trapping squirrels or chemicals polluting the waters inhabited by salmon.

Bret and Mary from Green Global Travel say offer their insight on this topic, offering several simple and effective ways to respect and preserve the environment when in the outdoors:

“From the Great Bear Rainforest and Banff to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada has so many incredible national parks and wilderness areas to explore. However, when hiking in nature, stick to marked trails to avoid harming native flora and fauna, keep a respectful distance from wildlife at all times, and consider taking along a bag to pick up any trash you might see along the way. Because responsible travel means doing what you can to leave these places better off than they were when you got there!”

Aside from this, make sure that, if you are washing, you do so at least 200 metres from any natural water source. Whilst bathing in lakes might sound appealing, the chemicals in even biodegradable cosmetics are toxic for marine life. So, wash with your own water and then bury the waste in a cat-hole at least six inches deep far away from water and cover with earth. The soil will then decompose the chemicals as it filters through. The general consensus is – if you wouldn’t want to drink it, keep it out of the water sources!

Also try to ensure items like your hiking shoes are cleaned before you travel, otherwise they may be carrying non-native insects or other species that could be devastating to the natural balance of a new ecosystem. Besides these steps, try to prevent physical damage to the area by minimising fires and setting up camp on durable patches of land. “

Keeping the wildlife wild!

Moose at Waterton Lakes

With grizzly bears, Kermode bears, polar bears, moose, bison, beavers and much more, there are countless beautiful and rare species to see in Canada. However, as history has unfortunately shown us, too much human interference with wild animals can seriously damage these populations in often irreversible ways. That’s why it’s so important to be a responsible traveller when going on an escorted wildlife tour – or even when stumbling across animals by chance.

Jessie on a Journey brilliantly summarises the importance of respecting animal populations, saying, “Canada is full of amazing wildlife; but remember that you want these animals to stay wild.” It may be tempting to get up close to the wildlife like they do on David Attenborough documentaries, but remember – these cameramen have zoom lenses – they actually keep a safe distance from their subjects, both to protect themselves and to avoid interfering with the animal’s natural behaviour. Jessie recommends, “Don’t get too close or try to touch a wild animal, and definitely don’t feed them or they’ll become less wild and too used to humans. And if a wildlife excursion seems unnatural or odd – such as an animal doing a trick it typically wouldn’t – just say no!”

Canada is very proud of its wildlife, and so there are various precautions in place to conserve it. It is paramount to adhere to any rules recommended by your tour guide, or even on signs, to keep yourself and the wildlife safe. This could be anything from refraining from feeding animals to staying out of certain zones. Court advises:

“Be sure to read up on any safety or ethical protocols in the areas you’ll be. If towns have a curfew, especially in northern communities, it’s for a good reason — polar bears are active! If you put yourself in harm’s way, you may be endangering the community by habituating wildlife, as well as putting the wildlife at risk if it is tempted to come into ‘too close’ contact.”

One great way to experience the wonders of Canadian wildlife in a sustainable way, whilst supporting local communities, is to stay at a local eco-lodge. Visiting somewhere like Sonora Eco-Resort in Vancouver will put you in prime bear-spotting territory, where you can enjoy seeing amazing animals such as bald eagles, whales and much more, with the knowledge that you are not impacting these species’ natural way of life. Everything from the water treatment and waste removal to the entertainment here is conducted in an ethically-conscious manner. A lodge experience at Clayquot Wilderness Resort, near the beautiful area of Tofino, is the epitome of ‘luxury gone wild’, where you can enjoy activities such as horse riding and wildlife watching in biosphere reserve supported by a program working to help the local wildlife, doing everything from rehabilitating raptors to conserving salmon and more.

Supporting locals

When visiting Canada, you want to ensure that you are supporting local communities so that they can thrive throughout the year, and be there to experience in the future. Here are a few simple ways to ensure you are giving back to the local community when visiting Canada.

Visit local-run establishments

Local-run lodge

On a recent Instagram live video Q&A, popular Canadian travel videographer Nadine Sykora from Hey Nadine shared her thoughts on ethical travel, identifying it as an important issue that she bears in mind whenever travelling. She advised her viewers to use local-led tours and facilities whenever possible during their travels.

This principle applies everywhere from Southeast Asia to Saskatchewan, especially in countries where there is a native population whose unique culture plays a major role in the national tourist industry. In Canada, this is certainly the case, as countless visitors arrive in the country hoping to learn more about the history and customs of First Nations communities.

Of course, this advice is pertinent in supporting all of Canada’s local people. As Michael from The Bemused Backpacker points out, “Many travellers want to leave no trace when travelling and ensure that tourism has a positive impact on the local communities they visit at the same time. A good way to do this is by supporting smaller local businesses, local accommodation options and small family restaurants and cafes, and avoiding the large international chains.”

This is, as Charlie on Travel notes, “all about supporting local businesses.” So, no matter how small the gesture or how minor the transaction, think about how it could benefit local communities if you invested in them instead of a multinational corporation. Charlie says, “This can be as simple as drinking local craft beer instead of a global brand, or staying in a local guesthouse rather than a chain hotel.” Alternatively, as Anthony Bray from EarthTripper suggests, you could simply camp out in a tent!

Another way to support local communities is to look for souvenirs in a locally-owned shop. This is also a great choice for environmentally-conscious consumers, who want to minimise their carbon footprint when travelling or at home. Whether it’s fruit and vegetables to cook yourself a campfire dinner on your Canada motorhome holiday or shopping for gifts for loved ones back home, look for the small-scale, local-owned outlets. Anthony recommends that ‘going local’ is also much better for green travellers, advising, “Buy local produce, they are most probably more respectful to the environment than mass manufactured products.”

Cultural interaction

Stanley Park, Vancouver

When visiting Canada, it’s likely that you are planning to learn a lot about the country’s fascinating history and diverse cultures. This is possibly the most important part of any trip, and it’s worth taking some time to plan how you intend to interact with the local culture to make sure you do so in a supportive manner. Learning about the history of the First Nations is a main objective of many people visiting Canada, but it is essential to ensure you are actually benefiting these communities when doing so.

Look out for tour operators, activities and attractions run by First Nations peoples themselves, and make a conscious effort to really learn about how Canadian history has impacted them. Ethan, for example, says that on his trip to Canada, he decided to “look for uniquely local attractions that emphasized nature and indigenous culture — Oak Hammock Marsh outside Winnipeg or the Canadian Museum for Human Rights right in town; the Wanuskewin Heritage Park outside Saskatoon; a hike along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park; an exploration of totem poles in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.”

Anthony recommends visitors to go a step further, becoming involved in local customs where appropriate, whether this be participating in community events, visiting places of worship, or partaking in other traditions. Either get involved or at least support their efforts by being present – as long as the individuals themselves have told you they would like you to do so. He also adds that, to make a real positive impact before you leave, consider dedicating a day of your holidays to doing some local charity work.

As Court simply puts it, “Make sure that you’re learning about the place you go to.” He notes, “Many group trips like those with Natural Habitat Adventures will supply a trained Expedition Leader or naturalist who will discuss topics related to the environment, local peoples, wildlife, and ecology you’re experiencing. However, if you go on your own, you owe it to yourself to seek information and return home with a strong understanding of the place you just visited.

“You’ll be better for it, and the stories and information you can share with friends and family after the trip will continue a long legacy of appreciation and inspiration for generations to come.”

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