That U.S. dollar is right there, smack-dab in front of your face. You’re strong-minded, but this is one staring contest you’re likely to lose, at least in the short term. Luckily, there are tons of great things to see and do here in Canada that don’t involve giving the bank a loonie in exchange for 65 U.S. cents.
VICTORIA We’ll start with a city that’s usually among the warmest in Canada this time of year (normally hovering near the double digit mark). This used to be known as a sleepy government town, with tourists nattering on about tea at the Empress Hotel and Americans wandering about muttering things like, “Oh, it’s so British.” You can still find traces of the Empire, but you’ll also find fantastic coffee shops, funky breweries and sleek dining spots. I can still taste the crunchy pork bits from the porchetta sandwich I had at the Victoria Public Market a couple years ago.
HALIFAX Hockey lovers take note: The CIS University Cup is in Halifax March 17-20, with affordable tickets and end-to-end action. Hungry for more Halifax treats? Acadian Maple Products out in beautiful Peggy’s Cove has weekend Maple Brunches with syrup, maple sausage, maple bacon and even maple baked beans.
OTTAWA You’ve skated the Rideau Canal. Now try the Ottawa Irish Festival, which runs March 11-19 with a variety of activities, including parade on Saturday March 19 and a party co-hosted by Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. at Lansdowne Park the same day, with kids-friendly music and entertainment. Younger sorts will love the Thomas the Tank Engine exhibition at the Canadian Children’s Museum, located inside the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec; just over the river. It runs until May 1.
SOUTHERN ONTARIO Niagara Falls is striking most winters, with giant blocks of ice clinging to the rocks and those famous thundering waters. And you can still ride the Niagara Sky Wheel in climate-controlled comfort for great views. The crowds are down at the wineries, so it’s a great time to visit Angels Gate Winery, with its fab Lake Ontario views or Ravine Vineyard Estate, housed in an historic home with a wonderful restaurant. In Toronto, the Chelsea Toronto is a long-time family fave hotel with an indoor waterslide and lots more to entertain little one and teens. Guests of the Chelsea have access to the hotel’s “Show Your Key and Save” program, offering special discounts to top attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, the Ontario Science Centre and more. The Ritz-Carlton Toronto has a Family Fun package with special treats for the family, including a “Mommy and Me” spa retreat and a Ritz-Carton camp.
MONTREAL Families should check out Mister Rabbit’s Circus at the McCord Museum, where kids will discover more than 200 toys and help Mister Rabbit figure out what to do when some of the toys go missing. Free for kids 12 and under. Adults and kids alike should enjoy the just-opened exhibit on the buried city of Pompeii at the Museum of Fine Arts, with nearly 200 artifacts.
BANFF/LAKE LOUISE The skiing is, of course, top rate. Not only is there Lake Louise, home of an annual downhill race on the international circuit, but also family-friendly Sunshine Village. The Fairmont Banff Springs has plenty of family activities. They also feature ski packages, extended stay plans and discounts for Alberta residents. The nearby town of Canmore is a good option for folks seeking condo-style accommodations or reasonable chain hotels.
WINNIPEG It’s probably still a tad chilly out on the Prairies, but the weather inside the Winnipeg Jets arena is just fine. They play Colorado at home on March 12 and the Blackhawks in Winnipeg on March 18, followed by Anaheim on Sunday, March 20. The cold also won’t matter at the renowned Canadian Museum for Human Rights, an architectural gem on the river with wonderful exhibits that tell the story of the human struggles around the globe.
KELOWNA Big White is often rated one of the best family ski spots in the country, with great powder most years and a nice variety of runs. The Okanagan area is laced with great things to do all-year long, including wonderful wineries such as Road 13 and Covert Organic Farms, where they have beautiful Scottish Highland Cattle.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
The Resort at Longboat Key Club in sunny Sarasota Florida has a Leap Year special. Book your visit on Feb. 29 and save 29% on a Junior Suite or larger room type. It’s a great spot on a wonderful beach, with a sleek pool that makes you feel hipper than you really are. The deal is valis for travel from April 3 through June 30, 2016.
This column originally appeared in Postmedia and Sun Media websites across Canada. For great travel stories and tips, please visit www.canoe.com/travel.
Email me: jim@jimbyerstravel