Canada’s 150th birthday is upon us! All year we’ll be celebrating a century and–half of our wonderful, varied and incredibly beautiful country. With the big 2017 party in mind, I’ve created this website to help celebrate 150 great things about Canada. But I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU so please COMMENT or drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheers, and happy 150th birthday to the best country I know.
CANADA’S 150 BEST – A PRELIMINARY LIST
TOP SPOTS SO FAR (not in order of preference!)
1. North of Lake Superior
2. Winnie the Pooh
3. The Icefields Parkway
6. The Calgary Stampede
7. The Segwun Steamship on Lake Muskoka
8. Bay of Fundy Tides
9. Cape Breton
10. Looking for grizzly bears in B.C.
11. The Yukon
12. Montreal en Lumiere festival
13. Hunting icebergs in Newfoundland
14. Moraine Lake, Alberta
15. Prince Edward Island
16. Quebec’s Winter Carnival
17. Toronto river valleys
18. The Avatar Forest on Vancouver Island
19. Les Iles da la Madeleine, Quebec
20. The Kootenay Rockies of B.C.
21. The Thousand Islands, Ontario
22. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
24. South Shore of Nova Scotia
25. The Bridge Drive-In, Winnipeg
26. Small Town Museums
27. Waterfalls in Hamilton, Ontario
28. Apple Pie in Sooke, B.C.
29. Grand Bend, Ontario
30. Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
31. Haida Gwaii, B.C.
32. Old Montreal
33. The Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race
34. Stanley Park, Vancouver
35. Niagara Wineries
36. PEI Bottle Houses
37. Osoyoos and Oliver, B.C.
38. The Cowboy Trail, Alberta
39. Great hiking, fab food in Grey County, Ontario
40. Historic Fairmont Hotels
41. Charlevoix, Quebec
42. Toronto Blue Jays Game
43. St. John’s Newfoundland
44. Terry Fox Monument, Ontario
45. Victoria, B.C.
46. Wolfville, Nova Scotia
47. North Shore of Lake Erie, Ontario
48. Schwartz’s Deli, Montreal
49. Celebrating Black History in Ontario
50. Tofino, B.C.
51. A Saskatchewan Roughriders Game
52. Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto City Hall
53. Craft beer everywhere
54. A motorcycle sidecar tour of Halifax
55. Vulcan, Alberta
56. Blue Rodeo
57. Mount Royal, Montreal
58. The Bruce Trail, Ontario
59. Whistler, B.C.
60. Point Prim, Prince Edward Island
61. Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
63. St. Lawrence Market, Toronto
64. Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and Park, North Vancouver
65. The Ottawa River
66. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Toronto
67. Canmore, Alberta
68. Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs Golf, Nova Scotia
69. Queen Victoria’s Underwear, Calgary
70. Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario
71. Roadside Kitsch From Coast to Coast
72. Victoria, B.C.
73. St. Andrews-by-the-Sea and Algonquin Resort, New Brunswick
74. Niagara Falls
75. Great food coast to coast
76. Welcome Canada Day in Newfoundland
77. Arts Scene in Edmonton
78. Tall Ships in New Brunswick
A CHANGE OF PACE
Time for a change! Rather than continuing with the previous style of entries, I’m going to give this space over for the next little while to a list of great things to see and do in Canada to celebrate our birthday. I hope you find some you like. Following this, my plan is to post 50-60 or even more of my favourite photos from the many trips I’ve taken across the country over the years. And that will complete my 150 list. Thanks!
WHERE TO CELEBRATE OUR 100th BIRTHDAY
78. Tall Ships in New Brunswick
Rendez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, a 7,000 nautical-mile transatlantic race, will be coming to Canada in honour of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. More than 40 Tall Ships will be sailing Canadian waters with scheduled stops at host ports in New Brunswick where you can admire these cathedrals of the sea first-hand. Take advantage of the opportunity at one of New Brunswick’s three guest ports; Caraquet (June 30-July 2), Miramichi (July 7-9) and Saint John (August 18-20). I spent time in New Brunswick last August and loved it, especially the Acadian coast south of Miramichi.
77. Edmonton’s Art Scene
Five original works of art will be created by Alberta sculptors on Capital Boulevard to create a Canada 150 legacy. They’ll be lasting landmarks that should further burnish the city’s credentials as a centre for great art (The Art Gallery of Alberta is lovely and features cutting edge exhibits). It’s also a city very much on the rise in terms of food and its general downtown vibe, with new condos and restaurants opening up in and around the Ice District. That Connor McDavid kid and having the Oilers in the NHL playoffs probably doesn’t hurt, either.
76. Welcome Canada Day in Newfoundland
Ottawa will obviously be the focal point for our birthday bash, but Newfoundlanders, who hardly need an excuse to party, will be the first folks in Canada to welcome July 1. There will be a sunrise ceremony in St. John’s at historic Signal Hill, which is run by Parks Canada. As well, the lovely Bonavista Peninsula will host the Bonavista Biennale from Aug. 16-Sept. 17. Look for an art installation involving 25 artists along a 50-km loop that includes a series of historic outport towns and villages.
Great food coast to coast
Canadian cuisine might be hard to define, but this country’s culinary masters are, I think, beginning to get the attention they deserve. I’ve been up and down and over and around the country and have had many a fantastic meal. Here are a few of my favourite spots. Out west, you can’t go wrong with a meal at Sooke Harbour House in Sooke, B.C., where they practically invented the farm-to-table concept and serve up inventive, wonderful meals in a lovely setting. Christine’s, located on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, is re-defining ski hill food with luscious scallops and other great items. I haven’t tried Hawksworth, but I loved my visit to David Hawksworth’s Nightingale restaurant on my last visit to Vancouver. Not only do they fine Japanese cuisine at Shokunin in Calgary, they also have fry up the back muscle of a chicken on a hot grill. Hearing someone yell out an order for “two chicken butts” is a treat in and of itself. I also love Ten Foot Henry, Charcut and Charbar. Up the road in Edmonton, the folks at Tres Carnales make some of Canada’s best Mexican food. Also highly recommended is Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore and the burgers at Chuckwagon Cafe in the Turner Valley, just south of Calgary. In Saskatoon a few years ago, Ayden Kitchen and Bar served up one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Toronto, of course, has a number of outstanding restaurants, including Dai Lo, Boralia and Burger’s Priest. Navarra in Ottawa was my favourite Canadian restaurant but has closed for now. I love Twisted Lemon down in Cayuga, Ontario as well as Stratford’s Red Rabbit and also Treadwell in Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the casual side, you still can’t beat Schwartz’s in Montreal for smoked meat. On the more elegant side of the ledger, there’s excellent food and a regal atmosphere at XO inside Hotel Le St. James, perhaps the sexiest restaurant in the country. The woodsy yet elegant atmosphere and food are also wonderful at Panache, located inside the stunning Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel in Quebec City. And there’s great food at Le Germain Charlevoix Hotel in Quebec, too. I love visiting Press Gang in Halifax and Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. In PEI, you have to try Norman Zeledon’s food truck in Summerside, called The Galley, as well as The Inn at Bay Fortune, run by star chef Michael Smith. I also loved my visit to 540 Kitchen in Fredericton, N.B. and my marvellous dinner at The Rossmount Inn outside St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, N.B. There’s also great food in Newfoundland these days (I haven’t been, but Raymonds in St. Johns gets fantastic reviews) as well as the oh-so-lovely Iles da la Madeleine. Bon appetit, folks.
What, you thought I’d forgotten one of our national treasures? I first came here when I was 11 years old, and it made a huge impression. Even now, if I’m in the area I’ll pull into a semi-legal parking spot and make a mad dash to the lip of the falls to soak in the feeling (and the mist) for a few minutes. It really is a magical, wonderful, thunderously overwhelming place that makes you truly marvel at nature’s power. A trip to the base of the falls with Hornblower Cruises is not to be missed. There are also are fun trips behind the falls inside the very rock, as well as great hikes along the Niagara River. Great history plus wonderful food and wine and great inns help complete the picture. Not to mention cultural attractions such as the world-renowned and fabulous Shaw Festival.
St. Andrews-by-the-Sea and Algonquin Resort
I love a good seaside town. And I love an old-style, handsome resorts that remind me of a simpler time. Which is why I’m putting St. Andrews-by-the-Sea and the Algonquin Resort into my Canada 150 list. Tucked into the far southwest corner of the province, hard up against the U.S. border, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea is a lovely town with a funky main street lined with casual and upscale shops and fun restaurants. It’s the sort of place where folks wander aimlessly, licking an ice cream cone on a summer’s day while a local musician (at least when I was there last summer) plays a tune on his guitar. I also had a wonderful kayak ride in the harbour with the folks from Eastern Outdoors, checking out lonely beaches and peaceful waters. Up the road you’ll find fantastic food at the lovely Rossmount Inn (try the lobster salad or the beef short rib). One of the best things in town is the historic Algonquin Resort, the sort of place that features a big old porch and Muskoka/Adirondack chairs out on a lawn with fire pits. It doesn’t get much better than that in my book. Marriott spent around $25 million on renovations, giving the place a modern sheen to go with its old-time ambience. You also should check out Kingsbrae Garden while you’re in town. It’s one of the prettiest in Canada.
Forget all that British crap about how this place reminds visitors of England. I don’t think the comparison was apt 20 years ago. And I don’t think it’s remotely close to true today. Sure, you can get high tea and stick your pinky out and talk in a fake British accent as you debate whether to take one lump or two. But the best parts of Victoria are much more urban; such as the wonderful public market (I had the best sandwich of my life there a few years ago, porchetta on a bun with salsa verde and broccoli rabe), Habit Coffee and Parsonage Cafe, two of many trendy coffee spots in this java-crazy city. Also try The Guild for cocktails and local craft beer. The harbour is gorgeous; be sure to take a ride on one of the cute little water taxis. There’s plenty of fine shopping, not to mention the stunningly redesigned Fairmont Hotel Empress. World-famous Butchart Gardens is just up the road. But you probably knew about that.
ROADSIDE KITSCH FROM COAST TO COAST
I love folk art and roadside kitsch. There’s something about folks building weird and whimsical roadside attractions that always makes me think of a simpler time, when folks would pull over in their station wagons and take photos with Kodak Instamatic cameras (or on slide film) to show to friends back home. Canada has a number of great ones. In Alberta, there’s not only the Starship Enterprise in Vulcan but the giant Ukrainian-style Easter Egg in Vegreville. In Ontario there’s the famous Wawa Goose and also Dumbo the Elephant down in St. Thomas. Another fine example is the massive lobster on the way into Shediac, New Brunswick. Kids love to climb on top and have their photos taken. Hell, I probably would’ve done so if I’d had time, and someone to take my picture. Call me crazy, but I think these are places that deserve a spot in my Canada 150 list.
SANDBANKS PROVINCIAL PARK, ONTARIO
This is a place that has to be seen; a series of MASSIVE sand dunes on the north shore of Lake Ontario a couple hours east of Toronto. It’s on the southern tip of Prince Edward County, which has become a mecca for foodies and winery fans. That’s a fairly recent development, whereas the dunes have been here for centuries or more. They’re quite amazing; towering pillows of deep sand that rise dozens of meters in the air and slope gently down to the (at least in summer) warm waters of the lake. There are great hiking trails and hugely popular swimming holes and picnic grounds. It’s also wildly popular with campers, many of them from Quebec. Take a walk out to the far western tip of the dunes for a bit of solitude and fantastic sunsets. A very surprising spot in a great province.
QUEEN VICTORIA’S UNDERWEAR, CALGARY
Okay, this is odd. I was on a tour of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary (a very cool spot with great exhibits on natives, pioneer women and other Alberta bits) a year or two ago when I was told that they keep a pair of Queen Victoria’s undies in a drawer in a back room. I was stunned. A Victoria’s Secret inside a Calgary museum? What a story! It’s a true one, as well. It seems that, for some reason, the queen donated a pair of her bloomers to her butler and somehow they ended up at the Glenbow. (There may be a good story there, but I haven’t heard it.) Anyway, the undies are most definitely kept in a back room, inside a drawer. I’m told that folks who take back-room tours sometimes get a glimpse. Lest anyone get too excited, these are bloomers of the most voluminous quantity imaginable; billowing sheets that would probably stretch out to cover a queen-size bed or even cover enough ground on the Santa Maria to power Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic Oceaan. A recycling enthusiast probably could fashion 1,492 g-strings out of these babies if so inclined. Sexy they’re not, but they’re definitely royal undies. And that’s not something every museum can boast about.
CABOT LINKS AND CABOT CLIFFS GOLF, NOVA SCOTIA
If there’s any one project that has re-defined tourism in Canada in the past decade, it’s this golf and hotel complex on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Cape Breton Island. Cabot Links was a revolution when it opened in 2011; an instant classic and a true links course right along the water (the only one in Canada at the time). The golf was simple but stunning, and the community of Inverness was almost instantly transformed. Soon came new pubs and restaurants and a gorgeous, 60-room hotel. Now there’s also Cabot Cliffs (see photo), which opened in 2015 and was named one of the top 20 golf courses on the planet last year. The former coal mining community of Inverness is reaping huge economic benefits, and folks are flying into Cape Breton Island from around the world for a few rounds of golf. An amazing project. And incredible golf.
Tourists flock from around the world to visit Banff and Lake Louise. Many hurry past the town of Canmore, a few km’s south of Banff. But it’s a big mistake, as it’s one of the prettiest and down-home towns in Canada. There are tourists, sure, but you won’t find so many shops selling chocolates disguised as “moose droppings” and other cloying bits. Instead, you’ll find a town that still feels a bit rugged around the edges, perhaps even more authentic than Banff. But still in a beautiful setting, with mountains so ancient and powerful they can almost cast a spell on you. Paintbox Lodge is a wonderful place to lay your head, run by former Olympians Sara Renner and her husband, Thomas Grandi. Just south of the city, Stewart Creek and Silvertip, where I took the above photo, are both wonderful golf courses in Canmore. Crazyweed Kitchen and Trough are both excellent restaurants.
BAPS SHRI SWAMINARAYAN MANDIR
This is a place I’d driven past many times over the years, but hadn’t quite got around to visiting. It’s impressive from the highway, with its massive white exterior. But it’s only when you get up close do you realize the remarkable workmanship that went into building this Hindu temple in northwest Toronto. Even more impressive than the outside is the shimmering light inside the facility, where intricately carved arches of brilliant white stone dance around your head as soft lights paint the white stone in subtle, fantastic shades of blue, green, yellow and soft orange. I’m not a religious person, but it’s what I imagine the halls of heaven must feel like. The temple pieces, some 24,000 of them, were shipped from India, and it took workers almost two years to finish the work. The temple is open to the public.
THE OTTAWA RIVER
I’ve lived in Toronto for 36 years. But I’d never spent a minute on the shores of the Ottawa River until last fall, when I spent a night at the wonderful Fairmont Chateau Montebello. It’s a gorgeous, historic property on the Quebec side of the border, roughly halfway between Ottawa and Montreal. The setting is magnificent, set amidst a thick grove of woods right on the north shore of the river, which is wide and majestic and feels so full of promise and grandeur on a fine autumn morning. The fall colours certainly helped, as did the crisp but not cold morning air and the crunch of the twigs and leaves underfoot as I paraded along the banks of the river. There was a light fog on the water when I crept down from my room early in the morning, with a sunrise so pure it felt as if it was the dawn of a new world. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent a finer morning.
LYNN CANYON SUSPENSION BRIDGE, NORTH VANCOUVER B.C.
I like the Capilano Suspension Bridge just fine. It’s a wonderful place to have fun with the kids and engage with nature, even for a guy like me who doesn’t like heights and doesn’t wake up thinking, “Hey, how about if today I walk out on a bridge suspended hundreds of feet over a yawning chasm north of Vancouver?” They also have other attractions at Capilano, including a Cliff Walk that’s quite cool. But it can get expensive for a family to visit. Which is why I like to point out that people on a budget (or anyone, really) should check out Lynn Canyon’s suspension bridge, just a few km’s away. It’s not quite as high as Capilano, but it’s still suspended in the air some 50 meters over a canyon and creek. (Capilano’s height is 70 meters.) Lynn Canyon also is free. Not to mention gratis and without charge. Not only is the price right, but you can take a lovely walk from the bridge into a beautiful rain forest, with a lovely creek and a series of large boulders. In summer, folks often go for a dip in the fresh water pools. Definitely worth thinking about if you’re a little light in the wallet. Or just looking for a beautiful, restful spot near one of the world’s great cities.
ST. LAWRENCE MARKET, TORONTO
Fresh cheeses from Ontario and around the world. Luscious, deep red, local berries. Bitters for that perfect cocktail. And what might be Canada’s best back bacon sandwiches. There’s a good reason the St. Lawrence Market has been in business for decades, and why National Geographic magazine voted it the best city market in the world a few years ago. This place has just about everything a foodie could want. And it’s set inside a glorious old building in the oldest part of Toronto. I don’t get there often enough, but every time I do I stop to admire the architecture and the amazing variety of food; marinated salmon and pork, sausages from Europe, lemongrass from Asia, Italian sandwiches in the basement, amazing Ontario Beemster cheese that my daughter turned me on to and pungent spices from around the world. Best of all to some are the back bacon sandwiches at Carousel Bakery; simply delicious.
(In case there are any non-Canadians reading this, back bacon is NOT what Americans call “Canadian bacon.” I grew up in the U.S. thinking that the thinly sliced, tasteless stuff served on McDonald’s Egg McMuffins was something called Canadian bacon. Americans might think that and might call that type of pork Canadian bacon, but I’ve lived in Canada 36 years and have never seen anything resemmbling that type of meat on a Canadian menu or on a Canadian plate. Instead, Canadians eat what’s called back bacon or pea-meal bacon, because it often is rolled in yellow bits of pea meal. It’s a thick, slightly briny, pinkish-coloured cut of pork that should be fried on a hot skillet for just a few minutes; enough to get crispy bits around the edges but not so long that it gets dried out. It should be served on a soft or slightly crunchy bun with yellow mustard. And that’s it. Pure Canadian perfection. I offer this explanation at no charge in the hopes of furthering cultural understanding between our two great countries.)
This week marks the celebrations for the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup. It’s a beautiful, simple trophy that’s far more attractive than what they give out in other sports. I also love how it’s paraded around by players after the Cup is decided, and how folks drink beer or champagne out of it (or a facsimile thereof). More than that, of course, hockey is nearly a religion in this country. I didn’t grow up playing it, and I admit I prefer other sports on a personal basis, but there’s no denying the central role hockey plays in our nation’s past, and in our persona. I’m cheering hard for the Leafs to win another Cup, and I was thrilled to my boots and overcome with joy when Sidney Crosby scored the goal to give us the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics, a game I got to see from maybe 15 rows up at the blue line; Crosby scoring right in front of me. As I said, this week marks the 125h anniversary of the Stanley Cup, and there will be celebrations galore in our nation’s Capital Region. The party includes appearances by such greats as Guy LaFleur, Mike Bossy, Dave Keon, Paul Coffey and more. There’s also a concert with the likes of Metric and The Sheepdogs, as well as a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Stanley Cup monument that’s going up on Sparks Street in Ottawa. All in all, a fine time to celebrate the game Canadians love.
WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA
Banff and Lake Louise are awesome. Ditto for Jasper. But I have a soft spot for Waterton Lakes National Park, a couple hours south of Calgary on the U.S. border. The scenery is smashingly good; with high mountain lakes and endless vistas and mountain sheep by the bucket full. The Prince of Wales Hotel sits high on a bluff overlooking Waterton Lake; one of the most majestic settings for any hotel I’ve seen. The Bear’s Hump is a steep but manageable hike with fantastic views. You also can take trips to Cameron Lake or out to Red Rock Canyon. There’s a cheap, fun and quite striking golf course on the edge of town. When I played a few years ago I didn’t quite have proper golf attire, but the woman at the pro shop just laughed. “We only have two rules,” she said. “No muscle shirts and no butt cracks.” Hilarious. If golf’s not your thing, you also can do a Waterton Lake boat cruise that takes you to a remote government station on the U.S. side of the border. A truly wondrous part of Canada that not enough people take the trouble to visit.
POINT PRIM, PEI
Unless you’ve taken the ferry from Wood Islands to Nova Scotia, you’ve probably missed this point of land that juts out into the Strait of Northumberland off the east coast of Prince Edward Island. Even if you have taken the ferry, you probably slid past the road to Point Prim without making the turn. I only had an hour there on my last visit to PEI, but I absolutely adored the place. The lighthouse on the tip of the point is the oldest on the island, dating to 1845. It’s also the only circular, brick lighthouse on PEI. But what I really loved was the dining spot next door, the Point Prim Chowder House and Oyster Bar. It’s a fun, casual spot with picnic tables and umbrellas on a fine, wooden deck. I sat outside on a Muskoka chair (Maritimes sometimes call them Adirondack chairs, but I find this a highly un-Canadian practice that should be abolished by Parliament) on a brilliant, sunny day last summer and sipped a local beer while scarfing down a bowl of truly fantastic chowder. The one I had was with chorizo and fresh, not even remotely chewy clams, and tasted more like a buttery soup than a traditional, creamy chowder. Probably better for you, and certainly more tasty. I loved every minute of my stay, listening to waves crash on the shore and the keer of the gulls. Okay, the soup and the beer didn’t hurt. Up the road are a couple of B&B’s you could try, and also some cool-looking galleries I didn’t have time to check out. There’s another series of houses fashioned out of old wine bottles just off the road a few km’s before you reach the lighthouse and restaurant. It’s a fantastic part of a lovely province. I’d love to go back for a day or two sometime.
This might be the best natural playground in Canada; a year-round delight with breathtaking scenery and wonderful things to do in all four seasons. Winter, of course, is predominant in some folks’ minds given the fantastic skiing and sliding sports you can take part in. Whistler co-hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics with Vancouver, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an ace skier to enjoy it. I hadn’t been on skis for five or eight years prior to my visit last winter (and I was never very good to begin with), but I had a wonderful time on some of the smaller hills. I also rode a fat tire bike at the Olympic Park south of Whistler village and even took in a biathlon shooting lesson. Less active types will love the warm pools and treatments and saunas at Scandinave Spa, or strolling the village or checking out the gorgeous, new Audain Art Museum or the Squamish-Lilwat centre, which helps tell the story of native Canadians in the region. Summer is also great, with wonderful hiking, swimming, mountain bikes and some of the world’s best golf. You’ll find marvellous food year-round, too, including exquisite cuisine at Christine’s on Blackcomb Mountain. Most definitely a top 150 place to visit in this great country of ours.
THE BRUCE TRAIL, ONTARIO
I hadn’t much experience with The Bruce Trail until the past couple years, when I’ve had a chance to hike various sections of it. For those who don’t know, the trail marches some 890 km’s from Niagara Falls to the top of the Tobermory Peninsula in southern Ontario. There also are side trails measuring another 400-km-plus. It’s an amazing place to hike, with stunning vistas out over pure blue lakes, surprising waterfalls and glorious nature all around. It’s existence also is due to the efforts of thousands of volunteers who groom and clear the trails and add markings so the rest of us can enjoy it. I’ve found fantastic spots down around Hamilton, and also near Kimberley in Grey County. Probably the most striking areas of the trail are up around Lion’s Head, north of Owen Sound and south of the town of Tobermory. It’s a relatively easy hike to the Lion’s Head Lookout, and the rewards are immense.
This is one of the great urban parks of the world; a commanding hill that wraps itself around the psyche of Montrealers and embraces visitors with so many things to do. The views from the lookout on top of the mountain are glorious; with the downtown skyscrapers below your feet and glimpses south towards the lovely hills of the Eastern Townships and the U.S. border. The park is a great spot for walks all year, but especially in summer and when the leaves turn in the fall. You might spot musicians playing a lonely tune, or lovers walking arm in arm. It’s also great for frisbee and cycling or just contemplating nature’s beauty. Definitely a high point (pardon the pun) of any visit to Montreal and Canada.
I first saw these guys play in Toronto back around, oh, 1988. I fell in love with their sound right away; that great mix of rock, country and a bit of blues was and remains a quintessential Canadian sound that blends urban and rural elements with penetrating, heartfelt lyrics. Songs like “Lost Together” make them sound positively Beatle-esque, while other tunes are pure mountain sweetness or reflect the emptiness of a Prairie. I don’t think they’ve expressed as many oddly Canadian thoughts as The Tragically Hip, but Blue Rodeo tunes like “Western Skies,” and “English Bay” and “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” certainly evoke specific places in Canada and the feelings they can bring. I think my wife and I have seen them now 20 times or more. And I got to interview Jim Cuddy once for a short story in the Toronto Star Travel section, which was awesome. Listening to the band sing the bit about “down in the middle of Lake Ontario” at the end of “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” is always a highlight of their shows at the Old Ontario Place theatre, then the Molson Ampitheatre. And their shows at Massey Hall every winter are spectacular, usually with great Canadian opening acts and a lovely, sing-along feel. A truly wonderful and unifying band with a great Canadian sound, and a definite Canada 150 treasure.
I’m not suggesting this town is a must-see for visitors from Japan or Jakarta. Or Jupiter, Florida. But I like putting some unusual things on my 150 list, versus telling folks, “Hey, in case you didn’t realize it the CN Tower is really interesting.” So here’s a nod to the goofy folks in Vulcan, Alberta, a province that also has a giant Easter egg and other roadside oddities. Townsfolk in Vulcan know a good thing when they see one, so when Star Trek became famous they seized the opportunity and put up a giant Starship Enterprise. For those of you unaware of the Star Trek phenomenon (and shame on you if you fit this category), one of the key characters on the show is Spock, who hails from the planet Vulcan. Leonard Nimoy, the wonderful actor who played Spock on TV and in the movies, came to town in 2010 and led a parade in a community that calls itself “The Star Trek Capital of Canada.” Some residents, bless their hearts, wore pointy ears as an homage to the costume Nimoy wore as Spock. When he left town, Nimoy gave the Vulcan salute (split fingers formed like a V) and delivered his signature line, “Live long, and prosper.” Man, I wish I’d been there for that.
Motorcycle sidecar tour in Halifax
I’ve toured Halifax by foot and by car. And on a Segway. But the most intriguing way I got to see the sights was in a motorcycle sidecar.
The folks at Bluenose Sidecar Tours (http://bluenosesidecartours.com/) will take you on a tour of Halifax (or the lovely coast of Nova Scotia, as pictured above) for a couple hours in a cool, Russian-built motorcycle sidecar like you probably have seen in the old war movies or Indiana Jones. It was a cool (make that briskly cold) day in May a few years ago when I went; hence the leather jacket and frosty look on my face. But I adjusted quickly and we had a great time, checking out the cemetery where Titanic victims were buried, exploring the city’s African heritage areas and skimming past the harbour and up to The Citadel for a fine view.
If that’s a bit too aggressive for you, Nova Scotia Segways do a nice tour on the waterfont. (site). Halifax is, I think, an underrated city in Canada. The food is great, the scenery lovely and the people are absolutely wonderful. There’s also good shopping in the city and so many great places nearby, from Peggy’s Cove to Lunenburg and up the east coast to Lawrencetown Beach and beyond.
Craft beer across Canada
I used to be kind of a “Heineken/Corona/occasionally Harp” beer drinker. Yeah, boring. But when you’re a travel writer for a living, you get to try a lot of craft beer. Hey, somebody has to do it. So I’ve tried a ton of India Pale Ale and Pumpkin Stout and Chocolate Porter and sour beers and everything in between the last few years in cities across Canada. It’s been almost all good, and most of it has been excellent. In Vancouver I enjoyed Postmark Brewing in Railtown a great deal, as well as Storm. In Fredericton, NB I quite liked Maybee Brew Co. In Ottawa just the other day I had a great IPA from Bicyle Craft Brewery, and I love Waller St. in Ottawa, too. Down in Southwest Ontario, there’s fabulous beer at Refined Fool in Sarnia, Walkerville Brewery in increasingly hip Windsor and Toboggan Brewing in London, Ontario. Just the other day I tried some lovely beer from Northwinds Brewhouse and Kitchen in Collingwood. Great stuff from coast to coast. And WAY better than any mass-produced stuff I used to drink.
Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto City Hall
This is most definitely the centre of the city. It’s where folks gather on New Year’s, where they celebrate summer concerts and where they stage political protests against idiot American leaders and sometimes Canadian ones (sorry; a personal rant there). The symmetry of the two towers and the fountain out front is a delight, although they keep messing with the rest of it. It’s fabulous in winter when folks skate night and day on the ice, and it’s wonderful in summer when people splash about as the fountains spray. The recently added Toronto sign, put up for the Commonwealth Games, is one of the best ideas the city has had in decades. I used to work at the Toronto City Hall Bureau of the Toronto Star back when our office overlooked the square, and I’ll never forget the constant parade of people and the colour and the music and the joy.
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS GAME
I’ve never been to a game of theirs, but I’ve been in Toronto when the Saskatchewan Roughriders were getting ready for the Grey Cup and their fans were all over town in full party mode. And I was in Saskatoon once when the Riders were playing in Regina, so I have a bit of an idea how crazy the province’s CFL fans can get. I grew up in California and had season tickets to Oakland Raiders’ games when I was a kid. And I’ve been to many college football games in Ann Arbor, Michigan and other places. I covered the NFL a bit for the Toronto Star, as well. And, other than perhaps the fans of the Green Bay Packers, I’ve never seen such wonderfully lunatic fans as those in Saskatchewan. The entire province seems to paint itself green-and-white on game day, possibly in places they shouldn’t. They don the craziest costumes around and eat and party like it’s 1999. And I love it. One Regina resident explained to me how fans love to carve out watermelons and use them as hats, since you’ve got a perfect, cone-shaped object that’s green and white once you scoop out the seeds and the pink fruit. She also told me that when the ‘Riders made it to the Grey Cup in Calgary a few years ago, one of the local grocery stores had to order up extra watermelons for the fans to carve up. And how great is that? I loved Saskatoon on my visit a few years ago. Now I think I need to hit a Riders’ game this summer. Hey, guys, save a watermelon for me!
The world discovered the beauty of Vancouver Island’s west coast some time ago. But it’s still a very special part of Canada. Chesterman Beach is a fantastic spot to take a walk and admire the ocean and the play of the waves and the piles of driftwood. There’s also good surfing, albeit with wet suits. In summer, whale watching is wildly popular. And the food scene is outstanding, with some of Canada’s freshest seafood. If you can make it, I highly recommend a visit to The Wickaninnish Inn, often voted one of the top hotels in Canada and even the world. They make generous use of local art and even have angled the windows so that you see interior art work as you drive up to the entrance. The food is outstanding, and the spa might be even better. I had a massage a few years ago in a small hut overlooking the Pacific, with the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and the smell of the evergeens and sea air all around me. They do “storm watch” trips in winter, when waves can get quite large and storms roll in mercilessly from the Pacific. You’ll get outfitted with warm, waterproof gear so you stay fairly dry, and they have plenty of dryers around to warm and dry your boots after your excursion. A truly spectacular and welcoming resort in one of the most dramatic settings in Canada.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN ONTARIO
This item comes from Audrey Ansell, who works down in Chatham-Kent Ontario. It was a cherished destination for many African-Americans fleeing slavery in the U.S. via the Underground Railroad, and you can find wonderful places to celebrate black history in the area, as well as up around Owen Sound and in Grey County, Ontario, where there’s a great museum called Grey Roots that celebrates black society in the area. February being Black History month, this is a wonderfully welcome addition. Thanks, Audrey!
By Audrey Ansell
Take an emotional “ride” on the Underground Railroad and experience some of the most poignant stops – with three right here in Chatham-Kent. Considered the destination for freedom seekers, this region was home to some of the most successful Black settlements in Canadian history. Today, Buxton National Historic Site & Museum, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historical Site and the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society all serve as windows into the past, allowing visitors to touch, feel, see and hear the stories of those who undertook heroic journeys, following the North Star to freedom in Chatham-Kent.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I visited the Buxton site south of Chatham last year and found it a powerful and moving experience. A definite 150 entry. Thank you, Audrey.
SCHWARTZ’S DELI, MONTREAL
When you’ve been serving sandwiches since 1928, you’re doing something right. And they don’t come much more right than Schwartz’s, a Montreal institution for almost 90 years.
There are lots of items to choose from, but they’re most famous for their Montreal smoked meat, kind of a pastrami sandwich on rye but with specific Montreal spices that I think make a FAR better sandwich. You can order yours lean if you’re a health nut, but you’ll be missing the fatty bits that provide the most flavour and moisture. Better to order at least medium and enjoy yourself, I say. Be sure to use lots of yellow mustard. Dijon is strictly not done here, folks.
Last I heard, Quebec warbler Celine Dion was still a part owner of this place. She showed up last summer to buy lunch for a crowd of patrons and donated meals to charity, as well. I don’t like her music much, but I love her taste in sandwiches!
North Shore Lake Erie
Some call this Ontario’s “Forgotten Coast.” It’s fitting when you consider the relative attention that is given to places like Georgian Bay, Prince Edward County and the Lake Huron shoreline, let alone Muskoka and Lake Superior and many other spots. I’ve been down here a couple times and have grown to love the casual pace and total lack of pretense in towns such as Port Stanley and Port Dover. They make excellent wines at Burning Kiln, and the beaches are outstanding. The drive along the lake reveals quiet, pastoral water views and beautiful homes and old-style barns. It’s also the fun and super-friendly people that I’ve loved on previous visits. Try a boat ride on Rondeau Bay with the folks at Erieau Marina, located in a great little town on the lake. I also recommend The Windjammer Inn in Port Stanley, especially if you can get a spot on the patio for dinner on a warm summer’s night. For great tips on what to see in the area, check out www.ontariossouthwest.com.
WOLFVILLE, NOVA SCOTIA
This is one huggable and very attractive town; one of my favourites in Canada. I don’t think there’s a university in the country with a prettier setting than Acadia, with its hilltop setting. The town is only a few blocks long but there are several good places to eat and (being a university town) a couple good ones to drink. I love the Blomidon Inn B & B, where I had killer muffins a few years back. I also like heading up the hill to Luckett Vineyards, where they’ve placed a working British-style phone booth in the middle of the vines. A visit to the Grand-Pre National Historic Site is a can’t-miss activity in the area; a sobering but ultimately uplifting story of the expulsion of French-speaking Acadians from the area and a fine exploration of human perserverance and spirit.
Back in the day, folks used to wax eloquent about High Tea and cucumber sandwiches at the regal Fairmont Empress Hotel and how about how very British the town is. Maybe it used to be. But it left that image in the dust some time ago. When I visit now, I see a bit of that old style Victoria but mostly I see a young, vibrant and beautiful city with great food, wonderful craft beer places (The Guild is a great pub downtown) and outstanding coffee places such as Fernwood Coffee and Habit Coffee. I love Victoria’s Public Market, where you can find tons of fresh local fruits, vegetables and famous B.C. Salt Spring Island cheeses. They’ve done a fantastic job re-imagining the Fairmont Empress, giving her a fresh, vibrant and youthful look and adding wonderful food and drink options. I also love bobbing about the harbour in those adorable little taxi boats. Oh, yeah, it’s also a lot warmer here in winter than it is in most parts of Canada, making it a lovely winter or spring option. Lots to like in this increasingly cool and sophisticated city.
TERRY FOX MONUMENT, ONTARIO
Being in Ottawa on Canada Day last year. Watching the Canadian men’s team win the Olympic gold medal in hockey in 2010. Both of those events made me feel so warmly Canadian that thinking of them still gives me goosebumps.
Just as powerful is a trip to the Terry Fox Monument outside Thunder Bay. For those who don’t recall the details, this courageous young man (a native of Winnipeg but known as a B.C. boy) lost a leg to cancer but battled to raise money for cancer research by hobbling across half of Canada on his one good leg before the ordeal finally was too much for him. His quest to run all the way across this truly massive country for his “Marathon of Hope” ended outside Thunder Bay on Aug. 31, 1980 (or Sept. 1, depending on what account you read).
There’s a hugely inspiring bronze sculpture to Fox (almost three meters in height) on a hill just east of Thunder Bay, as well as an interpretive centre. If you come here (and you should) and don’t leave with a tear in your eye there’s something wrong.
A giant of a man. A wonderful and inspiring Canadian.
ST. JOHN’S NEWFOUNDLAND
I adore this city. I love the colourful, box-of-crayons homes that rise up on the hills behind the harbour. I love the passion of the musicians in the endless pubs on George St. I love the home-made signs in The Battery that direct visitors to Signal Hill as they pass art galleries and seaside shacks on cliffs that plunge into the harbour. I love the fog swirling in from the sea and the sing-song patter of the locals, who might be the friendliest folks on the planet. St. John’s might be the most distinctive city in Canada. It’s definitely one of my favourite places. – JIM BYERS
BLUE JAYS GAME
Okay, I’m a little biased. I covered the Jays for the Toronto Star for six years, starting in 1992 when they won their first World Series title. And I grew up playing the game, although without any singular talent other than trying hard and occasionally singling past a diving shortstop. I’ll get to hockey later, but for now I’ll start the sports element of my Canada 150 list with the Jays. Fans in Toronto and Canada are HUGE supporters of this team, and it’s a blast to see them play in front of a full house in summer, especially if the roof is open. Blue Jays fans are among the most loyal – and vociferous – in baseball. And the players love it. Now, let’s hope management opens their wallet to make up for the loss of beloved slugger Edwin Encarnacion. – JIM BYERS
CHARLEVOIX REGION OF QUEBEC
This is a wondrous, almost mystical feeling area on the north side of the St. Lawrence River, east of Quebec City. The light seems somehow softer in this area, which is perhaps why so many artists have settled in the region. Some say the area’s light is the result of a huge meteor that crashed into the area millions of years ago. I don’t know about that, but the meteor did create an enormous bowl that can still be seen if you vist the region. Better yet are the food, craft beer and artists’ galleries in the town of Baie St. Paul, a pretty town with one of Canada’s trendiest hotels, Le Germain Hotel Charlevoix. And also the lovely Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. In winter, try a dog sled ride through the local foresets, or a sledding/ski trip down Le Massif, a ski hill that plunges into the St. Lawrence. In summer, play a round of golf at the Fairmont or take a river boat cruise in Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. A wonderful playground any time of year. – JIM BYERS
HISTORIC FAIRMONT HOTELS
I’ve been lucky enough to stay at probably a dozen Fairmont properties in Canada. They’re all very special and almost all reflect a tremendous sense of place that I find very appealling. The Fairmont Banff Springs is arguably the most iconic of all, sitting on a small knoll overlooking the magnificent Bow River and that stunning valley backed by some of the world’s most majestic mountains. You also can’t beat the pools and treatments at the Willow Stream Spa. Vancouver has four Fairmonts, including the sleek Fairmont Pacific Rim and the wonderful (and convenient) Fairmont at Vancouver’s Airport. The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto has hosted Queen Elizabeth several times, and the Library Bar is one of the cities best places to have a drink You can’t beat the views of Parliament Hill and the Canada Day fireworks at the posh Chateau Laurier in Ottawa (or the high tea with Champagne), while the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello in Quebec has idlyllic views of the broad Ottawa River, lovely walking trails and excellent food. The Chateau Frontenac is as symbolic of Quebec City as a horse-drawn carriage and cobblestone streets. All across Canada, an iconic group of hotels that truly stand apart. – JIM BYERS
GREAT HIKING AND FAB FOOD IN GREY COUNTY, ONTARIO
I hadn’t spent a lot of time in Grey County, Ontario until late this past summer. But it’s a fantastic part of the province. The Bruce Trail runs through the county, which means there’s world-class hiking with astonishing views all around. You’ll also find truly marvellous food at restaurants such as Andrew’s Roots in the adorable town of Meaford. He also runs The Mill Cafe in Thornbury, which has a fine patio and great food. Just across the road is the wonderful Bruce Wine Bar, with great food and lovely wines, and often live entertainment. The Meaford Hall arts and culgtural centrehas great shows; I saw Canada’s own Joel Plaskett there this summer. And Owen Sound is a pretty town with awesome waterfalls just blocks from the city centre. Try a night at the serene Millhollow B & B in Meaford, or at the Pretty River Inn (they even have reindeer!). Toss in great activities such as kayaking on Georgian Bay, skiing in winter, sipping wine at Georgian Hills Vineyards and soaking in the warm tubs at the Scandinave Spa and you’ve got a remarkable, under-rated Canadian destination.
THE COWBOY TRAIL, ALBERTA
Folks outside Alberta don’t hear a lot about The Cowboy Trail, which moseys (sorry about that) some 700 km from west of Edmonton down to the hills near Calgary and then down towards magnificent Waterton Lakes National Park on the U.S. border. It’s a magical road (formally named Highway 22) that rises and falls and rises some more as it skirts along the foothills of The Rockies. You’ll pass lovely ranches with the towering mountains looming behind like some travel postcard, as well as historic oil drilling sites and a couple small towns worth exploring. One of the best places to stop is only a short drive south of Calgary, called Turner Valley. It’s home to the terrific Eau Claire Distillery, the first craft distillery in the province, which makes near-perfect, super-smooth vodka and other treats. Not only that, there’s a lovely tasting room and part of the facility is built in the towns’ one-time brothel. Next door is Chuckwagon, a legendary Alberta diner/restaurant with burgers that are both excellent and filling, as you’d expect in a town populated by hungry cowboys. The Cowboy Trail is both an interesting and beautiful, easy drive. And you’ll find hardly any of the traffic that sometimes creeps around Banff or Japser.
OSOYOOS AND OLIVER, B.C.
I love the Okanagan Valley area in British Columbia. The scenery is spectacular; with deep lakes and pine-covered hills and tons of fresh produce. The food and wine are both excellent. Even more cool is that the area is a real desert, one of the few such spots in Canada. You’ll find tiny cactus and tumbling tumbleweeds around Osoyoos and at the Osoyoos Desert Centre. After you’ve done your tour, repair to some of the local wineries for a taste of their luscious white and red wines. Covert Organic Farms does a great job with Rhone-style reds and Zinfandel and also will show you their vast fields while touring in a 1952 Mercury pick-up Truck. Two of their Highland Cattle are named “Laverne” and “Shirley.” Bruce Fuller does a great job (and dresses like a mean cowboy) at Rustico, where you’ll also find a pair of Sicilian donkeys and cheeky wines with labels such as “Farmer’s Daughter.” Watermark Beach Resort Hotel is a great place to stay in Osoyoos, right on the shores of beautiful Osoyoos Lake. The folks at Heatstroke Cycle can set you up with electric bikes and provide a great tour of the area, including winery stops. – JIM BYERS
PEI BOTTLE HOUSES
You probably expect things like the Alberta Rockies or Niagara Falls to make my list of Canada’s 150 best things. But those are obvious, and I want to highlight some of the quirky bits that enrich Canada and make us a more interesting place than some folks might think. With that in mind, I’m giving a nod to a couple of spots in Prince Edward Island where folks have fashioned buildings out of old bottles. Why I don’t quite know. But they’re cool. The best-known collection is known officially as The Bottle Houses and is located in Cap Egmont, outside Summerside, PEI. A local family has fashioned a series of small buildings out of tens of thousands of green, blue and clear bottles. There’s even a small chapel. The surrounding gardens are lovely, as well. That’s the main one on the island. But as I was driving one day to Point Prim, near the Wood Island ferry dock, I spotted another collection of bottle houses that even the tourism board for PEI doesn’t seem to know about. I only had a few seconds to look around, but it had the same kind of off-kilter sensibility that I loved at the spot in Cap Egmont. No, a few scattered buildings made of old bottles is not equal to the majesty of the Rockies or Cape Breton, or the endless shoreline of Lake Superior. But I love them just the same.
Niagara has been one of the world’s favourite destinations for decades. And it shows no signs of slowing down. I’ll talk about the Falls and the towns and food another time, so this is about the vineyards. Niagara has far too many great wineries to list them all, so I’ll single out a couple of faves. Ravine Vineyard has great food and a beautiful wine-tasting room that’s part of an historic farmhouse. Try their full-bodied Cabernet Franc. Stratus makes lovely wine and has a sleek, modern tasting room. Martin Malivoire at Malivoire Wine is a hoot and features wonderful Pinot Noir and tasty, fruity Gamay Noir. Kacaba has surprisingly rich reds, as does Colaneri, which is built to look like an Italian village on a small hill. And I had a great tasting once at Angels Gate, where a wine consultant described one of their whites as being like “sex in a glass.” Angel’s Gate also has killer views across the Niagara Peninsula and Lake Ontario, with Toronto’s skyline in the distance. www.ontariotravel.net. – JIM BYERS
STANLEY PARK, VANCOUVER
To my mind, there’s no better urban park on the planet. Central Park in New York is great, but it’s not on the ocean. Stanley Park is not only surrounded by ocean waters on almost all sides, it’s also smack dab on the edge of downtown. The real estate is valuable enough to retire Canada’s national debt, but the park luckily isn’t going anywhere. It’s a marvellous green space, with everything from playing fields to rhododendron gardens to aboriginal totem poles. The walking trail and bike path around the perimeter is an awesome place to get some fresh air and enjoy the city, ocean and mountain views. There’s even a beautiful and dirt-cheap pitch and putt golf course! A great part of a great city, for sure. – JIM BYERS
THE YUKON QUEST
By Jo Matyas
Is there anything more quintessentially Canadian than a sled dog race?
I flew into Whitehorse, Yukon on a sunny – and very cold – February day, looking down from the plane and thinking that I needed to have my head examined. Yukon in the dead of winter? I left a week later, totally enamoured with my Northern wintertime experience, daydreaming about when I could return next.
I love the enthusiasm Yukoners bring to the short spurts of daylight that mark their winter months. For one, there is always guaranteed snow. And no shortage of activities – snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, wildlife watching and (my hands-down favourite) dogsledding.
Mushing my own little team (thank you, Sky High Wilderness Ranch) was enough of a thrill to have me fantasizing about setting up my own little kennel and sled dog business. But watching the pros at work at the annual Yukon Quest – the toughest sled dog race in the world – was nothing short of awe inspiring.
The 1,600 km (1,000 mi) route connecting Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska, traces the historic wintertime land path followed more than a century ago by prospectors and mail carriers. The race name commemorates the “highway of the north” – the Yukon River – the traditional route to the gold fields of the Klondike. Sled dogs provided a rock-steady form of transportation and the Yukon Quest celebrates that legacy.
Next year – Canada’s sesquicentennial – the Yukon Quest starts from Whitehorse on February 4, 2017. Over the (approximately) 10-day race, professional mushers will mind-meld with their teams of 14 dogs, camp in -30C weather, battle jumble ice on the frozen river, wrestle with equipment breakdowns, keep their dogs fed/rested/happy/healthy and do it all in relative isolation. Unplanned circumstances can play havoc with the race (how about a female who goes into heat midpoint in the race?). These mushers are experts at problem solving on the fly.
There are many opportunities to watch the action: at the starting gates in Whitehorse, along the route on frozen lakes, at checkpoints and in Dawson City at the mandatory half-point layover.
As the weather turns colder, I find myself dipping back into that Yukon daydream. One winter day, I’ll head back north and cheer on the teams at the Yukon Quest.
Josephine Matyas writes travel. You can read more at www.travelswithrigby.com and www.writerwithoutborders.com
So much atmosphere. And so many cool things to see. Not to mention a HUGE party next year for their 375th birthday. Montreal is one of the oldest cities in North America, and the old city section remains a favourite from tourists from around the world. The old buildings and cobblestone streets are charming as can be, but you’ll also find great shops and hotels, including the lovely boutique property Hotel Nelligan, and marvellous restaurants and bars. I love Modavie Wine Bar for music and wine (and food) and adore the breakfasts at Olive et Gourmando. Christian Faure might make the best croissants on the planet. Rue St. Paul is my favourite street in Canada. Be sure to check out the Pointe a Calliere museum, which contains ruins from the 17th century and tells the story of this great city. They’ll be new exhibits coming for next year, which will be a celebration city-wide. They’re installng a $39 million LED light show on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and there will be special festivals and light shows and parties all over town. It’s going to be a huge treat, and you just know a dazzling arts city like Montreal will do it right. – JIM BYERS
HAIDA GWAI BRITISH COLUMBIA
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Here’s another in a series of contributions from some of my fellow travel writers. This comes from Toronto-based freelance writer Waheeda Harris, who writes about travel, food, culture and more and can be found at https://about.me/waheedaharris
Being a distracted teenager was not the best mindset to have when I first visited British Columbia’s remote Haida Gwaii, on the north coast of the province. I initially saw lack of people, shopping opportunities and endless trees as like totally boring, a trip that seemed to take forever, leaving BC’s mainland to Vancouver Island to a sailboat skirting the north coast.
But a hike through the lush rainforest of cedar and spruce, spotting an eagle soaring overhead on the air currents, seeing seals swimming along the coast was the tipping point to focus me on the beauty of my surroundings. When I returned over 10 years later, it was the restorative environment to figure out what to do with my life after university. The tall trees seemed to stand even taller, the air fresher to my senses and I was thankful the aging totem poles were still standing.
The region that had been the Queen Charlotte Islands of my childhood had become the Haida Gwaii of my adulthood. The lush landscape, home to the Haida Nation for centuries, has transformed into an eco-friendly adventure zone and a place to learn about the Haida way of life. The Gwaii Hanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Centre are just two reasons that National Geographic proclaimed this part of British Columbia one of the 2015 trips of the year. From tree-huggers to solace-seekers, Haida Gwaii is a green paradise, a place to hike or kayak the shoreline, discover the art and artisans who make the totem poles and spot the seals, sea lions and orcas.
Although adrenaline junkies can satisfy their need for thrills with surfing and there are now historic, artistic and culinary lures, my best advice: choose a hike, stand in the ancient rainforest, listen to the surroundings and be thankful for this west coast haven.
HOPEWELL ROCKS NEW BRUNSWICK
The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world. And there’s no better place to witness this fact than Hopewell Rocks, a provincial park less than an hour from downtown Moncton. You can see water lapping around tall rock formations one minute, and then a few hours later walk on the sea floor. The tides can readch as high as 14 meters or 46 feet, so there’s a huge difference over the course of a day. Walking along the seashore and gazing up at massive, ancient, reddish rocks that will soon be awash in sea water is a very cool thing. – JIM BYERS
GRAND BEND ONTARIO
To my mind, there’s no finer beach town in Canada than Grand Bend, Ontario. It’s a wonderful mix of old and new, with a funky sign over the main street as you enter town and a series of great shops like Archies Surf Shop selling tee-shirts, flip flops and other beach essentials. There are a couple requisite ice cream shops, as well as a very good sushi spot called Midori, a fun waterfront restaurant named Smackwater Jacks Taphouse and also The Schoolhouse Restaurant, a fine spot to dine.. The beach is very good, with plenty of soft sand and lots of space for beach volleyball, Frisbee and more. This being Lake Huron, you’ll also get truly magical sunsets. Click here for information on Grand Bend and other great spots in Ontario’s Southwest. – JIM BYERS
APPLE PIE IN SOOKE, B.C.
I’ve had fantastic food all over this country of ours. But I’ve never seen pies like the ones they make at a place called Mom’s Cafe (of course) e) in Sooke, which is a half-hour or so west of Victoria. The chocolate pie is thick and rich and the lemon meringue pie is a towering piece of dessert with an enormous wedge of light, airy meringue. But I’m most impressed with their giant apple pie, which I’m told requires nearly 50 pieces of fruit. Fifty apples in one pie? One slice could probably serve three people, or one teenager. It’s also excellent pie, which certainly helps. It’s a good spot for poutine, in case you haven’t ingested enough calories already. I hear the Eggs Benedict also are good. Definitely a classic food spot in a nice town I’ve always liked to visit. (Try Stick in the Mud for great coffee, or spend a night and have an incredible meal at the Sooke Harbour House). – JIM BYERS
HAMILTON ONTARIO WATERFALLS
I’ve lived in Toronto 35 years and I never knew about the wonderful waterfalls around Hamilton. It makes sense that you’d have great waterfalls on the Niagara Escarpment, which runs through the city in fine style, but I hadn’t thought about waterfalls for some reason. But they’re there, and they’re spectacular. Just a few minutes off Highway 403 are both Webster Falls and Tew Falls, which is almost as high as Niagara. There’s a fine viewing platform at Tew Falls in particular, and it would be glorious in the fall. Felker Creek Falls is a lovely ribbon of water in a subdivision in Stoney Creek, just a couple clicks from the QEW. Crazy. But wonderful. – JIM BYERS
SMALL TOWN MUSEUMS ALL OVER
Most of us know we can find great art at the National Gallery in Ottawa and cool dinosaurs in Drumheller, Alberta. Not to mention lovely museums in other major Canadian cities. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in my travels I’ve been intrigued by tales of pioneer women in the Rockies and folks who tilt at government windmills in the Maritimes as much as I have by the works of the Group of Seven at the Art Gallery of Ontario. If you go to the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre museum in Canmore, Alberta, you’ll find a marvellous display that talks about a tiny, feisty woman named Mary Rodda who warded off drunken cowboys and hooligans at the Canmore Hotel for 16 years after her husband died. In Killarney, Ontario, the one-room museum features a heartbreaking description of a local woman. Mrs. Armstrong, whose underage son Walden enlisted in World War I and never came back. The display I saw talked about she would trudge to the post office each day in her battered, army-style coat, felt hat and button shoes to see if there was any word from or about her son. “This ritual had gone on for days at first, then weeks and, eventually, years. Mrs. Armstrong’s faith in her son was still strong when she died in the 1940’s,” the display read. “It was from a broken heart as much as anything else since no word ever came from Walden.” You probably won’t find anything that personal – or tear-inducing – at the Royal Ontario Museum or the Vancouver Art Gallery.
THE BRIDGE DRIVE-IN, WINNIPEG
Okay, we’ve done majestic mountains and cool cities. Now it’s time to get a little more creative. Hence my latest entry for the 150 best things to do in Canada: visiting (and eating at) the Bridge Drive-In in Winnipeg. I love iconic restaurants and roadside spots, and they don’t come much classic than this place, located south of downtown on the Red River. They’re famous for their ice cream and shakes, particularly a blueberry and ice cream (and whipped cream and other good stuff) called a “goog.” No summer in Winnipeg is complete without a visit to what’s called the “BDI.” On a side note, when I was there a few years ago I asked several folks about the name of the bridge over the Red River that’s adjacent to the restaurant. “It’s just called the BDI Bridge,” I was told. Nobody seemed to know the real name. So, being a wise guy and all, I replied, “Wait a minute. What you’re saying, basically, is that the bridge is named after a drive-in that’s named after a bridge that nobody knows the name of.” I kinda like that. Of course, I got home and found out that it’s called (according to Google) the Elm Park Bridge. I prefer BDI Bridge. Either way, the ice cream and the shakes make this place worthy of a place on my 150 list, for sure. – JIM BYERS
SOUTH SHORE OF NOVA SCOTIA
Like many Canadians, I love the drive from Halifax down to Lunenburg. The three churches lined up on the edge of Mahone Bay are a treat, as are the bays up and down the coast. Lunenburg is a UNESCO heritage site, famous for its painted buildings and for the famous Canadian ship The Bluenose. I love the town and always enjoy a meal at Salt Shaker Deli. But I especially love the feel of Blue Rocks, a tiny fishing village a few minutes southeast of Lunenburg with just the right kind of casual, east coast feel. – JIM BYERS
FREDERICTON, NEW BRUNSWICK
I’d never spent the night in Fredericton, New Brunswick until this week. I fell in love with the people and the gentle scenery, as well as some damned good food. It was National Acadian Day, and there were lots of folks out celebrating their French heritage on a rainy afternoon. The skies cleared around 7 p.m., however, and I was treated to a glorious play of light on the St. John River, followed by an excellent meal at 540 Kitchen and Bar, where I sat on the patio (thankfully in lovely, 23 C weather, a huge relief after my last week in Toronto) and had a wonderful kale salad, pork buns with kimchi and Thai chicken wings, accompanied by a fine Maybee Brewery Workhorse IPA. Check out The Lunar Rogue for good food and 600 types of whisky, too! And don’t forget the renowned Beaverbrook Art Gallery, currently undergoing a major addition. It’s a great little city I’d love to spend more time in. – JIM BYERS
GROS MORNE NATIONAL PARK, NEWFOUNDLAND
I love Newfoundland. I love the people. I love the music. And I love the scenery. A personal fave (and I’m hardly alone on this) is the area around Gros Morne National Park on the northwest coast. The boat ride on Western Brook Pond (basically a fjord without the ocean opening) is definitely one of the great things to do in Canada. But I also love kayaking in Bonne Bay and listening to locals play music in Rocky Harbour or other towns. The Bonne Bay Inn is a lovely, sophisticated hotel and gives you great access to the Woody Point Writers Festival, which is held each summer and celebrates great authors and musicians. A magical part of Canada. – JIM BYERS
1,000 ISLANDS, ONTARIO
Apparently there are closer to 2,000 islands, depending on how you count them. But no matter what number pops up on your calculator, this is a wondrous part of Ontario (and, yes, the U.S.). There are monster places such as Boldt Castle, but also humble homes on tiny patches of rock in the wide, beautiful St. Lawrence River. The Ontario town of Gananoque is super-cool, with a nice, artsy vibe and good food. It might just be the next Prince Edward County in terms of trendiness. – JIM BYERS
KOOTENAY ROCKIES OF B.C.
The Kootenay Rockies don’t get nearly enough attention. We all know about Banff and Lake Louise and Jasper over in Alberta, but the B.C. side of the Rockies is arguably just as spectacular. And it’s less crowded. I just finished a fantastic but short visit that took me from the fabulous town of Fernie on up to Kimberley and then Golden, where I took a great gondola ride up to the top of Kicking Horse Mountain. The best was Yoho National Park, where I stayed at the marvellous Cathedral Mountain Lodge, explored Emerald Lake by canoe and admired Takakkaw Falls. I’d never heard of Takakkaw, but for my money it’s one of the great sights of Canada; a towering waterfall that drops an amazing 384 meters (1,260 feet). It’s an easy walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls, and the power and majesty are simply incredible. Definitely one of the great places in Canada.
DOG SLEDDING IN WINTER
A frozen lake in Alberta in January. Dogs panting and heaving as they pull you in a sled laden with blankets under a crystalline blue sky. It doesn’t get much more Canadian than this. The folks at Mad Dogs and Englishmen can take you out on frozen lakes west of Canmore, Alberta and give you a true taste of Canadian winter. Bundle up and enjoy the ride.- JIM BYERS
LES ILES DE LA MADELEINE
This is one of my favourite parts of Canada; a little-known slice of land in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence where weather and wind are a constant factor. Planes might not be able to land or ships might be prevented from bringing needed supplies, but that doesn’t stop islanders from living their lives. The spirit of cooperation is both tangible and lovely to see. Besides, the scenery is drop dead gorgeous, with long, lonely beaches and homes painted I colours the Crayola people have only dreamed of. http://www.tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com/en/ – JIM BYERS
AVATAR FOREST B.C.
I’d never heard of this rainforest location near Port Renfrew, B.C. until I was there in late spring. It’s a mind-bogglingly beautiful spot, an ancient-feeling forest with massive trees covered with lime green moss and dripping with moisture. It’s easily the most impressive forest I’ve seen, and it’s only a 10-minute drive from Port Renfrew, which is about 90 minutes west of Victoria on Vancouver Island. To think it was almost cut down by loggers is to cry. From what I hear it’s still not a done deal that it will be saved. http://www.vancouverisland.travel/ – JIM BYERS
TORONTO’S RIVER VALLEYS
I’ve long argued that you can’t truly understand Toronto without spending a weekend afternoon in one of the city’s ravines on a warm weekend. The barbeque pits get fired up as kids and parents bat baseballs or soccer balls about on the grass. You might find an old-fashioned game of water balloon toss or something else that harkens back to a simpler time. The smells of roasting meat waft over the valleys and small creeks that dot the city’s ravines. I like Sunnybrook, but parks along Black Creek or the Humber River or the Rouge are just as good. www.seetorontonow.com – JIM BYERS
WINTER CARNIVAL QUEBEC
After 34 years living in Canada, I finally got a chance to attend the Quebec Winter Carnival last year. It was fantastic, with ice sculptures and kids activities and rides and great food. For the record, Bonhomme (the mascot, for those of you living under a rock) is a wonderful guy; very fun and polite and, thankfully, bilingual. Of course, Quebec is magical any time of year. – JIM BYERS
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND IN GENERAL
Sure there’s Anne of Green Gables and all that. But the best thing about a day in PEI Is frolicking on the beach and enjoying the salt air and the soft breeze and the pure, fresh air that folks in many part of the world can only dream about. Try the Inn at Bay Fortune for a real hotel treat, or perhaps Dalvay by the Sea, where Prince William and Kate once visited. https://www.tourismpei.com/ – JIM BYERS
OUR PRETTIEST LAKE?
Lake Louise is like the Hollywood starlet that gets all the attention. Moraine Lake, also in Banff National Park, is the permanent understudy that’s probably more attractive but doesn’t have a p.r. agent who’s on the ball. No offence to Lake Louise is meant. It’s just that Moraine Lake is less visited (about 20 minutes from Lake Louise, with only a single small hotel that’s open a few months a year) and a tad harder to get to. But that makes it all the more fun. Rent a canoe or enjoy the view from the Moraine Lake Lodge. https://www.travelalberta.com/ – JIM BYERS
HUNTING ICEBERGS IN NEWFOUNDLAND
There are few things in the world as impressive as an iceberg floating on the open water. The shades of crystalline blue and white are mind-blowing, as are the shapes and twists and cracks. The folks at Iceberg Quest in St. John’s can take you out to view amazing bergs in early summer. The area up around Twillingate also is awesome for iceberg-watching. Twillingate is a marvellous hiking spot, too (see photo). http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/ – JIM BYERS
MONTREAL EN LUMIERE
By Barry Choi
Despite the cold, Montreal is one of the best cities in the world to enjoy winter. Every year, Montréal en Lumière (Montreal in Lights) gives people a reason to stop hibernating and to get out and enjoy the city. The light displays set up in key downtown locations had me wondering if I had walked onto the set of a Tim Burton movie. Enjoy a variety of activities including outdoor performances, zip line across Place des Festivals, or enjoy some of the city’s famous cuisine. Montréal en Lumière has a different theme every year and is one of the largest winter festivals in the world. BY BARRY CHOI (Barry Choi is a personal finance and budget travel expert at Moneywehave.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @barrychoi.)
THE YUKON IN GENERAL
There’s something about folks living in the Yukon or remote parts of Newfoundland. They have to scramble for everything they have, and they tend to live life larger than others. I had a fantastic drive from Haines Junction to Kluane National Park and the Tachal Dhal Visitor Centre, spotting a boatload of bears and a couple wandering moose along the way and this lone Inukshuk at the side of a parking lot. I also was up at Kathleen Lake by myself on a spring day when the ice was breaking up, making it the first time I can remember not only seeing a beautiful lake but hearing one. http://www.travelyukon.com/ – JIM BYERS
To millions of folks around the world, Canada means wilderness. And wildlife. Sonora Resort in British Columbia is a great way to get a glimpse. Sure, it’s a Relais and Chateaux property with amazing food and beautiful rooms. But that doesn’t take away from the chance to see grizzly bears hunting for salmon or shepherding their young about the northern mainland of British Columbia. – JIM BYERS
CAPE BRETON IN GENERAL
The Cabot Trail is one of the world’s great drives, with a road that hugs the coast along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and rises and falls and rises again. All the while you’ll pass scenic villages and fun spots such as the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou (technically south of the Cabot Trail on what’s called the Ceilidh Trail), a pub owned by the Rankin family where you’ll often find live music. Don’t miss Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses in Inverness; perhaps the finest two courses in Canada and two of the best in North America. When you get to the north end of the Cabot Trail, veer off the main road to check out the pretty village of White Point. http://www.cbisland.com/about-cape-breton/ten-unforgettable-experiences/?gclid=CjwKEAjwqJ67BRCzzJ7Hy-LYlFYSJABwp9PGxoe0omCyUjfg-vJ16upU3LDdS_xm92G9-wdv8syvCxoCHYnw_wcB – JIM BYERS
THE SEGWUN IN MUSKOKA
The toot of the whistle of the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Segwun on a warm Muskoka night has warmed the hearts of generations of residents and cottage-goers in southern Ontario. There are things in the world better than cruising Lake Muskoka on a fine summer’s night and pulling alongside the Segwun (or her sister ship, the Wenonah II) and gesturing for the captain to let loose with a long, low whistle that echoes over the water and rocks and trees of this most magical part of Ontario. – JIM BYERS
BAY OF FUNDY
The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest ocean tides in the world and when the tide rises it creates a unique phenomenon that not many people have ever heard of, known as tidal bores. The tides are so high that they actual push water from the rivers flowing into the Bay back up the rivers almost changing their direction. When the water flowing from the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia meets the water flowing from the ocean going the opposite direction large waves are formed. Happening twice a day at high tide, riding these tidal bores have become a popular tourist activity. The waves are so huge it is almost like white water rafting, you definitely get soaked and have quite the fun experience. Most tours also include natural mud slides and watching the bore slowly creep in, which can be an amazing experience. Click here for a video! BY CAILIN O’NEIL (Cailin O’Neil is a travel, video and food blogger/social media influencer for travelyourself.ca. She calls Halifax, Nova Scotia home when she’s not galavanting around the world. She has a love of living by the ocean and all things lobster related.) http://www.novascotia.com/
I’d somehow missed this in my first seven years covering travel in Canada. But I rectified that a couple years ago and had a marvellous time watching the cowboys and cowgirls. The chuckwagon races are a frenetic, high-speed rush, but I also loved watching the women’s barrel races and watching the little kids grapple with small but free-spirited, rambunctious. Outside of the rodeo you’ll find great live concerts and crazy fried foods on the midway. http://www.calgarystampede.com/stampede – JIM BYERS
A GREAT CAPITAL
Our nation’s capital is an under-appreciated city. Not only are the tours of Parliament Hill fantastic and instructive, but the city itself is far more diverse and interesting than some Canadians give it credit for. Navarra is as good a restaurant as I’ve experienced in Canada, if not the world. And neighbourhoods such as The Glebe and Hintonburg/WellingtonWest offer up tasty local cuisine and funky shops. Music fans should check out the Lucky Ron show on Saturday’s at “The Laff,” known more formally as the Chateau Lafayette in the bustling Byward Market area. The craft beer scene has exploded in Ottawa, and you’ll also find cool new hotels such as The Alt and, coming soon, a sleek Andaz. https://www.ottawatourism.ca/ – JIM BYERS
This is a cool city that’s very much on the rise. The James Hotel offers sensational views and a great atmosphere. The Riversdale area is a vastly improved neighbourhood with inventive galleries, trendy coffee shops and fun food spots. Ayden Kitchen and Bar is one of Canada’s top restaurants, and the city has a great farmers market with a ton of variety, including fresh produce and ethnic foods from around the world. Outside of town, a visit to the Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a great way to learn about our First Nations People and their wonderful traditions and history. Back in the city, take in a show by the troupe Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan or try a canoe ride on the quiet, peaceful South Saskatchewan River. Heck, there’s even a nude beach on the river not far from town. www.tourismsaskatoon.com – JIM BYERS
WINNIE THE POOH
Visit Winnie the Pooh in Winnipeg. This tiny gem of a gallery is situated in Assiniboine Park. Most people connect Winnie the Pooh with the British author A.A. Milne. Not everybody understands that Winnie was a real Canadian black bear cub adopted by a Winnipegger and brought along to the U.K. with him. Entrance to this delightful gallery with its Winnie the Pooh first editions and whimsical, original illustrations is free and you will be surprised at some of the facts you’ll learn. A perfect stop for both adults and young ones. http://www.assiniboinepark.ca. – EVELYN HANNON (Known as the ‘Grandmother of Women’s Travel,” Hannon is the editor of Journeywoman.com. She has been offering online tips to women travellers in 1997. Time Magazine chose her one of this century’s 100 innovative thinkers for the work she has done on behalf of females and travel worldwide.)
ICEFIELDS PARKWAY, ALBERTA
Perhaps the greatest drive on earth, this road that snakes through the towering Rockies from around Jasper down to Banff is one gobsmacking, head-shaking, mind-blowing scene after another. I love the ocean, but there’s something much more majestic and awe-inspiring about ancient rock coated with ice and snow and covered with deep, mysterious forests and etched by wind and rain over countless centuries. The drive is sensational, but so are many of the stops along the way. Often there are gushing waterfalls and narrow canyons and massive rock formations a few off the side of the road, so be sure to stop at as many of the small roadside spots as you can. www.travelalberta.com – JIM BYERS
NORTH OF SUPERIOR
We Canadians hear a lot about the Cabot Trail and the Icefields Parkway, and for good reason (I’ve included both in this entry). But I find the drive along the Trans Canada Highway north (and east) of Lake Superior almost as amazing. Don’t miss Sleeping Giant Provincial Park just east of Thunder Bay, with its fantastic views from up-high and beautiful, lakeside hiking trails. You’ll experience glorious views of off-shore islands near the village of Rossport, as well as gorgeous waterfalls and small hotels, such as Rock Island Lodge near Wawa. Not to mention the Winnie the Pooh statue in White River and the Wawa Goose in Wawa and the Terry Fox monument just outside Thunder Bay, which every Canadian should visit to honour one of our most heroic figures. https://www.ontariotravel.net/en/explore/northwest-ontario – JIM BYERS