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Cool new hotels, attractions and festivals across Canada, or “What I learned at the recent Go Media” session

Cool new hotels and attractions from coast to coast. A big 150th birthday bash for Canada. And a 375th birthday for Montreal.

I just wrapped up two days of intense meetings with tourism folks from across Canada at the Go Media 2016 session in Montreal, put on by Destination Canada. I came away with some good ideas for stories and a half-ton of information about this great country of ours. Here are some of the highlights…

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ANNIVERSARIES

Canada’s 150th will be a big deal, naturally, across the country in 2017. Ottawa will be doing a great deal of the partying, with everything from giant, mechanized spiders on the streets to dazzling underground light installations and dining on a platform suspended from a crane 150 feet up in the sky. The Red Bull Crashed Ice world championship will feature skaters hurtling down a massive ice track over the Rideau Canal Locks from March 3-4. The Juno Awards will be in Ottawa in late March, celebrating the best in Canadian music. Canada Day will naturally be HUGE in Ottawa. Click here for information on Ottawa 2017.

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As part of Canada’s Big 150 party, Parks Canada is making all national parks and national historic sites free of charge for the year. That’s a big deal for Canadians and visitors alike. Also a big deal is that lockage fees for the Rideau Canal and many other federal waterways are being waived next year. Some folks spend up to $700 on lockage fees on a big boat trip, so the waiver is great news for them. And should mean plenty of business for tourism operators.

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Montreal loves a good party, and they’re doing some serious road work and renovations to get ready for 2017. There’s a new Illuminart section being added to the Montreal en Lumiere festival in winter, running Feb. 22 to March 11. Come May they’ll be lighting up the Jacques Cartier Bridge in dramatic fashion with a $39 million LED installation by Montreal-based Moment Factory, which did an amazing job at the new terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. They discovered part of the 1640’s Fort Ville-Marie in Old Montreal a few years ago, and soon folks will be able to check out artefacts and part of the old fort’s foundations. It’s part of a major expansion of the lovely Pointe-a-Calliere Montreal Archaeology and History Complex. Exciting stuff for fans of the city and Canadian history. Click here for information on Montreal 375.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Here’s something very cool. I don’t have a lot of details, and the timing apparently isn’t firmed up, but they’re supposed to be getting passenger-only ferries between downtown Vancouver and downtown Victoria. Right now you take the ferry from suburban Vancouver, a good half hour from downtown, and end up well north of Victoria, almost forcing you to have a car. Being able to go from Coal Harbour in Vancouver to Victoria’s downtown harbour will mean not needing a car at all.

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Since both cities are fairly compact, you could do a holiday in both cities (recently named sixth and seventh, respectively, best cities in the world by readers of Conde Nast Travel) and not need an automobile. And how great is that? Also on the B.C. front, Marriott, which recently took over Starwood Properties and also owns Delta Hotels, will be adding a new JW Marriott and The Douglas Autograph Collection in Vancouver. Both are part of the Parq resort, which will feature the hotels, eight restaurants and a casino adjacent to BC Place Stadium. The new Trump Hotel (we won’t get into politics on this blog, thank you very much) is due to open in Vancouver in early 2017. Up in Whistler, the Pride and Ski Festival will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, with the big party marked for Jan. 22-29. They’ve been making major changes at Whistler-Blackcomb, including new trails, an indoor action sports centre and a new Blackcomb Adventure Park for families. There also are new suites coming in the next couple months at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The Fairmont Empress has been given a delightful, $40 million makeover in Victoria, with fantastic new spaces and bright, bold colours.

ALBERTA AND SASKATCHEWAN

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There’s a new experience for visitors who take the Sulphur Mountain gondola in Banff, with a 360-degree view from a new rooftop observation deck, a new restaurant with a “distinctly Canadian menu,” a multi-sensory theatre and interactive exhibits. The project cost $26 million. The Moose Hotel and Suites is new to Banff, their first new hotel product in about a dozen years. Up in Jasper, they recently finished a major renovation of the famed Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Their p.r. person said they’ve freshened up the look and added more technology to rooms but tried to keep the rustic feel. “We’ve changed everything except what really matters,” she said. Some folks, of course, wanted things to stay the same but the photos I saw made it look like they did it the right way. I didn’t know this, but Alberta residents get 30% off the best available rate at Fairmont properties in the province. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is redoing its ground floor restaurant, brightening things up and adding local, craft beer to the menu. The new spot will be called the Alpine Social Club and should open soon. The Edmonton Oilers have a new arena downtown, Rogers Place, and the surrounding Ice District is getting more restaurants and bars all the time. There also are new food tours you can take of the area. The Royal Alberta Museum is being redone and will open in downtown Edmonton, near city hall and the Art Gallery of Alberta, in 2017. IHG will soon open a single building near the West Edmonton Mall that will have a Holiday Inn Express and Suites on one side and a Candlewood Suites (larger rooms, for extended stays) in the other part of the building. It’s the first time they’ve built one of these properties in Canada. The folks at the Calgary Marathon will have a special 150 km Confederation run next year, with both teams and individuals doing a 150 k run in late May. Crazy. I’ve written previously about Studio Bell and the National Music Centre in Calgary.

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It’s on the edge of the trendy East Village, which is getting a new ALT Hotel in 2018. A new in-terminal Marriott just opened the other day at Calgary’s Airport, giving fliers an excellent option (and a chance to earn Marriott/Starwood reward points). In Saskatchewan, they recently renovated Hotel Saskatchewan reopened just recently in Regina. It’s now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. It was built in 1926 as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway hotel group and now features historic architecture and contemporary styling. Regina also has a new Mosaic Stadium with sleek styling and all the bells and whistles. It replaces the old facility, Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field. Thankfully, the crazy Roughrider fans aren’t likely to change. The new ALT Hotel in Saskatoon opens in 2018. IHG (Intercontinental Hotels Group) recently broke ground on a new Holiday Inn Express near the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. They also will have a Staybridge Suites on the property for longer-term stays.

ONTARIO

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The Grey Cup will be played in Toronto this year at the Argos’ new home, BMO Field at Exhibition Place. The game goes Nov. 27, and they recently reduced ticket prices. Toronto will host the Toronto Global Forum next year Oct. 30-Nov 1. Toronto also will host the Invictus Games in late September 2017, a multi-sport event for wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and associated veterans. It’s a wonderful cause, for sure. http://www.invictusgames2017.com/ Toronto is supposed to get a couple new hotels in 2017: Hotel X at the growing Exhibition Grounds and the Bisha Hotel and Residences in the city’s Entertainment District, allegedly in February. The famous Fairmont Royal York has been given a multi-million-dollar renovation. The Museum of Contemporary Art will move to its new home in Toronto’s Lower Junction area in May of next year. The Under Gardiner “Bentway” is supposed to open sometime next year, with farmer’s markets, children’s gardens and community gathering spots along a 1.75 km urban train under the Gardiner Expressway. The annual Niagara Icewine Festival runs over three weekends in January of next year, from the 13th to the 29th.

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QUEBEC

The Tall Ships will be making a visit in late July, with 40 majestic ships gathering in the St. Lawrence River near old Quebec City. The annual New France Festival, with great performances and costumed folks milling about, runs Aug. 9-13 next year. It’s not new, but I had a great visit at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello in Quebec the other day. http://www.fairmont.com/montebello/ It’s a marvellous property on the Ottawa River, backed by beautiful rolling hills. The fall colours were simply astonishing this year. I also had a night at the new Renaissance in Montreal, which was a bold lobby design that should appeal to millennials and hipsters and a very nice pan-Asian restaurant called East. They’re doing a massive renovation at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, with stylish new rooms, a John Lennon and Yoko Ono suite to mark the spot where they held their famous bed-in for peace in 1969. They also will have an urban market, considered a first for a Canadian hotel, with fresh food and a bakery, a fine chocolate and crepe station and more. IHG is adding a new Holiday Inn in downtown Montreal next year, with 225 rooms. It’s slated to open in mid-July.

MARITIMES AND NEWFOUNDLAND

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the fateful Halifax Explosion during World War I, one of Canada’s worst disasters ever. On a more uplifting note, the tall ships will be in Halifax at the end of July, likely the 28th to the 31st. They have an annual Food and Film Festival in Wolfville, Nova Scotia called Devour. The next one goes Nov. 2-6 this year.

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I didn’t realize this, but Nova Scotia has a great program where you can dine on the ocean floor on the Bay of Fundy at low tide, with a four-course meal paired with local wines and a sommelier on hand. Sounds fantastic! Things are booming in Newfoundland. The Fogo Island Inn has been getting a lot of the attention but things are definitely also happening in St. John’s, where a new ALT Hotel from the Le Germain people will open next year. They’re going to have an outdoor patio near the harbour, which sounds great. IHG is adding a Holiday Inn Express at St. John’s Airport next year, as well as one in Halifax. I didn’t get a chance to meet with the folks from western Newfoundland this time around, but it’s a great part of the province. I love Bonne Bay and also Gros Morne National Park. Oh, and also Twillingate. The Sydney Boutique Inn is being built in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, with 18 rooms in the former Notre Dame convent that dates to 1857. Sounds like a very cool addition to the PEI hotel inventory. Apparently they had a record number of visitors on PEI this summer. Things were so busy they had to set up pop-up camp sites for people who couldn’t find a hotel room. On another note, they’re working on the Stompin’ Tom Connors tribute centre in Skinners Pond, PEI, where he grew up. They say it should open in summer of next year. In New Brunswick, the world pond hockey championship in Plaster Cove runs from Feb. 16-19. I was hugely impressed with the province’s Acadian spirit on a recent visit. The annual Festival acadien de Caraquet runs in northern New Brunswick every year in early August.

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