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Top Canada spots for 2018: St. John’s, Saskatoon and lots more

Our 150th birthday party is almost over. But there’s still a lot to celebrate when you live in a country as great as ours. Here’s one traveller’s take on great places to visit in Canada in our 151st year.

St. John’s

This has always been one of my favourite cities in Canada. It’s gotten even better lately with the addition of great restaurants such as The Merchant Tavern, a hip and happening spot run by the folks behind the very successful Raymonds. A new Alt Hotel recently opened in town, part of the marvellous, Montreal-based Groupe Germain that also operate Le Germain properties across the country. The hike along the Battery and out to Signal Hill is far from new, but it might be the best city walk on the planet.

A walk along The Battery is a great treat in St. John’s. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

Railtown, Vancouver

You’ve explored Gastown and Main Street and Yaletown and you’re looking for something new? Check out Railtown, which is home to great food, one of the city’s top craft breweries and chic shopping. I loved the beer at Postmark Brewery, which is located inside an historic building that also houses Belgard Kitchen, a fine place to eat. The Italian food is great at Ask for Luigi

Belgard Kitchen is a beautifil dining spot in Vancouver’s Railtown district. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

Hamilton

This is a city that’s very much on the rise, with great new restaurants such as Nique (the New York Times recently talked about their braised beef cheeks) and also Born and Raised from chef Vittorio Colacitti, who also runs The Good Son on Queen St. West in Toronto. There’s increasingly cool shopping on James St. I was there a year ago and really enjoyed my brief visit. They’re not new, of course, but the many waterfalls that spill over the majestic Niagara Escarpment in the Hamilton area, some of them minutes from downtown, make this city a great spot for nature lovers as well.

The Hamilton Farmers’ Market. PHOTO COURTESY HAMILTON TOURISM

Saskatoon

This is a city that has long punched above its weight, with beautiful parks along the South Saskatchewan River, cool hotels like the Delta Bessborough and the James Hotel, and great food. They’ve given their cultural scene a huge boost with the recent opening of the new Remai Modern, a stunning, brilliantly lit gallery on the banks of the river and steps from downtown Saskatoon. The museum features the largest collection of Picasso linocuts in the world and gorgeous display space for other works of art. You’ll find outstanding food at restaurants such as Sticks and Stones (amazing Asian dishes), The Hollows, Odd Couple and Little Grouse on the Prairie. Check out great shops, craft beer and fab food in the Riversdale area.

Try a ride on the Prairie Lily tour boat in Saskatoon for great views. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Rideau Canal, Ontario: This is a great attraction any year. But this year there’s something. The folks who run Le Boat operations in Europe plan to start house boat rentals on the historic Rideau Canal in eastern Ontario this summer. It’s supposed to be quite easy, and a lot of fun. They’ll start with 16 “state-of-the-art” Horizon cruisers.

The Rideau Canal in Ottawa. PHOTO COURTESY VISIT 1000 ISLANDS

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

This suburb of Halifax, easily reached by a short, $2.50 ferry ride, is one of the most buzz-worthy neighborhoods in the country these days. You’ll find excellent food at restaurants such as The Canteen , as well as what I’m told are crazy-good chocolate croissants at Two If By Sea. Kept is a wonderful home décor shop, while New Scotland Yard is a wild combination that features a record store, barber shop/salon and espresso coffee place all under one roof. So hip it hurts.

The Canteen in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia serves up excellent local fare in a bright, shiny environment. CANTEEN PHOTO

Edmonton

The food scene here has quietly become one of the strongest in Canada. Three Edmonton restaurants recently made EnRoute magazine’s list of the top 10 new food spots in the entire country. Bar Clementine, which I got to enjoy earlier this year, was number five on the list, while Café Linnea was sixth and Alder Room 10th.. I had great meals earlier this year at Rostizado and Baijiu, both on super-hot and trendy 104th Ave. Northwest in the booming Ice District. A new JW Marriott is being built and could open in a little more than a year.

Baijui serves up tremendous Asian fare in Edmonton. The chef also makes incredible pies when the mood strikes. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Yukon

This is one of the top destinations in Canada, with stunning scenery and colourful characters by the dozen. Whitehorse is a surprisingly diverse city with good food and spectacular walks and hiking close to town, while the towering mountains and glaciers of Kluane National Park make it one of the great treasures of the country. The Carcross desert isn’t far away; an oddity of sand dunes that always makes me shake my head with wonder. Dawson City is a fantastic town, with quirky shops, the Jack London and Robert Service cabins, and great places to stay like Bombay Peggy’s, a former brothel turned into a lovely B & B with a great bar in the back. For Yukon information: https://www.travelyukon.com/

The Yukon is home to magnficent lakes and vast mountain ranges. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

Eastern Townships

I’d driven through but had never spent any time in this part of Quebec until this summer. I loved the feel and the shops and the lake in the village of North Hatley and had a wonderful meal at Ripplecove Lakefront Hotel and Spa, sitting mere steps from Lake Massawippi. Try the wine at Leon Courville, overlooking Lac Brome. The food and ambience are lovely at Auberge West Brome, and you can’t beat a day or a night at Spa Eastman.

North Hatley is one of the prettiest villages in Canada and is a great gathering spot in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Saint John

I haven’t spent a ton of time here, but I really enjoyed my brief visit to this New Brunswick city last year. The city feels a bit like an Eastern, miniature version of San Francisco, with steep hills and beautiful old buildings. The people are fun and lively and there’s some very good shopping at independent shops along Prince William Street and other avenues just outside of downtown. For more info: http://www.discoversaintjohn.com/

Historic building facades in surprising Saint John, New Brunswick. TOURISM BOARD PHOTO

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