What a fantastic year. Our 150th birthday as a country, and another 12 months of a ridiculously overbooked travel schedule. Here’s a look back at some Canadian highlights of 2017, including great BBQ in B.C., sleeping in a former brothel in the Yukon and a sleek southern Ontario winery run almost entirely by women.
The “How Did I Not Know How Beautiful This Place Was” Destination of the Year: Eastern Townships, Quebec. Lovely villages, surprisingly large hills and great places to stay, including Auberge West Brome (https://www.awb.ca/en/), Spa Eastman (http://www.spa-eastman.com/en/) and Ripplecove Lakefront Hotel and Spa. (http://ripplecove.com/en/)
Best sporting moment: I got to attend the first-ever game at the new home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. A beautiful stadium and wonderful, crazy, passionate fans. https://www.riderville.com/
Best Whisky: Gretzky’s Red Cask Whisky, aged in wine barrels. Smooth and delicious. His new winery and distillery in Niagara-on-the-Lake features beautiful design and a skating rink with a “lucky loonie” at centre ice. http://www.gretzkyestateswines.com/
Best imitation of a Florida tiki bar: The Anchor and Wheel Inn on Ontario’s Pelee Island, right down to the Jimmy Buffett tunes and goofy nautical décor. http://www.anchorwheelinn.com/
Best night in a former brothel: Bombay Peggy’s in Dawson City, one of the best towns in Canada. I’m not at liberty to elaborate on my stay. http://bombaypeggys.com/
Best snacks and drinks at a former strip club: A preview evening prior to the opening of the Broadview Hotel in Toronto, an awesome spot in the burgeoning east end of the City. http://www.thebroadviewhotel.ca/
Most striking B and B: Chateau La Motte in Woodstock, Ontario. A handsome exterior and a truly magnificent interior with gleaming wood and tons of old-style craftsmanship. They have a variety of nice rooms and the owners are lovely. They make a great breakfast, too. https://www.chateaulamotte.ca/
Favourite photo of a provincial legislative building: I loved this little girl running in front of me as I got this shot of the legislature in Regina, a handsome and attractive bit of architecture.
Most impressive meal: A “make your own ravioli” lesson followed by a four-course meal in the kitchen at TOCA, the wildly wonderful Italian restaurant inside the Toronto Ritz-Carlton hotel. http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/canada/toronto/dining/toca
Favourite airport hotel: Hands down the Fairmont at Vancouver International. A five-minute walk from baggage claim, plus a great restaurant and bar, wonderful service and lovely rooms. One of the top properties in Canada, period. http://www.fairmont.com/vancouver-airport-richmond/
Best Salad: The East Coast Salad at 2 Doors Down in Halifax, with local greens, Nova Scotia peaches, toasted coconut, goat cheese, radishes (you still with me?) and a golden beet vinaigrette. https://www.go2doorsdown.com/
Favourite hotel amenity: At the graceful Kensington Riverside Inn in Calgary, they leave a pot of coffee outside your room for when you wake up and need a hit of caffeine. Lovely rooms and a fine restaurant, too. http://www.kensingtonriversideinn.com/
Best chopper ride: A trip over Niagara Falls with Niagara Helicopters. A fantastic ride. https://www.niagarahelicopters.com/
Most artsy new hotel: The Andaz Ottawa does a great job celebrating Canadian art and local crafts people. A killer rooftop bar, too. https://ottawa.andaz.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html
Best urban walk: The Battery neighbourhood walk in St. John’s might be the best city walk on the planet, with colourful homes, glorious ocean/bay views and tall, rocky headlands you can climb just minutes from downtown. https://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/
Top winter thrill: The Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster at Blue Mountain, Ontario; a super-fun downhill sled ride. https://www.bluemountain.ca/things-to-do/activities/ridge-runner-coaster
Up-and-coming Canadian neighbourhood #1: 104th St. Northwest in Edmonton’s Ice District, just down from the new Rogers Place arena. Fab food and local shopping (try Habitat Etc. for cool YEG t-shirts) in a series of handsome, historic buildings. www.exploreedmonton.com
Most unexpected hotel find: The Grove Hotel in Kingsville, just outside Windsor, is fun and funky and the sort of thing might expect on West Queen West in Toronto or Vancouver’s Gastown district. My room had a wall of old license plates, a functioning stoplight (thankfully you can turn it off at night) and tons of other quirky details. http://mygrovehotel.com/
Best quote about wine: Quebec winemaker Leon Courville had this to say about his style of wine-making: “I don’t want something that starts big and then goes ‘pfffffttt’ after two seconds. I call that a quickie.” Okay, then. http://www.leoncourville.com/en/home
Poshest new hotel: I only saw it during its latter stages of construction and haven’t been since it opened, but The Bisha in downtown Toronto has a sleek, South Beach vibe and a killer rooftop pool. http://bisha.com/
Coolest winery: Down near Lake Erie in southwest Ontario, Burning Kiln makes great wine. And almost all the senior workers are women. http://www.burningkilnwinery.ca/
Best donut place: Donut Mill is a fine, old-time spot outside Red Deer, on the highway between Edmonton and Calgary. http://www.donutmill.ca/
Silly Jim shot #1: This one, taken in one of those dress-up places with goofy costumes you can wear. This one was in Dawson City, one of my favourite places in Canada.
Best Western Canada restaurant: Sticks and Stones in Saskatoon. This is run by the same folks who operate Ayden Kitchen and Bar and also Little Grouse on the Prairie (see below). They do a magical job with Asian food of all sorts and make zingy craft cocktails, too. http://www.grassrootsrestaurantgroup.ca/
Best Toronto restaurant: I loved the variety of food at The Good Son on Queen St. West; everything from Korean to awesome pizza. The homey décor also is a ton of fun and the serving staff excellent. http://thegoodsontoronto.com/
Up-and-coming Canadian neighbourhood #2: The East Village of London, Ontario. A very cool district with passionate folks selling locally made goods and terrific restaurants such as The Root Cellar, which specializes in organic food. https://www.londontourism.ca/
Favourite B&B: A Schooner Inn is a small place outside St. John’s run by Colette Kavanagh, one of the funniest, liveliest and most engaging people in a province full of them. Her lobster adventure features great cooking lessons and some lively dancing with Newfoundland “ugly sticks.” One of the best things I did all year. http://www.aschoonerinn.com/
Best light show: The one they had inside Notre Dame for Montreal’s 375th birthday; with swirling colours and shapes played out inside Canada’s most magnificent church. https://www.mtl.org/en d
Most surprising beach town: Regina Beach, Saskatchewan. A nice beach on a pretty lake along with quirky shops and restaurants, including the historic Blue Bird Café. http://www.reginabeach.ca/
Most surprising food city: Edmonton had three restaurants in the recent En Route list of the top 10 new dining spots in Canada. I had great meals earlier this year at Baijiu and Rostizado, as well as Bar Clementine, which took fifth place on the list. I didn’t get to try Ono Poke, which features Hawaiian-style marinated fish, but I hear great things. https://exploreedmonton.com/
Best value meal: HK BBQ Master in Richmond, B.C. For about $13 you’ll get a big scoop of fluffy white rice and three kinds of glorious barbecued meat. https://www.facebook.com/pages/HK-BBQ-Master/146374932074763 Try the Richmond Dumpling Trail for awesome Asian food.
Best spa: Scandinave Spa, Town of the Blue Mountains, Ontario. Beautiful spot with relaxing pools, saunas and more. https://www.scandinave.com/blue-mountain/en/
Best concert: Seeing Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea at the ampitheatre at Jackson-Triggs winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The winery also does a remarkable dinner in their basement barrel room. http://www.jacksontriggswinery.com/
Favourite new shop: Liz and Lottie; a fun and bright store in the fast-growing East Village area of Calgary. http://lizandlottie.ca/
Coolest small town discovery: Baysville, Ontario. Great food and colourful characters at Goodies in a Jar, Fork in the Road and The Humble Pie bakery. http://www.discovermuskoka.ca/
Best overall hotel: The Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland. A wonderful place to stay that gives back to the community and is making a huge difference in people’s lives. http://www.fogoislandinn.ca/
Best restaurant east of Toronto: The Merchant Tavern in St. John’s Newfoundland. A hip, beautiful place with a great, urban feel, terrific drinks and fantastic food. Everything you could ask for in a restaurant. http://themerchanttavern.ca/
Best story that may or may not be true: On a tour of Ontario’s Pelee Island, I spotted a tree covered with old pairs of running shoes. My tour guide said she’d heard that a runner arrived from Toronto for the island’s half marathon a few years ago and realized upon arrival that he had forgotten his running shoes. Someone took him to the tree, he found a pair, and took part in the race.
Silly Jim shot #2: This photo was taken at the home of a couple of rabid Saskatchewan Rough Rider fans, who have a collection of just about everything you can manage in Rider Green and White.
Best new museum: The recently opened Remai Modern in Saskatoon is a glorious space that features wonderful local art and almost all the linocuts made by Pablo Picasso. https://remaimodern.org/
Best hiking trail I didn’t know: The Skerwink Trail near Port Rexton, Newfoundland. An up-and-down trail with glorious coastal views, and not even remotely difficult. https://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/
Best hiking trail I did know but loved seeing again: A two-minute walk from the Long Point Lighthouse in Twillingate, Newfoundland takes you to some of the most dramatic scenery in Canada. https://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com
Up-and-coming Canadian neighbourhood #3: Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Try a meal at The Canteen restaurant, then stop in at New Scotland Yard, a combination espresso coffee place, barber shop/salon and record store. http://www.destinationhalifax.com/
Best chocolates: ODG (it stands for Old Dutch Guys) in surprisingly trendy Kingsville, Ontario, just outside of Windsor. Margaret Atwood apparently raved about a chocolate bird they made. https://www.odgchocolate.com/
Favourite night spot: They do regular dance hall parties at a restored 1930 hall in Watrous, Saskatchewan called Danceland. When I was there two elderly ladies were playing the organ and piano. It was Toonie Tuesdays so it only cost a couple bucks to get in. There were maybe 50 people in the place and most of them were even older than me. But they danced gracefully around the floor and held each other and smiled and laughed. I left with a smile on my face as wide as the prairie sky.