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A friend, who coincidentally writes on this site, is contemplating a trip to Canada next year. I promised to describe the places to visit, but what a task! I've decided to write a travelogue this month, but how do you encapsulate Canada's magnificence in 3,000 words?
The best place to start is home. Broadcaster Bill Richardson once described Guelph, Ontario, as the prettiest small city in Canada. Its wide streets, vibrant downtown, eccentric shops and galleries, two lovely rivers and big church on the highest hill evoke a European charm and the cosmopolitan whiff of a much larger place.
It shouldn't be hard to think of 30 places to visit in Canada, one per day, mostly ones I've visited.
If you visit Canada in late September or early October, don't miss the incredible fall colour in Ontario or Quebec. Many deciduous trees sport lovely coloured autumn leaves, but the sugar maple is king with a range of golden, orange, vermillion, scarlet and deep red crowns.
Algoma Central Railway runs day tours from Sault Ste. Marie to Agawa Canyon, a spectacular trip through rugged terrain into the heart of maple country and the most brilliantly coloured forest you can imagine.
I've visited eight of ten Canadian provinces (all but Saskatchewan and Newfoundland). Admittedly, British Columbia is the most beautiful. The Canadian Rockies are not as big as the Alps or Himalayas, but they are genuine mountains, rugged and scenic.
My first visit there was in summer 1980 as a teenager with my parents, brother and sister-in-law. I spent much of the trip photographing wildflowers, quite different from Ontario's.
One of the most beautiful places in Canada in June must be the flowering alpine meadows in Manning Park. It is also home to a protected indigenous species of rhododendron.
British Columbia is too far away from me, however I must lead you there a few days.
Vancouver is one of the most beautiful, interesting cities I have visited. Approached from the air on a clear day, it is stunning. In April the streets drift pink with cherry petals. Gastown is the historic downtown core. Vancouver has the second largest Chinatown in North America. Stanley Park is one of Canada's most famous city parks, larger than NYC's Central Park, encircled by a seawall and inhabited by half a million trees, some hundreds of years old. Capilano rope bridge is vertiginous.
The prettiest city I have ever visited is Victoria, provincial capital but much smaller than nearby Vancouver. It's worth the scenic ferry crossing to Vancouver Island. The historic Empress Hotel overlooking Victoria harbour is famous for its Edwardian afternoon tea, but the cost is prohibitive. Get acquainted with Emily Carr, a Post-Impressionist Canadian painter inspired by local indigenous culture. Victoria is the Garden City, favoured by mild Pacific climate but sunnier weather than most of the province receives. Take a driving tour of the city's private gardens, and visit Butchart Gardens, with the most stunning floral displays in Canada.
The most wonderful trip I ever took was in April 1987 when I was 23. I had loved BC so much the first time, I flew alone to Vancouver, rented a car, took the ferry and drove across Vancouver Island to Pacific Rim National Park. For several days I camped by the Pacific Ocean, beachcombing and taking photographs of sea anemones and hermit crabs in tide pools.
Mature temperate rainforest remains in the park. Everything is huge, from slugs to monumental western redcedars. They sprouted centuries ago from the still-visible rotting trunks of nurse trees. The forest is impenetrable.
The Inside Passage is a coastal shipping route from Alaska through British Columbia to Washington state, protected from dangerous weather conditions on the open Pacific Ocean and characterized by scenic fjords. It is home to numerous island communities such as Saltspring Island, favoured by artists. There is good camping on Hornby Island.
At midsummer, take an overnight cruise on a BC ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. At these high latitudes, the sky remains bright all night. You won't want to sleep, but remain up on the deck and watch the sky. If you're lucky you will see orcas.
Banff National Park and Jasper National Park on the inland, Alberta side of the Rockies, are among Canada's most famous tourist destinations.
At the lookout overlooking Peyto Lake, my brother pointed toward a mountain up the valley and told us it was 100 miles away.
My family climbed the trail to Mount Edith Cavell, where dainty heaths flowered amid the rocks by an incredibly blue glacier-fed lake. It was a solemn, misty place.
There are few places as scenic as Lake Louise, and it's tourist crowded. I didn't realize the sky would be deeper blue at such high altitudes.
Now we'll hop across five time zones to the other end of the country and the Atlantic Ocean. Nova Scotia is my other favourite province to visit, at least as beautiful as British Columbia but in a different way. It's famous for it's rocky coasts and lighthouses.
Perhaps there is no single place so evocative of the Maritime Provinces' landscape and seascape as Peggy's Cove. The quaint fishing village began attracting artists and tourists decades ago. Unfortunately its popularity has turned it into a tourist trap, but it is just a short drive from Halifax and still worth the visit.
One of the most interesting historic sites I've visited is Fort Louisbourg on the northeastern shore of Nova Scotia. The fort changed hands between the French and British several times in the mid 1700s.
My daughters and I arrived there on a misty, drizzly day in August (mist and fog are seldom faraway in the Maritimes), but the weather didn't dampen our enjoyment of the place. We went on a guided tour of the fortifications, and a small troup demonstrated the firing of muskets and cannon. Interpreters in period costume explained the significance of shops and residences in the town.
If you visit the Maritimes, don’t miss driving around Cape Breton. It's actually an island closely connected to the north end of Nova Scotia, representing the northernmost terrestrial tip of the Appalachian Mountains, one of the Eastern Canada's most rugged landscapes. The Cabot Trail highway circles the land mass, following edges of precipitous, windswept cliffs plunging hundreds of metres into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Brightly-painted Acadian fishing villages cluster around each harbour. Stop in Cape Breton National Park to hike through the mountaintop habitat. Departing the coast, you will cross the shining waters of Brad D’Or.
Let’s take a brief Ontario interlude. My family is spending this weekend at our cottage on one of the thousands of small lakes that dot the Canadian Shield. Canada claims a huge portion of the Earth’s freshwater, much of it here in Ontario. The landscape isn’t dramatic or awe-inspiring as other parts of Canada, but the Shield resists extensive habitation and development, so here close to urbanization we find a natural retreat. Yesterday after an exhilarating hike through the woods, Dad and I took a plunge off the dock. The water is chilly now, but clean, fragrant, refreshing the soul.
Returning to the Maritimes, we take a brief tour of the Bay of Fundy, known for the greatest vertical tidal ranges in the world. One of the best places to observe the tides is at Hopewell Rocks, near Moncton, New Brunswick.
However, my favourite is Brier Island off Digby Arm, Nova Scotia, at the mouth of the bay. It takes two ferry trips to get there. My daughters and I spent a blissful afternoon there watching the tide come in. While they plucked live crabs and shells from the tidepools, I watched black guillemots and king eiders riding the waves.
Prince Edward Island is charming, but lacks the rugged beauty of the other Maritime provinces. You should try Atlantic lobster, and many churches here serve lobster suppers.
The Cavendish area is famous as the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and related novels. It's a tourist trap, but worth visiting. Green Gables is part of PEI National Park, which is more notable for its red sand beaches and dunes. Here you can camp on the beach overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Charlottetown is known as the birthplace of Confederation, and offers interesting glimpses into Canadian history.
One of Canada's magical places is Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, on the west side of the Bay of Fundy, a two-hour ferry trip from Blacks Harbour. We camped at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground, heard minke whales breaching offshore through the night and watched seals raiding weir nets in the morning. Go whale-watching! Seal Cove provides a more authentic glimpse than Peggy's Cove of life in a fishing village. After a tour of the Maritimes, despite two days of constant fog and drizzle, my daughters and I agreed Grand Manan was our favourite part of the trip.
Any Canadian travelogue would be remiss without a significant mention of Newfoundland and Labrador. Unfortunately I have never visited the province.
In 1960 the remains of a Norse village were discovered at L'Anse aux Meadows. It is the only widely-accepted evidence of Pre-Columbian exploration of North America outside Greenland.
Newfoundland is famous for its rugged beauty, picturesque harbours, fishing economy, wet and foggy weather, and friendly hospitality. Newfoundland Screech is a notoriously strong rum.
Gros Morne National Park, designated a World Heritage Site, is a rare example of deep ocean crust and Earth's mantle exposed by plate tectonics.
The other province I have never visited is Saskatchewan. Unfortunately I can't tell much about it. Many Canadians probably think of it as the middle Prairie province, not a tourist destination.
Someday I want to drive across the Prairies from Winnipeg to Calgary to get a feel for the big open sky. I got a little taste last spring when we drove to Winnipeg.
Much farming goes on there, but Saskatchewan is also home to plenty of natural beauty. Grasslands Provincial Park contains some of the only surviving undisturbed short-grass prairie.
The sasktourism.com webiste provides some interesting hints.
I've never visited the Far North. Three territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut) encompass the Canadian Arctic. It's relatively inaccessible but, by all accounts, worth the trouble. Nunavut alone is the size of Western Europe populated by 29,000 mostly Inuit.
I recommend reading Arctic Dreams, essays about the land and its discovery, by Barry Lopez. Then you'll want to visit the Arctic.
A vast diversity of wildlife lives and breeds, notably narwhals, belugas, polar bears, and legions of seabirds. The region is highly sensitive to climate change, so the environment and way of life have begun to alter drastically.
Winnipeg is cultural centre of Manitoba. You could easily spend a week without getting bored.
Manitoba Legislature is one of the most fascinating buildings in Canada, with bizarre acoustics in the rotunda under the central dome. Other interesting sites are the burned-out Cathedral Saint-Boniface, and The Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.
A 45-minute drive north, Oak Hammock Marsh provides outstanding nesting habitat for waterfowl and other birds.
I didn't have time to explore south of Winnipeg, but the farmland offers a taste of Amish culture. A friend recommended Spirit Sands at Spruce Woods Provincial Park.
Anglophones generally call it Quebec City, but residents of the province simply refer to the provincial capital as Quebec. Founded alongside the St. Lawrence River by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608, it is one of the oldest European cities in North America, still possessing much Old World character. There are numerous walking tours of picturesque streets and historic buildings around the old city.
When my daughters and I visited in 2005, we camped at la parc national de la Jacques-Cartier in the Laurentian Mountains north of the city. We had little time to explore, but how beautiful!
Travelling east from Quebec City along the Trans-Canada Highway lies a spectacular landscape following the St. Lawrence River for 180 km. The Laurentian Mountains lie to the north, Appalachians to the south, with patchwork farmland rolling down to the broad waterway between. Village churches twinkle in the distance. Odd, picturesque formations rise at intervals from the valley. The TCH eventually turns south into New Brunswick, but someday I want to follow the St. Lawrence further and explore the rugged and beautiful Gaspé Peninsula. At its tip lies Percé Rock, with one of the largest natural arches in the world.
Montréal is the city of festivals: food, film, music. See what's happening on www.go-montreal.com.
Museums, galleries and historic sites keep visitors occupied for weeks. I recommend Jardin botanique de Montréal and the Biodome, which houses four constructed ecosystems from the Americas complete with macaws, penguins and St. Lawrence fishes.
Old Montréal is younger but more extensive than Old Québec, featuring restored cobbled streets, markets, buskers and circulating carriages.
Québec society has long been a forerunner of human rights. The Gay Village along Rue Ste.-Catherine offers vibrant night life and excellent dining.
The rest of the month will concentrate on the most populous province, Ontario, starting with Canada's largest city, Toronto. It's the world's most cosmopolitan city: 49% born outside Canada.
Things to do and see: Royal Ontario Museum, Kensington Market, Toronto Island, High Park, shops and galleries along Queen Street West, Textile Museum of Canada, fine dining everywhere (all kinds of ethnic food: Chinatown, Little Portugal, Greektown, Ethiopian), Casa Loma, Art Gallery of Ontario, St. Lawrence Market, Allan Gardens, films at Carlton Cinemas, go up the CN Tower (prohibitively expensive), Honest Ed's, Bata Shoe Museum, Harbourfront, and especially Greg's Ice Dream.
If you enjoy live theatre, attend the Stratford Festival running April through October. Since the first season in 1953 opened with Alec Guinness, the festival has brought international stage stars to appear in Shakespeare and various other plays and musicals.
My parents took me on an annual pilgrimage to Statford. I saw Maggie Smith play Lady Macbeth, and Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn as Titania and Bottom. Allow time for a picnic lunch by the Avon River.
Stratford`s renown is rivalled by the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, an historic town worth visiting for its own sake.
From Niagara-on-the-Lake it's a short drive to Niagara Falls. Along the way, Fort George represents the War of 1812 and a critical moment in Canadian history.
Niagara Falls is the ultimate tourist trap, however if you can look past the desecration, it is truly awesome. The Canadian side offers the best vantage from which to view Horsewhoe Falls and the American Falls. The Maid of the Mist offers boat tours into mist and churning waters at the base of the falls. I recommend Journey Behind the Falls, with an observation deck and tunnel running behind the falls.
The 800 km Bruce Trail follows the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara Falls to Bruce Peninsula.
My favourite place to camp (anywhere) is Cyprus Lake Campground in Bruce Peninsula National Park. Hike to nearby cliffs plunging into Georgian Bay, explore grottoes and swim through an underwater tunnel. The water is coral sea blue but chilly.
Singing Sands stretches forever and you can wade into the Lake Huron sunset. You'll find rare and exquisite wildflowers.
Visit Tobermory harbour and take a glass-bottom boat tour of shipwrecks and the underwater escarpment, or get dropped off for a few hours on Flowerpot Island.
Ottawa bears the dubious distinction of being one of the coldest national capitals in the world, second to Ulaanbaatar. The city makes the most of it by holding Winterlude, featuring ice sculpture and a snow playground. Rideau Canal becomes the largest natural skating rink in the world. I've never visited Ottawa in winter. Maybe this year!
Parliament Hill is beautiful and offers a great vantage from which to view the Ottawa River. You will also want to take in ByWard Market, the National Gallery and the Museum of Civilization.
North of the city, Gatineau Park offers extensive hiking and camping.
Algonquin Provincial Park represents the closest experience many Canadians have with wilderness. It is a three hour drive north of Toronto. It contains 2,400 lakes, hundreds of kilometres of rivers and canoe routes, and numerous hiking trails exploring a variety of habitats carved by the retreat of glaciers. There is some drive-in camping, but the best way to explore and camp in Algonquin is by canoe. On one trip with my daughter several years ago, I was fortunate to see two wolves on an early morning stroll. The fall colour here is striking. Algonquin has inspired many artists.
The most beautiful stretch of road I have ever driven is Highway 17, part of the Trans-Canada Highway around the north shore of Lake Superior. Widely spaced settlements dot boreal forest, with sudden dramatic vistas of ancient mountains and headlands against the unpredictable solemnity and wildness of the world`s largest freshwater lake. En route you can visit natural wonders like Ouimet Canyon, Sleeping Giant, Pukaskwa National Park and Lake Superior National Park.
CBC`s Songquest has a vote running until tomorrow to commission a new road song. Vote for Highway 17. Go to CBC/Songquest and click Ontario.
I'll end this travelogue of Canada close to home again, this time near the home where I grew up.
Point Pelee is the southernmost mainland point of Canada, a sandspit running into Lake Erie. It's famous as one of the best places to observe bird migration in eastern North America. The best time is late April and early May. In September it's an important staging ground for monarch butterflies on their impossible voyage to winter over in Mexico. Warm Point Pelee is also home to many unusual species near the northern extent of their range.
Enjoy your trip to Canada!
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