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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Canada.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Canada.
There is a part of the traveller in all of us that is constantly scouting for those ‘off the beaten track’ hideaways, yet some destinations manage to stand the test of tourist time, resplendent despite the crowds. The Canadian Rockies is one such location. Whether enjoying vistas from lookouts visited for generations, or venturing backcountry to areas opened by daring Swiss mountaineers, this mountain utopia shall always remain iconic.
Intrigued by the timeless allure of the Rockies, I joined the cohort venturing to this alpine heartland and thus found myself one evening canoeing on a lake so aqua-hued it was almost luminescent. The surrounding forests, crags and glaciers were reflected on the glassy surface, the jagged peaks above looking like a dragon’s spine cutting through the clouds. Alone except for a swooping American dipper, I absorbed the scene, understanding why this range, so visceral in nature, has drawn visitors for over a century.
I had begun my adventure in Calgary, known as the ‘Gateway to the Rockies’ yet often overlooked as a destination in itself. This cowboy-town-turned-sleek-city, famed for the annual Calgary Stampede, is full of entrepreneurial spirit, especially in the diversifying culinary scene with vibrant bars and restaurants replacing the saloons of yesteryear. Hotel Arts, with its stimulating design and welcoming atmosphere, was the perfect base for exploration, the sophisticated art around the poolside patio an ideal conversation starter. Meals from Raw Bar can be enjoyed at this central hub, their reimagining of Vietnamese fare and exotic fusion of ingredients adding a little spice to the experience. Hotel bikes are a great way to exercise after a breakfast of pancakes (covered in layers of citrus Chantilly and strawberry rhubarb compote with a hibiscus twist) at Yellow Door Bistro. From standing on the nerve-wracking Perspex floor of Calgary Tower to cycling through the oasis of Prince’s Island Park (part of the city’s myriad of people-friendly cycleways) or getting lost in the chic shops of Inglewood, Calgary is an urban destination with much to offer.
Emerging culinary ventures have their own signature style. At the lively Native Tongues Taqueria traditional Mexican street food fills the menu, and sharing plates (and eating with your hands) are wholeheartedly encouraged. In the revitalised East Village the kitchen of Sidewalk Citizen Bakery buzzes as chefs work on their specialities. Okanagan fruit is canned for out-of-season use and olives are marinated in beetroot and orange juice to burst with flavour. The results are mouthwatering. The granola is golden, the shakshuka is hearty and the chocolate croissant, a mere ten minutes out of the oven, is buttery heaven.
On the bar front Cannibale, with its relaxed prairie vibe, is where men venture for a pampering shave, with as much care and thought given to the close shave as there is to preparing the perfect cocktail. Just as plentiful hot towels prepare the skin, glasses are smoked over applewood to ensure their Chairman of the Board martini is a smooth, smoky affair. Equally flavoursome is Proof, a sophisticated bar mixing east coast style with an industrial wine library and a splash of quirk. From the enchanting illustrations on the menus to the stories that accompany the cocktails (ask about the Anne Bonny), Proof’s artistic flair is obvious.
Taste buds satisfied it was time to discover the Rockies, and as I drove east the prairies quickly gave way to forested foothills and then alpine splendour as Banff, Canada’s first National Park, came into view. Travelling in July did mean I was one of many enjoying the scenery and wanting space from the tourist buses and s el fie-snapping crowds, I headed to Moraine Lake for some backcountry solitude. With over 6,640 square kilometres of national park I knew serenity could be found.
Driving through Vancouver at dusk, its Manhattan-esque skyscrapers emanating a homely glow, you can’t help but notice the mountains. A few shades darker than the evening sky, they tower over the city, reminding you that in this marvellous metropolis nature is never far away.
Given its proximity to the natural world (and the subsequent allure of foraging and regional fare), it’s little wonder that Vancouver’s foodie scene is rather revolutionary. With daring chefs and a bumper larder, menus inspire and flavours are anything but expected. But before delving into this realm of restaurants and food trucks we must first meet the city that makes it all possible.
As an introduction to Vancouver I spent a morning with Alfred Esmeijer from Vancouver Private Tours and Charters, a man able to recall the story behind almost every building we visited. Together we admired the Law Courts, designed by architect Arthur Erickson to look like a 55 storey building placed on its side and covered in greenery, and the Marine Building, an Art Deco dream adorned in gold and creatures from the deep. Nearby the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, frequented by everyone from Edith Piaf to Nina Simone, reminds you of the 1920s when art and music flourished, despite prohibition’s best efforts. The Burrard Bridge is another Deco delight best admired from Granville Island. Once a hub of industry, Granville Island is now home to a vibrant food market and a collection of artist galleries and studios, performance art venues, ever-smiling buskers and cement silos painted like people.
Across the city public art and green spaces abound, the most iconic of which is Stanley Park. Larger than New York’s Central Park, this 1,000 acre oasis is hugged by Vancouver Harbour and English Bay, brims with fir and cedar forests and is best explored by bike which hotels, like the boutique Loden, will gladly lend to guests. Luxurious and pet-friendly, the Loden flaunts elegant earth-hued interiors and soft furnishings that invoke the colours of the natural world. Floor to ceiling windows and an abundance of mirrors invite the city’s natural light into the opulent rooms, while from cloud-like beds – there is a selection of pillows so slumber is guaranteed – you can look out over the Downtown rooftops. For a comfortable and decadent experience I’d recommend ordering room service from the hotel’s French bistro and making a night of it.
To explore Chinatown, I joined Judy Lam Maxwell from Historical Chinatown Tours. Meeting in Sai Woo, a restaurant that has existed, in various forms, for over 100 years, we wandered into aromatic pharmacies selling everything from ginseng to dried gecko and learnt about the world that exists behind Pender Street’s history-rich facades. There are 12 recognised association buildings in Chinatown, each linked to various societies, be they clan, county or political organisation, and initially established to fight discrimination and help new arrivals, drawn to Canada by the Gold Rush and the promise of work with the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Today, they function almost like retirement communities, yet it’s not difficult to imagine how vital they once were, promoting the idea that you’re stronger as an extended family and that if it’s possible to help others, then that is exactly what one should do.
London to New York. New York to Halifax. Halifax to here. I had left home tired from the weight of living and working in the bustling city. I was still that and more as our flight, hours delayed, landed with a thud, the force waking me suddenly. It is said that John Cabot the explorer cried, “O buona vista” (oh, happy sight) when he first set his eyes on this land in 1497. In the sharp fluorescent light of St John’s Airport at 12 a.m., it felt anything but. Then again, you know what they say about first impressions.
The weather had changed for the worse just before our arrival the previous evening, as it often seems to do for travellers. It wasn’t a day to be on a boat, yet here we were, heading out of the harbour on the promise of seeing an iceberg near Cape Spear, one of the hundreds calved from glaciers in the Arctic that slowly make the journey as far as St John’s every year.
I stood on the upper deck, one eye scanning the horizon and the other searching for my sea legs below. The roll of the boat left me uneasy and I struggled to maintain my focus until an icy white mass came into view, seemingly stranded on the shallows closer to shore. As we cautiously approached the dry-dock-shaped behemoth the stark white of her top seemed surreal against the backdrop of the sheer, dark cliffs of the coastline behind her. Ten thousand years and a little bit more had brought her to this point, the result of ice, snow and rain slowly combining and compressing to become what I saw before me. Closer still, I found her body rippled through with streaks of every shade of blue, formed by meltwater that had found its way into cracks and crevasses and frozen, bubble-free, over the years, trapped until it would one day be released back into the world, perhaps to begin the same journey once again. I realised that this would no doubt be soon as the mesmerising roll of the Atlantic Ocean swell carved and carved again at her base in a patient battle which could only have one outcome, but which she endured stoically nonetheless.
The roll of the ocean was replaced by the undulating hills of the Avalon Peninsula as we journeyed south along The Irish Loop, weaving our way through the small villages that dot the coast. With time to think and explore we stopped wherever or whenever the fancy took us. A hidden pond here, to dip our feet in the cold water. An ocean lookout there, to gaze out over the rocky coast to where ships – famous and lesser known – had been wrecked in the sea beyond. A walk along some forest track, one of the many on the eastern coast, to see where it might lead and the treasures it might hold.
Growing up in a small town tucked away in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, the majesty of Mother Nature was always something I felt connected to. I spent my childhood weaving in and out of pine trees, splashing through streams and watching the sun rise over the snowy white peaks of the Rockies. But as I grew older I became detached from this natural home of mine and it wasn’t long until I realised just how much I yearned to reconnect. I wanted to see more of my home province, the self-declared ‘best place on earth’.
My first cycling trip was a solo expedition, a backcountry ride up and over the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide from my hometown of Cranbrook to ‘the big city’, Calgary. During the five day journey I ventured into the provincial parks, riding alone, watching the trees get bigger and the sky get bluer. There were moments of fear, when I startled a bear early one morning after sleeping in a hunting cabin, and of sheer delight, when I came across a roadside cafe offering unlimited refills of lemonade in the summer heat. But the biggest thing I took away from this trip was a desire to see more of my country on two wheels. Over the next five years I set out on six more of these expeditions, some lasting a few summer days and some three months as I cycled my way across three of Canada’s western provinces. There is something magical about touring a country by bicycle. It becomes an entirely sensory adventure. You are able to hear more; the familiar sounds of your bicycle’s mechanics or the cadence of your breathing. Smells become stronger as the wildflowers and berries lining Canada’s highways invite you to pull over for a longer sample. Flavours are sweeter, whether it’s water poured from a glacial stream or cherries plucked from a tree. You feel the air, wind and rain and the environment becomes not just something you witness, but something you experience. And you see so much more – details in the landscape, animals peeking from the protection of the woods, trees and mountains changing as you move from climate to climate. The daily comforts evolve into luxurious moments of bliss. Clean laundry is not a chore but a sought out opportunity and a cup of coffee isn’t just a push to get going in the morning but a chance to light a fire, boil some water and enjoy the entire process.
Travelling by bicycle makes you more than just a tourist; you’re an adventurer, a voyager. People greet you outside grocery stores with freshly baked bread and ask about your journey. On my cycling trips I relied on the kindness of strangers many times after flat tyres or incorrect navigation. The bicycle adds a new dimension; it carries with it this sense of purpose. You are not just here to see the world. You are here to embrace it.
When travelling in the second largest country in the world, you have to be a bit fussy about what you want to see. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an unlimited time option and you simply cannot underestimate the size of this place; it’s huge!
My own adventure began in Calgary and ended in Vancouver, taking me across one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world: the Canadian Rockies. These mountains stretch across the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, with ice-capped peaks, dramatic wilderness, glacier-fed lakes, beautiful National Parks and a diverse range of wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else.
Knowing that Canada had more lakes than the rest of the world’s lakes combined, and some of the most majestic waterfalls known to the Earth, I knew I was in for a treat. As soon as I stepped foot out of the city and into the vast wilderness of the Canadian Rockies’ National Parks, I couldn’t help but be amazed by everything I saw. From every angle and with each blink, there was something new to ogle at, be it colossal mountains, crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, Elk grazing on the side of the road, or even the occasional black bear; my immediate thought was, how can you not fall in love with Canada?
I was lucky enough to be in what was turning out to be one of the most spectacular sceneries in the world, and no less with a new camera that promised me spectacular shots. I had organised to review the Fujifilm X-E2S, an X Series great that had made its name in the photography industry, both for professional and amateur use from its release in January 2016. Although slightly overshadowed by the release of the Fujifilm X-Pro2 (their newest flagship model), this retro style mirrorless camera was marketed as a durable, compact and lightweight answer to travel photography – a welcome solution to having to lug around a heavy digital SLR, whilst still maintaining high quality images.
Most people’s go-to travel cameras are very compact, light and easy to use, but unfortunately, these often result in photographs that leave you feeling a bit disappointed. I am usually the other extreme from this point of view, having taken my Nikon DSLR everywhere with me since I was a teenager, including across Asia, Europe, the USA and the Caribbean. So, it was a big step for me to switch to the X-E2s. Having said that, I immediately saw the benefits of such a light body and lens combination – it fit nicely in my daypack and produced no strain at all when carrying it around my neck. I was looking forward to discovering more about what this little camera could do and knew some of its features would become very useful with such wonderful scenery surrounding me.
The Rocky Mountains are over 70 million years old with a peak height of 14,440 feet, providing some pretty beautiful geological sights for those that are interested. The higher you go, the more the peaks protrude into jagged edges with thick folds of snow covering their steep inclines.
There are few feelings that can surpass those of standing on top of a mountain, high above the treeline, breathing in the purest of air and gazing across mile upon mile of snow-capped peaks; clipping yourself into your skis, the sense of anticipation mounting; pushing off and feeling that first rush of snow sliding smoothly past underneath you; gathering momentum as you head downwards ever faster; and hearing the soft swish of your skis cutting brand new lines as you fly down tree-lined slopes, where ice sparkles on evergreens rising softly against wintry blue skies. But what if that mountain was not just any mountain, but a Rocky Mountain, surrounded on all sides by the vast monoliths of more Rocky Mountains, wending their craggy way through a UNESCO World Heritage Site? What if those mountains were sliced through by runs that go on and on as far as the eye can see, winding through a wintery wonderland of dramatic frozen waterfalls, frosty forests, plunging glaciers and glacial bowls running down to cosy towns — not to mention beautiful frozen lakes, and an even more beautiful ice castle on one of those lakes? What if the snow under your skis was the world-famous Rocky Mountain powder, ski lifts came with heated seats, queues were often non-existent, and you could even enjoy some wildlife spotting on your way down, deep as you are in Canadas oldest national park? One of the largest ski areas in North America, Lake Louise Ski Resort offers spectacular views, gloriously long runs and a huge diversity of terrain for beginner, intermediate and expert skiers and riders alike.
Big open bowls beckon for those just finding their ski feet; twisting chutes and gullies up the ante for the more adventurous. Just southeast from Lake Louise is Sunshine Village: tucked up high at 9,000 feet, with runs that cut across the Continental Divide (and two Canadian provinces), its 3,300 acres of ski and snowboarding terrain include the 12-acre Rogers Terrain Park for boarders and Delirium Dive for truly challenging terrain. And then there’s Banff, the bustling hub of the Canadian Rockies — and the perfect base for cross-country skiing. Out in the backcountry you can venture along groomed tracks through virgin territory, pass by historic pioneer log cabins, explore dense forests and even traverse lakes, the stillness broken only by a puff of wind or a soft release of snow from an overladen branch.
And when you’ve carved, schussed, traversed and free-ridden to your heart’s content, this wintery wonderland also provides a breathtaking backdrop for a wealth of alternative snow-based pastimes. Adrenaline junkies can take on snowtubing at Mount Norquay (complete with towing system back up the hill) — or try their hand at ice climbings starting at Banff’s indoor climbing wall, moving on to the exhilarating experience of waterfall ice-climbing with some of the talented Yamnuska guides (half- or full-day lessons), and perhaps even tackling the technical challenge of the iconic Mount Columbia or Mount Temple.
Gentler winter experiences include guided snowshoeing trips among the serene Rockies scenery ice-walking tours along glittering frozen canyons, romantic sleigh rides, or ice-skating under starry skies (don’t miss an early evening glide on Lake Louise its elf). Rush through forested paths, pulled along by enthusiastic dogs, cycle over softly crunching snow on fat bikes; gaze at awe-inspiring views from the Grizzly Gondola, marvel at the masterpieces that the international ice carvers create over a 34-hour competition in the January Ice Magic Festival. Then wrap up another wonderful day with a torch-lit dinner and a downhill or cross-country ski, experiencing the Rockies from a truly magical, moonlit perspective.
Glistening glaciers. Snowy peaks reflecting in the lakes. Brown bears prowling alpine forests. Canada’s national parks offer every wilderness imaginable, each of which contains dreamy landscapes that feature on many travellers’ go-to spots. Now, Parks Canada, which manages its national parks, is waiving admission fees throughout 2017 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s independence – providing an extra incentive for exploring more of its natural wonders.
Where should I start?
Pretty much anywhere. All 38 of Canada’s national parks and eight national park reserves will throw their doors wide open as part of the celebrations, and there’s quite a variety to choose from. Some parks need little introduction, such as the icy peaks of Banff National Park (Canada’s first, established in 1885) or the iconic yawning fjords of Newfoundland’s Gros Morne NP.
But visitors can discover hidden wonders away from its most accessible jewels. Some northerly parks even take this to intrepid new levels: Nunavut’s Auyuittuqand Sirmilik National Parks are reached via boat or snowmobile, and Quttinirpaaq by a chartered flight. But tundra valleys, glaciers and jagged peaks await those who make the effort.
The rest of the country’s parks offer just as much adventure. Track historic canoe routes in Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park, mix ice sheets and rainforest in EC’s Glacier NP and tread forests and creeks in Canada’s newest, Rouge Park (established in 2015), the country’s first urban national park.
How can I take advantage?
Well, go! But don’t just roll up: always research how to get there, any entrance and reservation procedures, and any kit or safety issues well in advance of arrival. If you’re thinking of staying the night, note the free entry doesn’t cover accommodation or fees, or guided tours or hikes.
Is anything else included?
Yes. The free entry extends to Parks Canada’s portfolio of national historic sites and marine conservation areas, too. Take the opportunity to spot bald eagles while cruising Lake Superior, or gaze down on St John’s candy-coloured buildings from Signal Hill. With the gates flung open to so many wildernesses, we’re booking a flight to Canada in 2017…
So, what’s it to be this year? The usual chairlift — or a heated number warming your cockles all the way to the top? Plain-Jane snow or soft, silky champagne powder? The back of another long queue or a straight schuss from slope to chairlift seat? The majestic Alps — or the truly awe-inspiring Canadian Rockies, whose rugged peaks pinnacle at 3,954 metres? There really is no contest. Everyone should ski the Rockies at least once — and in this reliably snow-blanketed expanse of wilderness, there’s challenge enough for all. For beginners, it’s hard to imagine a more amenable setting than Lake Louise, North America’s largest ski area.
You can find your ski legs on gentle blue slopes, then graduate to long cruising reds, with glorious views all the way down — or wind your way through picturesque glades, schussing in and out of snow-laden trees. For more advanced skiers, Fernie’s five huge bowls beckon skiers, snowboarders and powder hounds alike, with unique snow conditions and vast swathes of fresh ‘dumps’ in this, the Champagne Powder Capital of Canada — promising the treat of creating your own tracks day after day.
And for the ultimate thrill-seekers there’s also the uniquely Canadian experience of cat skiing — or hitching a ride via helicopter to the dizzying heights of some of Canada’s untouched peaks — with pristine powder and one of the longest vertical drops in North America beckoning below.
And at the end of a hard day’s skiing^ what better than some apres-ski indulgence in some of the most iconic hotels in the world? You can wake up to fabulous views at the Fairmont Lake Louise; pamper carving-weary calves at the luxurious Rimrock Resort Hotel’s dreamy spa; or luxuriate in the positively baronial Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, in the heart of Banff National Bark, where the award-winning Willow Stream Spa soothes the body and spectacular mountain views soothe the soul.
An island more than twice the size of Great Britain with a population a little smaller than Boracay, Baffin Island represents Canada s Arctic frontier at its wildest -vertiginous peaks, creeping glaciers, frozen plains where winter temperatures routinely sink below -30°C and a coastline where tiny Inuit villages huddle against cliffs facing out over the ice floes.
The most spectacular corner is Auyuittuq National Park, a place as difficult to reach as it is to spell, involving a two-day trek from the hamlet accessible by many and convoluted flight connections. The reward, however, comes when you find yourself in a granite mountainscape in the company of caribou, wolves and bears. Be sure to travel with a seasoned guide, lest you experience the park from within the cosy confines of a polar bear’s stomach.
Sequestered in the protected environs of its 38 National Parks and 8 National Park Reserves are a host of stunning habitats, where visitors can sample the awesome delights of Canada’s wild heritage. You can go snorkelling among migrating salmon in Vancouver Island’s Campbell River or head out to the massive puffin colony at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. One can even sign up for a visit to the tundra wastes of Labrador to witness the migration, from the south, of the of the barren ground caribou, with the black bears, wolves and elusive Arctic fox right behind them. What an awesome experience it is to see the gathering of over 3,000 beluga whales that arrive each year at the Churchill River estuary in Manitoba, to feed and give birth to their babies.
Banff National Park
Summer visitors go hiking, whitewater rafting, paddling, mountain biking, cycling, birding and mountaineering. In winter snow-lovers hit its ski slopes (Nov-May) around Lake Louise Ski Area, Sunshine Village, and Mount Norquay – and there’s also the allure of ice walks, snowshoeing, and dogsled rides. In summer and winter, wildlife tours open up sightings of moose, grizzly bears, caribou and wolves. In autumn, fall colours are a magnet for photographers…
Millions of wildlife and nature lovers, have, down the decades, been exploring the wild expanses of Alberta at the 1,641,027 acre Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, designated in 1885. The beginnings of its potential as a secure habitat for its fabulous array of flora, fauna, avifauna and snow-capped mountains and gorgeous vistas, was kicked off by the unexpected discovery of a natural hot spring in the folds of the Canadian Rockies – and the creation of the 26 sq km Banff Hot Springs Reserve. The rest, as they say, is history. The rapid development of the town of Banff (Canada’s highest town at 4,540 feet) is largely attributed to the growing footfalls of visitors to the pristine environs of the National Park who arrive here, not only to enjoy its fabulous setting and wildlife, but also for its alluring range of adventure activities. An intrinsic part of the Unesco-acclaimed Canadian Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site, Banff’s highest elevation is the 11,850 ft Mount Forbes. Its glacial lakes – Louise, Moraine, Bow, and Peyto – have become hubs of intense visitor attention. Visitors also throng the 16-mile long Banff Legacy Trail which showcases some of the most beautiful aspects of the park.