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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.
Part iconoclastic Francophone outpost in otherwise anglais-speaking North America, part skyscraping internationalist city, Montreal is also a festival town par excellence, boasting several major festivals and a number of smaller events that fill the summer months.
By far the most important of the lot is the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which brings together some 2,000 world-class musicians from twenty different countries (from Tony Bennett to Buju Banton, Gonzalo Rubalcaba to Archie Shepp) and attracts an audience of about a million and a half aficionados. In the entertainment district around the Place des Arts, Montreal’s grand concert hall, ten outdoor stages present 350 free concerts, while 150 indoor concerts are held in venues around town. Held annually since 1979, it’s the world’s largest jazz fest, with a little (OK, a lot) for everybody.
Throughout June and July, the city’s skies are lit up every week by the Montreal International Fireworks Competition (Le Mondial SAQ), in which the world’s best pyrotechnicians – veritable artistes of the big boom – fire their biggest, newest, and most revolutionary creations into the Montreal night to the accompaniment of a musical score. Founded in 1985 at La Ronde, Quebec’s largest amusement park (located on lie Ste.-Helene in the St. Lawrence River), the event draws around 2½ million spectators annually, who view the action from the park, the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and both banks of the St. Lawrence.
In late August and early September, the World Film Festival brings together more than 400 films from all over the globe, including an average of 250 world premieres. Founded in 1977, the festival aims to encourage cultural diversity and understanding between peoples, and each year highlights films of a different country, from the United States to Hungary, Israel, Iran, and Korea.
On the lighter side, mid-July’s Just for Laughs (Juste pour Rire) Festival promotes the idea that humor can be reinvented, with artists stretching the boundaries of the form. Founded in 1983, when sixteen French-speaking comedians performed for a total crowd of about 5,000, the festival has grown to host approximately 2,000 artists annually, performing for a million and a half laughers at more than thirty venues along Rue St.-Denis, and to a worldwide audience via TV feeds. Other standouts of Montreal’s summer lineup include Les FrancoFolies de Montreal, celebrating French dance, music from around the world; the Montreal Celtic Festival, celebrating Celtic music, storytelling, art, and traditional food and drink; and the Festival Nuit d’Afrique, promoting music of the African diaspora with indoor and outdoor concerts.
Wedged between the St. Lawrence River and the borders of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, Quebec’s Eastern Townships mix Québécois charm with a healthy dose of Anglo-Saxon culture, courtesy of the British loyalists who settled here in the 1770s and 1780s after fleeing the newly independent United States of America. The land is some of Quebec’s most beautiful, with tiny Victorian villages and resorts nesting among fields, orchards, lakes, and majestic mountains. It’s a popular holiday destination for Québécois, with numerous opportunities for outdoor sports in summer and winter and an autumn that defies description.
Ten-mile-long Lake Massawippi sits in the southeastern part of the Townships, less than a half hour’s drive from the U.S. border, and is its most desirable resort area, especially around the northern end’s North Hatley, a tiny town full of galleries, restaurants, and shops. Wealthy Americans began summering along the lakeshore in the early 20th century to escape the Southern heat, building grand homes that have in many cases been converted into fine inns.
Hovey Manor is one of these. Built in 1899 by Henry Atkinson, an Atlanta electricity baron who arrived every summer accompanied by eighteen servants and ten horses, it was designed in the style of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, with a broad, white-columned veranda. Outside, its 25 hillside acres feature English-style gardens sloping down to two small lake beaches. Inside, the inn is still appointed with many of Atkinson’s original antique furnishings. The inn’s award-winning restaurant (and wine list) delight year-round with dinners accompanied by classical music.
Even more acclaimed for its cuisine, the rambling, Colonial-style Auberge Hatley was built in 1903 by the Scotch-Canadian Holt family. Perched on a hillside above the lake, its twenty-five rooms are decorated with period French or English country pieces, and many have fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and lake-view balconies. In the dining room, waiters whisk away gleaming silver domes to reveal chef Alain Labrie’s innovative takes on traditional French cooking, created with herbs and greens from the inn’s own greenhouse. Those who wish to see how it’s all done can reserve the chef’s table, tucked into an alcove of the kitchen, where he prepares a special seven-course discovery menu accompanied by wines chosen on a pre-dinner visit to the 12,000-bottle wine cellar.
At the southern end of Missawippi, in the town of Ayer’s Cliff, Auberge Ripplecove (owned by Jeffrey Stafford, brother of Hovey Manor owner Steven Stafford), sits directly on the lake, a testament to its beginnings as a 1940s fishing resort. In its modern incarnation, Ripplecove is the most hotel-like of the Massawippi inns, focusing in summer on golf, watersports, tennis, hiking, and horseback riding, and in winter on alpine and cross-country skiing. The thirty-five rooms are uniformly warm, cozy, and charmingly decorated, about half with fireplaces, balconies, and whirlpools.
Covering 6,177 square miles in Quebec’s Laurentide region, Charlevoix is an area of astonishing natural beauty, its mountains bearded with fir, cedar, and spruce forests and its St. Lawrence River shoreline dotted with small villages and resorts that were once the vacation province of wealthy American families and international celebs like Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and the king of Siam.
A young William Howard Taft visited here in 1892, remarked that its air “exhilarates like Champagne, without the effects of the morning after,” and made it his vacation destination for the rest of his life. The French-Canadian villages known collectively as Murray Bay were the nexus of the “Newport of the North” and enjoyed a lively heyday from the 1870s into the 1950s. The arrival of the railroad made guests’ own arrival easier, if somewhat less romantic, than aboard the Canadian Steamship Line’s old bateaux-blancs.
Today the gilding is still on the lily, though guests no longer have to dress up in evening wear for dinner at the clifftop Manoir Richelieu, a 405-room resort opened in 1899 and once frequented by the most footloose of the summer swells. A 1998 renovation brought back much of its early majesty, reflecting Charlevoix’s blend of quiet countryside charm, wilderness grandeur, and world-class resort life. For miles around, mountain and forest coexist with a sparse year-round population of around 30,000, a number that swells to two and a half times that size in summer, yet makes little impact on the area’s backcountry solitude and wildlife. Ecotourism is the word of the day, with myriad opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and canoeing at two nearby national parks, Parc des Grands Jardins, 20 miles inland from Baie St.-Paul (home to a vigorous arts scene), and Les Hautes-Gorges of the Rivière Malbaie, an hour’s drive north of St.-Aime-des-Lacs. Twenty miles north from Murray Bay, the waters where the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers meet are home to beluga, minke, humpback, rorqual, and blue whales in summer. For the less wilderness-minded, Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu’s golf club offers a world-class 18-hole, par-71 course on a bluff above the river near La Malbaie.
Also in La Malbaie, La Pinsonnière is the area’s finest hostelry. It’s a gleaming white, twenty-six-room country inn offering personal service and refined elegance, with flower-bedecked terraces, in-room fireplaces, and oversized whirlpool bathtubs in its best suites. Topping it all, though, is the hotel’s famous restaurant. Chef Jeannot Lavoie prepares an ever-changing menu of innovative cuisine and oversees and award-winning wine cellar that contains more than 12,000 bottles.
Pastoral as a picture book, with tiny towns set among rolling green hills, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is surrounded by the cold North Atlantic and crisscrossed by red-dirt roads, the visible clue to the island’s deep red sandstone bedrock. A primarily agricultural island, it’s both the smallest and most densely populated province of Canada – the latter statistic hard to believe when you look around and see only cattle and (maybe) a lone tractor in the distance. It makes you appreciate how underpopulated much of the country is.
From the sea, fishermen pull the island’s other major crops: lobsters, clams, scallops, and oysters. In the town of Summerside, the mid-July Lobster Carnival features feasts, fiddling contests, and games, while North Rustico’s Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant has tanks able to hold 40,000 pounds of lobster next to the kitchen, May through October. Seal-hunting, once a major money-maker, has given way to ecotourism, with half- and whole-day trips to the vast ice floes just west of the Magdalen Islands, where more than 400,000 harp seals return annually to bear their young. Known as whitecoats for their gleaming baby fur, these pups were hunted commercially till public outrage forced a government ban on the practice.
PEI’s bucolic lifestyle was nurtured by isolation, and even now – with the island connected to the mainland by the 8-mile Confederation Bridge (built in 1997) – the feel is more cow pasture than rat race. Scenic red roads are perfect for driving or cycling, and three officially designated routes are designed to showcase the island s best features. The Kings Byway concentrates on the east coast, winding through dozens of small, rural hamlets, and green fields, and letting onto gorgeous ocean views. Lady Slipper Drive, around the west coast, is even more rural, passing lighthouses, villages, and (among other things) a group of houses in Cap-Egmont made entirely of recycled bottles.
Blue Heron Drive is probably the most traveled (and most commercial) route, as it passes through the north shore’s PEI National Park, which includes the home of L. M. Montgomery and her novel Anne of Green Gables. The park is situated on a spectacular stretch of coast along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and boasts 25 miles of beaches, sand dunes, and red sandstone cliffs, plus ponds, woodlands, and wildlife. Cavendish, the area’s most-visited town, is on the touristy side, with every other shop dedicated to Ms. Montgomery and her creation. Montgomery was born here in 1874, and set her novel among the area’s rich beauty. Translated now into some fifteen languages, the book has fan clubs around the world and draws 350,000 visitors annually to Green Gables House (inspiration for the novel’s Cuthbert Farm) and other sites. For accommodations, there are cabins right next to Gables House at the Green Gables Bungalow Court, but Dalvay by the Sea Heritage Inn is a more evocative choice. Commissioned in 1895, this seaside Victorian mansion has been a summer resort since the 1930s, offering a TV-and-phone-free environment; simple, bright rooms; and chef Keith Wilson’s excellent cuisine, with influences from the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, and the Asia-Pacific Rim.
South of Cavendish and the park, Charlottetown is the Philadelphia of Canada, the place where the Fathers of Confederation met in 1864 to discuss unifying the country. Providence House was the site of the meeting, and today you can visit the Confederation Chamber and several other rooms, all restored to appear as they did in the 19th century.
Old Charlottetown has cobblestone, gaslit streets lined with 18th-century mansions, many now converted to inns and bed-and-breakfasts. The waterfront area, where their merchant-builders made their money, has seen its warehouses converted into seafood restaurants, shops, and nightspots. Most of PEI’s original settlers came from Ireland, Scotland, England, and France, and today you can hear their descendants playing Celtic and Acadian traditional music at a number of places in town, including the Irish Hall and the Olde Dublin Pub.
The New York of Canada – and also the Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and L.A., to judge by the American cities it’s stood in for in the movies – Toronto is a power-trip urban center, full of skyscrapers, limos, and buzz. Head northwest of the high-end retail district of Yonge and Bloor, however, and you find yourself in a different vibe entirely, with pretty Victorian shopping streets full of art galleries, cafés, big-name designer boutiques, and chic restaurants. This is Yorkville, once an independent village, then the Haight-Ashbury of the North, now the gentrified home of all things haute Toronto.
If you were, say, Robert De Niro, and planned to spend some time here, you’d book a suite at the Four Seasons, the Toronto-based luxury chain’s flagship hotel and a favorite of visiting celebs – especially during the 10-day Toronto International Film Festival, one of the film world’s most important, when room reservations become as coveted as Oscars. The marble-floored lobby and other public areas are designed with a mix of clean modern lines and classic parlor style. The spacious guest rooms and suites follow the same aesthetic, with a quiet, restrained elegance that’s more gentle embrace than bear hug. Book a corner room to enjoy the wonderful balconies; a north-facing room for the most wide-open views; or a south-facing room on an upper floor for views of the city skyline, with its 1,815-foot Canadian National (CN) Tower, the world’s tallest freestanding structure.
The hotel’s main restaurant, Truffles, is a must-dine, frequently cited as the best restaurant in Canada. Overseen by chef Jason McCloud, the continental menu offers the signature eponymous spaghettini in truffle emulsion and much more, arranged in seven-course degustation menus and accompanied by a mile-long wine list.
Overlooking Yorkville Avenue, the hotel’s La Serre lounge is Toronto’s number one power bar. Thick red cushioned chairs set the mood for high-end business schmoozing, and Cuban cigars and single-malt scotch help close the deal.
The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of the finest museums in North America, with a collection that encompasses both Canadian and international art. Founded in 1900 by a group of Toronto citizens, it currently holds more than 36,000 works, dating from the 11th century to the present. The museum’s European collection includes works by Tintoretto, Bruegel, Rembrandt, Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Gauguin, and van Gogh, while its contemporary collection includes Andy Warhol’s Elvis I and II and works by Robert Smithson, Gerhard Richter, Claes Oldenburg, and Franz Kline. But you’re in Canada, after all, so head for the Canadian collection, which represents more than half the museum’s holdings.
The chronologically ordered galleries focus on the breadth of Canadian art history, beginning prior to Confederation and continuing to the present day – including 19th-century portraits and landscapes; scenes of early Canadian life by artist Cornelius Krieghoff; a showpiece late-19th-century salon, whose stunning red walls feature masterpieces by Canadian icons such as Paul Peel and Lucius O’Brien; and a comprehensive installation of paintings by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, early 20th- century Canadian artists whose work celebrates the country’s national splendor. The AGO also boasts an extensive collection of Inuit art, including signature works by sculptors Shorty Killiktree, George Tataniq, Paulassie Pootoogook, and Oviloo Tunillee.
In 1974, British sculptor Henry Moore was moved when the citizens of Toronto pitched in to purchase his sculpture The Archer for their new City Hall, after legislators had refused to provide funds. As a result, he donated more than 800 works – bronzes, woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, plasters, and drawings – representing the world’s largest collection of his art.
The news these days, though, is about the future. In November 2002 the museum announced that not only its collection but also the building itself were about to undergo radical changes. Kenneth Thomson, a leading Canadian art collector and businessman, recently donated nearly 2,000 works, including Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents; masterpieces by Canadian artists Paul Kane, Tom Thomson, Cornelius Krieghoff, and Lawren Harris; and a stunning collection of rare European art objects dating from the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century. To accommodate the additions and bring the museum into the 21st century, a physical redesign and expansion will be led by renowned Toronto native Frank Gehry, the architectural genius behind the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The project will break ground in early 2005, with a target completion date in 2007.
Connoisseurs should also visit the impressive Royal Ontario Museum (which is undergoing a major expansion), with its remarkable collection of Chinese art, a wing dedicated to European decorative arts, a working paleontology lab and many dinosaur skeletons, a Canadian heritage gallery, and a whole lot more – some 6 million pieces in all. Kids love the Bat Cave, a walk-through diorama replica of Jamaica’s St. Clair cave, with 3,000 very lifelike bats flitting about.
The defining physical attribute of Canada is its northern climate, so why not embrace it? That’s exactly what Canada’s capital city does each February during Winterlude, Ottawa’s paean to snow and ice, begun in 1979. A million and a half visitors show up every year for the celebration, which includes figure-skating performances, snowshoe races, a winter triathlon (skiing, skating, and running), snow golf, fireworks, a hot stew cookoff, and dogsled races, among many other events. In Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park (north of Ottawa, across the river), Snowflake Kingdom is the world’s largest snow playground, while Ottawa’s Confederation Park is the site for the Crystal Garden International Ice-Carving Competition, with pros the first week and amateurs the next. The Canada Snow Sculpture Competition at Major’s Hill Park displays giant works prepared by professional snow sculptors from each province and territory.
It’s no surprise that the country with the world’s best hockey players also boasts the world’s longest skating rink, the Rideau Canal, built in the 19th century as a military route linking Montreal and points west. During the winter, 5 miles of its length are groomed for skating and serve as Winterlude’s main drag, the site of most of the races. During the rest of the winter it’s busiest on business days, with managerial types skating to work with their attaché cases, schoolchildren zipping along carrying lunch boxes, Olympic wannabes getting in shape, and bureaucrats gliding by on their way to the nearby Parliament building. On weekends the pace is more leisurely, with skaters making frequent stops for hot chocolate and beavertails (deep-fried dough balls covered with cinnamon sugar) or maple syrup on shaved ice.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, the imposing Château Laurier remains the finest hotel in the nation’s capital, if not all of eastern Canada. Built in 1912, at the site where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River, the Laurier offers a historical castle-like setting, handsome furnishings, old-world service, and one of the most European hotel experiences this side of the Atlantic.
Straddling the U.S.-Canada border, Niagara Falls draws its waters from four of the five Great Lakes and flings them down twenty stories at the rate of 42 million gallons a minute. Almost a mile wide in total, the falls are divided by islands into three sections: the 1,060-foot American Falls (which includes a small section called Bridal Veil Palls) and the larger, 2,600-foot Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, which gets the most visitor attention.
Western society first became aware of the falls in 1678 when Jesuit missionary Louis Hennepin became curious about the thunderous roar he heard in the distance and followed it to its source, becoming Niagara’s first tourist. Almost three centuries later, Marilyn Monroe and James Cotton headed this way in the falls’ namesake film, becoming their iconic honeymooners. An uncounted number of real-life couples had the same idea, making Niagara the undisputed honeymoon capital of the continent for most of the 20th century, peaking in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, Coney Island – esque reminders of that era abound in the innumerable cheap honeymoon motels and tourist stops, but surrounding its carnival core, the Niagara area has attractions painted with a wider brush.
The Canadian side is much more happening, both in terms of falls views and general revelry – full of nightclubs, restaurants, upscale hotels, and the main man-made attraction, the 250,000- square-foot Casino Niagara, which is scheduled to be replaced by a 2½-million-square-foot version in 2004. Just north of the falls, the Niagara Parkway offers an entirely different world, dotted with beautiful gardens. At the end of this road lies the lovely little 19th-century town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of the prettiest in Canada and the heart of the Niagara wine region. All of the area’s top wineries are open to the public, including Peller Estates; Inniskillin Wines (whose bam may – no one’s 100 percent sure – have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright); Château des Charmes, the first Canadian winery to win gold at Bordeaux’s prestigious VinExpo; and Vineland Estates Winery, housed in a former Mennonite homestead.
But back to the point – or rather, the falls. The classic way to view them, and also the best, is from aboard the Maid of the Mist, a sturdy 600-passenger boat that’s the tenth in a same-name line of crafts, taking passengers right into the spray at the base of Horseshoe Falls since 1846. You’ll be very’ glad of the plastic raincoats they issue at boarding.
To get a different though still drenching view, take the Journey Behind the Falls tour, which descends via elevator through 150 feet of rock to a series of man-made tunnels that provide a view from behind the cascading water. On the U.S. side, the Cave of the Winds tour leads visitors to the base of the American Falls, while the thirty-passenger Flight of Angels tethered helium balloon takes you up 400 feet for a ten-minute view of the majesty below.
Connected to the rest of Nova Scotia by a narrow causeway, Cape Breton Island is as Scottish as it gets on this side of the Atlantic, a place where the cultural influence of the original French settlement was subsumed long ago as thousands of Scottish farm families streamed in between 1770 and 1850. The land’s similarity to the auld sod must certainly have been a draw, with its mountains and plunging shoreline cliffs, but it’s sheer pride that keeps the Gaelic traditions alive today, manifested in music, art, and even a bit of language.
Both natural beauty and island culture get their due on the 184-mile Cabot Trail, named for Italian-born explorer Giovanni Caboto (a.k.a. John Cabot), who sailed from Bristol, England, after hearing about Columbus’s earlier journey, and made landfall on Cape Breton Island in 1497.
Following the picturesque, craggy coastline around Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the trail is one of the most scenic drives in North America, passing Acadian fishing villages, pristine valleys, and viewing points from which you can often spot finback and minke whales feeding in the waters below. Most breathtaking of all is the 27-mile stretch from Chéticamp north to Pleasant Bay, with its remarkable views of the western coast. You can drive the Cabot Trail in a day, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice. Instead, pull off for a hike on any of the 590-square-mile park’s more than thirty trails (most of which are quite mild) or stop at any of the Cabot Trail’s tiny fishing villages, such as Pleasant Bay, population 350.
On the east coast, the town of Ingonish is home to the Keltic Lodge, a gleaming white, red-roofed, Tudor-style resort situated on a spit of land so narrow it feels like an island. The views are a knockout, as is the nearby Highland Links golf course, ranked among the best in Canada. North of here, small, idyllic Mary Ann Falls is probably the most visited waterfall on the island. To the south, at South Gut St. Ann’s (where the Cabot Trail begins officially), the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts hosts an annual Gaelic Mod, a day of traditional Gaelic language and song with workshops, a codfish supper, and a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) with traditional music and dancing. Its Great Hall of Clans museum depicts the history of the Scots on Cape Breton. In October, the nine-day Celtic Colours festival is celebrated island-wide with dozens of concerts, lectures, and workshops on Gaelic folklore, weaving, and the playing of the pipes.
What’s in a name? Located along Newfoundland’s rugged western coast, the “big mournful place” is in fact an area of stunning natural beauty, a fantasy landscape of rough, rocky mountains, stark fjords, deep glacial lakes, coastal bogs, and wave-carved cliffs. Add a dash of mist and it’s easy to picture what life was like here 1,000 years ago, when Leif Eriksson and thirty-five Viking seagoers established North America’s first European colony at L’Anse aux Meadows, about 80 miles north of the park.
In geologic terms, though, a thousand years may as well be a day – which is especially obvious in the Tablelands area of the Gros Morne. Like thickset versions of the American West’s buttes and plateaus, Tablelands’ hills are bare, rusty, flattened, and eroded by time, dotted here and there with patches of hardscrabble greenery but otherwise looking exactly like what they are: prehistory made manifest.
About 570 million years ago, the rocks that form this area were part of the earth’s mantle, driven to the surface from under the crust during the continental breakup, when the lands that became Africa and North America butted against each other. It’s like seeing the earth’s skeleton. Hiking is the best way to experience the area. The 2½-mile (round-trip) Tablelands Trail stretches from Trout River Gulch to Winterhouse Brook Canyon and concentrates on the Tablelands’ stark geology, while the longer Green Gardens Trail offers 6- and 9-mile options that descend from the barrens through boreal forest to a fertile sea coast, where beautiful meadows sit atop volcanic, cave-pocked cliffs.
Landlocked Trout River Pond, located right along the park’s southern border, is another scenic highlight, running for 9 miles between steep, stark hills. The area’s old Newfie fishing villages are also worth a stop, as is the Discovery Centre just outside Woody Point, with exhibits on geology, plant and animal life, and the area’s human history.
North of Bonne Bay, the coastal road (Route 430) follows a broad, boggy plain, with the dramatic Long Range Mountains rising to the east. Gros Morne, the highest of those mountains at 2,644 feet, rewards in-shape hikers with spectacular views of the park, the bay, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Less than a half-hour’s drive north of Rocky Harbour – the area’s main town and the location of the park’s visitors center – Western Brook Pond is the park’s most popular stop, with a combination of hikes and boat trips exploring and interpreting this landlocked glacial fjord’s landscape and wildlife.