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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.
Step from a tiny plane on to the tarmac at Charlottetown in May and the first thing you notice is the scent. My city lungs could write an ode to it: the shock of its vegetal freshness, laden with salt, the earthy tumble of ploughed fields and the botanical sweetness of a landscape of balsam fir and pine. ‘Welcome to Prince Edward Island’, says a neat little sign on the bricks of the airport terminal, and the ghost of my eleven year old self pinches her arm just to make sure.
Home to 146,000 people, Prince Edward Island is the smallest province in Canada, measuring just 280 kilometres from point to point. Cradled by the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to the north and turbulent Northumberland Strait to the south, the ‘Garden of the Gulf’ is also one of the most beautiful – with lushly rolling hills falling to red sandstone cliffs, gabled timber farmhouses nestled in fields of dandelions and deep, pure stands of Acadian forest. It is also the birthplace of both Canadian Confederation (in the spring of 1864 the premiers of the provinces met in Charlottetown to first discuss a unified government) and a story beloved by so many generations of readers that thousands travel each year to visit a small island farmhouse by the name of Green Gables.
I read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables for the first time when I was ten. An instant bestseller when it was published in 1908, it is difficult to account for the effect the story had on me as a girl; like many readers I identified with its mishap-prone, red-haired heroine not in looks or circumstance, but imagination and precocity, and took her spirited determination as a blueprint for my own. Anne is quick-witted, brazen- hearted and always seems to be running across fields or communing with mayflowers in shadowy places, and I worked my mind’s eye over every nook and valley of her island world until it felt as real to me as the memory of any place I’d ever been and loved.
I hired a car at the airport and within 20 minutes was in downtown Charlottetown checking in to the pink-gabled Harbour House Hotel on a quiet, tree-fringed street near the water. Charlottetown figures thinly in the eight novels that make up the Anne series so I didn’t know what to expect, but was delighted to discover street upon street of timber houses painted in shades of blue, yellow and red – their deep verandas and lamp-lit window seats beckoning in the fading light, gardens bright with tulips and daffodils. P.E.I.’s capital city is not only refreshingly human-sized but navigable almost entirely on foot. Be sure to walk the southeastern end of Great George Street from Province House to see the colourful early-19th century wooden terraces opposite the gothic spires of St. Dunstan’s Basilica. Come early evening a stroll by the bustling outdoor cafes around Peakes Wharf is the perfect way to experience the ambience of this historic harbour where the Confederation Fathers landed 152 years ago. Also make time to visit the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, with its excellent lobster tacos, fresh produce and artisan crafts, and to play a game of pre-dinner checkers on Victoria Row, a cobbled pedestrian street lined with local boutiques and restaurants. If you listen closely to passers-by you may be struck by the maritime dialect, with its almost Celtic lilt. PE.I. prides itself on its mixed heritage, from the indigenous culture of the Mi’kmaq to the first Scottish, Irish and Acadian French settlers, and its musical vernacular is an unexpected delight.
When travelling through some of the Robe’s more remote locations you’re likely to have a moment of clarity Miles from normality, you feel like you’ve found another world, a place where only your immediate reality matters. For me this happened on the Keele River in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. I’d been paddling in the bow of a canoe for ten days when, late on a sunny summer evening, the water around me became a reflected mass of rose gold clouds, the perfect mirror of the sky above. With no discernible hori2on, it was as if I was travelling through a dreamscape where down was up and up was down, the surreal setting a reminder that in this world there is true, untameable beauty. And to uncover it, I’d recommend travelling north.
Along the Keele River you’ll encounter the kind of landscape they envisioned when they first thought of the sublime. It’s a setting that makes you feel small, dwarfed by the surroundings. There are mountains chiselled away by wind and rain, the last patches of summer snow clinging to their peaks, and marbled diff faces seemingly painted into the scene. But rather than feeling overwhelmed, you’re honoured. It is difficult to find something so majestic, so much bigger than yourself. And here it is, not all that far from the Arctic Circle, a region where many landmarks remain nameless and a canoe is the most desirable form of transportation.
I was here on a 12 day Keele River trip with Canoe North Adventures, a travel company that began in 1987 because of a newsletter. A1 Pace, who founded Canoe North Adventures with Lin Ward, has been making pottery for decades and, from his Ontario studio, would send newsletters to those who purchased his works. One year, after paddling through Canada’s far north with friends, he decided to share his experience – and continued to do so in subsequent newsletters until people pointed out that they’d quite like to experience this wilderness for themselves.
It’s not surprising to learn that Pace’s words inspired wanderlust. He is after all the consummate storyteller. Around nightly campfires he’ll regale you with tales of his clambers over the Golden Stairs – a near vertical part of the Chilkoot Trail forged during the Klondike Gold Rush – and a Canadian youth spent upon the country’s waterways. His travels have infused his pottery, inspiring shapes, oxides and glazes that capture Canada. Look upon one of his adventure cups and you can’t help but picture the surrounding mountains.
Adventure cups are part of a vital ritual on Canoe North Adventures’ expeditions. These pieces of brown, blue and green stoneware are handed out each evening and filled, as the night progresses, with various forms of glorious alcoholic liquid. This is Happy Hour, a time to come together, cast aside thoughts of aching bodies and enjoy the company. Each cup bears an animal, matched to our group’s 16 trippers. These pairings seem increasingly fitting as the days unfold, a moose for the gentle giant, a wise owl for the quiet wit and for me, the foreign paddling novice, a caribou. As it turns out, this elusive animal isn’t the smartest being in the Northwest Territories.
We were joined on the river by Ranger, a content creature who is part Corgi, part Husky and entirely loveable. He bounded into canoes, only stirring when a wave is rude enough to crash over the bow, was unfaded by his surroundings and was besotted with bacon. As a result, winning his affection became more important to me than developing my canoeing capability. When he started accompanying me to the latrine, presumably picking up on my unnecessary bear paranoia, I felt nothing but affection.
Our journey begins in darkness. We slip away from Toronto’s Union Station just after 10 p.m. on a chilly February evening, skirting the CN Tower before plunging into the vast commuter belt. It’s an unassuming start to one of the world’s great transcontinental train rides; the 4,467 kilometre trip to Vancouver, which will take us four nights, five provinces and four time zones to complete.
We’re aboard VIA Rail’s ‘Canadian’ – a tram so important to the story of Canada that it appears on the $10 bill. The ‘we’ in question is my partner, my parents and me, and there’s a reason we’re embarking on this journey together: the history of the route is intertwined, not only with the history of the nation, but also with the history of my own part-Canadian family.
Work on Canada’s first transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific, began in 1880, 13 years after Canadian Confederation established self-governance, and nine years after the far-flung colony of British Columbia joined the Dominion on the condition that an east-west rail link would be established within a decade. The last spike was driven in at 9.22 a.m. on November 7, 1885 – a feat of engineering that unified the young country, fuelled a settlement boom across the fertile prairies and powered Canada’s emerging economy by transporting gram, ore, timber and more.
A second, more northerly route – the Canadian National – followed in 1915, and it’s along this line that the modern-day ‘Canadian’ travels after competing passenger services were merged in 1990. It’s also along this line that my Toronto-based great-grandfather worked in the 1920s as a conductor, managing freight trains from the caboose at the rear. My childhood in the UK was filled with tales of his adventures and I have long wanted to travel in his tracks with my father, himself a railwayman and the fifth generation of my family to work in the industry.
As we rumble through seemingly endless Toronto suburbs we settle into our home for the next few days. The sleek, bullet-shaped cars were built in the 1950s and, despite multiple refurbishments, still retain an air of mid-century glamour. Some contain curtained berths, others are full cabins with ensuite toilets. We have opted for the latter, which is furnished with bunk beds that swing down from the wall; by day, they will be magicked away by an attendant and a pair of armchairs set up in their place. They’re tiny but surprisingly comfortable and we’re soon snuggled beneath our duvets, lulled to sleep by the rhythmic clackety-clack of the wheels.
When we open our blinds the next morning the suburbs have been replaced by fir trees and lakes, blanketed in snow that sparkles in the sunshine. This is the Canadian Shield – a vast expanse of boreal forest which covers more than half the country and contains a fifth of the world’s fresh water. The weather here is bitter in winter and ice has built up in the train’s vestibules overnight, though the interior remains toasty. As we head to the dining car for breakfast, I find myself thinking about the harsh conditions my great-grandfather would have faced at the start of his career when, as a brakeman in the 1890s, he would have been required to clamber along the top of moving wagons to set the brakes.
To photograph the Yukon and Northwest Territories you must venture to Dawson, fly onto Whitehorse aboard a small yet sturdy plane out of aviation eras past, and brave a similar flight five times over the following eight days. On the ground your trusty vehicle will drive 2,500 kilometres over frozen rivers, crossing the Arctic Circle and passing Eagle Plains, Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. This is the land of poet Robert Service and the Klondike Gold Rush, a place of hardship, adventure and harsh, unforgiving beauty. It is further north than many will ever venture and, come winter, it is the sight of fishing huts punctuating an otherwise uninterrupted white horizon that signals your arrival at the coast and frozen Beaufort Sea.
Photographer Tom Bunning was drawn to the vastness of the Yukon. It was wild, affording him the chance to meet those who regularly braved the ice roads and lived in extreme conditions in some of the world’s most remote communities. “It was a bit of a shock to the system. Not only temperature-wise but because you’re so far from normality. Life is quite simple, especially in the far north People take care of the land and the animals because they’re sustenance. They work out the number of beluga whales they can harvest each year, they monitor how many are bred and then how many they can cull to support that town, and if not as many are born then they eat less that year. Life is pretty straightforward and basic and they seem to have got it right. They maintain everything and everywhere you look is stunning.”
Bunning journeyed along the Dempster Highway with chatty German driver Robert. Behind them was their support driver Udo whose ancient two-seater truck didn’t come with anything as luxurious as heating He sat patiently in his woollen hat, prepared to spring to their aid should Bunning and his companions come off the road and into a snow drift that; after heavy winds, could easily be two metres high.
Early on the weather played havoc with their journey – as it is wont to do on the ice roads – and the group found themselves temporarily stranded at Eagle Plains with the road to Fort McPherson closed ahead. As the trucks piled up, Bunning embraced the opportunity to drink with the amassing drivers – he savouring a beer while they stuck to tea, not sure if they’d be driving again in an hour or in a week. He spent most of the evening with a father and son who hailed from the east coast and shared the driving. They’d been on the road for six months and had three more ahead of them before they could return home. All the while they seemed more interested in hearing about Running’s exploits than regaling him with their own. Why was he in the Yukon? How did he get here? What did he think? And this wasn’t unusual. Yukon residents are more than happy to chat, just not necessarily about themselves.
The following morning, while documenting the sunrise from the warmth of his motel room, a parade of caribou legs glided past Bunning’s window. Donning five layers of clothing boots, two pairs of socks and the obligatory head covering Bunning ran outside to find a hunter in a t-shirt, fro2en blood streaming down his wagon, preparing to walk out into the plain. He’d spent the last few days camping in -40°C conditions hunting caribou, which he used to feed his village. Later that day, about three hours north of Eagle Hams, Bunning saw three men on a nearby hill unloading yet more caribou into a wooden shed, one of whom began to wave “I realised it was the chap from Eagle Plains and I ran up the hill and went and saw how he lived, how he stored the caribou in these frozen sheds and lived in a tent next door. There was a shed with an open fire in it and very basic living conditions and a bed in the corner. He had a television plugged into a generator but that was his life and to see something so simple, and someone so resourceful, that’s just what life is like up there. In the summer he drives the boats along the rivers that had been the ice roads.”
I’d been told bears could venture close to the tents so, hoping to spy one on its early morning wander, I rose before the sun, wrapped myself in blankets and nervously waited on my balcony turned hide. Having seen the damage one hirsute prowler had wreaked on the kitchen’s hardwood door, I knew an encounter could be interesting to say the least.
The dawning day was entrancing. Birdsong echoed from the green canopy above and eaglets called to soaring mothers. A nut-clutching chipmunk scurried past, huge eyes darting as it paused to protect its hoard. When hot drinks arrived at our tent-doors, human voices joined the gentle symphony as guests started their day, some heading to yoga, others simply lost in the setting. Nature was on the move but the bears remained elusive, presumably seeking berries high in the surrounding mountains. It could have been disappointing, but instead I felt profoundly content, my senses filled with the sights and sounds of this unspoilt area.
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on the west coast of Vancouver Island is indeed a pristine hideaway. Open from May to September and reached by seaplane from Vancouver or nearby Tofino, it’s a tranquil place where comfort, indulgence and adventure meet. Nature here is all- encompassing and the environment is conserved and celebrated in style. This luxury eco-safari destination embraces the aesthetics of the ‘great camps’ of old where travel was glamorous, no matter the surroundings, with ornate decorations accompanying their stylish owners into the wild. Through innovative attention to detail Clayoquot has recreated this ambience. Silver cutlery and crystal glasses festoon tables covered in white linen, velvet sofas are gently lit by kerosene lanterns and travel chests tell tales of romantic journeys past. Even the chic, light- filled lounge, found in a converted shipping container, shares these flourishes. Perched over the Bedwell River, it is adorned with vintage furnishings and historical artefacts gathered from a decommissioned tug that once towed the Queen Mary. From the vessel’s wheel to the replica ship’s flooring, the feel is nautical yet homely. All the while its full-length windows vie for attention as life plays through them like a film, the location the obvious star. Crystal water laps below, the blue hue changing as the day progresses, eagles swoop and mountains flit in and out of shrouding clouds – mist, sun, wind and ram proving equally beautiful.
This love of design and detailing continues in the prospector-style accommodation tents which boast impossibly soft bedding, fluffy duvets and cedar dressing tables that are ideal repositories for travel essentials. This is glamping on a whole new level. 16 luxury ensuite tents have king beds, daybeds and full bathrooms complete with outdoor showers where steam swirls into the overhanging forest, making your morning ritual all the more magical. Nine deluxe and family tents offer queen or single beds and daybeds, with adjacent private showers and toilets. All come with views across the water (be it creek or sound) and into the forest that envelops you on all sides.
Guests’ needs are met in a meticulous yet unfussy manner and when surrounded by such effortless grandeur it is easy to forget you’re actually in the wild. There’s no pretence though and active wear and a child-like sense of discovery are wholeheartedly encouraged. Whether on the three, four or seven night package, knowledgeable guides lead you on the plethora of activities offered, their enthusiasm contagious as they talk of flora and fauna and the history of local First Nations people. Here environmental and cultural sensitivity is incredibly important.
Walk down some of its less distinguished streets and you could be in Cleveland or Minneapolis or any other steely northeastern metropolis. But turn a corner and you’re in Lyon, Nantes or Geneva. Montréal exudes a certain Gallic charm, and not just thanks to its myriad sidewalk cafes and the pleasantly accented Quebecois that fills its streets. The island city is compact, quietly beautiful and has a patina unlike any other in North America.
At the beginning of the 20th century Montréal was a big trading town on the St. Lawrence River, but grew exponentially to become Canada’s world-facing cosmopolitan centre by mid-century. Though it was surpassed numerically by Toronto in the early 1970s, it has since matured into a vital cultural hub and the world’s second-largest Francophone city after Paris. During its years of spectacular growth and transformation Montréal was at the vanguard of politics, diplomacy and design. It was also the centre of the universe twice in one decade, first playing host to a World’s Fair in 1967 and then a fondly-remembered Olympics in 1976.
In 1967 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built Westmount Square between De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Rue Sainte-Catherine, a complex of three of his trademark International Style towers. He went on to build his only petrol station, a sleek and low-slung beauty on Nuns’ Island, Verdun, in 1969. Perhaps more famous, and certainly more conspicuous, are two extraordinary residential projects that loom large in the city’s skyline: Habitat 67 and Village Olympique. The former was designed by Moshe Safdie as a whimsical exercise in utopian housing and is today one of Canada’s most desirable addresses. The latter was a grand, J.G. Ballard-esque gesture of progress for the ’76 Olympics, now used as residential apartments. Both might look dystopian or idyllic depending on your point of view.
Elsewhere around the city simple materials bent, moulded and otherwise formed into sharp angles and severe curves are a common sight. Béton brut, a raw concrete, is the signature of heavy Brutalist landmarks like the imposing flagship La Baie d’Hudson department store in Ville-Marie, or the Marriott Château Champlain which seems to look down upon Place du Canada with 1,000 frowns. Still, Montréal’s Modernism serves as a reminder of a bygone era of powerful cultural institutions and a deep-rooted optimism about design and society that we see fax too little of today. It’s the kind of sanguine outlook perhaps best summed up in the sweet, tangy and wholly-satisfying drink served up from inside my favourite Montréal Modernist landmark of all: the giant roadside building-as-sign citrus of Gibeau Orange Julep.
Growing up in Niagara I never drank wine. Only after two years in France did I come to appreciate it. This is a common pattern for Canadians; we look past what is near to what is far. Though Canadian wine is still a young phenomenon in the land of beer, with serious wineries only emerging in the 1970s, pioneering winemakers are experimenting with unique but challenging environments and building new traditions.
Two of Canada’s major wine regions lie along the shores of Lake Ontario, a short drive from Toronto, making them the perfect destinations for a weekend escape. The Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County, a patchwork of vineyards, farmland and colonial towns, are now home to over 150 wineries, along with the attendant restaurants, artisans and boutique hotels.
Tracing Ancient Footsteps
Geology marked the Niagara Peninsula for grapes. The glacial Lake Iroquois, a precursor to Lake Ontario, deposited the necessary fertile soil and red clay, while an ancient sea laid down the limestone sediment for the Niagara Escarpment, trapping the warm air currents from the lake. Follow Regional Road 81, which winds its way through the peninsula, and you’ll be tracing the former Lake Iroquois shoreline, while passing some of the area’s leading wineries.
In Vineland we stopped for delicious thin-crust pizza at Redstone Winery. Rene Van Ede, the Australian winemaker there, told us he was shocked when he first arrived ten years ago and discovered that the cold temperatures could kill vines and that late frosts were deadly, with wineries resorting to windmills, helicopters and hay fires to warm the air. At neighbouring Back 10 Cellars Andrew Brooks even had the local pastor bless the vineyard. It couldn’t hurt. He and his wife Christina are dreamers. Quitting their restaurant jobs, they bought this ten acre derelict vineyard after looking in Italy and British Columbia and laboured tirelessly until their first vintage ten years later. Riesling, the workhorse of Niagara, is made into an off-dry sparkler and the Chardonnay, to give it a twist, is aged in Canadian oak which results in a unique marmalade/coconut cream pie flavour. Sometimes the harsh climate helps, said Brooks. “When a vine suffers it’s forced to make interesting fruit.” But there’s a limit to such suffering, with frosts sometimes wiping out whole vineyards.
At 16 Mile Cellar in Jordan head winemaker Regan Kapach works in a more hands-off style, but it’s risky, especially for a new winery. Instead of dictating a wine you have to react to its development, or simply trust. Sometimes it fails. “How do you make a million dollars owning a winery?” Kapach joked. “Start with ten.” So she experiments on a small scale, like her unfiltered, sulphate-free Chardonnay, which she left in a barrel undisturbed – except for a pat and a song – for 15 months. There was worry and there was hope, and winemakers are used to doing both. The result: ripe fruit balanced by tart acidity and a finish that slides down your throat like a core sample of the dolomitic limestone from which it grew.
The 81 ends at the Niagara Parkway, which meanders along the river. Here you can stop for a hike down into the Niagara Gorge or climb Brock’s Monument in Queenston Heights, a memorial to the general who defended against the invading Americans during the War of 1812. Niagara-on-the-Lake, the wine region’s capital, is a colonial dreamland with its shop- lined mam street and grand Victorian houses. The town is home to the renowned Shaw Festival Theatre, which is dedicated to the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.
Fogo Island is found at the end of the world, a place where icebergs are drawn to the rocky shore and weather patterns follow no laws. Seemingly forgotten by time, here history lives. Not only because it brings the island’s residents together, united by pride and a common heritage, but because it has given rise to something spectacular. Fogo Island Inn is a hideaway with heart, the artful creation catalysed by Zita Cobb and her mighty Shorefast Foundation.
To understand Fogo Island Inn you must first understand the island. “[Our place] in the Labrador Current made us cod fishing people, and our centuries-old history as cod fishing people has created a completely singular culture. You can still detect the influences of our Irish and English roots, but Fogo Islanders are quite specifically Fogo Islanders. We have managed in the present to maintain a beautiful relationship with the past that informs how we see our future.”
Fogo Island was built on fishing and for generations the region’s Atlantic cod proved bountiful. But then came the factory freezers and commercial trawlers of the 1960s, which had a devastating effect. Those who had known fishing all their lives could no longer support themselves. They were inshore fishermen, only capable of travelling short distances, and for them the cod simply weren’t there. In response to the inevitable drop in population, the National Film Board of Canada visited Fogo Island as part of their ‘Challenge for Change’ project. They were there to document the island way of life, showcasing what would be lost should it disappear. The 27 resulting films, known as The Fogo Process, encouraged dialogue between the island’s communities, who did not have a history of collaboration In turn, solutions were found, such as the building of larger boats that saw fishermen travel further out to sea in search of new species. However, by 1992 cod fishing, even in deeper waters, was no longer a viable industry and the island once again found itself in decline.
Cobb left Fogo Island after finishing high school and went on to forge a career in the high technology sector, yet every time she returned to the island it felt less and less like home. “So many people had moved away after the collapse of the cod fishery and the moratorium in 1992. The population of my youth was around 6,000 but by the time I retired it had fallen to just over 2,000. When I retired in 2001 I wanted to do something for [my] home and I was fortunate to find myself in a position to do so. With the help of two of my brothers, Tony and Alan, we started Shorefast Foundation to help find a way for Fogo Islanders to hold on to home. And if you could choose anywhere in the world to live, who wouldn’t choose Fogo Island?”
Shorefast Foundation is a charity designed to encourage local enterprise, secure an economic and cultural future for Fogo Island and find meaningful ways to carry the past into the future. And for Cobb its creation was vital. “(Myself; Tony and Alan] are all eighth generation Fogo Islanders and we all have a sense of duty to do our share, in our lives, to make sure that home stays home . There is an inherent and irreplaceable value in small places that we can’t afford to lose” It is Shorefast Foundation that operates Fogo Island Inn, yet no-one could question Cobb’s title as innkeeper. This is her project, and the love she has poured into it, and the island, is astounding.
A young city, by European standards at least, Toronto has grown rapidly since the 1950s and is best defined by its multi-cultural population rather than a particular history or landmark. Here proud Torontonians live, work and play all year round, eschewing traditional icons such as the CN Tower and Fort York in favour of ice skating and street festivals, embracing the city’s ever-evolving seasonal offerings whatever the weather.
Toronto’s summer calendar is crammed with outdoor events, concerts and festivals – and somewhere amongst it all residents still find time to savour balmy evenings spent sipping chilled Ontario wine. The city’s multicultural spirit is most evident on summer weekends when any number of colourful, all-singing, all-dancing festivals take over the streets. Taste of the Danforth and Taste of Little Italy celebrate everything Greek and Italian, swapping cars for stalls hawking freshly made gyros or pizza, local bands and the odd Ferris wheel. Caribana, North America’s largest cultural festival, beats out feel-good vibes for three weeks with music, art and theatre showcasing culture from Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad. Its crowning glory is a 10,000-strong parade of performers dressed in elaborate costumes and masks, dancing to soca, reggae and calypso rhythms until the small hours.
After all that movement and colour, the quiet shores of Lake Ontario are a welcoming haven. The Toronto Islands, just 15 minutes by ferry from downtown, offer an ideal city escape. Spend a relaxing day exploring the parks and canals by canoe, paddleboard or bicycle, admiring quaint pastel cottages trimmed with white window panes, or sunbathing on the beach. Look back over your shoulder and you’ll be surprised, every time, by how geographically close the city skyline is yet how remote it feels.
Shorter days and cooler nights herald the arrival of Canada’s most visually spectacular season, autumn. The streets are crowned with maple leaves in rich shades of yellow, orange and red, while Torontonians effortlessly embrace cross-seasonal dressing with camel-coloured coats, stylish sneakers and an accessorising pug. Stroll along the fashion and art strip of Queen Street West with the cool kids: try Vancouver label Kit and Ace with their focus on easy to wear cashmere items (perfect for the perpetual traveller), stock up on Canadiana-chic gifts like moose-engraved coasters at the Drake General Store and sip coffee from White Squirrel Coffee Shop, named for the elusive family of albino squirrels inhabiting nearby Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Early autumn is also prime time to sample Ontario’s cornucopia of produce, with the best offerings at St. Lawrence Market. Well-established on the visitor’s trail after National Geographic ranked it one of the world’s top food markets, locals still head here for the Saturday morning farmers’ market with its sustainable fresh seafood, locally grown vegetables and mouth-watering selections of antipasti, perfect for that night’s dinner party. Embrace your inner tourist and gorge on a peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery; chunky Canadian back bacon rolled in cornmeal, piled high on a soft white bun, no condiments required.
Like many Canadians, when asked where I come from I instinctively start with Canada but, sensing that this answer isn’t quite right, quickly add my cultural roots – in my case, French and British. For those who have called this country home for only a few generations identity can be a complicated topic, which is why I often find myself wondering what it actually means to be Canadian.
Historically, Canada’s heritage is found in First Nations people’s cultures and traditions. However, thanks to travel and immigration, the concept of identity in contemporary Canada has become more diverse. From coast to coast we witness different flavours and rituals, many of which originated across the oceans, that we often come to claim as our own. For me, growing up in a culinary household, this is most evident in our food. Although ideas about what constitutes the modern day Canadian may be fluid, we can gam a better understanding of ourselves, and our development, through the ways we eat.
In Toronto, one of our most multicultural cities, the food movement reinforces this patchwork image of Canadian identity. Chefs are not only experimenting with flavours from their own heritage but mixing them with others, while paying attention to native ingredients. Although classic dishes can be enjoyed (long live the weekend brunch), the fusing of foreign cuisines with local produce is now typically Canadian.
In this photo essay I explore the art of three chefs who capture this fascinating cultural phenomenon in the most delectable way. Rob Gentile, Chef Director of King Street Food Company, combines his Italian and Canadian backgrounds to create beautiful dishes that blend Italianate culinary customs with local produce. Nigel Didcock, Culinary Director at Nous et Vous, which specialises in classes and supper clubs, fuses British and French styles, while Patrick Kriss, Executive Chef at Alo, has modernised the tasting menu by mixing French fine dining observances with Canadian flavours. We may be a mélange of cultures but our kitchens are all the more enticing for it.