Happy 150th Birthday, Canada!
Canoeing at Yoho National Park in Golden, British Columbia
Photo by Jennifer Merrick
In honor of Canada’s sesquicentennial (just as hard to pronounce as it is to spell), I’d like to share with you seven places in Canada that hold a special place in my heart. I’ve deliberately left out some of the more common destinations. Of course, Vancouver is beautiful with its ocean and mountain views. Magnifique describes Montreal and Quebec City, known for their French flavors, festivals, and combination of old world and modern ambience. Our biggest metropolis, Toronto, and our cozy capital, Ottawa, offer a smorgasbord of cultural and culinary attractions. Banff and Jasper national parks in the Rockies are wilderness wonderlands, as are the rugged lakes and forests of Ontario’s Algonquin Park.
All attractive places to visit, but if you wander off the beaten track a little, you’ll be rewarded with beauty without crowds and a chance to discover a little more about the place us Canucks call home.
Our son was six months old when we visited Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost province and, incidentally, the last to join confederation in 1949. Carrying him in a backpack, we hiked the trails near the fishing village of Trinity. Though high season, there was hardly a soul on the towering cliffs that hugged the coast and looked out onto the Atlantic. We spotted whales in the water; and when we stopped to watch them, an eagle glided in front of us—a truly magical moment. The colorful historic buildings of the town itself looked like they belong in a movie set.
In fact, Trinity has been the location of quite a few films, including The Shipping News, starring Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore. Walking and boat tours are a good way to learn more about the town, and there are local plays at the Rising Tide Theatre to enjoy in the evenings.
Prince Edward Island
Canada’s smallest province, a 225-kilometer-long island in the Atlantic, is known for potatoes, red soil, and as the home to our most beloved of heroines—Anne Shirley from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic children’s book, Anne of Green Gables. As a huge fan of the book, I was worried that PEI couldn’t possibly live up to the idyllic description Montgomery penned; but as soon as we crossed the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick, the island charmed us. Anne was everywhere. At least her spirit was, which lies in the young girl’s exuberant zest for life and in her ability to wonder at the beauty around her. We found Anne not only in the Cavendish tourist sites like Green Gables Heritage Place and Avonlea Village, but also when we were biking the Confederation Trail, where every turn revealed new views of the sea or fields edged with wildflowers and when we were cooking giant clams on the red sands of Boughton Island.
Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia conjures up images of majestic tall ships, lighthouses, and views of craggy cliffs plunging into the Atlantic Ocean. And while you’ll certainly find all that, you may also come across some unexpected finds. A rich Acadian history, the world’s highest tides, and fine wines were some of the discoveries we made on a visit to Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, a 150-km stretch of fertile land known for its natural beauty and bountiful harvests.
Don’t miss the Grand Pre National Historic Site, where a commemorative church stands as a memorial to those who were exiled in the eighteenth century, along with the statue Evangeline, the romantic Acadian heroine who inspired Henry Wordsworth Longfellow’s famous poem. A stone’s throw away from the interpretation center is Evangeline Beach, which, at low tide, offers a panoramic vista of red sand stretching far out to the receded water. This landscape was shaped by the powerful Bay of Fundy tides, which produce the highest tides in the world, reaching up to sixteen meters. Every day, approximately 100 billion tons of seawater rush in and out of the bay, more than the flow of all the freshwater rivers of the world combined.
Saguenay Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec
C’est Géant is the catchphrase for the Saguenay Lac Saint-Jean region, located 200 kilometers north of Quebec City. Literally, it means “it’s giant,” but it doesn’t translate well. In French, it encompasses more, referring not only to the vast glacier-culpted landscapes and the deep fjord edged with 350m-high cliffs, but also the region’s personality. A strong sense of place exists here, and you can see and feel it in the area’s culture, history, and people. Some gigantic adventures and sights to take in include Val-Jalbert Historical Village, one of the best preserved ghost towns in Canada, Fjord-du-Saguenay Park and the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. At the latter, you can observe the most famous of the region’s giants–whales. Thirteen species, including the endangered beluga and the blue whale, migrate in summer to feed off the rich krill found where the fresh water of the fjord meets the salt water of the St. Lawrence.
Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Growing up in Northern Ontario, we always referred to Manitoulin simply as ‘the island.’ At over 160 kilometers long, it’s the largest freshwater island in the world with close to 100 lakes within it. The island has a spirit and light of its own, so much so that I’m hesitant to even write about it in case crowds spoil it. But I’ll make an exception for you. The best way to get to Manitoulin, located along the northern shore of Lake Huron, is via the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry, which departs from Tobemory on the Bruce Peninsula (yet another gorgeous place to visit). Once on the island, visit Bridal Veil Falls, hike the Cup and Saucer Trail, or experience its rich First Nation culture.
Churchill in northern Manitoba on the southwestern shores of Hudson Bay is the only place on this list I haven’t visited. But after hearing so many people rave about it, it’s somewhere I hope to explore soon. Though a small town of less than a thousand, it welcomes more than 15,000 visitors a year, mostly to see the polar bears who come each fall on their way to arctic ice. As much as I’d love to glimpse these 1200-pound creatures, Churchill’s beluga whales fascinate me even more. Each summer, more than 57,000 of these snow-white whales, the world’s largest population, migrate to Churchill River estuary. Up close encounters of these playful and vocal mammals can be had on zodiac and larger passenger boats, or you can kayak or snorkel with them for an even more intimate experience.
Golden, British Columbia
The small town of Golden, British Columbia, situated in the Columbia Valley between the Rockies to the east and the Columbia Mountains to the west has no fewer than six national parks within a two-hour drive: Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke. After a recent visit filled with hikes, wildlife sightings, friendly people, and, most of all, the ever-present mountains, it was hard to even think about getting on a plane home. Golden highlights included a visit to Glacier, Canada’s second largest national park and home to the historic Rogers Pass, a route discovered in 1881 through the “impenetrable peaks” that now connects our nation from coast to coast. Kayaking the Columbia Wetlands on water so still it reflected the mountains around us was an unforgettable moment, as was the view from the top of Kicking Horse Resort, which is also the location of Eagle’s Eye, Canada’s highest restaurant.
Lastly, don’t miss Yoho National Park with its natural attractions like Takakkaw Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in western Canada, and Lake O’Hara and Emerald Lake, famed for their shimmering jewel-like colors.
I apologize for leaving so many places off the list (sorry, eh), and I would have liked to included more; but I do hope this list will nevertheless give you inspiration to come celebrate with us this year.
And if you do, here are a few things to be aware of:
A double-double is what you order at Tim Horton’s (coffee with two sugar and two cream). A loonie is the one-dollar coin, referring to the loon depicted on it rather than a commentary on anyone’s mental status. The two-dollar coin is a toonie, well…just because. It’s a Muskoka not an Adirondack chair, a washroom not a restroom, and the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced zed.
Happy 150th birthday, Canada!
Jennifer Merrick is a freelance writer and avid traveler based in Toronto.