A golden sand desert that stretches up to the majestic mountains of The Yukon. The sound of small waves galumphing in and out of a lichen-covered rock on a morning canoe paddle in Ontario. The glorious pink cherry blossoms that blanket the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia in May.
I haven’t seen all of this country, not by a long shot. But I’ve seen enough of Canada’s endless coasts and wondrous lakes and colourful cities to know we should be celebrating pretty hard when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday and the calendar jumps to Canada Day.
I’ve been hugely fortunate in this job, and in previous posts in my nearly 31 years at the Star, to have seen some magical things. In no particular order, and recognizing I haven’t yet made it to the far north or to Manitoba or Saskatchewan, here’s one very lucky man’s list of some great things to do in a very great country.
- Sip away in the Okanagan Valley. I’ve been to vineyards all over the world, but none I’ve seen are more beautiful than here. Great wines, too.
- Tour around in Twillingate, Newfoundland (see photo at right). Majestic icebergs, rocky coasts with romantic lighthouses and signs that say things like “Private Land – Foot Traffic Welcome.” The people here are as nice as advertised. And then some.
- Drink in Muskoka. Too crowded, yes, but you can still find times when the loons are calling and a lonely canoe paddles past and the pines are lit by the pale morning light and all is right with the world. Hit the Kee to Bala when Blue Rodeo’s in town for the ultimate Canadian weekend. Don’t forget to stop at Weber’s on Highway 11 for a burger.
- Take a trolley ride on the High Level streetcar in Edmonton. It’s a great old line with vintage cars and guys dressed up like old-time conductors, and you get great views as you cross the North Saskatchewan River.
- Stroll Rue du Petit Champlain. I like the upper town just fine, but this street perhaps is the most fun in Quebec City. Have a drink at the top of the stairs on the north end and watch the tourists go by, then bed down around the corner at the luxurious Auberge Saint-Antoine or upstairs at the Chateau Frontenac, where they also have a great bar.
- Ride the peak to peak gondola in Whistler. When you’re finished, tee it up at Big Sky in Pemberton (see photo) an underrated golf experience in Canada. Or rent a bike and check out the forests or ride helter-skelter down the ski hill.
- Watch the fog roll in from the deep Atlantic on Signal Hill in St. John’s, then retire to a two-person Jacuzzi tub at the Murray Premises hotel. You can make up the rest.
- Check out the sidewalk cafes of Mile End in Montreal and nosh on a St. Viateur bagel. Stop in for a bologna/salami sandwich with mustard at Wilensky. But don’t dare to ask for substititions. Or request it be cut in half.
- Take a long walk on the beach in Tofino and watch the winter storms roll in. Splurge and spend a night at one of the country’s top hotels, the Wickaninnish Inn.
- Drive the Niagara Parkway, preferably in a convertible or on a bike. A tad precious, but one of the prettiest drives in Ontario for sure.
- Walk along Parliament Hill in the snow, like Pierre Trudeau. It’s a quintessential Canadian experience.
- Take the gondola to the top of the hill in Banff and watch the sun rise over what feels like the roof of the world.
- Check out the rhododendron garden in Stanley Park in spring. Then change things up at night with a mai tai in the wonderfully kitschy tiki bar at the Waldorf Hotel in East Vancouver.
- Ride a bike in a Toronto river valley. We take these playgrounds for granted but our ravines — and the Toronto Islands — are superb spots to enjoy a different side of our city.
- Take in a lobster supper in a PEI church basement. No pretense, just fabulous shellfish and great, down-home people.
- Drink in the views of the luscious Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. In spring, the valley floor is a carpet of deep green dotted with pink cherry and white apple blossoms, and tall, white church spires rise into the sky. Check out the cemetery in the town of Paradise. Then think about it.
- Take a drive from Haines Junction and check out Kluane National Park in the Yukon. You might see 10 cars in an hour if it’s a busy day, and the mountains are just as majestic and craggy and moving as those of Banff or Jasper.
Next on my list: Saskatoon, Lake of the Woods, Northwest Territories
Got any suggestions? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow me on Twitter @jimbyerstravel