EDMONTON - I'm out here in Alberta enjoying not only a heat wave (up to the mid-20's in the next day or two) but also learning a ton about new and existing attractions in this great country of ours.
I spent Tuesday sitting down with 15 or 20 (I lost track) tourism folks from various cities and provinces and territories and came away quite impressed with what we have to offer. Here's a sample of what I was told.
- Ottawa is gearing up for a big 2012. The Chateau Laurier turns 100, the Junos are being held April 1, the NHL All-Star Game (with or without Sid the Kid) is there early in the year and there’s a major Van Gogh exhibit May 25-Sept. 3. Oh, and it’s the 60th anniversary of the city’s tulip festival.
- Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. Be sure to look for the Keister Family Fiddlers. They entertained at lunch yesterday and they’re a hoot; a mom on guitar and four adorable young girls playing the fiddle and stomping and singing like there’s no tomorrow.
- Best line of the day goes to Jantine Van Kregten of Ottawa Tourism. I was telling her about how I spotted these gag gifts called “Squirrel Underpants” at stores in Halifax and Edmonton. They come in white and in pink and they’re just tiny little things that look to go onto a photo of a squirrel. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it’s a great place to hold their nuts.”
- The Canadian Tourism Commission has a facebook page at facebook.com/keepexploring
- There’s a guest ranch called Echo Valley in B.C. that’s run by a fellow from Britain and a woman from Thailand, and they have a Thai-inspired spa in the interior of the province, as well as riding and other traditional ranch activities. Sounds cool.
- They turn Fort Henry in Kingston into something called Fort Fright at Halloween time, with ghouls and goblins and ghosts, and you can even stay overnight. Oooooohhhh, scary.
- You can snorkel with beluga whales in Hudson’s Bay in summer. Many folks like to hear the whales sing. Others like to sing back to the belugas. “They like Amazing Grace,” said Cathy Senecal of Tourism Manitoba. “Also they like it if you sing ‘Corinne, Corina’ in a really high voice. But they hate John Denver.”
- The Keefer Suites in downtown Vancouver (Chinatown) has three suites, each a whopping 2,400 square feet, and a huge pool on the roof. Owen Wilson recently rented one of the suites, and is said to have come back another day with a friend and knocked on someone’s door so he could show them where he had stayed.
- They raise chickens on the roof of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. I knew they had a beekeeper on top of the Royal York in Toronto, but the Quebec chickens were news to me.
- The Chapleau Game Preserve in northern Ontario is said to be the largest preserve in the world.
- I don't look so good in a cowboy hat. Of course, the photographer asked me to ham it up a little for this photo.
- I hadn’t thought of it, but 2017 will mark our nation’s 150th anniversary.
- There’s a new Rock and Roll Musical History tour in Winnipeg that includes sights and places frequented by such greats as Neil Young and Bachman Turner Overdrive. Takin' care of business, indeed.
- There’s a big pond hockey tournament on Lake Louise again this winter, their third annual such event.
- The Tergesen General Store in Gimli, Manitoba has been run by the same family for more than 100 years.
- Sault Ste. Marie has the second largest wind farm in Canada and the largest solar energy farm in North America.
- A new provincial museum will open in Edmonton in 2015, right downtown. The existing Royal Alberta Museum is a fine facility a few minutes from downtown. They had a reception for media and tourism types there on Tuesday night, with Tom Jackson handling the entertainment and native dancers out front. The aboriginal history exhibit is terrific.
- The World Figure Skating Championships will be in London, Ontario in 2013.
- Starwood is about to open their 60th property in Canada, a Sheraton in Red Deer, Alberta. Their biggest property in Canada is the Four Points Sheraton brand, with 23 hotels.. They’re also breaking ground on a new Element Hotel in Vancouver, which will be branded as an eco-friendly hotel. There are no firm plans for a W hotel in Toronto, but the Aloft brand will open a facility next year across the parking lot from Vaughan Mills. They already have 70 hotels in China and will open 100 more in the next few years.
- The Banff Centre has a new feature called the Shaw Ampitheatre with 1,500 seats. Blue Rodeo (see photo of Jim Cuddy of the band, courtesy of Julia Pelish) and the Calgary Philharmonic each have played there.
- Victoria’s Secret opened its first Canadian store at the West Edmonton Mall two weeks before it opened at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. Nyah, nyah.
- The Soho Metropolitan Hotel on Blue Jays Way in downtown Toronto has a 4,000 square foot penthouse unit with three floors and its own library.
- Wine is growing as an industry in Nova Scotia. A lot of money is being poured into sparkling wine, especially.
- They clear snow on the main lake in Sudbury in winter and some students at Laurentian university skate from their apartments over to the university for their daily classes.
AIR CANADA DEAL
A huge sigh of relief from anyone (me included) who was to fly today or tomorrow on Air Canada. It remains to be seen if the union members will ratify the tentative deal, but at least for now it's business as usual for Air Canada and for thousands of fliers. Good news, indeed.