20 Best Places to Travel in Canada: 2014
Report by Adrian Brijbassi and Vacay.ca Contributors
The word is sesquicentennial and Canadians are going to hear lots about it, and a few will even learn how to properly pronounce it.
1. Charlottetown, PEI
2. Quebec City, QC
3. Fogo Island, NL
4. St. Andrews, NB
5. Winnipeg, MB
6. Cave & Basin, AB
7. Vancouver, BC
8. Nahanni National Park, NWT
9. Montreal, QC
10. Discovery Islands, BC
11. Calgary, AB
12. Whistler, BC
13. Toronto, ON
14. Ottawa, ON
15. Western Newfoundland, NL
16. Halifax, NS
17. Chilkoot Trail, BC
18. Laurendière-Mauricie, QC
19. Haida Gwaii, BC
20. Prince Albert National Park, SK
In 2017, the nation marks its 150th birthday. The celebratory mood begins this summer, when the sesquicentenary of the 1864 Confederation Conference turns Charlottetown — nicknamed the “Birthplace of Confederation” — into a 68-day party zone, beginning July 1. Merriment continues in Quebec City, which also played a vital role in the building blocks that led toward the 1867 British North America Act that established the nation’s constitution.
Thanks to the festive atmosphere, the Prince Edward Island capital tops the list of the 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada in 2014. The Quebec capital comes in second and is one of three places in that province to make the third annual list, which is selected by Vacay.ca‘s team of travel experts that includes writers, editors, and photographers. British Columbia leads all provinces with five entries, including No. 7 Vancouver, which will host the 30th annual TED Conference in March — marking the first time the event that attracts global luminaries will be held outside of California.
Also of note is the inclusion of Winnipeg, which ranks fifth, thanks in large part to the sensational Canadian Museum for Human Rights that is scheduled to open on September 20. It is the first time Manitoba has an entry on the list.
Voters named destinations for their significance in 2014 as well as notable anniversaries, events, and festivals. Some entries were also noted for their unheralded or emerging tourism infrastructure and their uniqueness as a travel offering.
1. CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island
What’s Happening in 2014: The 150th anniversary of the Confederation Conference kicks into high gear on Canada Day weekend, when a “celebration zone” filled with entertainment and activities takes over the waterfront area. The festivities that mark the 1864 conference that led to the founding of an independent Canada extend to September 6.
Why You Should Go: It’s a non-stop celebration of Canada — from the beginnings to its current state as a kaleidoscope of multicultural influences. PEI is a province that will wriggle into your heart with every sunset you view on a red-sand beach and every oyster you suck back on a patio restaurant. The sesquicentennial is the reason you have to go to Charlottetown in 2014, but the island has endless attractions that entice each and every year.
Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi says: “Charlottetown is so immaculate it needed to invent its own mice population. Three years ago, miniature bronze mice began to appear throughout the downtown streets of this tidy provincial capital. Part of a scavenger hunt based on the character Eckhart the Mouse from author David Weale’s “The True Meaning of Crumbfest,” the mice are another cute aspect of a city that’s easy to adore for all of the reasons you might expect — Charlottetown is as friendly and attractive as its reputation — and for some reasons that will surprise you. Despite a population of less than 35,000, Charlottetown has a surprisingly upscale dining scene and lively bar atmosphere.”
2. QUEBEC CITY, Quebec
What’s Happening in 2014: Confederation festivities will also take place in the capital of La Belle Province. Plus, two other big anniversaries are also occurring in Quebec City that promise to bring plenty of jovial spirit. First, travellers will want to be part of the 60th year of the Quebec Carnival, which runs from January 31 to February 16. Also, the 350th anniversary of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec (16 rue de Buade) takes place in 2014. Open until December 28 is the only holy door outside of Europe and just the seventh such structure in the world. Once closed, the door — made of bronze, with an image of Jesus Christ on one side and Mary on the other — will not be opened again until 2025.
Why You Should Go: The city attracts more than 4.5 million visitors a year for good reason. Not only is Quebec the most romantic city in North America, it is also one of the most fascinating, with history, art, gastronomy, and culture galore. And it is home to the No. 1 Street to Visit in Canada and one of the best music festivals on the continent, the annual Festival d’été de Québec (Quebec Summer Festival).
Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi says: “In Quebec’s Lower Town, a vibrant new scene merges almost seamlessly with the centuries-old architecture lining cobblestone streets that meander 300 feet below the famous Chateau Frontenac and the touristy shops of Upper Town. Trendy neighbourhoods such as Saint Roch, running along rue Saint-Joseph, are the most exciting part of the city. The street is lined with Parisian-style lamp posts, flower boxes that are so typical of Quebec City, and a cosmopolitan feel that will surprise visitors who believe this is a town to explore the past.”
3. FOGO ISLAND, Newfoundland and Labrador
What’s Happening in 2014: The 30th anniversary of the Brimstone Head Folk Festival, an outdoor music event in a stunning natural amphitheatre, celebrates traditional Newfoundland culture and Irish music from August 9-11. The Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back — the world’s only seagoing rowing challenge — covers seven miles on the Atlantic and will be held on July 19.
Why You Should Go: When it opened, the five-star Fogo Island Inn made this outport community the talk of the Canadian tourism industry. The inn celebrates is first anniversary on May 12, 2014. From its bold initiatives, stunning architecture, local artisan-crafted textiles and furniture, the brainchild of billionaire Zita Cobb is geo-tourism at its finest. Along with the scenery, world-class hiking trails and genuine, warm locals, Fogo Island also offers a revitalizing stay for visitors. Nature-viewing thrills abound on Fogo Island and they include icebergs, caribou, puffins and whales.
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish says: “Artisans bring to light the unique cultural facets of Fogo Island through the inn’s 29 guest rooms, where everything from the furniture to the textiles are island made. Want to take a quilt home? Stop into Winds and Waves Artisan Guild, where all the quilts for the inn are hand sewn. The inn’s staff, comprised mostly of local residents, has received glowing reviews. All of the positive word of mouth has enticed tourists to venture out to Joe Batt’s Arm, one of those curiously named Newfoundland communities that dot the Atlantic coastline, populating territory with only a few souls, all of whom seem to have a warm smile or quick laugh no matter the economic climate in their part of the world. Cars bring visitors from Newfoundland, other parts of Canada, and from the US and overseas. They wait in line for the ferry from Farewell to Fogo to experience the music, art, crafts, and stories abundant in the austere beauty that flourishes here on the sea coast. Those travellers aren’t your usual backpacker or camper, though. Nightly room rates at the Fogo Island Inn start at $550, leaving it out of reach for most visitors. But the experience of the island is more affordable and accessible if you stay at places like Peg’s B&B, where rates start at $85 per night.”
4. ST. ANDREWS BY-THE-SEA, New Brunswick
What’s Happening in 2014: The Algonquin Resort is scheduled to reopen early in the new year after extensive, multimillion-dollar renovations. The historic property is the newest addition to the Marriott Autograph Collection of luxury hotels, and the first in Canada. The Algonquin boasts sweeping views of the iconic Bay of Fundy, a variety of finely appointed guestrooms and suites, a grand ballroom, Braxton’s Bar and Restaurant, serving a full range of regional flavours and dozens of thoughtful, unique experiences like a daily sunset toast on the rooftop balcony and an “anyplace dining” menu offering food service in several of the public spaces around the resort’s pristine property. It adds to the many outstanding accommodations and tourist activities already in the seaside village.
Why You Should Go: St. Andrews By-the-Sea is where small-town charm meets world-class travel. Stroll the impressive Kingsbrae Gardens and then enjoy chef Alex Haun’s tasting menu at highly acclaimed Savour in the Garden [Read about it here]. Play 18 holes at the prestigious Algonquin Golf Course and then spend the afternoon whale watching aboard a zodiac in the Bay of Fundy. Browse art galleries along Water Street and then catch live east coast music at one of the local pubs downtown. It’s all here, and it’s all within reach.
Vacay.ca Writer Katie Marti says: “Growing up in New Brunswick, St. Andrews By-the-Sea was our special occasion destination. It’s where families would gather to celebrate anniversaries and weddings, and where friends and lovers would go to escape. Despite renovations and new developments in and around the town, little has changed. A visit continues to be more than just a few nights in a luxury hotel or a fantastic meal at a quaint little restaurant: It’s about celebrating the town itself and the entire Fundy region. There are treasured memories to be made here above and beyond what one might expect from a small town in a tiny corner of Canada.”
5. WINNIPEG, Manitoba
What’s Happening in 2014: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will mark a new era for Winnipeg, a maligned city that a century ago was envied for an economy so torrid its main street was lined with bank buildings, and its construction projects included Western Canada’s first skyscraper and one of the most impressive capital buildings of any province or state. The CMHR is instantly the most outstanding tourist-focused building in Canada. This year also marks the 45th year of the Festival du Voyageur folk and cultural event, and the opening of the Journey to Churchill, a 10-acre exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Winnipeg also hosts the 2014 Juno Awards and Go Media, a conference of more than 100 of the world’s leading travel journalists.
Why You Should Go: The city’s architecture is one part of the story, its dining scene is another. A handful of young chefs are reinventing the cuisine in Manitoba, using inspiration from their travels and a collaborative spirit to build bold menus that take chances while not skimping on portion sizes.
Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi says: “Winnipeg’s reputation for too long has languished. Lambasted for its frigid temperatures in winter and buggy conditions in summer, the Manitoba capital has had much to overcome in perception. It has built momentum in recent years, thanks to an under-the-radar dining scene and the return of the city’s beloved NHL team, the Jets, who have stoked Winnipeg with confidence and pride. Now, this. The CMHR. The name is boring, the building is astonishing. Designed by New Mexico-based Antoine Predock, the CMHR is 260,123 square feet of whoa.”
6. CAVE AND BASIN NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, Alberta
What’s Happening in 2014: Several activities are taking place this year. In January, there are after-hours Cave lantern tours at Cave and Basin National Historic Site. February features Night Skies Over the Rockies: a month-long photo exhibit, plus stargazing with the Royal Astronomical Society of Alberta (February 8) and an inflatable planetarium from Wood Buffalo National Park Dark Sky Preserve (February 7-9). March is Banff Winter Carnival at Cave and Basin, bringing back the best of the historic carnival from the 1920s to the 1950s. There’s Cinema Under the Stars: Late-night film series, beginning May 17.
Why You Should Go: Cave and Basin is sheer magic, raw beauty and deep history — a true Canadian gem. If you love Canadian Parks, then you’ll adore Cave and Basin. This was where the national parks system all began. In 1885, a small 26-square-kilometre reserve around these natural springs was created, thus bringing to fruition the concept of protecting land for all Canadians. Today, more than 100,000 people visit the cave annually, view the indoor and outdoor exhibits and stroll on boardwalks.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: ”You simply can’t visit beautiful Banff without making a stop at Cave and Basin. It’s truly a site to behold. The first thing that will grab you is the peculiar mix of a jaw-dropping mountain views. The second thing that you will notice is the walk through the crooked, rocky tunnel to the cave. Lastly, a quick trek outside will take you to the basin and home to the Banff Spring Snail, one of the rarest animals in the world.”
7. VANCOUVER, British Columbia
What’s Happening in 2014: The TED Conference moves from Long Beach, California for the first time and does so for its 30th anniversary. The 1,200 tickets, priced at $7,500 each, are all sold out and the attendees expected to arrive include some of the biggest names on the planet. One or more Clintons may be here, as might Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as might Tesla mastermind Elon Musk. It is hoped that the TED Conference results in a boom in business activity in British Columbia’s largest city.
Why You Should Go: The afterglow of the 2010 Winter Games hasn’t been quite as bright as Vancouver anticipated. Hosting an Olympics in the middle of the worst recession in generations has curtailed the tourism frenzy mega-events usually deliver. Hotel occupancy rates aren’t as high as expected and tax breaks elsewhere have caused an exodus among the film industry, a vital economic and tourism contributor. But the city continues to improve, with its Jack Poole Olympic Plaza in downtown and Olympic Village, the former home to the world’s elite winter sports athletes, in the False Creek area now complete and laden with restaurants, cafes, and shops. The city’s dining scene is exceptional and cultural events keep growing as artists turn their attention to the Commercial Drive and south Main Street neighbourhoods.
Vacay.ca Columnist Tricia Edgar says: “It was fitting that when my daughter and I decided to explore Stanley Park on a lovely day this spring, one of the first sounds we heard was the little whinny of an eagle — a small sound for such a large and beautiful bird. In this lovely park beside Vancouver’s urban core, the city’s natural beauty meets the urban edge, and the results are intriguing for wildlife lovers. Stanley Park is 1,001 acres of forest that extends into the Burrard Inlet, the water that separates Vancouver from the North Shore mountains. It’s one of Vancouver’s most iconic views: looking up from the park onto the snow-covered peaks, or looking down from the peaks to the harbour and the ocean. Nestled right beside Vancouver’s densely populated West End, the park has a beautiful temperate rainforest, urban beaches with mountain vistas, and a seawall that bridges the two.”
8. NAHANNI NATIONAL PARK, Northwest Territories
What’s Happening in 2014: It’s official. The Northwest Territories is “The Aurora Capital of the World” — a marketing slogan that is backed up by fact. Thanks to data collected from webcam satellites, it is now evident that more Northern Lights viewing occurs in this part of Canada than in anywhere else in the world. Satellite imagery shows that the aurora borealis is clearly visible for all but a handful of days each year. In 2014, the expectation that the new research will lead to an increase in visitors who want to see be certain they will see the spectacular light show.
Why You Should Go: Pure adventure, plain and simple, is what you will find in Nahanni National Park — especially for those who love hiking and paddling. Enjoy taking pictures? Your trigger finger will wear out long before this park does. For adrenalin junkies, this is the place where you want to be. Late June to mid-August is the best time to visit the park — pay close attention to weather reports. In these parts, the climate can be unpredictable. Want to get high? Check out majestic Virginia Falls, standing at over 90 metres (300 feet). Need to get higher? Head 1,450 metres (4,757 feet) into the air at the summit of Sunblood Mountain and be blown away by one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Need to get higher still? Then just look up to the sky and gaze upon the aurora borealis and become mesmerized by the final frontier.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: ”One thing that I love about Canada is that it’s one of the best countries in the world for star gazing. You’ll love the natural beauty this park has to offer, but what you’ll love just as much is the sky above. The Northwest Territories has earned its new nickname and travellers to its famed park will be among the fortunate ones who learn why.”
9. MONTREAL, Quebec
What’s Happening in 2014: For starters, the 15th anniversary of Montreal En Lumière runs from February 28 to March 2, with several shows, fine dining, family fun and nightlife. One of the largest winter festivals in the world, this event draws more than 900,000 fans and is cherished in Quebec. The music and dining choices at En Lumière will certainly help heat things up in the winter. But Montreal has, and always will be, a city that sizzles in summer. Another big anniversary happening this year in Montreal will really get you jazzed up! The Montreal Jazz Festival celebrates its 35th edition with Michael Bublé, Stacey Kent and Alain Lefèvre from June 26 to July 6. If you prefer to groove to the sound of a race car, then buckle up for the Grand Prix Montreal, which will thunder down the streets June 6-8. And if you’re looking for a laugh, look no further than the Just for Laughs Festival from July 12- 31.
Why You Should Go: It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s delicious, it’s sexy, it’s energetic, it’s hip, it’s beautiful. There’s not much Montreal doesn’t offer tourists. A first-time visitor will be enthralled with the history and vibrant atmosphere, while return visitors will fall head over heels with the place when they discover just how much there is to see and do, no matter if venturing out to the Jean-Talon Market at the north end of the city or exploring the wares at Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal.
Vacay.ca Writer Nancy Wigston says: “The Plateau is the epicentre of Montreal’s resto and cycle culture. Rent wheels at Bixi bike stands (300 in the city) or locally at La Bicycletterie (201 Rachel East). A few nights at the highly rated Casa Bianca B&B(4351 Avenue de l’Esplanade), overlooking splendid Parc Mont Royal makes for a full-immersion Plateau experience. (Don’t miss coffee and fresh pastries at Kouign Amman, 322 Mont-Royal East). At Boulevard St-Joseph, you’ll enter Mile End, Leonard Cohen territory.”
10. DISCOVERY ISLANDS, British Columbia
What’s Happening in 2014: Cuts are coming to some of the BC Ferries routes that deliver passengers from the mainland to the islands. Those cuts don’t involve price, unfortunately, but the number of trips ferries will make to the islands. There’s a concern that the decline in ferry service will lead to a drop in tourism over time. For now, the Discovery Islands are a jewel of sports fishing, wildlife watching, First Nations cultural exploration, and luxury resorts.
Why You Should Go: It’s pristine and though they’re called the Discovery Islands, they’re mostly unknown by people outside of western Canada. The archipelago off of Vancouver Island’s east coast has 120 tourism businesses and is responsible for $45 million in annual revenue. You will see grizzly bears, dolphins, sea lions, eagles, seals, and views that will challenge the shutter in your camera. Come prepared to click, click, click the days away.
Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi says: “After a grizzly-bear tour on aboriginal land, the boat I arrived on drove back to Sonora Resort for a satisfying lunch prepared by chef Terry Pichor‘s team. Next, we returned to the waters for a tour through the Johnstone Strait that separates British Columbia’s gorgeous Discovery Islands from the province’s mainland. The population of Pacific white-sided dolphins has grown in recent years and these beautiful mammals will swim in large schools, trailing boats to take advantage of the fast-moving current they create. On this day, guide Aaron Nagler took the boat into a school of what he estimated to be 150 dolphins that hurdled out of the water with aerodynamic grace. Beyond them, spanning the horizon, was a massive rainbow that left mouths gaping.”
11. CALGARY, Alberta
What’s Happening for 2014: Cities become most interesting when they embrace what is distinct about themselves. Calgary did that a century ago when the Calgary Stampede was born. Last year, with only a bit of fanfare, Alberta’s largest city launched an intriguing event called Beakerhead, a festival that celebrates innovation through engineering and science. Astronaut Chris Hadfield was the celebrity participant in this curious cultural experiment. Calgary has more engineers per capita than most cities in the world, meaning Beakerhead has the foundation to build something big and cool. It’s a festival to watch as it gears up for its second go-round from September 10-14. Calgary also has its first Relais & Chateaux property, the Kensington Riverside Inn, a boutique hotel that earned the distinction in November. The recovery from the June flood has gone amazingly well and much of the tourism infrastructure, including Stampede Park, is again accessible.
Why You Should Go: The Stampede is always the reason. It is a mega-event that doesn’t disappoint. This year, following a 101st session hampered by the flood, figures to be a showstopper. Calgary, though, is also emerging as a destination because of its wealth of, well, wealth. Big money from the energy and finance sectors is sponsoring creative projects and helping to sustain the city’s culinary scene, which is one of the best in the country.
Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi says: “I’ve visited Calgary three times in the past 18 months and keep waiting for that moment when I can say, a-ha, this town and it’s people just aren’t as appealing as they first seemed. Instead, on this most recent time, I explored further, investigated deeper, and returned with the same conclusion as I previously did: It is a city whose economic boom has led to a blossoming of culture that has created one of the most vibrant and enjoyable places to visit in North America.”
12. WHISTLER, British Columbia
What’s Happening in 2014: More sensational events, including: WinterPRIDE (January 26 to February 2), TED Conference events in March, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (April 11-20), the second annual Tough Mudder Whistler (June 21-22), Ironman Canada Whistler (June 27), Crankworx Mountain Bike Festivals (July 3-6 and August 8-27), and foodie events like Cornucopia (in November).
Why You Should Go: Whistler is the largest ski resort in North America, yet it sees more visitors in the summer. It’s one of the few attractions in Canada that has successfully managed to become an all-season destination. The result is an experience that is geared to satisfy. The proof is in the quality of service in Whistler, arguably the best of any destination in Canada.
Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi says: “I’ve been to Whistler at least two dozen times and never once bombed down one of its mountains. Not on skis, or a snowboard, or a mountain bike. Am I missing out? I’ve never felt like it. That’s because this haven for intense outdoor sports activities is also fabulous for soft-core warm-weather enjoyment, too, including golfing, hiking, zip lining, and cycling. On top of all that, it’s simply immaculate. A beautiful part of the world that never bores. Whistler exhilarates, as it did on a recent visit at the end of May. During those four days, daring mountain bikers swarmed the village to take turns careening down one of nearly 50 trails, while skiers and snowboarders squeezed in their final runs of the season. A Great Canadian Weekend shouldn’t be about putting yourself in position to suffer bodily harm, I figured. So I chose pursuits that were less dangerous and, for my tastes, even more satisfying than a thrill run down a steep and challenging hill.”
13. TORONTO, Ontario
What’s Happening for 2014: World Pride comes to North America for the first time, turning one of the most rollicking weeks in Canada into even more of a party. It is the fourth time the festival is being held and will be the last until 2017 in Madrid, Spain. An estimated 1.5 million people are expected to participate in World Pride, which runs from June 20-29, followed by the annual Toronto Pride Parade on June 30. The city’s film and music events also ramp up. Canadian Music Week moves from March to May 6-10, avoiding the risk of snow and increasing the possibility of attracting more top-flight emerging talent from around the world. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) continues to be a major driver of economic activity, contributing $189 million to the city.
Why You Should Go: Toronto has turned into one of the continent’s leading cultural centres. Artists, musicians, filmmakers, fashion designers and chefs all have outlets and connections in the city. Outstanding luxury properties share the downtown core with excellent low-cost hotels, including some of the world’s most acclaimed hostels. Toronto is a terrific big city; however, many visitors will save their trip to Canada’s giant metropolis for 2015, when the Pan Am Games are held here — and when the aggravating construction projects leading to that athletic event are completed.
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish says: “Raucous, artsy, risqué, in your face, and amazingly popular, Pride Week is not only one of Toronto’s premier events, it has been named the Best Festival in Canada by the Canadian Special Event Industry for two straight years. Like so many other Pride celebrations in the world, the Toronto event has its roots in the 1969 Stonewall riots that took place in New York City.”
14. OTTAWA, Ontario
What’s Happening in 2014: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Skate Canada will celebrate the centennial from January 9-15 with activities throughout the city. Another reason to be in Ottawa this year is because of a second important, albeit sad centennial. As we discuss at No. 16 on the list (see Halifax/Pier 21 below), 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Ottawa has always been an important place for Canadians to gather on Remembrance Day, and November 11, 2014 will be especially meaningful.
Why You Should Go: As the nation’s capital, Ottawa features no shortage of hustle and bustle. From politics to tulip and blues festivals, outstanding restaurants and the wonderful chaos of Byward Market, visitors will be spoiled for choice. But in 2014, skating is the name of the game in Ottawa. Even if you’re unable to make it to the skating championships (or an NHL Senators game, for that matter), there’s no shortage of ice that you call your own. If there’s one thing every Canadian should do at least once in his or her life, it’s head over to the Rideau Canal (across the street from Byward Market, and Parliament Hill is just a short walk north) and celebrate one of Canada’s greatest pastimes. The Rideau Canal — the largest skating rink in the world — is almost always teeming with people of all ages having a great time.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: ”Ottawa has done an exceptional job of mixing art and good food with politics and raw carefree fun. In one day you can go for a skate on the canal, grab a nice lunch at Byward Market, and then scoot over to Parliament Hill for a visit or tour. If visiting Ottawa — especially for Remembrance Day ceremonies — make sure you visit the National War Memorial at Elgin and Wellington, where you will see an impressive tribute to our servicemen and women, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Another important stop is the Canadian War Museum.”
15. WESTERN NEWFOUNDLAND, Newfoundland & Labrador
What’s Happening in 2014: The Canadian Cross-Country Ski Nationals will be held in March 2014 at Blow Me Down Trails Provincial Park, located just 47 kilometres (29 miles) outside of Corner Brook, the largest community in Western Newfoundland. The eighth annual Trails, Tales and Tunes Festival, featuring music and storytelling, takes place from May 16-25 in Gros Morne National Park and is followed by the annual Feather and Folk Festival (May 30 to June 8). The Writers at Woody Point Literary Festival takes place August 12-17 and each year it attracts top-notch talent.
Why You Should Go: For the warm people, the sheer beauty and the unique creative cultural synergy such collaborations breed. Festivals celebrate the region’s music, food, storytelling and art. The area is also resplendent with outdoor adventure sports options. Hike the trails of Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, breathtaking any time of the year. Ski the slopes at Marble Mountain in Steady Brook, which receives an average 16 feet of snowfall each year. Enjoy cross-country skiing and snowmobiling opportunities on hundreds of kilometres of groomed trails.
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish says: “Your cheeks will turn rosy from the excercise, laughter, fresh air, and superb food and wine offered at many festival events. Plus, the views in this special part of Canada will linger in your heart.”
16. HALIFAX/PIER 21, Nova Scotia
What’s Happening in 2014: The city celebrates its birthday during Halifax-Dartmouth Natal Day every summer. Several Canada Day events are planned for July 1, including Sackville Patriot Days, a family-oriented event along the main street of Lower Sackville. The Halifax Jazz Festival grooves from July 4-12 while the The Clam Harbour Beach Sandcastle Competition takes place August 24.
Why You Should Go: With the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914, Europe exploded into a conflict that would become known as the Great War. It was during this unrest that Canada truly got its baptism by fire as a nation. Before 1914, words like Passchendaele, Ypres, and Vimy were not part of our vocabulary.
An entire generation of men and women from coast to coast left their homes to fight, and a major exit point during this period was Halifax at Pier 21. For thousands of men and women, this beautiful pier on Canada’s eastern shoreline would be their last physical contact with home. Be sure to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 while you’re in Halifax. Pier 21 was a major exit and entrance point for soldiers. It was also where many war brides arrived in Canada after the war was over to be with their husbands.
Vacay.ca’s Rod Charles says: ”Visit Halifax in 2014 — have a wonderful time, stay in outstanding hotels and eat food prepared by some of the most skilled chefs in North America. But also make sure that you visit the pier and remember the contribution of our veterans.”
17. THE CHILKOOT TRAIL, British Columbia and Yukon Territory
What’s Happening in 2014: Park rangers begin marking the route and maintaining the trail in early June and remain on-site until mid-September. Hiking the trail from Skagway, Alaska, to Bennett, BC, can take up to five days. However, this year, there is a new overnight option. Visitors can spend one or two nights camping at beautiful Bennett Lake, then take a train to Carcross in the Yukon Territory along the scenic White Pass and Yukon Route railroad. Whether on foot or by rail, this trip is one for the books.
Why You Should Go: The Chilkoot Trail itself holds incredible historic significance as one of the primary overland routes for travel to the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Artifacts and signage dot the trail, making it as educational and fascinating as it is breathtaking. As for the White Pass and Yukon Route, this narrow gauge railroad is incredibly scenic as it winds through the Coastal Mountains of northwestern British Columbia and up into the Yukon Territory. The railroad is also impressive in terms of its construction and, as such, was named an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, joining rank with the likes of the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty.
Vacay.ca Writer Katie Marti writes: “Hiking the Chilkoot Trail is more than a 53-kilometre walk in the woods. It’s a trek so steeped in historical reference and artifacts that it’s been recognized as a National Historic Site in Canada and a National Historic Landmark in the United States. It’s basically like taking a really long, difficult stroll through a giant, beautiful open-air museum. To stand atop the Chilkoot Pass and gaze upon Canada’s frozen landscape is something I know I will never forget.”
18. LANAUDIÈRE-MAURICIE, Quebec
What’s Happening in 2014: Festival de Lanaudière in Joliette is in its 36th year and is considered to be North America’s premier classical music festival. The Fernand-Lindsay Amphitheatre can accommodate 2,000 people under its roof plus there is room for 6,000 more of your likeminded aficionados on the lawn. Festival concerts are also held in area churches where the architectural beauty adds a sense of intimacy to the event.
Why You Should Go: Lanaudière-Mauricie is a destination that offers year-round outdoor pleasure, encompassing two national parks (La Mauricie National Park and Parc national du Mont Tremblant) as well as stunning regional green spaces. Yet this rural region is only a short drive from Quebec’s two largest city centres: Montreal and Quebec City. You can do it all here: biking, swimming, fishing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. The area is home to some of Canada’s most unique spa destinations (KiNipi, Spa Natur’Eau or the unbelievable La Source bains Nordiques), picturesque farmland (great for fall drives), charming historic villages like Terrebonne in Lanaudière or Trois Rivières in Mauricie, hundreds of outfitter lodges (try four-star Auberge du Lac Taureau), gorgeous resort properties (Auberge Le Baluchon and Auberge de la Montagne Coupee), and a thriving agritourism circuit as well as a network of bike trails.
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish says: “While Montreal and Quebec City are renowned for their culture and joie de vivre, there is a level of authenticity in Mauricie and Lanaudière
19. HAIDA GWAII, British Columbia
What’s Happening in 2014: Many of the events and activities this destination has to offer are ongoing and available year-round, such as hiking, surfing and exploring the small communities on the islands of Haida Gwaii. A few time-sensitive exceptions include visiting Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, for which tours and park passes are only offered between June and September, and attending the annual Edge of the World Music Festival, which runs from August 8-10.
Why You Should Go: Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, this archipelago off British Columbia’s northwest coast saw its First Nations citizens officially reclaim the original name — which translates loosely to “islands of the people” — in June 2010. The Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate houses a must-see collection of regional art and historical artifacts that serve to enrich any visitor’s experience on Haida Gwaii. It provides important background information and celebrates current cultural events. Traditional longhouses and totem poles can be found all over Haida Gwaii, many of them relics although some are still in use today.
Vacay.ca’s Katie Marti writes: “The land is unspoiled and remote in a day and age where all such places seem to have been forever conquered and stolen from the wild. There is no room for pretentions here, and no time for trivialities. Maybe it’s because the islands themselves are so far removed, physically, from the mainland and have, therefore, managed to escape certain elements of modern society. Maybe it’s because the poles and longhouses that line the shores serve as a constant, looming reminder of the ancient ways that refuse to be forgotten. Regardless, this is Haida Gwaii, and to get to know the place and its people, truly and experientially, is nothing short of an honour.”
20. PRINCE ALBERT NATIONAL PARK, Saskatchewan
What’s Happening in 2014: Prince Albert National Park (PANP) is home to a large diversity of wildlife and boasts a safe haven for Canada’s only free-ranging plains bison within their historic range. Visitors can witness those beasts in their natural habit. You can also hike, bike, horseback, snowshoe or ski your way through the park’s many woodsy pathways and trails.
Why You Should Go: Boreal forest meets aspen parkland. This is your chance to camp out beneath tamarack trees or stay in one of the many cozy lodges and cabins in or around the Waskesiu region. Fish the many lakes of the area, keep an eye out for notable bird species or spend the day the beach. A must for a summer stopover includes a visit to the notable naturalist/conservationist Grey Owl’s cabin, “Beaver Lodge.” Thanks to plowed roads and frozen lakebeds, wildlife viewing is best done in the winter via dogsled when snow-laden pine trees and winding winter roads make for a magical panorama. Trek for wolves, easily spot elk and deer and say hello to the many foxes who take up residence in the town of Waskesiu.
Vacay.ca Contributor Jenn Smith Nelson says: “I can’t get enough of the opportunities for wildlife viewing the park offers. Whether it’s being uncomfortably close to wild bison or searching for otters near the open waters of the Narrows on Waskesiu Lake, animal sighting are super common — just how I like them. A perfect day in the park also includes a hike through Boundary Bog where I swear fairies live.”