Story by Mark Stachiew
Big-name destinations like the Rocky Mountains and Niagara Falls get a lot of attention from visitors to Canada, but there are plenty of other less iconic spots in the country that deserve more love.
Since the falling dollar will encourage a lot of Canadians to travel in their own country this summer, we thought it would be a good idea to find out what those under-appreciated places are. We asked the people who know the provinces best, representatives of the provincial tourism agencies who can list every nook and cranny within their provinces’ borders.
When asked for their favourite hidden gems, they were passionate with their responses and, in several cases, found it hard to single out just one. Here are their choices:
BRITISH COLUMBIA: NELSON
Few provinces are as blessed with as many amazing tourist attractions as British Columbia. Canada’s western-most province has natural beauty in abundance and Vancouver consistently tops international polls as one of the world’s great cities, so what else is there to see and do? Josie Heisig of Tourism BC thinks that one place that is under the radar in her province is the town of Nelson.
“To me, Nelson oozes charm,” said Heisig. “It has such an eclectic mix of residents; young families, true hippies and draft dodgers all live in this uber-picturesque community on the western arm of Kootenay Lake.“
The town in the eastern part of BC boasts some impressive heritage brick buildings and is home to many fine restaurants, boutiques and coffee shops. It’s also a great place to go for outdoor adventures during any season and you can relax at hot springs that are a short drive away.
[box_light]See a Video of Actress Lisa Ray Praising Nelson[/box_light]
ALBERTA: WATERTON LAKES
Banff and Jasper — and the road connecting the two — boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, but it can get crowded. If you want the same spectacular scenery without traffic jams, there’s another Rocky Mountain spot that doesn’t get nearly as much attention. That spot is Waterton Lakes National Park.
About three hours by car south of Calgary and bordering the United States, many people claim Waterton is like what Banff was 60 years ago. Ashley Meller of Tourism Alberta says it is “pristine, unhurried and naturally gorgeous.”
“With only a single highway leading into the park it’s almost unheard of to leave the park without having sighted some kind of fauna first-hand,” says Meller.
[box_light]Read More About Visiting Waterton Lakes[/box_light]
SASKATCHEWAN: NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN
Most people think Saskatchewan is a boring, flat prairie that you quickly drive across on the way to somewhere else, but the reality is the province has plenty to offer and, once you start heading north, the geography dramatically changes.
Jodi Holliday of Tourism Saskatchewan votes for Northern Saskatchewan as the province’s most under-appreciated region. The top two-thirds of the province is mostly boreal forest and not at all like the stereotypical wheat and canola fields to the south.
Prince Albert National Park is the crown jewel of the area and is famous for outdoor activities and the location of Grey Owl’s cabin. If you like history, you can tour the Loon Lake battlefield where the Northwest Resistance of 1885 came to an end. It was the last military conflict on Canadian soil.
Music fans also head north for the Ness Creek Music Festival in July and the Northern Lights Bluegrass & Old Tyme Music Festival in August.
[box_light]Read About the Bison of Prince Alberta National Park[/box_light]
Cathy Senecal of Travel Manitoba said there was great debate in their office about what part of the province deserved more love from visitors, but one place that they all believed was under-visited was Parkland, an area in the western part of Manitoba.
In this land of horse whisperers, you will find the gorgeous natural scenery of Riding Mountain National Park and Duck Mountain Provincial Park. In Inglis, you will find that iconic symbol of the prairies, the grain elevator, but you won’t find just one. The town is the site of the last row of five left standing in Canada.
Many of the people who settled this land were immigrants from eastern Europe and their historic churches dot the Parkland map, including the oldest Ukrainian Catholic church in Canada and the oldest Romanian Church, too.
Base your exploration of the region in the charming town of Dauphin.
[box_light]Learn About Riding Mountain National Park’s Many Attractions[/box_light]
ONTARIO: MANITOULIN ISLAND
Canada’s most populous province has a plethora of places to visit, but because of its vast size, there are still many spots that don’t get as many visitors as they deserve.
One of those is Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. Kattrin Duncan, a media relations officer with Tourism Ontario, chose it as the place she believes more people should visit in the province. It also happens to be the largest freshwater island in the world and can be reached by road from its northern side, but most people approach it from the ferry that runs from the town of Tobermory.
Visiting the island is a bit like stepping back in time. The pace is slower in the small communities that dot Manitoulin’s map. Visitors take advantage of the long shoreline to enjoy numerous outdoor activities and feast on the abundant food harvested from the many farms found there.
[box_light]Sensational Stargazing in Manitoulin — Find Out More[/box_light]
Abitibi-Témiscamingue is hard to say and even harder to spell so maybe it misses out on visitors because no one can type in the name into their GPS.
The more likely reason is that this immense, untamed territory is off-the-beaten path not only for people outside the province, but for Quebecers as well. It is more than 600 kilometres (373 miles) north of Montreal.
Suzanne Labrecque of Tourisme Quebec chose this region as the one in the province that deserves more attention from tourists. She notes that the people here are very welcoming to visitors who make the effort to come see it for themselves.
Témiscamingue is primarily farmland and has a surprisingly good food scene, while Abitibi is more wild and has a rich history of mining. It is the perfect place for nature lovers with lakes and forest in abundance. Visitors to Refuge Pageau and the Parc Aiguebelle will feel like they are the only humans left on the planet.
NEW BRUNSWICK: CHALEUR AND RESTIGOUCHE
New Brunswick is kind of like Saskatchewan in that it is one of those provinces that doesn’t get as much respect as it deserves. People tend to drive across it on their way to PEI or Nova Scotia, but it’s a place that rewards those who take the time to explore it.
Alison Aiton of Tourism New Brunswick believes that one of those spots that more people should discover is the Chaleur and Restigouche region. It is the perfect place for people looking for active and outdoor getaways.
You can fly fish for Atlantic salmon on the scenic Restigouche River, hike the highest mountain peak in the Maritimes, walk part of the Appalachian Trail in Mount Carleton Provincial Park or go bird watching in Daly Point Preserve.
Families can relax on the many beaches on the Baie de chaleur and enjoy the hospitality of the Acadian population that lives in the area.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND: WESTERN PEI
It’s hard to imagine there is such a thing as an under-visited spot on an island so small, but there are places in PEI where tourists gravitate and others that await discovery by more persistent explorers.
Robert Ferguson of Tourism PEI points to Western PEI as that place. It’s characterized by small communities like Skinners Pond, the hometown to Canadian singing legend Stompin’ Tom Connors, or O’Leary, a place that honours the root vegetable the island is famous for with the Canadian Potato Museum.
It’s also a part of the island where life is very sea-centric. Sometimes referred to as the Oyster Coast, this is the place to go if you want to feast on seafood.
NOVA SCOTIA: YARMOUTH AND ACADIAN SHORE
Nova Scotia may be Canada’s second smallest province, but it has a deceptively large number of places to see. One of the places that Pam Wamback of Tourism Nova Scotia highlights as being off the map for many is the province’s Yarmouth and Acadian Shores region.
Located in the southwestern tip of the province, this area is brimming with Acadian history from its time as a French settlement, including Annapolis Royal, the site of Port Royal, the one-time capital of Acadia that dates to 1605.
It is also a place of stunning natural beauty that has many hidden gems to discover. Fortunately, with the resumption of the ferry from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, this region is more accessible than ever.
NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR: BURIN PENINSULA
Eastern Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula doesn’t get much tourism traffic, but Andrew Hiscock, a tourism development officer with Legendary Coasts of Eastern Newfoundland, says this land of rugged beauty is well worth visiting.
During the height of the fishery, the peninsula’s town of Grand Bank was one of the province’s largest economic centres. Today, it is filled with quaint shops, historic sites and beautiful walks.
The quirky town of Burin is another spot worth exploring. They’ve obviously got a sense of humour there as the town sign is an antler-adorned Volkswagen Beetle sitting on a rock in the middle of the harbour.
When you’re done exploring the peninsula, you can head to Fortune where you can catch a ferry to the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, the last North American territory still held by France.
As for Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, they are already far enough away for most visitors that they automatically qualify as being under-visited, but they are definitely spectacular places that deserve all the love you can give them.