Vacay.ca staff members recently attended a meeting in Edmonton of the Canadian Tourism Commission, spending two days jumping from desk to desk to meet with tourism folks from across the country. He came away with aching feet but a good appreciation of what’s happening in Canada this year and next. From Nanaimo Bar martinis on Vancouver Island to plush new restaurants in Montreal and fun festivals in the Maritimes, here’s his look at his two-day exploration.
VANCOUVER ISLAND There’s a new road leading from Cowichan, across the island west to Port Renfrew, which allows visitors to do a circle route from Victoria. It used to be you had to go up to Cowichan and then come back the same way, officials told me. Or you’d go up to Port Renfrew and come back the same way. Now you can do a circle tour. It’s about 250 km and it takes you over to Port Renfrew on an old logging road that’s been fixed up, then head down to Sooke and back to Victoria. I’m told there are great beaches with hardly anyone on them. There’s also a new Nanaimo Bar Trail with Nanaimo Bar cheesecake, ice cream, deep fried bars, and a Nanaimo Bar martini. Yikes. New wineries also are opening up Nanaimo way. I got to visit a couple years ago.
WHISTLER Last year, visitors were able to ride down the track used for skeleton races at the 2010 Winter Olympics. This winter, they’ll do it again but they have added piloted bobsleigh runs so you can experience the thrill of an Olympic bobsleigh race, albeit from a little further down the hill. There’s also a new ampitheatre for concerts, located where the Olympics medal plaza was situated at the north end of the village. They also have a new app at Whistler, where folks who are so, um, inclined can check their vertical speed and exact positions on the hill, and more. Of course, you could simply ski and enjoy the scenery. Folks also say they’ve added wi-fi at the top of both Whistler and Blackcomb and that the food has been upgraded at hilltop restaurants. They had their first snowfall of the season just the other day.
YUKON I didn’t know this, but the Yukon is about the same size as California. But instead of, oh, 38 million folks there are 35,000. Most of those live in Whitehorse, where the surge in gold prices is keeping prices high. “There was no such thing as a condo in Whitehorse five years ago,” said Jim Kimshead, the colourful spokesman for the tourism ministry. “Now lots have sprung up, and they’re going for up to $500,000.” Kemshead told me there are 20 peaks in Kluane Park that are more than 14,000 feet high. “There aren’t any mountains that high in the Rockies,” he said.
WINNIPEG In addition to the return of the Jets, there’s tons going out in a place that says it offers “Small Town Friendly, Big Town Fun.” The new Canadian museum for Human Rights is being built at The Forks. A new airport opens in October, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the city’s Union Station. The University of Winnipeg is expanding, and Red River College is moving its culinary school to a building in the downtown Exchange Disitrict. Oh, Assiniboine Park is getting a polar bear rescue centre, which should prove immensely popular for folks who can’t make it north to Churchill.
NEW BRUNSWICK The Acadian Festival runs up around Caraquet in the first part of August, when the town swells from 5,000 residents to about 25,000. The Hotel Paulin in town has a chef from Toronto and there’s a new French boulangerie in town. And a sushi place, too. Not to mention you can get lobster poutine! The 2014 Acadian World Congress will be held outside Edmundston, with representation and help from Quebec and Maine.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND The Holman Grand Hotel, an 80-room boutique property, is the first new hotel in town in 20-plus years. There’s a deck on the 10th floor with great views. It may not sound like much but I’m told it’s the highest point in the city. The island has introduced something called PEI authentic experiences, where you can work alongside a fisherman or a pottery maker and get the straight goods without a guide or interpreter to mess things up. I didn’t know, but they have a bike path that stretches from one tip of the island to the other; about 250 km. You can do it yourself or get a guided tour and stop along the way at various inns.
QUEBEC The new Le Massif train is up and running. You leave at 9 a.m. from Montmorency station and get gourmet meals on your way to and from La Malbaie, where you get a three-hour visit mid-day. It’s $250 and right now runs only on weekends. It’ll stop at the ski hill in February, so that’ll be big news for Le Massif’s ski business. Also, there’s a Transatlantic sailing race every four years from Quebec to St. Malo, France. It’s back this year, departing July 22, with some 30 boats in competition.
MONTREAL An entire ice village on Ile St. Helene Jan. 5 March 27 with an ice hotel, a bar, a chapel that looks like where Superman got married in the first Superman movie, and replica ice buildings of famous Montreal structures, such as Notre Dame des Bonsecours church. A new Daniel Boulud restaurant will open with the Ritz Carlton hotel in Montreal in April or so.
OKANAGAN A company called Okanagan Spirits makes not only fruit wines but absinthe, grappa and now gin, that’s wheat based. They’re said to be still testing recipes. Also, there are three zip lines in the Thompson-Okanagan region (see photo taken from the luscious patio at Mission Hill winery), all of them brand new. We suggest not drinking too much absinthe prior to a zipline trip….
SASKATOON There’s a place just outside of town where you can go snow kiteboarding; riding on a snowboard-like apparatus if the wind and ice are right. You move incredibly fast, but they’ll apparently give smaller sails to beginners to try. Their will be a Blues Festival this winter, and they’re staging the Brier in March of next year and the Canadian Country Music Awards in September. There’s also a new hotel, the James, a boutique-style property with less than 100 rooms, and a new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is in the works. That’s a very busy city, not surprising given the boom in Saskatchewan these days.
TORONTO There’s a Fellini exhibit on now at the TIFF Lightbox. A Grace Kelly exhibit will move in in the fall, complete with her gowns and Oscar awards.
EASTERN TOWNSHIPS There’s a wine route to take you to 17 vineyards in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. They also have driving trails in the hilly, far east region. At Mont Bromont they’ve expanded their lighting and now more than one half the slopes are lit for night skiing. Every second Saturday they leave the lights on until 2 a.m. for the late night types. It’s said to be the largest lighted ski resort in northeastern North America.
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.
CALGARY 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.
BRITISH COLUMBIA 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.
EASTERN ONTARIO 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.
NORTHERN MANITOBA 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.”
VANCOUVER 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.
GREAT LAKES Great Lakes Cruising is an increasingly popular activity, with cruises that include Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. Sounds cool.
NORTHERN ONTARIO The Chapleau Game Preserve in northern Ontario is said to be the largest preserve in the world.
WINNIPEG 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.
ALBERTA There’s a big pond hockey tournament on Lake Louise again this winter, their third annual such event.
MANITOBA The Tergesen General Store in Gimli, Manitoba has been run by the same family for more than 100 years.
ONTARIO Sault Ste. Marie has the second largest wind farm in Canada and the largest solar energy farm in North America.
EDMONTON 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.
LONDON, ONTARIO The World Figure Skating Championships will be in London in 2013.
ALBERTA 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.
BANFF The Banff Centre has a new feature called the Shaw Ampitheatre with 1,500 seats. Blue Rodeo and the Calgary Philharmonic each have played there.
EDMONTON 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.
TORONTO 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.
NOVA SCOTIA Wine is growing as an industry in Nova Scotia. A lot of money is being poured into sparkling wine, especially.
NORTHERN ONTARIO 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.