Report by Adrian Brijbassi
and Vacay.ca Contributors
That’s the advice from Vacay.ca writers, editors and photographers who selected the 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada in 2013. Six entries, including four in the top 10, are east of Quebec. Ontario led all provinces with four destinations on the list, while British Columbia, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador notched three spots each.
Last year’s No. 1 entry, Calgary, drops to No. 17, but two destinations within short driving distance of Alberta’s largest city reached the top 10. Drumheller and Canmore represent Alberta’s best for 2013. The 100th Calgary Stampede in 2012 drew record crowds and was a clear first-place choice for 2012.
Voters named entries for their significance in 2013 as well as notable anniversaries, events and festivals. Some destinations were also noted for their unheralded or emerging tourism infrastructure and their uniqueness as a travel offering. Places were recognized for an increasingly scarce commodity: unspoiled nature. Even in the vastness of the Canadian landscape, locating tourism jewels that have not been tarnished by commercialization or urban development is becoming difficult.
Topping the survey was a national park that fits all the criteria: Unique, beautiful, significant in 2013, historic, carefully maintained and intrinsically Canadian.
1. Louisbourg, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Celebrating its 300th anniversary, Louisbourg is making the most of the milestone. Cultural celebrations will take place throughout the summer, with concerts, a regatta and a month-long fair in July that will resurrect a harbourside market on the site of the historic fortress. Settled by French colonists in 1713, the fortified city at the southeast tip of Cape Breton is an unusual national park. It’s a fabricated landmark made to represent one-fifth of colonial Louisbourg, which at its peak had a population of more than 6,000 people. The depiction of life in the 18th century is not only fascinating, but thoroughly entertaining, with visitors having the opportunity to participate in workshops and meet historic figures. Among the facts you’ll learn is that five to nine languages were spoken in Louisbourg at any given time, because of the multicultural nature of its fishing operations. In fact, the more you get to know about this seaport, the more you realize that Louisbourg300 is actually a celebration of the beginning of Canada, not just a French colony on the Atlantic.
2. Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland & Labrador
Beauty. Laughter. Culture. Music. History. What more could you want in a destination? Oh, icebergs and whales and eagles and endearing citizens with charming accents and a fantastic sense of humour. Come here, you won’t want to leave. That’s what happened to Peggy Fisher. She and her husband, John, arrived for a visit from Peterborough, Ontario, and soon found themselves with a home in Port Rexton and that home has grown to become one of the finest accommodations in the province. The Fishers’ Loft Inn on the notable Skerwink Trail and the nearby Artisan Inn in Trinity are among the properties that offer sophisticated culinary-focused stays in this distinctive region of the country.
See a video of Vacay.ca’s coverage of New Bonaventure and read about the towns of Trinity and Bonavista
3. Drumheller, Alberta
It may seem odd to think that 100 years would be significant for a place famous for finds hundreds of millions of years old, but Drumheller’s centennial is as big as a T-Rex for this Alberta landmark. Although the town was established on May 15, 1913, it wasn’t until 1985 that it became a significant tourist attraction. The Royal Tyrrell Museum opened that year (it received the “royal” status from Queen Elizabeth II in 1990) and has been a draw for the dinosaur-obsessed ever since. Home to the world’s largest dinosaur — which is built of fibreglass and steel —, the museum will be the focal point of centennial anniversary activities in 2013.
4. Toronto, Ontario
Canadian Music Week honours its 30th anniversary in March by doing what it has done for three decades: Present some of the finest emerging and established artists from this nation and others around the world. Rihanna will be performing at the Air Canada Centre as part of the festivities, but the main attraction for music fans is always the acts that fill more than 60 clubs across the city. Toronto’s other major annual event, the Toronto International Film Festival, continues to set records for attendance as it spreads wider and wider around the city in September.
5. Lake Waskesiu, Saskatchewan
A resort town within Prince Albert National Park, Lake Waskesiu hasn’t changed much in the past 60 years. Its namesake is a big, open, lightly used lake that is the type of image that entices wilderness-starved Europeans to Canada. Lake Waskesiu also has its share of foodie highlights: the Hawood Inn, Pete’s gourmet pizza, the Angry Taco that surprises with decent Mexican food and huge margaritas, and Big Olaf’s delectable ice cream and sundaes. You’ll see elk, possibly moose, and probably a few NHL players hitting balls at the Waskesiu Golf Course. Plan to stay at the Suites at Lake Waskesiu, which offers large and immaculate accommodations at reasonable prices.
6. Tofino, British Columbia
The Pacific Rim Whale Festival began as a community event to inspire conservation efforts to help cetacean populations that make their annual pilgrimage along the west coast. Now, the festival, which runs from March 16-24 in 2013, is a reverie of Pacific culture, featuring art and photography shows, musical performances and food highlights. While still a small event, the whale festival shows the spirit of Tofino and its close ties to the sea and nature. It’s one of the reasons why it remains among the most fun and eccentric communities in Canada — a must-see in any year.
7. Canmore, Alberta
Banff without the fuss. That’s one way to think of this village in the Rockies that’s a four-season getaway for many Calgarians. Known for being home to more Olympians than any other city in Canada, Canmore has all the best of neighbouring Banff, but without the massive flock of visitors who can make an outing to Canada’s most famous mountain destination an aggravating experience during peak seasons. With terrific and healthy dining options, a fine boutique hotel run by Olympians, and fitness activities galore, Canmore is ready to take on all challengers.
8. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia
It’s 20,000 square kilometres of pristine, protected wilderness that may not last long. The proposed Northern Pipeline, which would send crude oil from Alberta through British Columbia and to the Pacific Ocean, could threaten the ecosystem known for its rare Kermode (“spirit”) bear population and thousand-year-old trees. The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary is part of the rainforest, which is as wondrous and precious as any other natural attraction in Canada. Should the pipeline pass, the damage to the Great Bear Rainforest as a tourist destination could be steep. Go and see it now.
9. St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick
The Kingsbrae Arms, one of the finest boutique hotels in Canada, and the Bay of Fundy are the focus of tourism in this enchanted little town in the Maritimes. Activities include arguably the best whale-watching experience in Canada, plus outstanding golf, a wonderful horticulture garden, and that Maritime staple you can never have enough of: the beloved lobster roll. For 2013, the Kingsbrae Arms is debuting two notable culinary offerings that should have foodies clamouring to enlist. One features daily trips to the farms that raise the livestock for the hotel’s menu, a second tour is all about lobster and includes outings on lobster boats and to a processing plant.
10. St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador
Getting screeched in is out. The drinking tradition where visitors pony up a few bucks to get embarrassed, kiss a dead fish and throw back a shot is beyond cliche in this provincial capital that’s growing up fast. At the forefront of a culinary revolution are restaurants like Raymonds, Aqua, and Magnum & Steins. Throw in one of the best brewpubs in the country, a vibrant music scene, and jaw-dropping views from Cape Spear and Signal Hill, and you’ve got yourself one terrific place to spend a few days. Oh, and the only people on earth friendlier than the Townies of St. John’s may be the Baymen living in the rest of this most cheerful of provinces.
11. Montreal, Quebec
Aretha Franklin. Buddy Guy. Wynton Marsalis. Wayne Shorter. Very few festivals in the world can draw musical legends and thousands of gushing music fans like the Montreal Jazz Festival year after year. The 34th edition of the festival takes place from June 28-July 7 and will be headlined by the Queen of Soul. This event is hardly the only reason to make the trip to Montreal, however. A beautiful, breathtaking cultural mix, Montreal is where the old meets the new. With its winter festivities continuing to grow in popularity, there’s never a bad time to visit this dazzling city. Check out the Just For Laughs Festival. Take a stroll through historic Old Montreal and step back into time. And when you’re finished, sit back and enjoy restaurants in a city that placed seven restaurants into Vacay.ca’s first-of-its-kind Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.
12. Gatineau Park, Quebec
Historic Gatineau Park is turning 75 years old in 2013 and there’s lots to celebrate. Wildlife and unique plants, peaceful rivers, stunning geography, and tranquility at its best. Among the physical activities in this green space in the nation’s Capital Region are cycling, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, skiing, swimming, snowshoeing, dog walking, camping and boating. Just 15 minutes from Parliament Hill, this monster-sized park is 361.3 square kilometres of pure, natural fun — a Canadian gem located next to great shopping, clubs, and the restaurants and nightlife of downtown Ottawa.
13. Vancouver, British Columbia
Home to the best restaurant in Canada, Vancouver is emerging as one of the premier culinary spots on the continent. Besides Vij’s, notable foodie finds include L’Abattoir, Hawksworth, West, Wildebeest and Mae Nam. The excitement of the food scene only increases Vancouver’s appeal as a destination. Its enviable setting amid mountains and alongside the ocean will stop you in your tracks well before you decide where to dine out.
14. Victoria-by-the-Sea, Prince Edward Island
A quaint, peaceful and utterly delightful little village about an hour’s drive from Charlottetown, Victoria-by-the-Sea scores big for its chocolate shops, community theatre, inns and scenery. Add in its proximity to some of the best golf courses in Canada, those famous red-sand beaches of PEI, and notable attractions such as Avonlea and the Anne of Green Gables house, and Victoria-by-the-Sea turns into a smart and affordable choice to base your stay on the island.
15. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
From Gold Seekers to Bush Pilots, Yellowknife — Diamond Capital of North America as well as the capital of the Northwest Territories — has never been a wallflower. This is a city with a history and it’s not afraid to let you know it. Without question, the number one draw of Yellowknife is its natural element. Great Slave Lake is a mecca for people who love fishing and boating. The rustic arctic geography is ideal for dog-sledding competitions and winter sports. And if you’re in need of a light show, you’ll be hypnotized under the spell of the aurora borealis. Unique places to eat, too.
16. French River, Ontario
What cottage country should be. In a province thick with traffic even in the places where you’re supposed to be able to escape the headaches of big-city Toronto, French River is refreshingly vast, free and relatively untouched. Stay in a cabin at Sand Beach Lodge, once owned by the Seagram whiskey family, and enjoy the relaxation of staring out into an enormous river that will remind you of a great lake or grab a kayak or canoe and hit the waters. You can paddle around the way settlers and fur traders did centuries ago. Take a fishing boat tour from the lodge and you’ll catch muskie or northern pike for a fresh bake on the rocks facing wind-swept pine trees and eagles’ nests. The scene was once quintessential Canada, but that Canada — especially in southern Ontario — is becoming harder and harder to find.
17. Calgary, Alberta
The Stampede is only going to get better and better. As a non-profit event, its organizers are obligated to put the money the Stampede makes back into the festival. How do you top Garth Brooks and 10 days of Paul Brandt? We’re not sure, but you know Cowtown will find a way. Besides, there’s plenty more to do in Calgary than just the Stampede these days.
18. Waterloo Region, Ontario
Every region needs a standout attraction to entice visitors and Waterloo Region has it in Langdon Hall, one of the nation’s top hotels and restaurants. The Relais & Chateaux property has been named the No. 1 hotel in the country by Conde Nast Traveler and the restaurant is the only CAA/AAA 5 Diamond establishment in Ontario, as well as the No. 2 restaurant in the nation on the 2012 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide. Langdon Hall will give you refinement while the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest, the largest of its kind outside of Germany, offers a more sloppy experience, but one that also wonderfully celebrates the area’s Bavarian heritage. Throw in one of the finest children’s museums in the country, THEMUSEUM, and an annual blues festival that drew big names (Los Lobos and Taj Mahal) in 2012, and you’ll discover several reasons to drop in on Waterloo.
19. Fogo Island, Newfoundland & Labrador
Her name is Zita Cobb and she intends to bring the world to her hometown that so many people have had to leave to find work. Cobb made millions in Silicon Valley and is transforming Fogo Island into a creative centre and tourist destination. Her $25-million Fogo Island Inn opens in 2013. Hundreds will arrive and hundreds more will follow them in years to come as Cobb’s plans for development are completed.
20. London, Ontario
The World Figure Skating Championships are coming to Canada for the first time since 2006 — and they’re not going to Toronto, or Vancouver, or Calgary. The top skaters on the planet — including three national heroes: Olympic gold-medal ice dance pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and reigning men’s world champion Patrick Chan — will be in London, a southwestern Ontario city known primarily for being home to the University of Western-Ontario. The 10-year-old Budweiser Gardens (formerly the John Labatt Centre) will host the skating championships from March 11-17, marking the most significant event to hit this city.