Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
Happy winter! In many parts of Canada, winter is already here, even though it doesn’t officially roll in until December 21. If you’re looking to celebrate winter the quintessentially Canadian way, here’s where you can take the celebration outdoors. Yes, Canada isn’t completely covered in a layer of snow and ice, but in the wintertime it’s just so tempting to succumb to the enjoyment of a few fabled Canadian pastimes.
- Skate Outdoors: The Canadian winter: Parliament buildings and a long canal of ice with skaters everywhere. Stop for a hot drink, and continue your wander. This is the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 7.8-kilometre-long canal typically opens in January.
- Play Hockey on a Frozen Pond: After skating outdoors, you’ll naturally be ready to play hockey on a frozen pond, Canadian-style. You can either find a backyard rink, or if you’re a little tired you can pull up a chair at the World Pond Hockey Championships in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. The World Championships take place from February 7-10, 2013.
- Hit the Rink: If the outdoor rink isn’t really your thing, you might think that you’re out of luck this year, given the NHL lockout. You’d be wrong. Local hockey teams are ready to play, and you can visit anything from a game at the local rink to the thrilling ranks of junior hockey leagues. Tickets to junior hockey games are inexpensive, and the hockey is a lot of fun. Around Christmas time, junior leagues sometimes have games at family-friendly times. Check out local schedules for details.
- Go Snowshoeing: Tired of ice? Try snowshoeing instead and get tired in the snow. Snowshoeing is simple to learn and is very much like a walk in the woods. You can go snowshoeing in places across Canada, but one of the most stunning is in the Rocky Mountains between British Columbia and Alberta. Stay in the cozy Jasper Park Lodge and enjoy a guided snowshoeing walk that combines wildlife viewing and hearty exercise.
- Slip-Slide Down Hills: If you enjoyed your taste of snow and you’re looking for more of an adventure, skiing or boarding might just be the way to go. Whoosh down hills, or enjoy the quiet of cross-country skiing. British Columbia has the most ski resorts in Canada: an astounding 55 resorts to choose from. One of the most famous is Whistler-Blackcomb, a ski resort that is close to Vancouver and a stunning drive up to the Sea to Sky Highway.
- Go Ice Fishing: After all of that exercise, you’ll no doubt be hungry. Why not try some ice fishing? Yes, fishing through the ice is a clichéd Canadian winter pastime for hungry folks. If you’d like to watch rather than partake, you can head to the Canadian Ice Fishing Championships held at Jackson’s Point in Lake Simcoe, Ontario, from February 22-24, 2013.
- Take a Dip on January 1, 2013: Man, that water is cold. If that’s what you say in the summer, then the Polar Bear Swim may not be for you. However, if you like cold water or have a dash of good old Canadian insanity, heading to the ocean for a dip on New Year’s Day might be in the cards. Vancouver has a venerable Polar Bear Swim Club that began in 1920, and up to 2,000 registered participants brave the waters near Vancouver on January 1 each year. Other cities in Canada, including Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, have New Year’s Day swim events as well.
- Have a Party: After all of this exercise, it’s time for a party. The Quebec Carnival takes place from February 1-17, 2013 in historic Quebec City. It includes parties, a parade, snow sculptures, races, sleigh rides, and a sugar shack: the best Quebec’s winter living in one place. Watch this Vacay.ca video to see how much fun you can have.
- Make Some Maple Syrup: Winter sports are sweet, but at the end of the winter comes the sweetest season: it’s maple syrup time. Quebec produces the vast majority of the world’s most delicious pancake topping. Visit a sugar shack in Quebec, discover how maple syrup is made, and sample the wares.
- Go on a Sleigh Ride: If you like to pull out all of the stops related to the Christmas spirit, why not go on a ride in a one-horse open sleigh? Dashing through fields and trees sounds like a lovely way to celebrate the season, and fields, trees, horses and snow are so terribly Canadian. The Tulip Inn near Arrowhead Provincial Park in the Muskoka region of Ontario offers a package that includes a ride on such a sleigh, winning points with romantics everywhere.
- See Polar Bears: Number 11 of our top 10 is a bonus — and something that’s deeply associated with winter in Canada: the polar bear. If you’d like to visit with the polar bears, Churchill, Manitoba is the place to be. It’s tucked into the shore of Hudson Bay. However, the best bear viewing time is in October and November, when the polar bears gather along the water, waiting for the sea ice to form. In the winter, the bears move out onto the ice. Contrary to popular opinion, winter is not the time to see these iconic Canadian animals.