20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2015

Report by Vacay.ca Travel Experts

The Year of Sport in Canada has begun. Governor General David Johnston declared in October that 2015 will be a 12-month celebration of athletics and there are two big reasons why: the Pan Am Games and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

[pullquote_right]Top 20 Places in Canada for 2015

1. Toronto, ON
2. Revelstoke, BC
3. Auyuittuq National Park, NU
4. Vancouver, BC
5. Kingston, ON
6. Jasper, AB
7. Torngat Mountains, NL
8. Montreal, QC
9. Okanagan Valley, BC
10. Calgary, AB
11. Wolfville, NS
12. Quebec City, QC
13. Cowichan Valley, BC
14. Fogo & Change Islands, NL
15. Winnipeg, MB
16. Charlevoix, QC
17. Saskatoon, SK
18. Dawson City, YT
19. Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
20. Cowboy Trail, AB

[/pullquote_right]These two large events have already impacted Canada’s tourism industry. Toronto, the Pan Am Games host, will complete a $456-million train that will carry travellers — for a cost of $27.50 — from Pearson International Airport to downtown’s Union Station, a 25-kilometre journey that can be seriously aggravating because of vehicle traffic. Some of the six Women’s World Cup host cities are already reporting sold-out hotel rooms for games. Winnipeg, in particular, is euphoric as it will be home base for Team USA and that powerhouse’s fans are expected to arrive in big numbers to cheer on their squad.

The Pan Am Games (July 10-26) will be the biggest multi-sport event ever held in Canada, with more than 6,000 athletes from 41 countries competing. The FIFA tournament, meanwhile, will be credited for what is likely the most anticipated sports event in Canada in 2015, the championship game that will be played in Vancouver on July 5.

Both cities rank in the top five of the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada in 2015. Vacay.ca’s travel journalists placed Toronto at No. 1 because of the Pan Am Games, the new Union-Pearson Express train and the 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. Vancouver ranks fourth while sports-centric destinations such as Revelstoke, British Columbia (No. 2) and Charlevoix, Quebec (No. 16) also placed on the list for the first time.

Voters named destinations for their significance in 2015 as well as notable anniversaries, events and festivals. Some entries — such as Vancouver Island‘s Cowichan Valley (No. 13) and Alberta‘s Cowboy Trail (No. 20) — were also noted for their unheralded or emerging tourism infrastructure and their uniqueness as a travel offering.

The Vacay.ca guide is in its fourth year and has established itself as an accurate forecaster and influencer of Canadian travel. For 2014, Charlottetown was ranked No. 1 and Prince Edward Island tourism businesses reported a record year for revenue as $401 million was spent on hotels, tours and activities.

In 2013, Vacay.ca ranked Fortress Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia as the No. 1 destination and it saw a 37 per cent increase in visitation from its 2012 levels. In 2012, Calgary topped the list and witnessed record numbers of travellers, many of whom arrived for the 100th Calgary Stampede.

Toronto Island

Many eyes from around the world will be on Toronto in 2015 as the Pan Am Games arrive in July and the 40th edition of TIFF takes place in September. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

1. TORONTO, Ontario

What’s Happening in 2015: The Pan Am Games come to Toronto (July 10-26), along with 6,000 athletes, international media and thousands of fans. To prepare, the city has built several new athletic facilities and what promises to be the games’ lasting legacy, a $456-million rapid-transit train linking the city’s main airport, Pearson International, with the downtown Union Station. The cost for a single fare on the Union-Pearson Express will be a hefty $27.50, but that is less than half the price of taxi from the airport to downtown and also a time-saving option as the train trip will take 25 minutes, faster than a car ride into the city.

The other major event for 2015 is the 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place September 10-20 and figures to attract even more big-name movie stars because of the milestone.

Beyond the two big happenings that will grab international attention, the city is getting noticed for its fabulous art scene, diverse culinary offerings and its talented NBA squad, the first-place Raptors. Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, there’s a new mayor. That change at City Hall won’t impact your visit but it sure will limit the crude jokes about a city that is keen to be considered as world class and sophisticated.

Why You Should Go: Visitors to Toronto are always spoiled for choice. With so many things to do and see, a stay is rarely long enough. With the Pan Am Games, competitors will arrive from across the Caribbean, Latin, South and North America. The event will feature 36 Pan Am sports and 15 Parapan Am sports. It is also expected to bring 250,000 visitors from around the world.

Toronto’s theatre, music and restaurant scenes are among the best on the continent. Throw in some funky shopping, friendly neighbourhoods and a diverse multicultural mix, and you’ve got yourself a big city that anyone can feel at home in.


Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays will be among Toronto’s sports teams chasing championships in 2015 and bringing excitement to the city. (Owais Qureshi file photo/Vacay.ca)

Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi writes: “Harmony is cool. Having lived about 10 years of my life on and off in Toronto it is that neighbourliness which I most cherish. There’s a place for everyone here. The social conflicts that harangue so many other metropolises mostly do not exist in Canada’s largest municipality, which is remarkable given that the population is larger than Chicago but police records list about 400 less annual homicides than that Illinois city. For a visitor, it is liberating to know you can travel to an urban capital and enjoy all the great things of such a place without feeling wary about what might happen if you make a wrong turn. In Toronto, you’re more likely to walk into a curious space than an uninviting one.” Read more of “Toronto Is No. 1 in 2015”

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Paragliding amid the mountains surrounding Revelstoke is one of the thrilling activities in this dazzling British Columbia town. (Zoya Lynch photo)

2. REVELSTOKE, British Columbia

What’s Happening in 2015: As usual, it’s going to be a big year for adventure seekers in Revelstoke. From February 3-6, Revelstoke Mountain Resort will host the return of Red Bull Cold Rush, a high-stakes, multi-day freestyle skiing competition showcasing some of the world’s best athletes; serious trail runners can beat the feet August 16-29 at the North Face Dirty Feet and TrailStoke 5 Peaks races respectively; and mountain bikers can enjoy world-class cross-country and downhill trails as early as April and well into autumn.

Why You Should Go: Revelstoke is among Canada’s best-kept secrets. An unassuming town in the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains on the banks of the Columbia River, this place sets itself apart thanks to the call of the wild. The undisputed backcountry touring and heli-ski capital of Canada, Revelstoke attracts skiers from all over thanks to world-class terrain and endless powder. Revelstoke Mountain Resort boasts the longest vertical drop in North America as well as Bighorn Lodge, recently named by World Ski Awards as the World’s Best Ski Chalet for the second year running. In summer, the snow melts to reveal endless kilometres of pristine hiking and mountain-bike trails, as well as lakes and rivers just begging to be fished, paddled and photographed. The region is also a wealth of cultural significance with live music festivals, farmer’s markets, museums and historic sites galore, such as Craigellachie, where the famous Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railroad was driven into place 130 years ago.

Vacay.ca Columnist Katie Marti says: Revelstoke is casually breathtaking because the things that make this town spectacular are simple and remarkably underpromoted: the mountains speak for themselves. This is the essence of Canada, and finding yourself here is a stroke of incredible fortune. Come and see for yourself … but as a resident of this town I have a simple request: Just don’t tell anyone, OK?

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Seeing polar bears in their natural habitat is one of the primary attractions of Nunavut. (Photo courtesy of Nunavut Tourism)


What’s Happening in 2015: The discovery of a lost ship from the ill-fated Franklin Expedition is without question one of the greatest historical finds in Canadian history and a key reason why you need to put Baffin Island’s Auyuittuq Natoinal Park on your list of places to visit in 2015. In September 2014 it was confirmed that an expedition ship — later identified as the HMS Erebus (HMS Terror was the other, and has yet to be found) — was located in Nunavut. The expedition, led by Sir John Franklin, left England in 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage with 129 men and was never seen again. Both ships became trapped in ice and one by one the crew succumbed to disease, hunger and cold.

One organization that was involved with the Franklin Search is One Ocean Expeditions. One Ocean Voyager from the company’s fleet participated in the search with a record number of supporting ships. While the actual location of the Franklin ship is still top secret, One Ocean Expeditions can get you pretty close with one of its 2015 cruises. The organization offers several outstanding Arctic voyages, including the 11 day “Arctic Explorer Crossing the Circle” and the 13-day “Northwest Passage” journey.

Why You Should Go: News of the Franklin ship discovery was one of the big stories in the past year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew north to help make the announcement and we think you should make a point to get up there as well. Established in 1976, Auyuittuq National Park protects 19,089 square kilometres of glacier-scoured terrain and is 85 per cent rock and ice. You will find raw nature at its best — dark, grey mountains, glaciers, rivers and ice. Auyuittuq is an Inuktitut word meaning “land that never melts”, but the scenery and down-t0-earth people just may melt your heart.

Also, you could be a part of history. You and your shipmates will no doubt be on the lookout for the HMS Terror, which is still out there somewhere. That Franklin ship is the subject of the massive ongoing search that continues even as you read this. Who knows, perhaps this will be the year another great arctic mystery is solved? Whatever happens, 2015 promises scientific discovery and adventure for Nunavut and its visitors.

Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: Historic isn’t a word that jumps into the minds of most Canadians when we think of Nunavut. But over 100 years ago many Europeans were making first contact with aboriginal peoples who were living in the area before our country existed. The hunt for the Northwest Passage was in full swing. And off the shores of King William Island we now know that Franklin’s crew watched in horror as their ship sank and they were forced to make a last-ditch, desperate and ultimately futile attempt to survive. Long-lost British warships aside, Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory, is largely undiscovered by most of the world and I think it’s time that changed.

[box_light]More on Vacay.ca: Franklin discovery will drive tourism[/box_light]


Each summer, international teams compete in Vancouver during the largest offshore fireworks competition in the world. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

4. VANCOUVER, British Columbia

What’s Happening in 2015: Arguably the biggest event to take place in Canada in 2015 will occur on July 5. That’s when BC Place hosts the FIFA Women’s World Cup championship game, a contest that is expected to have more than 50,000 people in attendance and another 65 million from around the world watching the broadcast. It will be the culmination of a month-long tournament that will see the top women’s soccer players doing battle in six Canadian cities. Vancouver gets the title game and a chance to again be on the global stage, as it was in 2010 when it wowed visitors and television viewers during the Winter Olympics. Along with the soccer championship, Vancouver is also hosting the TED Conference for a second straight year in March. Significant influencers from the worlds of entertainment and technology are expected to once more bring attention to the west coast — and help sell out one of the priciest events on earth. TED Conference tickets go for $8,500 each.

Why You Should Go: It’s beautiful. It’s a 20-minute free shuttle ride from downtown to the north-shore mountains. It’s setting on the ocean is one of the finest on earth. It’s summer temperatures average about 27 Celsius degrees and the sun often sets after 10 pm. It’s not buggy or humid like parts of central Canada. Its food scene is diverse, with a variety of Asian-influenced restaurants, a sustainability movement and a seafood bounty that’s the envy of many locales. Its annual fireworks festival is a brilliant summer event. A place that belongs on your bucket list? It’s certainly that too.

Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish writes: “In Canada, the biggest fireworks celebration isn’t for Canada Day in Ottawa or New Year’s Eve in Toronto or Niagara Falls. It’s in Vancouver, each summer, over the course of three evenings, with an international competition that is known to draw more than half a million spectators per night to the shores of English Bay. Other cities have fireworks displays similar to the Honda Celebration of Light, but nowhere else in Canada is there a turnout like what Vancouver‘s competition enjoys. People crowd along bridges, stampede onto the grounds of Stanley Park, sprawl out on beaches on both sides of English Bay, and drive their boats into position hours before the show. A total of approximately 1.4 million people attend the three-night pyrotechnic showcase each year, an event considered the largest offshore fireworks display in the world.” Read more of “Fireworks Light Up Vancouver Nights”

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Matt Donovan plays Sir John A. Macdonald during walking tours in Kingston. The nation’s first capital celebrates Macdonald’s 200th birthday on January 11, 2015. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

5. KINGSTON, Ontario

What’s Happening in 2015: On January 11, Kingston leads a national celebration of Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th birthday. The bicentennial of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister is expected to add to the momentum leading to the 150th anniversary of the nation in 2017. Turning the Macdonald birthday into a major event has been a goal of Arthur Milnes, a political scholar, former speech writer for Stephen Harper, and a Vacay.ca writer. Milnes hopes to one day see Macdonald’s birthday become a national holiday. For now, he has accomplished a week-long party in honour of the Scottish immigrant who made a home and career in Kingston before he headed to Ottawa. The celebration runs from January 6-11 and features a short-film showcase, a performance of “Songs for Sir John, Eh?” and a discussion about Macdonald’s drive to expand his nation westward — no matter what cost, obstacle or rebel leader stood in his way.

Why You Should Go: Kingston is important. Politically, it was the first capital of Canada and a place that has moulded many of our leaders. Culturally, this town of 117,000 has produced icons from Sir John A. Macdonald to the Tragically Hip to, yes, Don Cherry. Touristically, it’s lovely. Kingston is about 2.5 hours by car northeast of Toronto and is one of the gateways to the Thousand Islands, those picturesque dots of territory that disrupt the St. Lawrence River. A cruise of the islands, a stop at the farmer’s market, a coffee at the Sleepless Goat Cafe, lunch at Pan Chanco Bakery and a night at the historic Hotel Belvedere are among the ingredients of a terrific weekend in town.

Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi writes: “The Sir John A. Walking Tour takes place daily, including on Canada Day, and on Friday nights it is led by players from Kingston’s Salon Theatre, who perform impromptu skits from Macdonald’s life, including ones that depict his love of taverns, his testy relationship with fellow nationalist D’Arcy McGee, and the emotional haranguing the Louis Riel trial put him through. It’s campy fun, with performers joining world-champion town crier Chris Whyman in period dress. The tour is education and entertainment rolled together, with more than a touch of patriotism. The goal, Arthur Milnes said, is to underscore that Macdonald had a fierce love of the country and if that passion can be rekindled in those who learn about his life, then the nation itself will be stronger for it. Milnes has called Macdonald ‘the 19th-century Barack Obama’ because of his oratory skills and also equated his 1871 mission to build a railway that spanned the continent with John F. Kennedy’s push to send men to the moon in the 1960s.” Read more of Every Day is Canada Day in Kingston

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Moose are among the wonderful sights you will encounter when you trek to Jasper National Park in Alberta. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

6. JASPER, Alberta

What’s Happening in 2015: Jasper in January is one of those winter festivals that succeeds because organizers embrace winter when it suits them and also happily go about denying it exists when the cold and snow stand in the way of a good time. There’s a street party, a chili cook-off, a culinary celebration called Food-a-Palooza — all during the 17-day festival that has been ongoing for a quarter century. In 2015, it runs from January 16-February 1, and is the first big event in a part of Alberta that thinks huge.

The Jasper Dark Sky Festival has become a must-attend event for stargazers of all sorts. Celebrity astronaut Chris Hadfield led an astronomy tour during the 2014 festival in October when the skies of the national park provide optimum viewing of the heavens. In fact, Jasper boasts the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve.

In May 2014, the Glacier Skywalk opened to offer a new perspective on mountain viewing. The attraction, which the Canadian Tourism Commission has already named a Canadian Signature Experience, includes a glass floor where you can see down 918 feet to the icy permafrost. Its first full year of operations figures to have the experience humming along.

Why You Should Go: Jasper National Park is boundless, spanning an area of 11,228 square kilometres. It’s glorious scenery with all of the hallmarks of a great national park — wildlife viewing, scenic vistas, all-season activities, fine lodges and a richness of educational experiences. The impressive Dark Sky Festival adds another element, celebrating the heavens and the earth. Skiing at Marmot Basin is among the best and most thrilling in the country while summer brings sublime water experiences at places like Maligne Lake and Lac Beauvert. And if you need a refreshment, you’ll find plenty in town, thanks to the quality beers available at the Jasper Brewing Company’s BrewPub.

Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish writes: “When I visited Alberta’s Jasper National Park for the annual Dark Sky Festival, it turned out my star-gazing assignment also produced some terrestrial wonders too. My cross-Canada search for the ideal moose photo was finally rewarded with not one but three moose sightings, including a mom and her calf nuzzling in the middle of the road. I pretty much hit moose photo heaven.” Read more about “How to Get the Perfect Moose Photo”

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Torngat Mountains National Park is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a Parks Canada property in 2015. (David Lough photo)


What’s Happening in 2015: Time holds little power in Torngat Mountains, which is perched on the edge of the North Labrador Sea. The rocks of the park have preserved over billions of years the cycles of mountain building. It is a place where the passage of time can be seen, an exotic land of magical fjords, slicing deep inland through the mountains. Here is where you will see some of the earth’s oldest rocks. It’s odd in such an ancient land to realize that this is one of Canada’s youngest national parks. In 2015, it’s the 10th anniversary of the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve. It’s an occasion to recognize the special meaning geographically and environmentally that this place holds. Here you can see a synopsis of the plate tectonics forming and spreading and walk where caribou, eagles and polar bears also tread. 

Why You Should Go: Parks Canada worked closely with the Inuit who still live and hunt in the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve to create a landscape where all Canadians and international visitors can go to see this unique geographical and historical area. It’s the 42nd national park and it took almost five decades of discussion to transform it into a reserve. Such careful planning and maintenance make it a unique place to discover — especially if you’re the sort who wants to travel where few people attempt to go.

Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong says: In this 9,700-square-kilometre reserve, the beginnings of so many shifts can be observed. Its preservation tells us a lot about what we care about as a nation. In 1860, geologist Oscar M. Lieber had those same thoughts and wrote: There are few places on earth where such an array of geological features and processes can be observed in a single landscape. The limited vegetation cover, high mountains, coastal cliffs, deeply incised fjords, and sheer cliffs that cut perpendicular to the rock fabric provide some of the best exposures of the earth’s geologic history.


Trombone Shorty was among the electrifying musicians who played the 2014 Montreal Jazz Fest, the largest event of its kind in the world. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo/Vacay.ca)

8. MONTREAL, Quebec

What’s Happening in 2015: In Montreal, big things are always happening — like the world’s biggest jazz festival and the world’s biggest comedy festival (Just for Laughs) and perhaps biggest of all is the Canadian Grand Prix, the only Formula 1 race held in this country is annually the biggest weekend for tourism in the city. More than 300,000 people attend and the economic benefit is in the tens of millions of dollars. In 2015, the race takes place on June 7 and kicks off a string of warm-weather festivals that make Montreal one of the most fun and exciting places to visit in North America every year. Montreal will also host eight FIFA Women’s World Cup matches, including one of the semifinals on June 30.

Why You Should Go: While Old Montreal is one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods on the continent, exploring beyond the tourist centre rewards you with a real sense of why this city is so remarkable. From the Victorian-influenced area of Shaughnessy Village to the gentrified Little Burgundy district in the southwest part of the city to the eclectic and historic finds on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, there is plenty to discover in this diverse city.

Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi writes:Diana Krall says she doesn’t know where she would be without the Montreal Jazz Festival. It’s a comment that underscores an aspect of this enduring and endearing annual event that can get overlooked amid the dizzying amount of free music, street performers, beer and wine drinking, visitors, and money exchanges that make it one of the most notable events in Canada. For Krall and many other musicians, however, the festival means work, exposure and potentially a career-making experience.

“‘For so many reasons, it’s the most important jazz festival in the world. If it wasn’t for the Montreal Jazz Festival, I honestly don’t know what I would be doing,’ says Krall.” Read more of “Diana Krall Serenades Montreal Jazz Fest”

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Chris Van Hooydonk operates the intimate Chef’s Table Backyard Farm, which seats only 20 for a memorable dining experience in the Okanagan. (Jody Robbins file photo/Vacay.ca)

9. OKANAGAN VALLEY, British Columbia

What’s Happening in 2015: A wine festival for every season? That’s what you’ll find in the Okanagan Valley, an area ripe for the tasting with more than 140 wineries that will allow any visitor ample opportunities to sample the different offerings available. But if you prefer craft beer over wine, the annual Okanagan Fest-of-Ale draws in visitors from across the country. Music lovers have options too, from the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival to the annual rock ‘n roll celebration in the form of the Penticton Elvis Festival. It was a great year in 2014 for the annual salmon run and 2015 may yield another record harvest with the Adams River sockeye salmon run. This year, the international media will flock to Penticton and its surrounding countryside from September 27-October 1 because the region was chosen to host the GoMedia Canada Marketplace. Travel journalists from around the world will explore the Okanagan Valley in search of stories to tell their audiences.

Why You Should Go: Families can’t get enough of the sandy lakeside beaches and foodies have plenty of reasons too to come to the Okanagan Valley with its renowned orchards and vineyards. The area has some of the highest mountains in the Canadian Rockies and a waterfall twice the height of Niagara Falls. And if you want to catch sight of rattlesnakes, you’ll find them here in Canada’s only true desert environment.

Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong says: The 1.5 million visitors who arrive in this area each year know why they’ve come. But it’s what they don’t expect that keeps visitors returning in different seasons. Those who come for the lush wineries and the decadent wine tastings soon learn that the fishing here is also first-rate. If you come for the fine dining at some of the province’s top resorts, you figure out that it’s not just wine pairings that make the food choices here so superb, but also the unique craft beer experiences that give the Okanagan Valley a reputation as a foodie paradise. And when it’s time to step away from the bar or get up from the dining table, there’s horseback riding, golfing and even skydiving to get you active and moving.

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Wade Sundell-Calgary-Stampede

Wade Sundell competes in the Saddle Bronc at the 2014 Calgary Stampede. The annual event figures to be as entertaining as ever this year. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

10. CALGARY, Alberta

What’s Happening in 2015: Calgarians have always taken pride in their city but now the world is noticing. Around the globe, the city, which was once only known for its famous Calgary Stampede, is being touted as one of North America’s culinary hot spots with top-ranked restaurants like Charcut, River Café, Model Milk and Rouge. New restaurants about to open include Charbar, where Chopped Canada winner Jessica Pelland will oversee the kitchen. There’s also bourbon bar Beltliner and something daring: a Brazilian steak house in the land of Alberta cattle. Travel stories from the New York Times to The Guardian in the UK have all taken a second look at Calgary recently and found it a spot to recommend. With this new international attention, Calgary is becoming even more of a must-see destination in all seasons. The drop in oil prices and the resulting slow down in that vital sector of the Alberta economy may take a bit of the energy out of the town, but there’s lots to buzz about — particularly as the new $135-million National Music Centre facility nears completion in 2016.

Why You Should Go: It’s not an Olympic year as it was in 2014 so this is the perfect time to visit Calgary as a gateway to the mountains. Many of the Winter Olympic sports and even some of the summer ones you wanted to try are here. At Canada Olympic Park (Winsport), the legacy from the 1988 Winter Games, visitors can rush down North America’s fastest zipline travelling at speeds up to 140 km/h. If rumbling down the sliding track is more your speed — at 100 km/h — you can get in a four-person summer bobsleigh. Winter bobsleigh rides give you an extra bump in speed. You’ll be piloted by a professional driver down 14 twists and turns with 5 G-forces and travel at speeds up to 120 km/h on the legendary Olympic sliding track.

Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong says: I’m just gonna say it. In my opinion, Calgary is the Geek Capital of Canada. Reddit had a whole discussion on the best nerdy things to do in the city, including Sunday Gamer nights. The nerdish nature of this city is one reason why one of the most popular events of the year in the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. The 2015 edition marks the 10th anniversary of the event and takes place April 16-19. It features the best in science fiction, comic books, fantasy, horror, pop culture, animation and more. It’s Nerd Nirvana!

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The historic Queen Anne Inn in Annapolis Royal is one of the exquisite properties you can stay in while visiting Nova Scotia’s South Shore and Evangeline Trail. (Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Tourism)


What’s Happening in 2015: The fifth anniversary of Devour! The Food Film Fest is taking place in the fall and standards are high. This festival will have the difficult task of topping its success in 2014. Festival organizers Michael Howell and Lia Rinaldo have done a masterful job of building Devour! into one of the most successful festivals in the country, attracting celebrities such as Jason Priestly and CNN’s Anthony Bourdain. In fact, the five-day festival is already a front-runner in showcasing the best in international documentaries, dramas, comedies and shorts. On the food side, organizers have done a marvellous job spotlighting the best local food, restaurants and chefs of the province. When the celebrations are over, we suggest you visit historic Grand Pré and take a road trip along the southwest shores of Nova Scotia from Wolfville to Yarmouth so that you can step into the footsteps of the Acadians, who were expelled from their homes over two centuries ago.

Why You Should Go: Food, folks and film! It’s fitting that Devour! The Food Film Fest is held in Wolfville — located in the beautiful and rich Annapolis Valley — because this town has no shortage of outstanding restaurants, wineries and farmer’s markets. Vacay.ca contributor Renee Suen had the enviable task of covering the 2014 festival, an event that was jam-packed with delicious food, laughter and new friends. Make 2015 the year you rub shoulders with international filmmakers and film-festival curators, including Berlin Film Festival’s Thomas Struck, and chefs from all corners of the western world. The festival includes screenings of new culinary-inspired films, industry sessions, farmer’s market events, wine tours, chef demos, and local and international food and wine.

Another important reason to visit is the history. This year will mark 260 years since the deportation of the Acadians from Grand Pré (about a five-kilomtre drive from Wolfville). Grand Pré is now a part of Parks Canada‘s historic sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: For those who don’t know the story, the Acadians are the descendants of French settlers who came to North America and settled in Acadia, which was located in present-day Nova Scotia. While happy to live peacefully with the British, the Acadians refused to fight the French or native groups. In 1754 at the beginning of the French and Indian War, the British government demanded the Acadians take an oath of allegiance that included fighting the French and when they refused, the British decided on July 28, 1755 that they should be deported. Thousands of Acadians were forcibly removed from their homes and their communities were destroyed. Many were killed.

The Acadians were dispersed all over the world, with some moving to France and others settling throughout Quebec and the Americas. Some Acadians wanted to come home and after about seven years the British allowed them to return in small numbers but their homes and everything they had built had been destroyed. Many chose to settle in what is today known as the Acadian Shores, an area between Weymouth and Yarmouth.

If you have the time, take a drive along scenic Highway 1 (the Evangeline Trail) and see landmarks of this proud culture. One of the most relaxing and beautiful road trips you will take in Canada, the Evangeline Trail will mesmerize you with views of the Bay of Fundy and rolling landscapes. Without question, it is one of the most scenic road trips you will take in your life.


Visitors enjoy the atmosphere of Old Quebec on Rue du Petit-Champlain, named the No. 1 Street in Canada by Vacay.ca. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

12. QUEBEC CITY, Quebec

What’s Happening in 2015: Those who love winter know Quebec City is the place to be at the beginning of the year and in 2015, the world’s largest winter carnival celebrates its 60th birthday. From January 30 to February 15, Quebec City becomes a winter wonderland with a giant ice palace, snow sculptures, canoe races on the river, dogsled races, night parades, a snow bath and much more. But there’s also plenty to do when the official festivities are over. Stay at the one-of-a-kind Hôtel de Glace, the only place in North America where you’re served a cocktail in a bar where the temperature is set at minus-5 Celsius degrees. Enjoy a cozy night’s sleep in a room made entirely of ice but, hey there are fireplaces and even spas in some of the rooms. And if 2015 is the year you’re thinking of getting married, why not tie the knot in the ice hotel’s frost-covered chapel? Those tropical wedding destinations are so un-Canadian.

Why You Should Go: Sledding, skiing, cross-country skiing and skating may be the obvious activities that come to mind when we think about Quebec City but there is a thriving cultural scene as well. In the summer, the Festival d’été is the city’s great music festival and Canada’s largest outdoor music festival, attracting more than one million attendees. There’s no shortage of things to do in this cosmopolitan city that has a duality that reminds visitors of old European villages and very modern urban landscapes.

Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong says: One of my favourite routes in all of Canada is here. Since 1737, travellers have made their way along Chemin du Roy. It is Canada’s oldest highway and links Quebec City and Montreal. It is a magical route that can be taken on your bike and the scenery changes in winter, spring, summer and fall. The seasons of Canada take form on this road along the St. Lawrence River with pastoral landscapes on every side beckoning the travellers forward on a trip that so many have taken throughout history.

[box_light]More on Vacay.ca: Why Quebec’s Petit-Champlain is the No. 1 Street in Canada[/box_light]

Shawnigan Lake-Cowichan-Valley

Shawnigan Lake in the Cowichan Valley is a short drive from Victoria. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

13. COWICHAN VALLEY, British Columbia

What’s Happening in 2015: No extraordinary events are planned for 2015. No great tourism attractions are being built. No luxury hotels or resorts are scheduled to open. What’s happening in the Cowichan Valley is the same thing that has been happening in this Vancouver Island destination for a decade or more. It ranks on the Vacay.ca list of places to visit because — like much of the wine it produces — the Cowichan Valley is getting finer and finer. The culinary tourism offerings you will find here are true gems, many of them hidden away in secluded areas of this expansive region that is about a 45-minute drive north of Victoria. In 2015, what should be happening is a discovery of these restaurants, bakeries, wineries, cideries, meaderies, breweries, farms and cafes by far more people than the local residents.

Festivals do exist. The Savour Cowichan food and drink event in the fall provides a taste of the delectable products on offer in the region while a country music festival, whiskey festival, and salmon and mushroom festival are also waiting to be enjoyed.

Why You Should Go: Ever wonder what the Okanagan Valley was like back in the day? Before mega-wineries and crowds of weekenders? Or always wanted to spend time in a seaside town that is neither commercialized nor economically stagnant? Most importantly, do you want to experience a place before the rest of the world catches on? Those are rhetorical questions. Your answer should be, yes, I want to go to the Cowichan Valley in 2015. The culinary artists and boutique winemakers are producing such a high level of quality that you could easily explore here for days, gleefully spoiling yourself.

Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi says: The Teafarm embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of Cowichan Valley. Surrounded by forest, the small farm is one of the only places in Canada that grows tea leaves. Its first commercial batch will be on sale soon. In the meantime, visitors enjoy some of the finest teas imported from around the world, served in handmade artistic pots and alongside tasty snacks and desserts. Charm, personality, quality, just the right amount of eccentricity. Those are the hallmarks of a one-of-a-kind enterprise. The kind of place that makes you want to return for a visit and tell your friends to come too. In Cowichan Valley, there are many places like this one waiting for you to arrive.


St. Andrew’s Anglican Church stands tall on Fogo Island, which has received international attention thanks to its namesake inn. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

14. CHANGE ISLANDS AND FOGO ISLAND, Newfoundland & Labrador

What’s Happening in 2015: In late summer, a new ferry will debut, making the islands of Notre Dame Bay in northeastern Newfoundland more accessible. The state-of-the-art ferry costs $51 million and will hold 200 passengers and 60 vehicles. It will supplant decades-old ships that have faltered in recent years. The ferry is the latest addition to this area that has seen a jolt of tourism thanks to the Fogo Island Inn.

Why You Should Go: The 29-room Fogo Island Inn has been the talk of the luxury travel world since it opened in 2013. It has attracted rave reviews and attention from international media. While the inn is what is luring visitors to Notre Dame Bay, the scenery, culture and arts communities are also impressive. The Change Islands are exquisite and will appeal to travellers who want to know what Fogo was like before the inn arrived and brought all the fuss with it.

Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish writes: Despite the notoriety that the Fogo Island Inn has carried to this part of Newfoundland, the people remain largely unchanged. There is an autobiographical aesthetic expressed in the artwork here that reflects the resiliency of a community that for generations has had to adapt in order to survive. That adaptability adds a deeply human, almost poetic, element to your experience on the island.

[box_light]More on Vacay.ca: Fogo Island Is Both Fancy and Fanciful[/box_light]


The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first national museum built since 1967, adds an impressive architectural landmark to Winnipeg. (Rod Charles file photo/Vacay.ca)

15. WINNIPEG, Manitoba

What’s Happening in 2015: Winnipeg has been hitting its stride and slowly becoming an even cooler place to be. A long-lost friend named the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL returned to a euphoric crowd in 2011 and this couldn’t have happened at a better time because this year the city will celebrate 100 years of hockey in Manitoba.

Hockey will always be king in the province, but there is another reason to visit Winnipeg. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened in 2014 and it’s simply a must-see. The first national museum ever built outside of the National Capital Region, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights stands at the site of Canada’s first post-Confederation treaty with the First Nations and features several displays designed to inspire and make you think and reflect.

Why You Should Go: This isn’t your grandaddy’s Winnipeg. This is a city that’s on the move and spreading its wings for the world to see, and it’s about time. On the sports scene, Winnipeg is a great place to watch the NHL Jets or the Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. The sports theme will be even bigger this year, with the province celebrating 100 years of hockey and if that’s not enough, the 103rd Grey Cup will be played in Winnipeg at Investors Group Field in November.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is an educational and inspiring place to visit because of the architecture and contents within the building. There is simply nothing else like it in the world. The museum might seem dour in tone but the building is so stunning that it actually makes you feel uplifted. Light floods in from a massive bank of windows, the dark mud-coloured floors on the first level leads to a black ramp that turns into a beautiful white alabaster staircase that ribbons its way up the museum. The 260,00-square-foot facility opened on September 20. Adult tickets cost $15 each.

While the new kid on the block is quite impressive it isn’t the only outstanding facility in Winnipeg. The Air Force Heritage Museum and Air Park, Western Canada Aviation Museum, Manitoba Museum  and Children’s Museum are also worth a visit. And you can’t talk about Winnipeg without mentioning the food scene. With deer+almond (No. 18 on the 2014 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide) and Segovia Tapas Bar (No. 20) leading the way, Winnipeg is a city that is building a culinary reputation for itself.

Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: Winnipeg is really finding its voice and getting more respect, and it’s a wonderful thing to see. This city has been the cute, smart, plainly dressed undiscovered kid sitting quietly at the back of the classroom long enough — Winnipeg is going to the prom and is hoping you will ask for a dance. Visitors to this city are going to be pleasantly surprised to see what Winnipeg has to offer. Rest up before you get here — with museums, parks, festivals, activities for all ages and award-winning restaurants, Winnipeg isn’t just a place to chill out and get educated, it’s a place to have a rollicking good time too.

[box_light]More on Vacay.ca: Museum for Human Rights Makes You Think[/box_light]


Charlevoix is situated beside the St. Lawrence River and visitors are never far from that lovely waterway. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

16. CHARLEVOIX, Quebec

What’s Happening in 2015: Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, a provincial park that was closed for renovations, is scheduled to reopen in June and promises significant improvements. The park contains 30 kilometres of hiking trails, some of which run along cliffs that are among the steepest east of the Rocky Mountains. A river boat cruises through the park providing photo opportunities of the dramatic scenery. Charlevoix’s own annual winter carnival takes place from February 20 to March 8. It includes appearances from Quebec City’s famed mascot, Bonhomme.

Why You Should Go: Charlevoix, which is 80 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, is an exceptionally unique biodiversity region. A 15-ton meteorite smashed into the area 350 million years ago, carving a massive crater along the St. Lawrence River. Among the long-lasting effects of the impact is a distinct light that has attracted artists and photographers from around the world. Like much of Quebec, the artistic culture thrives in Charlevoix, with artisans and craftspeople operating shops in towns such as Malbaie and Baie Saint-Paul. Visitors will also want to make sure they travel on the scenic routes to take advantage of the stunning vistas. The River Drive is 58 kilometres long and winds along the St. Lawrence.

Not to be forgotten is Le Massif, which has the steepest ski runs in Quebec.

Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish says: Charlevoix is breathtaking. The scenery is some of the most spectacular in the eastern part of North America and much of it is lightly travelled in comparison to places in New England and elsewhere in Quebec. A fine way to enjoy both the area’s beauty and its thrills is with a whale-watching cruise that takes you in search of minke whales who swim through the St. Lawrence. For those who are planning a short stay, consider taking the scenic train from Quebec City. It’s a pleasant ride with luxury dining. You will be dropped off at the foot of the splendid Hôtel La Ferme in Baie Saint-Paul.

South Saskatchewan River Boat Saskatoon

Known as Bridge City, Saskatoon is a picturesque prairie town, especially when you go for a walk and enjoy the views along the South Saskatchewan River. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

17. SASAKTOON, Saskatchewan

What’s Happening in 2015: The resource boom in Saskatoon has invigorated the city with a new energy that has increased the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding some of its traditional cultural events. The Saskatoon Jazz Festival enters its 29th edition on a high. It drew 85,000 fans in 2014 and continues to build a reputation as one of the best music events in western Canada. The annual Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan theatre festival will celebrate its 30th year in 2015. It presents fine productions in a lovely setting along the riverfront.

Why You Should Go: A funny thing happened on the way to economic prosperity. Saskatoon became the beneficiary of a culture movement that has been focused on the culinary arts. Lucky Bastard Distillers create award-winning artisanal spirits, including vodka, rum and gin. Paddock Wood Brewing makes a mix of beers with the most impressive being Heartstopper, a stout whose ingredients are cayenne and Mexican chocolate. And then there is Ayden Kitchen and Bar, the celebrated restaurant run by Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay. The No. 10-ranked entry on the 2014 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide is deserving of all the hype.

Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi writes: “Lucky Bastard seems to suit the Saskatoon of today because the small business on the outskirts of town embodies the city’s recent prosperity. The micro distillery is the result of a lottery win, a stroke of fortune that could happen anywhere but seems apropos that it occurred here, in a prairie boomtown where jobs are aplenty and the energy is so palpable people are likening it to a mini Calgary. It’s also the result of community and ingenuity. Co-owner Cary Bowman was a financial advisor and one of his clients, Michael Goldney, walked into his office one day after winning millions of dollars. He was, of course, seeking advice. It just so happened that Bowman was a Scotch aficionado and his own dream was to operate a distillery.” Read the rest of “Drinking in Saskatoon’s Finest”

[box_light]More on Vacay.ca: Meet the New Burger Kings of Saskatoon[/box_light]


Historic Westminster Hotel, nicknamed “The Pit,” is one of the centres of activity in Dawson City. (Photo courtesy of Yukon Tourism)

18. DAWSON CITY, Yukon

What’s Happening in 2015: If the Wild West still existed, it would be here, just now with a more northern address. This is the Wild North, where the pioneering spirit lives on and where you will find people who still believe they can strike gold because they’re willing to work hard. Dawson City was the centre of the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush and that speculative history remains. It has also become a place that’s attracting visitors for its culture. Everything from vaudeville revivals to the Dawson City Music Festival, called the most “tiny perfect musical festival” in Canada, will take place here in 2015.

Why You Should Go: Up north, they’re used to long and hearty treks and few are more famous than the Yukon Quest, a two-week long international dog-sled competition that covers the territory between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska, a route that takes 1,600 kilometres. One of the places where the dog mushers will go through and where spectators can watch them race is in Dawson City. The racers are expected to arrive sometime in early- to mid-February depending on the weather conditions.

Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong says: Under the northern lights, one of the most spectacular fim festivals in Canada takes place in Dawson City. Since 2000, the Dawson City International Short Film Festival has been showing short films across all genres over the Easter weekend, this year from April 2-5. It’s one of the most northerly competitive film festivals in the world and includes master classes, filmmaking challenges and awards for some of the best short films produced internationally.

[box_light]More on Vacay.ca: Discovering the Riches of Dawson City[/box_light]

Niagara, vineyard, winery, tourism, ontario

Niagara’s wine country is known for the famous icewine, which has spawned numerous festivals and events. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)


What’s Happening in 2015: Three words – Niagara Icewine Festival, which is celebrating its 20th year in 2015. What began as a gala event has morphed into a three-weekend celebration of everything and anything to do with icewine. For those who aren’t aware, icewine is made from grapes that are frozen when harvested, meaning the juice is very sweet. Taking place January 9-25, the Niagara Icewine Festival features several outstanding events throughout the region. Festivities kick off with the Xerox Icewine Gala and will feature wine and food pairings, marshmallow roasting, ice sculptures and wine-barrel tossing.

Why You Should Go: Icewine, first and foremost. It isn’t just the sweet stuff, though — Niagara-on-the-Lake has the perfect blend of just about everything that makes this town such an outstanding destination. If wine is a great reason to come here, so too is the famous Shaw Festival that seems to get better and better each year. If you’re a fan of theatre, you will love spending an evening before or after a show in one of the town’s fine pubs or restaurants. If you enjoy fine dining, you’ll love walking on the streets and admiring the architecture. And when it’s all over settle down in one of the many top-notch bed and breakfasts or luxury hotels, featuring relaxing places to enjoy tea or a spa treatment.

Another thing about this picturesque town is that it oozes history. Sitting across the border from the United States along the Niagara River, many fugitive slaves escaped to Canada and freedom — or drowned trying. The town was also a focal point for several confrontations during the War of 1812, including the Capture of Fort George on May 27, 1813.

Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: For wine lovers, a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake is a must. But even if wine isn’t your thing this town is simply stunning and has so much to offer. If you are hoping to enjoy a perfect summer afternoon, go for a walk along Queen Street and grab an ice cream cone or dinner in the open air. Be warned — you won’t want to leave.

[box_light]More on Vacay.ca: Niagara Icewine Festival Brings Cheer[/box_light]


Dewy Matthews, owner of the Anchor D Ranch, takes visitors on horseback rides that lead to jaw-dropping views of Alberta’s Kananaskis country. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)


What’s Happening in 2015: Not much. In many ways, time stands still here. So, visiting the Cowboy Trail — which runs along Highway 22 — is partly about connecting with the past. It’s a lightly travelled section of Alberta that’s on the edge of Kananaskis country, amid the foothills of the southern part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. You can visit working dude ranches, take a horseback ride into undiscovered country, and tour the Bar U Ranch, a Parks Canada National Historic Site that is on the grounds of what was one of the earliest and most successful commercial ranching operations in the country. Also part of the attraction: the historic oil derricks that continue to churn and squeak as they pump out black gold. The Alberta oil and gas industry can trace its roots here, to Turner Valley, where crude was discovered in 1914.

Why You Should Go: Located about one hour by car south of Calgary, the towns of Turner Valley, Millarville, Longview and Black Diamond offer an immersive experience into the cowboy culture of Alberta. It’s rustic, authentic and largely unvisited, even though there is plenty to do. The surprisingly upscale finds you’ll encounter include the new artisan distillery, Eau Claire, in Turner Valley, the art shops in Black Diamond and the celebrated Longview Steakhouse.

Vacay.ca Columnist Adrian Brijbassi writes: “Dewy Matthews grins when I ask what inspires people to come visit his ranch, a gorgeous swath of land that dips and dawdles like a rhyme along the foothills of the Alberta Rocky Mountains. ‘Every year, they go to the Calgary Stampede and then a bunch of ’em come down here ’cause they want to play cowboy,’ Matthews says and raps his wooden table to beat home the point. Matthews has been operating the Anchor D Ranch for 30 years, wrangling horses, teaching others to do it, and leading city slickers into the mountains of the great continental divide to show them what cowboys have known for decades: Ain’t no office in the world can compete with this for a way to spend your day.”

Vicky is the worldly publisher of Vacay.ca. Having graduated from McGill University in Montreal, she has set about building a talented team of travel experts to deliver to you words and images of the very best places to see and experience in Canada. Based in Yorkville in Toronto, Vicky regularly jet sets around Canada — be sure to catch up with her when she's in your part of the country.

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