Concerns about global climate have come to impact every facet of life in Canada. In 2019, for the first time climate change was a top priority among voters in a federal election. The phenomenon that is Greta Thunberg gripped the country during the Swedish activist’s September visit with more than 500,000 marching with her in Montreal alone. Municipalities, meanwhile, are driving adoption of low-carbon practices while altruistic entrepreneurs are putting the planet over profit by creating opportunities for consumers to make purchases that best support the environment.
The travel industry is increasingly affected by consumers’ attachment to climate health. The most strident of environmental advocates believes conscientious travellers should limit themselves to only essential journeys. But the call of exploration is as innately human as the desire to foster a better world for children. Tourism can evolve with the rest of society and, indeed, the industry has already started to challenge itself to do so.
The Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2020 endeavours to spotlight destinations that are at the forefront of environmental progress while remaining exciting places to visit with quality attractions, innovative enterprises, nature-filled activities, and outstanding accommodations.
Vacay.ca’s team of travel journalists took two years to compile the report, which emphasizes municipalities and parklands that have made sustainability a hallmark of their experience.
Previous editions of the 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada have proven to be an accurate indicator of tourism trends across the country. The first edition of the rankings for this new decade signifies the importance of environmentalism as a defining factor of Canadian travel now and in the future.
The list is topped by the nation’s most iconic national park and also includes seven destinations from British Columbia, the most “green” of the country’s 10 provinces.
1. BANFF, Alberta
Why You Should Go: It’s not just for the big mountains and the unbelievably grand views. Banff and Lake Louise are sustainable travel destinations because of their plates and coffee cups, too. A chefs collective in the area has a commitment that can be seen in every meal with sustainable ingredients sourced from the closest places they can find. Eating here means eating food from here. That includes at the region’s two iconic hotels, Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Lake Louise. Along with collaborating on community initiatives, both properties have sparked their own sustainability efforts. Fairmont Banff Springs — which operates a whopping 12 restaurants — has said it will reduce its food waste by 30 per cent by the end of 2020. Fairmont Lake Louise has shifted to a fully LED light property, among other changes. Given how many people visit these locations each year and how much food is prepared and consumed within them, their influence on environmental efforts is significant.
The ski resorts are also taking their environmental initiatives to a new peak. At Mount Norquay, a hashtag campaign called #NorquayNudge is gently urging habit changes from guests. Reusable dishes and cutlery are now used, and plastic straws and cup lids have been eliminated. At Banff Sunshine, new sweaters made of recycled textile waste have been added to the resort’s collection. Each sweater saves 6,200 litres of water and uses materials that would otherwise go to waste.
The volume of visitors means it’s difficult to keep Banff clean. But community efforts in recent years have led to frequent group clean-up hikes and educational discussions with locals and tourists. You might find arts projects from kids made of recycled material or notice a kiosk outside of popular stores where residents talk about environmental issues that are increasingly top of mind.
These efforts underscore what we already know: Banff is a special place for Canada and the planet. If there is anywhere to go in this country to celebrate the natural world and find inspiration to revere it, it’s here, in this remarkable and timeless jewel of the Rockies.
What’s Happening for 2020: This year marks the 135th anniversary of the founding of Banff National Park and visitors who spend just a little time in the area can witness how a thriving community that depends on tourism has made sustainability a top priority. The town is aiming to have zero human-big mammal conflict incidents by 2022 and that means everyone, whether you live in Banff or are just visiting, are encouraged to properly dispose of their waste. By 2030, the community wants to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels. These reductions will occur at a time when tourism is expected to increase, both from Canadian visitors and international travellers.
On the festival scene, big ones include SnowDays (January 16-25), which features ice-carving competitions, snow sculptures, culinary events, and a play zone for kids. For those who want an event with less layers, the Banff Yoga Festival (May 29-31) celebrates its fifth edition. The national park is seeing more and more events focused on food and drink, including the excellent Banff and Lake Louise Craft Beer Festival (November 26-28), a showcase of Alberta’s sensational and diverse brewmasters.
Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong Writes: “Banff is a living, breathing example of how a destination with a long history is choosing to make a difference in how we experience it today and in the years to come. Visitors coming here are left with not just memories and selfies but with a renewed faith and responsibility that the places we go to, whether it’s far from home, or right in our backyard, are worth fighting for so future travellers will get to experience the same awe and wonderment of being someplace monumental for the very first time.”
2. VICTORIA, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Harry and Meghan chose their Christmas vacation destination wisely. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex no doubt discovered why Victoria is enjoying a level of interest unseen for this gentle city. Beyond its beauty, warm weather (by Canadian measures), and relaxed attitude of its citizens, the British Columbia capital can now be adorned with an unexpected adjective: cutting edge. The city has a ban on single-use plastics and is pushing aggressively toward carbon-neutral goals. New and established businesses have championed a variety of initiatives that are worth supporting. Perhaps most impressively is the effort of the 10 Acres family of downtown restaurants, whose owner purchased a farm north of the city so he could supply his three establishments. With the farm products, the three 10 Acres properties (Bistro, Kitchen, and Commons) are leading a culinary movement in the city that is looking at inventive ways to be more environmentally friendly.
Meanwhile, Vancouver Island’s only zero-waste grocery store — and the dedicated husband-and-wife team behind it — would make Greta-maniacs nod enthusiastically with approval. At the Zero Waste Emporium, consumers buy fair-trade, organic bulk food and carry it away in their own reusable containers or packaging. Travellers in home-stay units will find the cost and convenience of buying only what you need pragmatic as well as healthy.
Also, Food Eco District (FED) is a non-profit that teams with restaurants to improve sustainability efforts in the downtown core. Among the members is Canada’s first carbon-neutral fast-food restaurant, Big Wheel Burger. Stop in and you will realize major industries can change their practices without loss in quality or profit. People return from their vacations with souvenirs. After your next visit to Victoria, you just may go home having adopted a new habit that can help you better the planet.
What’s Happening in 2020: The third edition of the IMPACT Conference (January 19-22) kicks off the year with a focus on fostering environmental initiatives across the Canadian tourism industry. The fact Victoria hosts this conference punctuates its commitment to sustainability practices and achieving carbon-neutral goals.
Among the annual events you might want to plan your visit around is Victoria Beer Week (March 6-14). Among the notables in the city are pioneering craft brewery, Spinnakers (which you can read about here). The Indigenous Cultural Festival (June 21-23) coincides with National Indigenous Day and features performances and ceremonies by local First Nations communities.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “Most people would be surprised to know technology — and not government or tourism — is the No. 1 industry in the beautiful capital of British Columbia. It generates $3.15 billion in annual revenue and employs 23,000 people across more than 880 companies, according to the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council (VIATEC). With technology comes youth and with youth comes fresh perspectives and change, often in exciting ways. Noticeably, the Rifflandia music festival, which takes place in mid-September, is quickly emerging as a major event in Western Canada. While visitors will still arrive for some of the nation’s best whale-watching tours and high-tea experiences, you will also be able to mingle with a more youthful crowd.”
3. MORESBY ISLAND, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Gwaii Haanas National Park and Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that limits its annual visitors to about 1,800 entrants. The park is a massive 1,470 square kilometres (568 square miles) and makes up approximately 15 per cent of the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, the westernmost point in Canada. Gwaii Haanas is primarily on Moresby Island, but also includes 137 smaller islands. The park is a sacred place to the Haida people and its unique wildlife and plant life are the main reasons why environmentalists have dubbed the archipelago the Galapagos of the North. Gwaii Haanas includes 39 endemic species, the most famous being a black bear with features distinct from mainland varieties. In 2018, the luxury lodge Ocean House debuted on the northern end of Moresby Island, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) from Gwaii Haanas. The lodge is a gateway to the extravagant nature of Haida Gwaii. A stay includes boat tours of fjords, fishing expeditions, foraging excursions, and more.
What’s Happening in 2020: A number of tour operators offer itineraries that depart from Vancouver to Haida Gwaii with a stop in Gwaii Haanas National Park and Reserve. One of the more interesting (and affordable) choices is Langara College’s Haida Gwaii Eco-Photography Tour. Led by a photography instructor in the school’s Continuing Education department, the nine-day itinerary ($4,365 per person) includes three nights in Gwaii Haanas.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “In recent years, the Haida have ventured into the tourism industry with the goal of balancing the desire for economic prosperity with steadfast oversight of the more than 150 islands they have considered their territory for greater than 13,000 years. They believe their imperative is to revere and protect the ocean and terrain. To do so, they need to keep alive their culture — which is where tourism plays a role. And where Ocean House hopes to make its biggest impact. The property rests in Peel Inlet (or Stads K’uns GawGa in the Haida language) in the heart of Moresby Island. It is surrounded by territory that includes fjords, dramatic cliffs, the archipelago’s tallest peak (4,000-foot Mount Moresby), and waters rich with marine life.”
4. TORONTO, Ontario
Why You Should Go: Canada’s largest city is one of its biggest tourism success stories in the nation. According to a report released in November 2019, Toronto’s tourism revenue for the previous year was $10.3 billion and more than 27.5 million visitors arrived. While only 15 per cent of them came from the United States or overseas destinations, the interest in the city is at an all-time high. The NBA championship won by the Raptors put Toronto — and its diversity and inclusiveness — in a global spotlight and it is continuing to flourish as a destination for music, art, and culinary delights.
On the environmental front, many Toronto attractions and hotels have taken steps to lower their impact on the environment. The Toronto Zoo has implemented a framework to actively reduce its negative environmental impacts. The Toronto Botanical Garden features a LEED Silver Certified Building with an energy-efficient sloping green roof and award-winning ecologically conscious design.
What’s Happening in 2020: Sports and entertainment remain the biggest reason to visit Toronto in 2020, starting with the Raptors. After an awful start, the Maple Leafs have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL and appear headed back to the playoffs.
The Toronto International Film Festival (September 10-20) is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of its headquarters, TIFF Bell Lightbox. The spiffy downtown King Street space is full of activities and workshops, as well as movies, year round. The Inside Out LGBT Film Fest (May 21-31) will celebrate its 30th season this year. Other tried-and-true favourites to look forward to include Pride Toronto (June 1-30), Toronto Caribbean Carnival (July 30-August 3), and the Canadian National Exhibition (August 21 to September 7).
Lots of hotel news is also happening in 2020. The W Hotel is scheduled for its Toronto debut in the summer. The nine-storey tower will add even more posh to glam Yorkville and build on Toronto’s music scene with its own in-house recording studio. Nearby, the historic Park Hyatt re-opens after a two-year renovation. Farther south, the nation’s first Ace Hotel, a brand popular with younger travellers, is expected to open early in the year in the Entertainment District and eco-conscious 1 Hotel, famed for using reclaimed and recycled materials, takes over the former Thompson Hotel building on Wellington Street.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “I would owe Toronto an apology before the night was done. For too long I had characterized the city as one that lacked natural and architectural beauty, diminishing its attractiveness when compared to some other metropolises in Canada and abroad. No city — not even pretty Copenhagen or gorgeous Vienna — is without its shortcomings and areas of blight. Likewise, any modern centre that attracts visitors will have features worthy of praise. Toronto gets knocked because it has a highway, the Gardiner, that batters through it, dividing the city’s waterfront district along Lake Ontario from the core of skyscrapers and boxy condominium buildings. The highway also generates a painful amount of vehicle traffic each day. It’s the busy downtown, with a mishmash of design styles and lack of green spaces, that is responsible for the criticism Toronto receives about its looks. But when you observe the city from the water, away from the congestion, basking in sunlight, with its sentry-like towers guarding the shore with might and grace you realize Toronto has seized your breath. It’s what happened to me frequently when I embarked on a tour aboard Northern Spirit.”
5. HAVRE-AUBERT, Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec
Why You Should Go: One of the first destinations in Canada to make environmentalism a cornerstone of its tourism industry, Îles de la Madeleine has smartly tied its success and the preservation of its Acadian culture to care for the land and the sea of its small archipelago. In 2006, its community determined that tourism would need to be sustainable to ensure the health of home and culture. “Tourism development must help promote and also preserve the diversity and unique aspects of our physical environment,” states one of the municipal mandates. The result is a destination that delivers an idyllic vacation getaway filled with unspoiled beaches, culinary finds that rely on local ingredients and historic recipes, creative crafts, and eco-friendly boutique hotels. Of the 12 primary islands in the chain, Havre-Aubert has the largest population and the most tourism infrastructure. It is filled with artists and activities to keep you entertained when you’re not resting joyfully on the sand.
What’s Happening in 2020: Festivals galore. Îles de la Madeleine is loaded with events year-round. The highlights are the Acadian Festival (July 31 to August 2) and the annual sand-castle competition (August 7-9). The beach at Havre-Aubert (Sandy Hook) has been rated among the best in Canada because of its immaculate landscape and unexpectedly warm waters around it. Fun on the beach and in the sea is what you do when you visit, which is enticement enough for many travellers.
Vacay.ca Contributor Mark Stevens Writes: “These are islands with tremendous variety, rich in culture and surprisingly sophisticated, given their relative isolation. Take a lesson in gourmet cooking at Gourmande de Nature and sample superior cuisine (think French subtlety combined with fresh seafood) served in elegant surroundings at establishments from La Moulière to La Table des Roy (both are serious must-dos). You can hike here and bike here, kite-surf or windsurf, swim in caves, go sea kayaking. Find dunes stretching to the horizon, sandcastle-building competitions unlike anywhere else on the planet, and a gallery that boasts artworks and souvenirs where sand is the chief ingredient.”
6. FOGO ISLAND, Newfoundland & Labrador
Why You Should Go: An emblem of what sustainable tourism development can do for rural communities, the Fogo Island Inn is both a globally recognized star and a property tethered to the unique culture of its location. Its billionaire founder, Zita Cobb, launched the inn to reinvigorate her home. Her Shorefast Foundation, which owns the Inn, is a not-for-profit charity that returns all surplus revenue back to the business.
The hotel champions “Economic Nutrition”, allowing guests to purchase the locally made decor and art in the hotel, while realizing how their dollars are helping the local community. It’s a lot of dollars, too. A stay begins at $1,975 per night, with a two-night minimum in low season and a three-night minimum in high season (June to September).
What’s Happening in 2020: Chef Jonathan Gushue returned to his home province in late 2018 to bring his world-class culinary skills to the Fogo Island Inn. His vision for his menu blends with the Inn’s sustainability initiatives. Food is one hallmark of the Inn’s experience, but so are special events, including festive celebrations on New Year’s Eve and Canadian Thanksgiving (October 12). Hockey fans will be enticed to arrive on March 21 when a team of Boston Bruins legends faces off against local players.
Fogo Island Inn Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue Says: “It’s a rugged beauty that is so different from anywhere else I have been. I like to think of it as a stunning combo of people and place. The people are very proud of their island. … This is an opportunity for me to spread my culinary wings. It’s more than making great meals and winning an award. The Inn is a hotel run by a charitable foundation and in everything we do, owner Zita Cobb’s philosophy is evident.”
7. VANCOUVER, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Sea change is one phrase that could be used to describe the Vancouver Aquarium‘s evolution in recent years. Gone are sea animals that were held in captivity for entertainment. In their place are rescue animals and mammals whose care is aligned with world-leading practices for how to treat them. The aquarium’s new CEO is former World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace leader Lasse Gustavsson, and its executive vice-president, Dr. Carlos Drews, has also spent his career as a conservation advocate at organizations such as the Jane Goodall Foundation. Once a target of animal-rights activists, the aquarium has completed a commendable 180-degree change and is leading the way in demonstrating how animals should be cared for in facilities that aim to educate about wildlife. The aquarium promises exciting new programming that will promote healthy oceans and encourage the public to help conservation activities.
What’s Happening in 2020: “Uncharted” is the theme of the 2020 TED Conference (April 20-24), which has found a home at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Discussions on how to address the climate crisis will be a significant part of the program. Annual festivals worth attending include the Vancouver International Wine Fest (February 22 to March 1), which will honour France as the featured country in 2020, and the improving Just for Laughs: Northwest (February 13-24), whose scheduled headliners include Margaret Cho, Hannah Gadsby, and Jay Pharoah. Environmentally conscious travellers may want to drop in on the GLOBE Series (February 10-13), the largest and longest-running sustainable business summit and innovation showcase in North America.
In sports, the Canucks are celebrating their 50th season and have emerged as contenders in the NHL’s Western Conference. Attending one of their games includes the perk of some of the best stadium food in North America.
Vacay.ca Contributor Claudia Laroye Writes: “It’s fair to say that Vancouver is one of the most bike-able cities in Canada. The year-round comfortable temperatures, scenic skyline, and a connected network of more than 450 kilometres (280 miles) of bikeways ensure maximum cycling satisfaction for commuters as well as visitors and tourists. Cycle City Vancouver’s Epic Electric Tour lasts nearly four hours. It goes along the downtown Seawall, past the glass towers of Coal Harbour, around and through Stanley Park, into the West End and English Bay, and through Chinatown, the Downtown Eastside and Gastown before finally pedalling back to Cycle City’s base on Hornby Street. It was within Stanley Park where the tour really shined.”
8. PENTICTON, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Tourism Penticton executive director Thom Tischik envisions a zero-fuel, zero-emissions vacation for visitors who can experience the joys of the Okanagan Valley’s outdoor lifestyle as well as its wine offerings without a car. The environmental efforts are supported by a range of businesses that encourage travellers to unplug their electronic devices and explore the many nature experiences available in the area. Among these are the Kettle Valley Railroad Trail, where bikers or hikers can trek along abandoned tracks that go past the central Okanagan’s arid hillsides overlooking the region’s iconic namesake lake. Penticton has the benefit of being situated between both Okanagan Lake to the north and Skaha Lake to the south, meaning there’s no shortage of aquatic fun to be had. As with many of Canada’s smaller cities, the weekly farmers’ market is the highlight of a visit. Penticton’s market includes up to 100 small businesses each week, featuring artisan craftmakers, wineries, breweries, florists, and many food retailers.
What’s Happening for 2020: Dating to 1947, the Penticton Peach Festival (August 5-9) is one of the longest-running festivals in Western Canada. Created in recognition of the peach harvest, the fest has expanded to include concerts, a film festival, and plenty of activities for kids. The Okanagan Fest of Ale (April 17-18) celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2020 and more than 5,500 craft-beer lovers are expected. Penticton Beer Week (October) also shows that the Okanagan Valley isn’t only about wine.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “Some grassroots movements start in an organized fashion, others with a series of independent actions that slowly begin to have an impact. In Penticton, multiple businesses have put a focus on environmentalism, creating a community that is showing leadership among small Canadian municipalities when it comes to sustainability efforts. The city promotes environmentalism in an exceptional way, including advancing the federal government’s aim of eliminating many uses of plastic.”
9. MONTREAL, Quebec
Why You Should Go: Montreal does winter like few other cities around the world, with attractions and festivals designed to get people out from the indoors to enjoy the natural sights and manmade fun around them. The city, especially Old Montreal, is extremely walkable even in extreme weather. One of the world’s largest winter festivals in the world, Montreal en Lumière (February 20 to March 1) brings gastronomy, music, theatre, and art to the city’s Quartier des Spectacles. In warmer months, explore Montreal on bicycles or one of the new electric scooters the city just allowed on the streets.
What’s Happening in 2020: Along with Montreal en Lumière, Igloofest (January 16 to February 8) ignites winter. Electronic music fans will be partying in minus-30-degree weather as one of the world’s coolest festivals takes place each weekend during its schedule and brings diverse music to the city’s Old Port.
The 41st edition of the Montreal International Jazz Fest (June 25 to July 4) covers the city with free music and lots of unforgettable revelry. The Montreal Grand Prix (June 12-14) is known as much more than a car race through the streets. Formula 1 weekend is considered the unofficial launch of festival season in the city and is also the biggest revenue-generating weekend for hotels.
If sustainable travel matters to you, consider joining hundreds of the world’s experts this spring at the International Conference on Ecotourism, Sustainable Tourism and Protected Areas (May 18-19).
Vacay.ca Contributor Guillermo Serrano Says: “Montreal has made a major effort to bring together some of the world’s foremost authorities on ecotourism and sustainable travel. One of the events I’m looking forward to learning more about is the International Conference on Sustainable Wildlife Tourism (August 4-5), which will attract leading researchers, educators, and scientists to the city to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the industry. The goal is to ensure wildlife tourism is something that future generations of travellers will be able to enjoy.”
10. SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick
Why You Should Go: Sustainable aquaculture is a key to tourism in Saint John. The city on the Bay of Fundy is home to sustainable caviar maker Acadian Sturgeon, which offers sturgeon “safari” tours in July to catch and harvest its product. The city also has restaurateurs who are also farmers and sustainable food advocates, providing the next generation of citizens with education on best practices.
Institutional initiatives include a rope recycling program launched by Port Saint John and the Huntsman Marine Science Centre that encourages locals and visitors to bring their used fishing gear to one of eight bins for transfer to a recycling facility. The effort reduces the amount of rope going to landfills and collecting in waterways, which can harm marine life.
Beyond efforts to become more green, Saint John is also a pretty and easy-to-walk city. Its Trinity Royal Preservation Area not only retains 19th-century Victorian architecture, it has transformed it into all kinds of 21st-century cool: eco-friendly coffee shops, happy and hoppy craft-beer spots, cozy restaurants, boutique shops, and art galleries. When you visit, expect to want to remain in town for longer than planned. Saint John is a destination that will tempt you to extend your stay.
What’s Happening in 2020: A shipping container village is erected in the heart of Saint John during the Area 506 event (July 31 to August 2). It features free day-time events as well as ticketed evening concerts. The festival is a celebration of New Brunswick music and culture. For the fifth year, Sculpture Saint John brings international artists to the city to create beautiful pieces of art from New Brunswick granite. Arts lovers will be able to download the event’s app and use it to follow a Sculpture Trail through the city.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “The zeal for local food and drink is intense in Saint John. A little more than an hour’s drive south of Fredericton, Saint John has more than 85 bars and restaurants in a Victorian-era historic centre. Breweries are strewn around the area making a pub crawl easy and enticing, while talented chefs take advantage of the Bay of Fundy’s seafood riches to serve up decadent items in restaurants filled with character and heritage. The Saint John Ale House, spearheaded by executive chef Jesse Vergen, has led the way for a culinary revitalization in a city that impresses with the quality of its beers and cuisine. It’s also a street photographer’s dream thanks to the antiquated beauty of its architecture that blends with contemporary graffiti projects sponsored by the city’s tourism board.”
11. HAINES JUNCTION, Yukon Territory
Why You Should Go: Home to Kluane National Park and Reserve, Haines Junction is where you will base your stay as you explore Canada’s highest peaks, including the tallest of all, Mount Logan. Explorers can travel on a heart-pounding ski-plane ride to the base of the Saint Elias mountain range to walk on the largest non-polar ice field on Earth. The Saint Elias range features 11 peaks that are more than 5,000 metres (16,404 feet) high, as well as the youngest and fastest-growing mountains in Canada. Base your stay at the cozy Dalton Trail Lodge, which offers outdoor adventure packages, including wildlife trips to get you the moose photo you’ve always sought. Kayak, canoe, and fishing journeys immerse visitors in Yukon’s magnificent environment.
What’s Happening for 2020: The stars and aurora borealis phenomenon are the main attraction at the fifth annual Northern Nights festival. Taking place in September, the event is the only dark-sky festival in Yukon. Along with walks led by astronomers who share knowledge of the heavens, Northern Nights includes art workshops, storytelling, and live music.
Fitness enthusiasts will be drawn to the dual-nation Kluane Chilkat International Bike relay. The race starts in Haines Junction and ends up 283.3 kilometres (176 miles) later in Haines, Alaska. Teams and solo cyclists participate in one of the most scenic bike races in the world that runs along Kluane National Park and over the Chilkat Pass.
Vacay.ca Contributor Mark Stevens Writes: “It strikes me there should be a soundtrack — octave leaps by violins, overarching melodic lines commandeered by French horns in a John Williams score that’s virtual accompaniment to the symphony of sight set before us. I feel like the star in an IMAX movie. I feel like crying. I feel like laughing, yelling, bursting into song. But one feeling dominates, here in the sky high above a range that boasts Canada’s biggest mountain, a park four times bigger than Prince Edward Island. I feel as if I have reached out and touched the face of God.”
12. TOFINO, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: In 2000, Clayoquot Sound was named a UNESCO biosphere reserve (there are 18 in Canada) and that designation coincided with a shift away from forestry and commercial fishing to ecological-minded decisions meant to ensure life in the coastal village remained charming and culturally vibrant. Today, Tofino is one of the most beloved destinations in Canada. You won’t find a franchise location of any chains in town. Rather, the village is filled with local entrepreneurs who have turned Tofino into a hot spot for west-coast cuisine and art. Despite its compact size, it continues to be a leader in environmental practices, many of which are undertaken in coordination with Indigenous communities from the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations.
What’s Happening in 2020: What could be more Tofino than a celebration of seaweed? The Seaweed Festival (April 26-28) features superbly talented chef Paul Moran of the Tofino Resort + Marina‘s 1909 Kitchen leading harvesting workshops while shoreline discussions provide the chance to learn how seaweed affects the health of aquatic life on the west coast. Seaweed-focused lunch and dinners are also part of the program. More food and education is scheduled through the Raincoast Education Society, which partners with Long Beach Lodge Resort for the Discover & Dine culinary series that gives attendees a hands-on experience with Pacific seafood. Participate in dinner prep and then sit down for a feast. Crab is the topic of the first entry in the series (January 11). Tofino also boasts some of Canada’s most unique annual festivals, including the Pacific Whale Festival (March 20-28) and Tofino Lantern Festival (August 23). The Tofino Tree Festival (May 24-30) is new for 2020.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “Tofino Resort + Marina’s 1909 Kitchen, run by executive chef Paul Moran, is a must-dine spot in British Columbia. Moran has worked in leading restaurants in France, Montreal, and Vancouver, and has spent years getting to know the ingredients on land and in the sea of the Pacific northwest. He executes a straightforward menu with impeccable ability, balancing seafood flavours with touches of spice and creativity. The cedar-roasted black cod features a maple-and-miso infusion that lingers on the tongue after you’ve savoured the sweetness and smokiness of the fish. Like the cod, pizzas are cooked in a 1,000-degree oven imported from California that Moran uses as the focal point for his food. If you’ve had a good day fishing, you can choose to have Moran prepare your fish and seafood using the oven and his culinary talent.”
13. NIAGARA REGION, Ontario
Why You Should Go: It’s easy to appreciate fine wines but another reason to savour those from the Niagara Region is because several wineries are now Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified. This designation ensures wineries and growers are committed to enhancing the environment by using sustainable practices. As of today, 13 Ontario VQA wineries are certified, including Cave Spring Cellars, Reif Estate Winery, and Flat Rock Cellars.
Besides being a major draw for good food and drink, Niagara is an outstanding destination for entertainment. With 10 or more productions each year performed in three theatres for an audience of more than 250,000, the Shaw Festival is king in these parts. Plays that are on tap in 2020 include Gypsy, Sherlock Holmes and The Raven’s Curse, The Playboy of the Western World, and several others.
The TD Niagara Jazz Festival (July 16-19) is held at various venues across the region, including Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines, Twenty Valley, and Niagara Falls.
What’s Happening in 2020: The Niagara Icewine Festival (January 10-26, weekends only) is celebrating its 25th anniversary and you can bet that the annual gala on opening night will be the highlight. This event will feature 35 of the best producers from the region, with food paired by executive chef Ray Taylor of Niagara Casinos. What better way to celebrate a silver anniversary?
The event will also feature a one-of-a-kind dining experience in Niagara Falls called the Snow Globe Soirée: Domed Dining Village (January 16 to February 16). Diners indulge in world-class wines and a three-course meal while setting their eyes on the spectacular view of the Falls — from inside a human-sized Snow Globe.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Says: “The Falls are obviously wonderful but long gone are the days when that was the biggest thing going for Niagara Region. Over the years, the area has molded itself into a culinary and entertainment powerhouse. It’s also one of the finest places in the province for a road trip.”
14. QUEBEC CITY, Quebec
Why You Should Go: In a year when politics will dominate the conversation south of the border, it’s a particularly good time to visit the only fortified city north of Mexico. Old Quebec is walkable and the historic quarters, the birthplace of French North America, is a reminder of how heritage can be preserved, providing lessons from the past that shape attitudes of today. A visit to Quartier Champlain, home to the oldest shopping street in North America, or Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church at Place Royale, or the Plains of Abraham will help anyone understand how important it is for travellers to consider their footprint.
What’s Happening in 2020: The Quebec Carnival (February 7-16) launches with a hip-hop soiree featuring rappers from the province and if your head isn’t spinning enough by night’s end you can wake up to take on the new Christie Descent. It’s a “dizzying slide” with a 300-foot incline that starts on Grande Allée, the city’s main thoroughfare.
The Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) is back for a 20th year to thrill visitors with its astonishingly beautiful design and architecture. Made completely of ice, the hotel is great for a short tour or an overnight stay (be prepared to request extra blankets!). Once the temperatures rise in spring, the hotel melts back to nature.
Summer highlights are Festival d’été de Québec (July 9-19), an 11-day music fest on the Plains of Abraham that sees more than 80,000 people dancing delightfully on the spot where the British and French battled in a bloody conflict to determine the fate of the continent 260 years ago. The New France Festival (August 6-9) showcases the history and culture of early French colonists and features plenty of folk music, theatrics, and culinary events.
Meanwhile, Musée de la Civilisation is hosting Venenum: A Poisonous World (runs until April 5), which examines the role poison has played in our history and as a current environmental threat.
Vacay.ca Contributor Guillermo Serrano Writes: “Quebec City’s downtown core is filled with history, cobblestone streets, and heritage facades. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the city is also surrounded by parks and reserves. One of my first realizations that Canada was a vast country with history was a hike of the trails around Quebec City overlooking the St. Lawrence River and understanding that hundreds of years ago, someone else was in that exact same spot and was likely moved by the very same thing.”
15. OLIVER and OSOYOOS, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Canada’s leading winery destination is also at the forefront of environmental stewardship, thanks to the efforts of the Osoyoos Indian Band and their continued protection of their ancestral home. Spirit Ridge Resort, part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, hired executive chef Murray McDonald in 2019 to focus on improving the destination’s culinary execution and its Indigenous experience. A Newfoundlander with Metis heritage, McDonald has elevated Spirit Ridge’s food offerings at its restaurant, The Bear, the Fish, the Root, and the Berry. He uses foraged ingredients and traditional Indigenous recipes to deliver healthy meals from sustainably minded producers.
What’s Happening in 2020: So many fun and clever events take place in the South Okanagan Valley, including the hilarious Half-Corked Marathon (May 29-31), Pig Out Festival (May 2), and Winter in Wine Country (November). Wine tours and Indigenous-themed dinners are among the highlights in any year. In 2020, the jaw-dropping Phantom Creek Estates opens fully to the public with an amphitheatre and restaurant on its prime location on the Black Sage Bench. The winery is using globally recognized biodynamic farming practices as it cultivates the grapes for its premium wines. Nearby, on Highway 97, luxurious Checkmate Artisanal Winery, maker of the most acclaimed Chardonnay in the country, prepares to launch its own dining facility.
Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong Writes: “The Four Food Chiefs represent the elements that are most significant in Indigenous cuisine, an approach to food based on the creation stories of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation. The chief of all animals, Skimxist, the Black Bear, represents leadership and giving; the Chinook salmon, known as Ntytikxw, symbolizes hard work and determination; Bitterroot, which the Syilx call Speetlum, is the story of plants in the ground and the relationship to the land; and above ground, Seeya, the word for the Saskatoon Berry, represents growth and community. Language and culture remain alive for the Okanagan Nation because it can be shared with others, including visitors. The Syilx Language House was formed as a non-profit for the purpose of creating new generations of nsyilxcən speakers in the community and recording the stories told by elders.”
16. SASKATOON, Saskatchewan
Why You Should Go: With more than 65 annual events, including several in the summer, Saskatoon caters to all tastes and age groups. These include the Sundog Arts and Entertainment Faire (December 4-6), featuring more than 200 artisans and specialty food producers from across Canada, Saskatoon RibFest (July 31 to August 3), Winterruption (Jauary 22-26), the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Fest (July 3-12), and Saskatoon Pride Festival (June 12-20).
Remai Modern, Saskatoon’s contemporary art museum, houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of linocuts by Pablo Picasso. Saskatoon has three main neighbourhoods where visitors can experience art, culture, and culinary excellence. Downtown is full of restaurants and is a hub for evening activity. Broadway features restaurants, shopping finds, and live music. Riverdale is an old and unique neighbourhood that has benefitted from gentrification. Saskatoon is also blessed with more than 200 parks, making it a fantastic place to let youngsters burn off energy and run wild.
Animal lovers will be thrilled with a visit to Wanuskewin Heritage Park (less than 20 kilometres, or 12 miles, from Saskatoon). The facility will be reintroducing bison to their formerly natural habitat. The bison will be coming from Grasslands National Park via the leadership of Parks Canada, an organization that has worked tirelessly to protect bison and other endangered species across the country. Wanuskewin has approximately 590 acres set aside to grow the herd to a goal of 50 from the initial six that will be introduced.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “Saskatoon has so much more going on than meets the eye. Besides being a city teeming with parks, rivers, bike trails, and green areas, Saskatoon is also a historical gem and a culinary heavyweight with some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.”
17. CAPE BRETON HIGHLANDS NATIONAL PARK, Nova Scotia
Why You Should Go: A Parks Canada gem, this gorgeous destination is the focal point of arguably the nation’s most scenic drive — the Cabot Trail. It also includes Cape Breton Highlands Links golf course, often ranked among the nation’s best, and the historic Keltic Lodge, where you can base your stay. The national park is close to the town of Ingonish, known for a fabulous beach as well as that most Nova Scotia of treats, delectable lobster caught from traps nestled within the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
What’s Happening in 2020: If you love nature, then the Hike the Highlands Festival (September 11-20) is designed for you. The 10-day fitness challenge covers routes on the Cabot Trail and northern Cape Breton. Guided hikes, post-hike group activities, and a photo contest are among the reasons to participate, although being out in the glory of Cape Breton is incentive enough to enlist. For a more intense challenge, check out the Cape Breton Highlands 3 Peaks Challenge (July), where participants climb a trio of the tallest hills in the highlands in a single day.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “Following a massive renovation a few years ago, the Keltic Lodge has become a destination property worthy of its history and traditions. The rooms are exquisite and several overlook Ingonish Beach, which draws in waves from the Atlantic Ocean. The cuisine relies on local fish and produce. The lobster and halibut dishes feature fish and shellfish caught hours earlier by fishermen in Ingonish. The desserts, with a French flair, culminate a sparkling experience at the hotel’s flagship restaurant, the Purple Thistle Dining Room.”
18. GALIANO ISLAND, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Surrounded by white-shell beaches, lush forests, and stunning vistas, Galiano Island is the perfect backdrop for anyone seeking a more laid-back vibe. This small Southern Gulf Island is also home to a citizen-driven digital project dubbed Galiano Biodiversity that encourages residents and visitors to update their “discoveries” or ask questions about the many species of flora and fauna on Galiano. The island is a sublime west-coast destination for a quiet and nature-filled getaway.
What’s Happening in 2020: The Nettlefest happens April 16-19, after the wild nettles begin to appear. Discover how to forage and cook nettles, while gleaning information on their health benefits. A lunch during the festival brings out everyone’s inner chef … plus a few well-known ones, too. The annual Blackberry Tea (October 10) is popular with locals. Organizers bring Galiano’s wild crop of blackberries into the kitchen at the Galiano South Hall to be enjoyed. The Mushroom Festival (November 7 -8) is where residents and visitors alike carry hundreds of mushrooms to the Community Hall for experts to identify. And there is a mushroom-themed lunch, books on mushrooms, and tips on foraging.
Vacay.ca Contributor Michelle Hopkins Says: “Ever since Pilgrimme Restaurant opened its doors in late 2014, executive chef/owner Jesse McCleery has amassed several national accolades. McCleery credits working at Copenhagen’s famed Noma, and in Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest, for cementing his food philosophy, which includes using 90 per cent of his ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. Tucked away in a secluded forested setting, Pilgrimme is housed in an intimate wood cottage. Based on what is available that day, McCleery creates a seven-course chef’s tasting menu ($75). The standouts on my December evening were many, including the heritage corn, albacore tuna, garnished with leek and duck yolk, and the fig-leaf ice cream presented with buckwheat, pear, and kombucha. You are in for a memorable culinary journey that follows one truly splendid flavour after another.”
19. CHARLOTTETOWN and AREA, Prince Edward Island
Why You Should Go: Canada’s tiniest province packs in a lot of fun. The PEI Setting Day Culinary Festival (May) and the PEI International Shellfish Festival (September 17-20) in Charlottetown are two tasty events to mark on your calendar.
Be sure to check out the Charlottetown Festival featuring Anne of Green Gables – The Musical, which is in its 56th year. Dating to 1965, it is the largest musical theatre festival in Atlantic Canada and is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the “longest-running annual musical theatre production” in the world.
Prince Edward Island is also known for its sensational beaches. Arguably the best is the famous Basin Head Provincial Park (aka Singing Sands Beach, because the grains crunch and squeak when you walk on them). Golf is an island staple as well. From Charlottetown, these fantastic courses are all nearby: Links at Crowbush Cove, Dundarave Golf Course, and Brudenell River Golf Course.
What’s Happening in 2020: The Arts Hotel, Charlottetown’s first trendy, quirky, alternative to conventional hotels, is scheduled to open in May. The hotel will feature plenty of social space such as a dedicated guest lounge and the Salvador Dali Cafe. Meanwhile, the popular music venue Trailside Music Café and Inn, which has hosted intimate shows featuring local and international talent, announced it will relocate from rural Mount Stewart to Charlottetown.
While the capital city is a fantastic place to begin your journey in PEI there are several reasons to hop in a car (hopefully an electric one) and get a feel for life outside of the city. PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival (September 4 to October 4) is a marvellous way to enjoy the gastronomic excellence of the province. Music lovers will enjoy the PEI Mutual Festival of Small Halls (June 7-21) and the PEI Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival (July 3-5).
As part of a $9.5-million site redevelopment project to improve its visitor experience, Green Gables Heritage Place in Cavendish has become even greener. In August 2019, Parks Canada completed a comprehensive site rehabilitation at Green Gables (38 kilometres, or 23 miles, away from Charlottetown). The updates include a new visitor centre with an exhibit hall, gift shop, and café as well as updated interpretive elements. The new interpretive centre uses solar power and has been Gold LEED Certified.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Writes: “Three years ago, I had the opportunity to fly over Prince Edward Island in a Cessna 172G Skyhawk with Dick Lubbersen, owner and operator of FD Air Tours. The natural beauty of Prince Edward Island is jaw-dropping. For me it was a dream come true to hop in a plane and see the landscape from a different perspective. We surged past Confederation Bridge and skimmed along the shoreline past several beaches, lighthouses, windmills, and jagged red cliffs before doubling back over land and heading for the airport. Whether you are biking, driving, snowmobiling, or flying, the beauty of Prince Edward Island is something everyone should experience.”
20. WRITING-ON-STONE PROVINCIAL PARK, Alberta
Why You Should Go: This enormous nature preserve in the Alberta park system protects Indigenous rock carvings that are sacred to the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Nation) and several other communities. In the Blackfoot language, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is known as “Áísínai’pi”, which translates to “it is pictured” or “it is written.” Dating to around 1050 BCE, these carvings depict animals such as deer, elk, sheep, skunks, bears, antelope, dogs, snakes, and bison. Located 128 kilometres (80 miles) from Lethbridge, Áísínai’pi was designated a National Historic Site in 2004 and became Canada’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.
What’s Happening in 2020: Camping is what’s happening at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Things tend to be pretty quiet and peaceful in these parts and that won’t change much in 2020. But that’s one of the best reasons you should make a point to go. Online reservations for comfort camping for Writing-on-Stone and other Alberta Parks begins on February 11 at 9 am MT. Regular camping reservations can be made beginning on February 19.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Writes: “Writing-on-Stone isn’t just a park, it’s a library. You won’t find walls here, or computers, newspapers or books by Margaret Atwood, Tom Clancy or Lawrence Hill. But it is a library all the same with pages etched in stone by people who lived on this land before words like ‘Canada’, ‘America’ or ‘Europe’ existed. And if that isn’t cool enough, this library will allow you to roast marshmallows during your visit.”