Vacay.ca Editors and Writers Adrian Brijbassi, Rod Charles, Claudia Laroye, Debbie Olsen, Kelsey Olsen, and Linda Barnard contributed to this report; Brijbassi edited it.
Five years ago, Canada was at the beginning of a series of parties that were akin to a national stroking of ego and pride. The 150th anniversary of the founding of the nation was rich with celebrations and endless events sparked by unprecedented levels of tourism spending, much of it focused on July 1 festivities. It would have been unthinkable in 2017 to believe that within a few years the country would hit such a low that many municipalities would cancel Canada Day festivities, millions of citizens would treat the holiday as a moment of either solemnity or nothing more than a mandated day off, and the Maple Leaf flag would fly at half mast everywhere in recognition of the chilling amount of villainy committed by past officials in the church and state.
The unearthing of bodies of Indigenous children who had attended a residential school in British Columbia was a gut punch for a nation that for decades had wrapped itself in a cloak of self-praise and affirmation. “The world needs more Canada,” the prime minister has repeated numerous times. It’s a phrase that might rightly sicken, or horrify, anyone who is Indigenous.
The children’s bones in Kamloops made headlines on May 28, 2021. They were followed by similarly grim findings in Brandon (Manitoba), Marieval (Saskatchewan), Cranbrook (B.C.) and Kuper Island (B.C.). And there will be more. As those little bones piled up they served to rattle consciousness into the Canadian collective. Many of us had to consider what it means to live in a country that sought “a final solution of our Indian problem” and executed that aim with ghastly cruelty. We weigh our appreciation for the nation of today against the transgressions of its architects, who marched on with the Indian Act even when evidence in 1910 showed Indigenous children died at a higher rate in residential schools than when they lived with their own communities. Children continued to be taken from their parents and placed into facilities run by predators. For that inhumanity there has yet to be a reckoning.
Yet what there has been, for too long, is the existence of the real two solitudes of this country: the Indigenous and the rest. If progress is to be made in bridging the divide and slackening tensions, domestic tourism will be a driver.
Recognizing that Canada cannot fulfil the promise exhorted throughout 2017 without uplifting the communities that have suffered generational damage because of the nation’s policies, Vacay.ca is devoting its annual ranking of top destinations in the country to selections with significant Indigenous experiences.
Wendake, a small community near Québec City, is the No. 1 destination to visit in the country for the coming year while British Columbia features seven locations on the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2022. The ranking is generated by non-Indigenous and Indigenous travel journalists, with input from the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). The focus for 2022 is fitting because Indigenous issues are receiving heightened attention in Canada and Indigenous tourism is a rapidly expanding sector that offers plenty for travellers.
According to ITAC, “at least 1,875 Indigenous businesses participate in Canada’s Indigenous tourism sector. In addition, more than 39,000 people work in the sector’s associated industries.” With the tourism industry expected to rely on domestic travellers until the global pandemic ends, Canadians will be taking road trips and in-country flights in large numbers. The 2022 ranking serves as a guide to bring Indigenous experiences into travel itineraries, and hopefully healing to affected communities across the nation.
1. WENDAKE, Quebec
Why You Should Go: Wendake is one of the top Indigenous tourism success stories in Canada. In the community outside of Québec City, there is a luxurious Indigenous hotel, a wonderful museum, a traditional longhouse, outstanding Indigenous restaurants, shops, and diverse cultural and recreational opportunities. Wendake (pronounced When-dak-ee) is less than a 30-minute drive from the historic district of Old Québec, one of the oldest European settlements in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are very few places where you can experience what life was like for the Indigenous people of Canada prior to European contact, but the national Ekionkiestha’ longhouse is such a place. A look inside the longhouse is a chance to step back in time and see how the Wendat people lived before the arrival of Europeans in 1534. The traditional longhouse was built from wood and bark and is heated by fire. A tour of the longhouse is included with each guided tour of the Huron-Wendat Museum, but you can also experience the longhouse by reserving a “Myths and Legends” storytelling experience or by sleeping overnight inside the longhouse under the supervision of a firekeeper who tends the fires and keeps the longhouse warm on cold nights.
The Huron-Wendat Museum was opened in 2008 to promote and protect the culture of the Wendat people. A guided tour is the best way to experience the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibits and learn about the history and culture of the Wendat nation. It also contains information about many of the other heritage sites that can be visited in Wendake such as Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Church, the Kabir Kouba Waterfall, and the Tsawenhohi House. A tour of the Ekionkiestha’ longhouse is also included with every museum visit. Indigenous art, crafts, books, and souvenirs are found in the museum’s gift shop.
A stay at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations is a must when you visit Wendake. The architecture of this boutique 55-room hotel was inspired by the longhouse. The interior design is also unique with beautiful Indigenous artworks and nice touches like a handmade beaver pillow in each room. La Traite, the hotel’s restaurant, features authentic Indigenous-inspired cuisine that can be enjoyed on a patio overlooking the Akiawenrahk River.
No visit to Québec City is complete without a stop and a stay in Wendake, the home of the ancestors of the original people of the region.
Vacay.ca Contributor Debbie Olsen Writes: “It’s common for a destination to boldly say it has something for everyone, but in the case of Wendake, it’s true. Wendake is unique in North America. The Wendat cultural experiences are fascinating and can’t be found anywhere else. There are historic sites, museums, attractions, experiences, amazing restaurants, and beautiful natural areas for hiking or paddling. The proximity to Québec City is also a huge plus for this destination and serves to increase its appeal.”
Discover More: The Wonders of Top-Ranked Wendake
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Trade has long been an important part of Huron-Wendat culture. Even though Wendake was far removed from the centre of the fur trade, the Wendat people provided approximately half of all the furs traded in the 1620s. That entrepreneurial spirit is alive today and you can see it when you walk through the village. There are more than 100 businesses in the tiny 2 km-by-2 km village.
2. VANCOUVER & SEA-TO-SKY COUNTRY, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Located on the traditional and unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-waututh), and Lil̓wat7úl (Lil’wat) Nations, Vancouver and Sea-to-Sky Country provide travellers with the opportunity to experience a complete and immersive Indigenous-focused vacation.
In mutual recognition of the importance of Indigenous tourism in the city and province, Destination Vancouver and Indigenous Tourism B.C. signed a memorandum of understanding in late 2021 to develop a “more inclusive, sustainable and diverse tourism industry.” This builds upon an existing foundation of vibrant First Nations attractions and cultural experiences in the city.
Located at the crossroads of Vancouver’s historic Gastown, Chinatown and Railtown districts and offering accommodation to ethical travellers, Skwachays Lodge is the first Indigenous arts hotel in Canada. Its 18 guest suites are each unique, and designed by local Indigenous artists. The artwork tells stunning visual stories about First Nations culture.
At both the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art and the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), visitors can immerse themselves in the works of renowned Haida artist Bill Reid and others. The Bill Reid facility is the only public gallery in Canada dedicated to contemporary Indigenous northwest coast art, while the MOA is focused on showcasing artwork by Coast Salish people. Its Great Hall features sculptures, textiles, carved poles, bentwood boxes, feast dishes, and canoes.
The strong connection of Indigenous people and nature is evident in vibrant carvings, totems, and weavings. It is also strongly felt on the guided tours offered by Vancouver-based Talasay Tours. Available year-round, the guided tours lead guests on walks in Stanley Park, pointing out local plants that were harvested by Skwxu7mesh Uxwumixw, the Coast Salish people. From the drooping hemlock to the grandmother cedar, curled ferns, and skunk cabbage, each plant and tree has its own distinct story.
At Salmon n’ Bannock, the restaurant provides guests with a gathering place to feed their spirit and bellies with a fine-dining menu that includes bannock, wild game, and locally sourced wild salmon. For 2022, the restaurant expands with a location at Vancouver International Airport.
North of Vancouver, the winding, scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway (Highway 99) leads to Squamish and the looming, iconic Stawamus Chief, one of the largest granite monoliths in the world. Towering more than 700 metres (2,297 feet) above the waters of the Howe Sound Fjord, the Chief holds special spiritual significance to the Squamish people. Its summit can be reached via a forested hiking trail or the Sea-to-Sky Gondola.
In Whistler, the Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre features a range of programming that is led by youthful cultural ambassadors. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour that includes hands-on experiences and education in the cultures that have been shaped by the unique mountain and riparian landscape of the region. Also located in the alpine village, the Audain Art Museum is home to a permanent collection of works featuring prominent Indigenous artists, such as Emily Carr, dating from the 18th century to present day.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “A misconception exists that Aboriginal travel experiences can only be enjoyed amid nature and rural settings with vast amounts of forest or ocean. The truth is Indigenous communities have been and continue to be vital contributors to the arts and culture scene in metropolitan areas across Canada.” [Read More]
Discover More: Sea-to-Sky Gondola Finds New Glory
Trippzy Trivia Fact: Western red cedar is known as the Mother Tree, or Tree of Life, to the Coast Salish people. Cedar is used for houses, baskets, canoes, clothing, utensils, medicines, and in traditional ceremonies.
3. WANUSKEWIN & SASKATOON, Saskatchewan
Why You Should Go: Wanuskewin Heritage Park made history and headlines in 2021 when its bison uncovered four 1,000-year-old stone carvings and the knife used to make them. The remarkable find occurred when the bison — reintroduced in 2019 to their traditional land after being hunted nearly to extinction in the 1870s — rolled around in the mud and dust to find what archaeologists hadn’t.
“The discovery of these petroglyphs is a testament to just how sacred and important this land is,” says Darlene Brander, CEO of Wanuskewin Heritage Park. “The individual who made these petroglyphs was actually carving their legacy into the rock many years ago.”
With the discovery of petroglyphs, Wanuskewin has become an even more attractive destination to learn about the Indigenous communities of the prairies. Located in the western homeland of the Métis Nation, Wanuskewin is a Parks Canada National Historic Site. It has undergone a $40-million revitalization and is hoping to be designated as a UNESCO Heritage site, a status made more likely by the archaeological find.
The history and culture of the area doesn’t stop at Wanuskewin. Saskatoon is a city teeming with activities that will educate and entertain tourists. Remai Modern, known for its Picasso linocuts, is a gem that always has different exhibitions popping up throughout the year. The Western Development Museum is another fine museum to soak up some of the exciting history of Saskatchewan. You also can’t visit Saskatoon without running into the Meewasin Trail, a route that offers a pleasant way to check out the city’s rivers, parks, and gardens. Saskatoon also has several outstanding restaurants. Two favourites are Odla Market (801 Broadway Avenue) and Hearth Restaurant (2404 Melrose Avenue).
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Writes: “Without question, the petroglyphs at Wanuskewin Heritage Park are the most significant scientific and historical discovery in Canada since the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition were unearthed in 2014 near King William Island in Nunavut. Thanks to the bison and some outstanding detective work Saskatchewan has become one of the world’s archaeological hot spots. Saskatoon may feel like it is living in Wanuskewin’s shadow right now but it need not worry — the city is a delight of museums, restaurants, breweries, nature trails, nightclubs. and festivals that appeal to all ages.” [Read More]
Discover More: “The Young Animals of Saskatoon”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Did you know that Wanuskewin is home to Canada’s longest-running archaeological dig? Archaeologists have been unearthing treasures here since the 1970s and continue to do so today. These gems include tipi rings, stone cairns, pottery fragments, plant seeds, projectile points, egg-shell fragments, and animal bones.
4. BANFF & JASPER NATIONAL PARKS, Alberta
Why You Should Go: Home to some of the most exquisite scenery in the country, the Alberta jewels also have a renewed focus on Indigenous experiences, including the new “Nightrise” art installation atop Sulphur Mountain in Banff and educational seminars run by Blackfoot members in the Rocky Mountains.
Growing Indigenous tourism offerings add to the eternal beauty of the two parks that are separated by 275 kilometres (170 miles) along a magnificent stretch of highway that would make it to any credible ranking of best drives in the world. Highway 93 runs alongside the Rocky Mountains, sliding past one incredible lake after another, beyond the Columbia Glacier and Icefields Parkway at the foot of Jasper National Park. If heading north from Banff to Jasper, you’ll first stop at Lake Louise, the iconic, turquoise landmark surrounded by soaring peaks. Its name in the language of the Stoney Nakoda people is Ho-run-num-nay, or “lake of the little fishes.”
Mahikan Trails and Warrior Women are among the Indigenous tour operators and ambassadors to the region, though non-Indigenous businesses are also educating guests on the heritage of Alberta. The Pursuit Collection produces the “Nightrise” attraction and features notable tours in the Rocky Mountains, including a family-friendly cruise of Banff’s Lake Minnewanka that delves into the landscape of the national park and the importance of the area to the Indigenous people.
In Jasper, tours of Spirit Island are among the highlights, as are seminars held at the historic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge by Warrior Women. Jasper also offers outstanding wildlife-viewing experiences and many opportunities to connect with the environment. Among non-Indigenous tour operators who pronounce land acknowledgements and relate Indigenous history is Mike Lodge of Wild Current Outfitters, whose leisurely canoe rides on Pyramid Lake are a relaxing, family-friendly choice to take in the beauty of the Rockies. Lodge’s tour is the rare canoe ride that includes culinary treats from a local bakery and even hot chocolate. Like “Nightrise” in Banff, Jasper also has a celestial-focused event — the annual Dark Sky Festival — that brings attention to the heavens. Taking place in the fall, the festival is a must-experience for stargazers and nature lovers.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “An evening wildlife safari with Discover Banff Tours was the best opportunity we had to see animals in their natural habitat. The national park’s population of ungulates — elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and moose — can often be spotted in the fields beyond the road side. We saw a herd of elk grazing at dusk and the tour bus stopped to open its front door, allowing photographers a chance to step out one at a time to capture the animals.” [Read more]
Discover More: Experience the Jasper Dark Sky Festival
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Established in 1878, Banff is the first of Canada’s national parks and its genesis is at the Cave & Basin National Historic Site, where fossilized snails are among the attractions.
5. SOUTH OKANAGAN, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: The Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) is arguably the most successful Indigenous tourism operator in North America. The continent’s first Indigenous-owned winery, NK’Mip Cellars, is adjacent to a distinct restaurant — The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry — that focuses on pre-colonial ingredients and is part of Spirit Ridge Resort, a Hyatt property, that is co-owned by the OIB. Not only does Spirit Ridge have a luxury culinary restaurant, it is a sprawling property that includes some of NK’Mip Cellars’ grapes (the majority comes from the winery’s operations in the nearby town of Oliver), a spa and outdoor heated pool, a nine-hole golf course, the Indian Grove Stables (for horseback-riding tours), and the NK’Mip RV Park and Campground that has a fun cantina restaurant (Footprints) on the shore of Lake Osoyoos.
On the same grounds as the winery and Spirit Ridge is the NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, which provides education on the Syilx people and their language. The group’s culture is making a return thanks to the cultural centre’s programming, which features historic displays as well as a path leading to a tipi and pithouse where unique dining experiences are held. In Oliver, which is about a 15-minute drive from Spirit Ridge, is the NK’Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course. The 18-hole beauty overlooks the South Okanagan’s monolith called n’yalintn and provides easy access to the South Okanagan’s featured attractions — the spectacular wineries that occupy Oliver’s Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench.
North of Oliver is Okanagan Falls, Penticton, Naramata, and Summerland — other South Okanagan communities that have thriving nature activities. The Kettle Valley Railway trail brings cyclists and hikers to viewpoints overlooking Lake Okanagan. The region’s namesake waterway is the largest in a string of pristine lakes that help to create microclimates that are ideal for wine production. The Okanagan wine area has about 165 kilometres (100 miles) of lakes that run in a chain divided by the narrowest of land bridges. Lake Okanagan and Skaha Lake sandwich the city of Penticton while Vaseux Lake in Oliver and Lake Osoyoos dominate the southern region. The landscape is gorgeous. The wine, increasingly, is phenomenal.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “The efforts of the OIB in providing economic opportunity for its members and others while also fostering healthy grape-growing practices has earned appreciation beyond the acclaim NK’Mip’s wines perennially receive. OIB’s fastidious care for the land contributes to the respect it has found from its neighbours.” [Read more]
Discover More: South Okanagan Intoxicates a First-Time Wine Visitor
Trippzy Travel Trivia: According to the Okanagan Indian Band, the word “Okanagan” is an “Anglicized version of the term ‘suqnaqinx’, which refers to the tops of the mountains/hillsides. It can sometimes refer to the people who speak nsyilxcn.” Nsylixcn is the language of the Syilx people and is one of 23 Salish languages spoken west of the Rocky Mountains. The traditional territory of the Okanagan people extends from British Columbia south to Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.
6. MANITOULIN ISLAND, Ontario
Why You Should Go: Known in the Ojibway language as “Spirit Island”, Manitoulin is the largest freshwater island in the world with four main rivers that provide spawning grounds for trout and salmon. A six-hour drive north of Toronto, Manitoulin Island is the ancestral home to six Anishinaabe First Nations: the Wiikwemkoong, M’Chigeeng, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Aundeck Omni Kaning, and Zhiibaahaasing.
Located in Lake Huron, the island is accessible year-round via the Little Current Swing Bridge and by the MS Chi-Cheemaun (Ojibway for “big canoe”), a passenger ferry that operates daily from late May to early October and is also a major tourist draw.
Once on Manitoulin Island, you will be rewarded with stunning scenery and endless leisure activities. The island boasts three golf courses, is home to two riding stables, and features more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) of cycling routes. With more than 100 freshwater inland lakes, Manitoulin Island is an extremely popular fishing, swimming, and boating destination. While summer is a great time to visit, don’t overlook winter. The region is active with curling, hockey, and skiing.
Other attractions to be discovered include William Purvis Marine Museum, Pioneer Museum, Little Schoolhouse & Museum, Net Shed Museum, and Mississagi Lighthouse Museum. Visit Wiikwemkoong Tourism for a full list of events and activities.
Several powwows take place on Manitoulin Island and these traditional gatherings make it a wonderful place to immerse in Indigenous culture and learn more about the region. The powwows are scheduled to run during the weekends in June and July, but if you are interested in attending, check with Manitoulin Island’s tourism office for updates on pandemic-related cancellations or capacity limits.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Says: “One of the first road trips I took in my life was when my father borrowed a van and drove our family up Highway 6 to Owen Sound and then north to the Chi-Cheemaun. The island is a natural wonderland with its own quiet, easy vibe — the perfect place to combine an educational vacation with a peaceful getaway.”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory is a reserve located on the eastern peninsula of Manitoulin Island. The reserve is held by the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, which is comprised of the Ojibway, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. Together, these nations form the Three Fires Confederacy. Wiikwemkoong has not relinquished its land through treaty or other means.
7. DESOLATION SOUND, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Remote and wild Desolation Sound and northern Vancouver Island are home to some of British Columbia’s most beautifully situated Indigenous experiences.
Magnificent nature reigns in the inlets and islands of Desolation Sound on the province’s central coast, including at the luxurious Klahoose Wilderness Lodge eco-resort. Owned and operated by the Klahoose Nation, the lodge is accessible via boat from the town of Lund or float plane from Vancouver or Powell River. Guests can enjoy cultural immersion, hands-on experiences, a sustainably harvested coastal farm- and sea-to-table menu, and the opportunity to explore Yekwamen (yɛkʷamɛn), or Toba Inlet, — one of the nearest points in the Great Bear Rainforest. Klahoose Nation stewards guide guests through the territory they share with grizzly bears. The waters of the inlet are rich in marine life, too.
In Lund, the Lund Resort at Klah Ah Men is a jumping off point for exploring the region. Purchased by the Tla’amin people in 2016, the historic hotel’s suites and restaurant overlook the marina and islands of Desolation Sound.
Across the Salish Sea in the traditional territory of the Kwakwaka’wakw people, the opportunities to explore the coastlines and spectacular rainforests of northern Vancouver Island are as varied as the colours of its tidal pool marine life. The Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy is in the traditional territories of the Kwakiutl people. Meaning “a place to sleep”, the hotel was named by the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw elders in hopes that guests may find peaceful rest after a day of exploration.
The opportunity to get out into the forest and onto the water with designated authentic Indigenous tourism operators has greatly expanded in this region. Sea Wolf Adventures, K’awat’si Tours, and Coastal Rainforest Safaris are committed to cultural sustainability, salmon protection, and visitor education. Tours into the Great Bear Rainforest and on the Salish Sea are non-invasive, with local guides offering insights into the myths and truths of whales, bears, sea lions, otters, and myriad other creatures.
Cultural experiences at the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay reveal the history and practice of the potlatch system, while guides share local customary and spiritual practices. In summer, traditional Kwakwaka’wakw dances and performances are presented to the public.
Vacay.ca Editor Claudia Laroye Writes: “The new wilderness resort reflects the Klahoose traditional values and offers an immersive exploration into the pristine region rich in a lush coastal rainforest wilderness. Among the stunning wildlife are orcas, humpback whales, dolphins, and grizzly bears, which can be viewed on tours through Toba Inlet.” [Read more]
Discover More: “10 Unique Indigenous Stays in B.C.”
Trippzy Trivia Fact: Often referred to as a spirit bear, the kermode of the Great Bear Rainforest is not a polar bear or an albino, it’s a rare subspecies of the American black bear with a recessive gene that causes its fur to be white. Between 10% to 20% of bears in the Great Bear Rainforest are born with this recessive gene.
8. KINNGAIT, Nunavut
Why You Should Go: Artists and art lovers will adore the West Baffin Island outpost of Kinngait. Formerly Cape Dorset, the village of 1,236 mostly Inuit citizens is world-renowned for the quality of the artwork it produces. One study says, “Kinngait has more artists per capita than any other community in Canada.” Along with jewelry and sculptures made from stone, bone and tusks, Kinngait features artisan prints that replicate cultural themes such as the hunt or communal family life or the raw and rugged scenery of the Canadian North. Kinngait Studios is the nation’s oldest commercial printing studio while the community’s arts organization, which dates to 1913 and the founding of a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, is the oldest in the territories. The West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative, founded in 1959, is home to artists whose work is in demand around the world and is an essential stop.
Kinngait is also a hallmark of Nunavut’s desire for self-determination. The territory, governed by the Inuit, was established in 1999 and has steadily built its tourism industry through cooperation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses. Cruise expeditions that pass icebergs and floes with polar bears are the surest way to reach communities such as Kinngait. The larger centres of Pangnirtung and the territorial capital of Iqaluit are the leading destinations for travellers, while Kinngait is the “Art Capital of Nunavut”. A visit provides the opportunity to be invited into multiple homes where extraordinary art is created and to understand the importance of those creations to the economy and culture.
Not far away is Mallikjuaq Territorial Park, a bastion for land and marine wildlife viewing, as well as photographing migratory birds. A number of archaeological sites reveal the ancient life of the Inuit. The landscape in Kinngait and elsewhere is staggeringly beautiful. The pristine territory features areas that are rocky, lush green, and stark in their lack of human habitation. The sunsets are reputedly monumental.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “Expedition voyages to the north are a mix of adventure — think high-paced Zodiac outings and polar-bear viewing — and immersive education. The opportunity to interact with the artists of Kinngait imparts an understanding of their art and the deeper meaning behind the prints, sculptures, and paintings. Knowing your travel dollars are helping a community far, far away from the world of global commerce is also enriching.”
Discover More: “An Awesome Sighting of Polar Bears in Nunavut”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Several historians believe Europeans first encounters with the people of Turtle Island (or continental North America) may have occurred on West Baffin Island. The Vikings name for the Indigenous people of Greenland was “Skræling” and there are references in Norse history of encounters with “Skræling” that took place farther west. Archaeological finds near Kinngait support the theory that Vikings interacted with the Dorset people, predecessors to the Inuit.
9. CAPE BRETON ISLAND, Nova Scotia
Why You Should Go: Home to the Membertou and Eskasoni reserves, Cape Breton Island has steadily built its Indigenous tourism offerings, which include entertainment complexes, a heritage centre featuring sweat-lodge ceremonies and historical finds, a language centre, and conference facility. Not to be overlooked is the fact these communities are located in a stretch of rock and earth that will dust your soul with fulfillment. Cape Breton is inarguably one of the most beautiful and heart-rending destinations in Canada.
The Mi’kmaq have lived on the Nova Scotia island for more than 10,000 years and their history with colonials from Europe exemplifies both the positive bond-building relationships between communities and some of the most grotesque policies of the British military in Canada. Their engagements with the French led to the growth of a Métis population and an Acadian community that still exists in the lovely town of Isle Madame.
Of course, no visit to Cape Breton should exclude a drive on the Cabot Trail, the spectacular stretch of highway that runs 297 kilometres (185 miles) along the Atlantic coast and Northumberland Strait that separates Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island. Although it’s named after an Italian explorer, the Cabot Trail features locations of spiritual importance to the Mi’kmaq, as well as wildlife such as moose, lynx, and bald eagles. Travellers have been drawn to Cape Breton for many reasons — its beauty, seafood, friendly communities, the nation’s leading golf courses, and historic sites — and now they should add exploring Indigenous ways of life to the itinerary.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “While Cape Breton is best known for its premier attraction, the jaw-dropping Cabot Trail, a world wonder of a road trip that hugs the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, it is also full of splendid little areas worth checking out. As will be quickly apparent to any traveller, the Cabot Trail is part of a dazzling landscape that covers much of Cape Breton, an island on the northeast coast of Nova Scotia. While the famed route provides dramatic coastal scenery, other regions mesmerize with their rivers and lakes, including the Bras d’Or Lake, an inland sea of 450 square miles.” [Read more]
Discover More: “A Twist on Mardi Gras”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: The Mi’kmaq name for Cape Breton Island is Unama’ki and loosely translates to “land of fog”. Cape Breton University includes Unama’ki College, which specializes in studies on Indigenous affairs.
10. GREATER VICTORIA, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: With the 12-stop Songhees Indigenous Marine Trail route launching in 2022 and the expansion of Explore Songhees activities from Ship Point in the picturesque Inner Harbour, British Columbia’s capital continues to find new ways to celebrate Indigenous tourism.
Bronze castings of original cedar carvings by Coast Salish artist Butch Dick signal stopping points along the Seven Signs of Lekwungen self-guided interpretive walking tour that honours the art, history, and culture of the Coast Salish people. Starting in 2022, local knowledge keepers like community stalwart Cecilia Dick will lead walks on the route. Also new this summer, paddle a 17-passenger canoe as you learn about the Coast Salish people on a guided tour. Fuel up on Indigenous foods like bannock or seafood chowder from the Songhees food cart, and take in cultural performances including dance and drumming.
Be sure to be in Victoria on Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21). The city is home to a significant annual multi-day celebration around the holiday. One of the central spots of activity is the Royal B.C. Museum, which is improving its historic exhibitions. The museum closed several galleries in January, including Old Town and the First Peoples Gallery, to modernize outdated gallery narratives and start a “decolonization” plan. (The decision wasn’t without controversy. Old Town, which recreates historic Victoria streetscapes and buildings, is one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.)
Next to the museum, Thunderbird Park has a Kwakiutl house and a dozen totem poles by Kwakwaka’wakw master carver Mungo Martin. There’s a magnificent, 38-metre (125-foot) Story Pole in nearby Beacon Hill Park.
Outside of Victoria, there is much to do. Head a few kilometres north to Sidney and the traditional lands of the W̱SÁNEĆ people, where Indigenous-owned and -operated Sidney Whale Watching weaves traditional knowledge into its marine excursions.
New in 2021, the Malahat SkyWalk is also a short drive from Victoria. The 10-storey spiral tower offers an easy walk to thrilling, eagle-eye views across the Finlayson Arm fjord and Salish Sea islands to distant snow-capped mountains.
As to where to stay, Victoria has a number of outstanding hotels and two new ones are planned for downtown. A pair of heritage buildings on Broad Street will become a low-rise Hyatt Centric hotel, while the triangle-shaped 128-suite Wintergarden has been approved for the corner of Fort and Blanshard streets.
Vacay.ca Contributor Linda Barnard Writes: “The experience of a hotel stay is much more than what you do within its walls, however, and the Magnolia — regarded by experts as one of the best boutique hotels in Canada — has designed a way to make stays at the 64-room property more memorable. The Magnolia’s library of Curated Trails are walking, cycling, and running maps themed around things to see and participate in.” [Read More]
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Victoria is situated on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen people. Known today as the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, they have lived, hunted, and thrived on these lands for thousands of years. The 2.5-metre (8.2-foot) bronze markers along the Seven Signs of Lekwungen route depict spindle whorls traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool.
11. HAIDA GWAII, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: A landmark location for Indigenous heritage reclamation, Haida Gwaii began to reshape its identity following the renaming of the archipelago formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands. In June 2010, the citizens of these islands off of British Columbia’s northwest coast officially switched their territory back to its original name — which translates loosely to “islands of the people”. The Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate on Graham Island houses a must-see collection of regional art and historical artifacts that serve to enrich any visitor’s experience. It provides important background information and celebrates current cultural events.
Traditional longhouses and totem poles can be found all over Haida Gwaii, many of them are relics although some are still in use today. The top attraction is Gwaii Haanas National Park on southern Moresby Island, which joins neighbouring Graham as Haida Gwaii’s main centres of tourist activity. The park 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. Haida archaeology is a primary focus of tourism and guests who enlist an Indigenous tour operator will have the chance to visit ancient village sites while an elder guides them through the rainforest, providing commentary on the medicinal plants, towering trees, and culturally significant ruins.
Although Gwaii Haanas limits the number of visitors to about 1,800 each year, Haida Gwaii has many events and activities that are ongoing and available year-round, such as hiking, surfing, and exploring the small communities. The Edge of the World Music Festival has been on hold for two years because of the pandemic but organizers are hopeful to revive it for summer 2022.
Haida artwork, including totem poles, are distinct among Indigenous groups. Many pieces have become collectors’ items and notable artists such as Bill Reid are world famous. Visitors to Skidegate and Old Massett, the two most populous villages of Haida Gwaii, will have the chance to see artists at work.
The Haida have also created the much-lauded Watchmen program that provides oversight of the land and oceans. The Watchmen are key to ensuring the sustainability and eco-sensitive practices in the archipelago.
Vacay.ca Contributor Mark Sissons Writes: “Canada’s most famous archipelago, Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai, the mystical “Islands at the Edge of the World” in the language of its early inhabitants, should be high on any adventurous traveller’s bucket list. Nicknamed the Northern Galapagos for its unique flora and fauna, remote Haida Gwaii is an evolutionary showcase. Sea birds nest here by the millions. An Indigenous and distinct species of black bear calls its lush rainforests home. Orca whales patrol the coastlines. And great colonies of sea mammals and migrating populations of salmon and halibut thrive offshore.” [Read more]
Discover More: “In Haida Gwaii, Food is ‘Xuux’”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: The Haida are comprised of two groups — Eagles and Ravens. While there is a friendly rivalry, the two sides have traditionally intermarried and been partners in trade and art.
12. TOFINO & UCLUELET, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Indigenous-owned resorts, galleries, and businesses thrive amid the spiritual territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht (anglicized as Clayoquot) First Nation in Tofino, where members of the Nuu-chah-Nulth First Nation have lived for thousands of years.
Indigenous culture runs deep here, a place of thrilling natural wonders situated within the rainforests, beaches, and tidal zones of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region. While surf capital Tofino in Pacific Rim National Park draws board-toting fans with a combination of stunning beaches and wild waves, Ucluelet, 40 kilometres (24 miles) down the Pacific Coast Highway, has hiking paths hugging rocky shorelines with dramatic views across a seemingly endless ocean.
Indigenous-owned oceanfront resort Best Western Plus Tin Wis fronts onto Mackenzie Beach. Development is underway at the nearby Tsawaak RV Resort and Campground, with 35 RV spots, 13 mini-cabins, and 14 camping sites. In town, Indigenous-owned House of Himwitsa Art Gallery has an upstairs lodge with rooms and suites. Wya Point Resort is on 600 acres of old-growth forest on the Ucluelet First Nation’s traditional territory. Stay in the lodge or waterfront yurts, or opt for beachfront camping.
Hotel Zed Tofino, opened in 2020 as the first hotel member of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies, local businesses committed to supporting the First Nation’s vision of achieving a socially and ecologically just conservation economy. Each room has a copy of “ʔiisaak (Respect) in the Garden”, a book that details Indigenous peoples’ role as guardians of the forest. It includes chronicles of the protests and actions to save and preserve Clayoquot Sound.
Look for Tribal Parks Allies stickers in Tofino shops, restaurants, and businesses.
A short boat ride from Tofino leads to Tribal Park Meares Island. The Tribal Park Guardians of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation are responsible for its protection and stewardship. Marvel at the towering old-growth giants along the Big Tree Trail by following an 800-metre (2,625-foot) cedar plank boardwalk built and maintained by Tribal Park Guardians and volunteers. Check with Tashii Paddle School to see if Nuu-chah-nulth guide-led traditional-style canoe trips to Meares Island have resumed (the pandemic had limited their tours).
Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet, owned by Nuu-chah-nulth carver and artist Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob and his family, has works by a variety of artists, including Wenstob. Roy Henry Vickers Gallery is a beloved Tofino landmark, located in a traditional cedar longhouse with a dramatic carved and painted exterior.
The ʔapsčiik t̓ašii (pronounced ups-cheek ta-shee) multi-use, 25-kilometre (15.5-mile) pathway officially opens this spring. Walk or cycle a route along the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. No bike? No problem. E-bike rental outfitter T̓iick̓in (pronounced t-eets kin and translates as “thunderbird”) opened at the Tofino-Ucluelet Junction last summer.
Vacay.ca Contributor Linda Barnard Writes: “Remote and wild, Tofino is situated in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the UNESCO-designated Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve. Home to passionate surfers, summer idylls, winter storm watching, rainforests, and stunning beaches, it has a robust and creative culinary scene that celebrates the bounty of the ocean, forests, and Vancouver Island farms.” [Read more]
Discover More: “Wickaninnish Inn and More Joys of Tofino”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Tofino is affectionately known as “Tuff City,” a proud nod to its isolated end-of-the-road location and the resilient people who live and work in a place where the wild weather can be as challenging as it is thrilling to witness.
13. LETHBRIDGE, Alberta
Why You Should Go: Lethbridge is an underdog destination and one that is steadfastly building an agri-tourism centre, but the reason it has landed on the Vacay.ca rankings for 2022 is because of its proximity to some of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Canada. The gateway city to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Writing-on-Stone parks gives the Southern Alberta city a unique and important role as interest in Indigenous tourism grows.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, which is operated by Parks Canada, is as distinct an attraction as its name suggests. Named bluntly for the practice used in centuries past by Indigenous communities to shepherd herds of buffalo together and cause them to trample over cliffs, where they would crumble skull-first to their demise, the site recounts life on the prairies and plains with details that connect to ancient practices. The buffalo would serve as sustenance and provide materials for clothes, weaponry, tents, and wares. Opened officially in 1987, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site was meant to be a place for archaeological research, not tourism. The cliff and sloping hills leading to it are incredibly well preserved and maintained. Scientific study is ongoing while visitation continues to be a source of revenue and relationship building with non-Indigenous groups.
Similarly, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, or Aisinai’pi, is noted for its historic and cultural importance. A place as beautiful as it is deeply spiritual, Writing-on-Stone is, like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, literally named. Its main draws are the limestone rock formations that have naturally eroded to form what appear to be one face after another. Generations of Blackfoot men and women have used the location for healing and building camaraderie. Elders have carved petroglyphs and painted pictographs onto the rocks. Archaeologists consider the site to be divided into 27 panels and combined they have thousands of images, most of which tell stories of ancient life.
Both Writing-on-Stone (90 minutes) and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (45 minutes) are a pleasant drive from Lethbridge, with the Rocky Mountains in the distance, golden fields along the roadside in temperate weather, and farm activity among the sights to take in.
In the city of Lethbridge, notable attractions include a Japanese garden and birds-of-prey conservancy. The Lethbridge restaurant scene is increasingly noteworthy, partly because Calgarians are migrating south and taking advantage of the bounty of produce in the area to cater to their big-city palates.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “Alberta’s third-most populous city supplies fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats to lots of the province and the country, too. Yet Southern Alberta’s agricultural star hasn’t cultivated a food tourism culture despite its abundance of potential. That’s changing fast.”
Discover More: “Food Tourism Takes Root in Southern Alberta”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Napi is the name of the Blackfoot spirit whose presence is believed to saturate over the landscape of Southern Alberta. The Blackfoot believe part of the landscape of the territory is shaped like a man, with Calgary being the nose and the Rocky Mountains the spine.
14. LAKE SUPERIOR PROVINCIAL PARK, Ontario
Why You Should Go: More than a hundred images are carved into Agawa Rock, a national gem that is sacred among Indigenous people and one of the most inspiring “art galleries” you will visit in the province. Lake Superior Provincial Park is located 135 kilometres (85 miles) north of Sault Ste. Marie. Once at the park interpretive centre, road-trippers can go another 10 kilometres (6.5 miles) north to the Agawa Rock pictographs.
With beaches, waterfalls, and trees, Lake Superior Provincial Park features jaw-dropping scenery. World-class hiking, camping, and paddling opportunities create beautiful memories, especially during fall when the leaves explode into a kaleidoscope of colours. But without question it is the pictographs at Agawa Rock, set in stone by Ojibway spiritual leaders centuries ago, that steal the show.
The images you can see include canoes and familiar animals such as moose, deer, bear, and caribou. Much of the art is not visible because the carvings are positioned in an inaccessible spot but one image that is clearly in sight is the rendering of Michibizhiw, or the Great Lynx, which is the spirit of the water. The hike to view it is arduous and the trek is not recommended for people with mobility issues. The pictographs are on the edge of Lake Superior along the rock wall. To see them, many travellers may want to connect with Canoes for Conservation, an organization that offers interpretive trips in a big canoe that can fit 12 people.
Agawa Rock is less than a two-hour drive from Sault Ste. Marie, so consider making the city a starting point for your trip. For more than 2,000 years, Indigenous people lived and traded on the shores of Bawating, meaning “the place of the rapids”. In fact, Sault Ste. Marie was the traditional meeting ground for numerous Indigenous groups because of its position on the St. Marys River.
The city is teeming with Indigenous culture and events throughout the year. Summer Moon Festival is a public art and music extravaganza that combines murals, entertainment, and Indigenous culture. Many murals in the city are created during Summer Moon Festival and every year more art is added to the city’s walls. Sault Ste. Marie has several powwows throughout the year that are hosted by different bands and open to the public. If you are interested in attending a powwow, visit the website of Sault Ste. Marie Tourism.
An outstanding Indigenous experience visitors should check out is Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), a cross-cultural research and educational project of Algoma University and the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA). It includes the stories of former students of the residential schools, staff, descendants, families, and friends. The SRSC is a worthwhile stop for those hoping to learn more about residential schools and the people who survived them. Tours can be scheduled upon request.
To get close to nature and dive deeper into culture, reach out to Thrive Tours, an Indigenous-owned and -operated guided ecotourism company located in Sault Ste. Marie.
“We as Indigenous people have always known the amazing power and spirituality of the Great Lakes, specifically in this area of Naadowewi-gichigami or Lake Superior, and would share those teachings with all those who would benefit from that important wisdom,” said Brad Robinson owner and operator of Thrive Tours, and a member of Oneida Nation of the Thames.
While in Sault Ste. Marie be sure to take advantage of several worthwhile stops between the city and Agawa Rock. Chippewa Falls is the location of a plaque marking the Halfway Point of the Trans-Canada Highway. The Voyager Lodge and Cookhouse is noted for its apple fritters and bannock. Pancake Bay, located 72 kilometres (46 miles) north of the city, has two praise-worthy crafts shops — Agawa Crafts and the Canadian Carver. Canadian Carver features home décor, wood carvings, and whittling, and Agawa Crafts specializes in furs, moccasins, pottery, and jewelry. The Totem Pole is located on the outskirts of Sault Ste. Marie and is another good place to shop.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Writes: “Sault Ste. Marie is a beautiful city that showcases its history well and isn’t afraid to deal directly with difficult issues, which is admirable. Visitors will love the pictographs at Agawa Bay and the Agawa Canyon Train Tour but will also be moved and inspired by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. Everything seems to revolve around nature in the Lake Superior area, whether it’s the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site, Canadian Bushplane Museum, or the beautiful boardwalk that skirts along roaring St. Marys River, famous for its annual runs of Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon. There are several getaways for the nature lover in this part of the country, including the Ojibwe Park, KOA Campground, and Glenview Cottages and Campgrounds.”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: The pictographs on Agawa Rock, just west of the Agawa River along the east bank of Lake Superior, were created somewhere between 150 and 400 years ago. The rock face towers 15 storeys and is composed of white crystalline granite.
15. METIS CROSSING, Alberta
Why You Should Go: Alberta’s first major Métis cultural interpretive centre is as authentic as it gets. Métis Crossing was conceived, designed, and built by Métis people to tell their history and share their culture. It was built on the original river lots of Métis settlers. The unique story of cultural pride, reconciliation, and sacred ties to the land is special because it is told in the place where it happened, about 90 minutes northwest of Edmonton near Smoky Lake, a small Alberta town of less than 1,000 residents.
The Métis nation came to be when French and Scottish fur traders married First Nations women. For several generations, their offspring developed their own language and culture — most working as hunters, trappers, and fur traders. In 1982, the Métis became one of three recognized Indigenous Peoples of Canada, a victory for their human rights that resonates throughout their community.
Métis Crossing captures their history and also provides much to see and do. It is the ideal place to truly submerge yourself in Métis culture and heritage. There are historical buildings and artifacts, farm animals, and a Gathering Centre where educational programs are offered by an elder or knowledge keeper. Visitors can learn traditional crafts like moose-hair tufting or finger weaving, or take a more in-depth workshop to learn how to make gloves or a ribbon skirt.
In the summer, you can paddle a voyageur canoe along the North Saskatchewan River, hike local trails, or camp in a traditional trapper’s tent overlooking the river. You can also observe costumed interpreters taking part in traditional activities. A winter visit might include cross-country skiing, stargazing, or snowshoeing. The attraction’s restaurant serves Indigenous cuisine year-round.
In September 2021, Métis Crossing opened a new wildlife park called “Vision, Hopes and Dreams”. In so doing, the community reintroduced bison to a landscape where the species had been extinct since the 1860s. Heritage species such as plains bison, wood bison, white bison, elk, and Percheron horses can be seen at the new park.
Métis Crossing’s latest expansion is a new 40-room guest lodge that opened in January. With the guest lodge, visiting Métis Crossing and experiencing the culture will be more comfortable than ever.
Vacay.ca Contributor Kelsey Olsen Says: “In the last two years, Métis Crossing has undergone a huge expansion and is now a year-round attraction, so there’s no better time to visit than now. It’s one of the best places to experience the unique culture of the Métis people. I’m looking forward to visiting this winter, experiencing the new cross-country ski trails, and seeing white bison in the new wildlife park. As a Métis person, learning from an elder and knowledge keeper is absolutely invaluable and it’s a unique opportunity that every visitor can enjoy.”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Métis Crossing’s new wildlife park is one of the few places in Canada where you can see white bison. Many Indigenous people consider white bison to be among the most sacred creatures on the planet and they are extremely rare. It has been estimated that just one out of every 10 million bison are born white in the wild.
16. CARCROSS & HAINES JUNCTION, Yukon
Why You Should Go: Yukon is home to a range of cultural and outdoor experiences that showcase the unique landscape of the north and the heritage and stories of the Indigenous nations who have lived in the northern territory for centuries.
Within its traditional territory, the Carcross/Tagish Nation have created a culturally rich tourism experience in the shadow of Canada’s largest mountain range. Originally called “Caribou Crossing” because of the large number of woodland caribou that migrated through the region, Carcross is a tiny outpost south of Whitehorse. It has beautiful views of the mountains and an odd natural wonder, the world’s smallest desert.
The Carcross Commons is an attractive open-air shopping district with visual art, live performances, local artisan boutiques, and food services. Four traditional Tlingit and Tagish totem poles, created by carving master Keith Wolfe Smarch, dominate the cluster of mural-covered wooden buildings.
Several interpretive attractions share the rich history of the Kwanlin Dün and Champagne Aishihik First Nations in Yukon. Kwaday dun Kenji, or Long Ago Peoples Place, is a recreation of a traditional Champagne First Nations Village, located between Whitehorse and Haines Junction. Situated on the banks of the Chu Nínkwän (Yukon River), the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre celebrates the heritage and contemporary way of life of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. Travellers can experience cultural immersion through dance performances and artists-in-residence demonstrations.
Summer festivals highlight the creative spirit of First Nations people, in the light of the territory’s midnight sun. The Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse in June showcases and celebrates Yukon’s diverse and distinctive Indigenous arts and culture with more than 40 hands-on workshops, professional gallery, live performances, and cultural presentations. Adäka means “coming into the light” in the Southern Tutchone language.
On the edge of Kluane National Park, north of Haines Junction, Shakat Tun Wilderness Camp provides a mix of outdoor adventures and authentic Indigenous cultural experiences. In the traditional territory of the Champagne and Ashihik First Nations, Shakat Tun (“summer hunting trails”) began as the family trap line and has been owned by the Allen family for generations.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “The northern territory is blessed with massive mountain ranges, crystal-clear lakes, wild rivers — including four Canadian Heritage ones — and the world’s largest non-polar ice fields. Yukon’s spell is as much about its famous Klondike gold rush days as its scenery — a hypnotic combination of untamed frontier and colourful ghost towns.” [Read More]
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Trippzy Travel Trivia Fact: There are 14 unique First Nations in the Yukon. The territory has been home to the Indigenous peoples for about 12,000 years. Yukon is home to the longest river in Canada, the 3,190-kilometre (1,982-mile) Yukon River, and the smallest desert in the world, the 1.6-square-kilometre (0.6-square-mile) Carcross Desert.
17. PINGUALUIT NATIONAL PARK, Quebec
Why You Should Go: A geographically fascinating location, Parc national des Pingualuit was formed when a massive meteor slammed into the earth 1.4 million years ago. It created a 3.4-kilometre (2.1-mile) crater that appears to be perfectly spherical and looks like it could have been manmade as a luxurious swimming pool. Dubbed the “Crystal Eye” by the Inuit of the region, the crater is filled with freshwater and is considered a location for rejuvenation for the people of northern Quebec.
The park is an attraction for hikers, kayakers, and landscape photographers in the summer and fall, when the Northern Lights are most visible. Lake trout and Arctic char are the species that anglers aim to hook, whether in warm months or during the winter when ice fishing is popular. Cross-country skiing and dog-sledding tours are among the other activities. Several lodging options are available, including winter camping and the chance to build and stay in an igloo. Wildlife viewing includes caribou, musk-ox, Arctic hare, and snowy owls.
The closest town is Kangiqsujuaq (pronounced “Kang-wuh-soo-uh-jack”), which has a small airport and modest hotels. It is known for its fishing and hunting businesses. Most of the tours into provincial park begin from Kangiqsujuaq and its Pingualuit Interpretive Centre. Located in the Nunavik region of Quebec, Pingualuit is one of those hard-to-reach destinations that makes the trek utterly worth it once you’ve arrived.
The park and its crater is 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Kangiqsujuaq. Reaching it in winter means a wild and bumpy snowmobile ride. In the summer, take an off-road vehicle drive to explore the terrain that has been described as otherworldly.
Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Says: “Although I haven’t been to Pingualuit, I have stopped in Kangiqsujuaq and experienced the extraordinary and thrilling scenery of the Hudson Strait. The polar bears of the region are among the highlights but so too is learning the ways of the people of this remote area that remains vital to understanding Indigenous heritage in Quebec.”
Discover More: “Cold Weather Means Warm Times in Quebec”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: The lake in the heart of the Pingualuit crater is called Pingualuk and has fossilized algae and larvae on its bottom. The lake is 400 metres (1,310 feet) deep and provides scientists with the chance to learn more about how the region’s climate has changed over millennia.
18. KAMLOOPS, British Columbia
Why You Should Go: Located at the confluence of the North and South Thompson rivers, Kamloops rose to national prominence as the grim reality of the residential schools trauma was uncovered by the discovery of 200 unmarked graves in 2021. The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation is honouring its lost children with a planned healing centre on its traditional territory.
While closed during the pandemic, the Secwépemc Museum contains displays about life before contact, ethnobotany, the Kamloops Indian Residential School (in which the landmark is housed) as well as contemporary topics and Secwépemc art.
There is no shortage of ways to connect with local Indigenous people, their cultures, and history. Moccasin Trails‘ tours are built around local culture and are led by knowledge keepers. Guides take guests along centuries-old ancestral paths dotted with sagebrush, and through waterways that the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation have canoed on for generations. The storytellers highlight local history, the importance of medicinal and ceremonial plants, and the generational connection to nature.
East of Kamloops in Chase, the Quaaout Lodge & Spa is owned and operated by the Little Shuswap Lake Band on its territory, known as Skwlax, which means “black bear” in the Shuswap language. The lodge offers a variety of cultural interpretation programs, including smudge ceremonies, forest walks, storytelling, and marine activities on Shuswap Lake.
Kamloops is the Tournament Capital of Canada, and its Indigenous festivals attract thousands to participate in cultural and environmental activities on the land. The Kamloopa Powwow, normally held over the B.C. Day long weekend in August, attracts more than 1,000 dancers and spectators, making it one of the largest celebrations of First Nations’ culture and heritage in Western Canada. In fall, the days remain warm while the nights cool as the salmon return to spawn in the Adams River. The Salute to the Sockeye Festival celebrates the largest inland sockeye salmon run in the country. This Indigenous festival is 45 minutes east of Kamloops at Tsustwecw Provincial Park and celebrates the importance of wild salmon to the province.
Vacay.ca Contributor Linda Barnard Writes: “Paddles dip into the water. The gentle swoosh blends with the traditional song Indigenous cultural knowledge keeper Justin “Sonny” Prairie Chicken sings. We’re heading towards Tk’emlúps, the Secwepemc name for the site where two rivers met. We know the confluence of the North and South Thompson rivers as the city of Kamloops.” [Read More]
Discover More: First Nation Strives to Revive Tree Ceremony
19. WINNIPEG, Manitoba
Why You Should Go: At Canada’s geographic centre, Winnipeg is home to significant Indigenous museums and attractions and serves as the final resting place of Louis Riel, the founder of Manitoba and the 19th-century leader of the Métis people.
Although it is a medium-sized city, Winnipeg has big-city cred with an impressive number of world-renowned galleries and museums. The world’s first museum dedicated to human rights, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, features permanent exhibitions that explore and bear witness to Indigenous history in Canada. It includes chronicles of the residential schools, the struggle for equal rights, and the ongoing process for truth and reconciliation.
The architecturally impressive Qaumajuq, the Inuit Art Centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, opened in March 2020. Qaumajuq, which means, “It is bright, it is lit”, houses the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world. The soaring heights of the gallery’s spaces permit room for wall hangings and textile pieces, while at the entrance, a multi-storey glass vault displays more than 5,000 Inuit carvings.
The history of Louis Riel, Métis leader and the founder of Manitoba, can be explored in the heart of Winnipeg’s French Quarter. Riel’s final resting place is in Western Canada’s oldest Catholic cemetery at St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica. A theatrical outdoor guided tour with Angélique Nolin, Western Canada’s first lay schoolteacher, makes the past come alive.
Annual festivals like the Manito Ahbee take advantage of warmer spring and summer weather with vibrant celebrations of Indigenous arts, culture, and music, including a powwow and marketplace.
On the culinary front, Feast Café Bistro’s chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther brings her Métis heritage to the fore, serving traditional foods like bannock, wild rice, and bison dishes. The menu is inspired by her Peguis Nation community and the ingredients of the land.
Vacay.ca Contributor Anna Hobbs Writes: “At Feast Café Bistro, Christa Bruneau-Guenther punches above — way above — her 5-foot-0 inches when it comes to her commitment to keeping the foods of her Indigenous heritage alive. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Bruneau-Guenther is a Métis and a proud member of the Peguis First Nation. Her journey from running an Indigenous children’s day care to opening Feast Café Bistro in December 2016 — going from home cook to chef — is unconventional and inspiring.” [Read more]
Discover More: Winnipeg’s Hip Coffee Culture
Trippzy Travel Trivia: There are more First Nations and Métis people living in Winnipeg than in any other city in Canada. Four in 10 Indigenous people in Manitoba reside in the provincial capital.
20. METEPENAGIAG & ELSIPOGTOG, New Brunswick
Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation is located at the head of the Miramichi River. For thousands of years Mi’kmaq communities have thrived in this region where tidal saltwater flows created an ecosystem perfect for salmon, sturgeon, and striped bass. Those fish haven’t gone anywhere else and neither should you.
Today, tourists can get a sense of the past at Metepenagiag with guided salmon-fishing expeditions, walking trails, kayak experiences, and tipi camping with Indigenous storytellers. There are also crafts and culinary experiences enjoy.
One accommodations property at Metepenagiag is Red Bank Lodge, which sits on the high banks with stunning views of the river just 20 minutes outside the city of Miramichi. The lodge has access to its own fishing pools, walking trails, and traditional cuisine. A unique attraction within walking distance of Red Bank is Metepenagiag Heritage Park, a village dating back more than 30 centuries. You can see archaeological discoveries, historic Mi’kmaq ceramic pottery, and interactive displays. Also, you’ll have the chance to learn about the Augustine Mound and the Oxbow National Historic Sites.
Elsipogtog First Nation is home to the Elsipopgtog Mi’kmaq Cultural Center, where visitors can enjoy a deep dive into the culture with the “Heritage Path Tour”. After a traditional greeting, guests are invited to a smudge ceremony followed by teachings on Indigenous customs. A knowledge keeper leads patrons into the natural, forested Heritage Path, and educates them about the medicinal plants and other local species in the area.
“Metepenagiac and Elsipogtog are two great experiences that are a one-hour drive apart and we’re blessed to have these treasures in New Brunswick,” said Rita Godbout, a Tourism New Brunswick destination development officer who focuses on Indigenous experiences.
You’re not likely to visit both Elsipogtog and Metepenagiag in one day, so visitors should plan at least two full days to ensure an unhurried experience. There are several delightful activities between Elsipogtog and Metepenagiag that should be included in vacation planning. Kouchibouguac National Park, a destination with several Indigenous connections, has hiking trails, cycling, swimming, and camping activities.
There are also several non-Indigenous sights worth checking out. Irving Eco-Centre, La Dune de Bouctouche (celebrating its 25th anniversary), and the live performance show Le Pays de la Sagouine (kicking off its 30th anniversary) are among them. Other attractions and businesses along the way include Timber Ship Brewing, Gallan’s Miramichi River Tubing, New Maritime Beer Company, and Three Dog Distilling Company.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Says: “New Brunswick has the pleasant mix of small, exciting cities and sublime rural areas within driving distance. Fredericton and Saint John are teeming with warm people, outstanding festivals, museums, art galleries, and bustling culinary scenes. Away from them, there are road-trip destinations that will treat you to Indigenous culture, and sites such as the Fundy Trail Parkway, Ritchie Wharf Park, and Kingsbrae Garden — to name a few.”
Trippzy Travel Trivia: Oxbow is a deeply stratified Maritime woodland period village site. It was discovered in the early 1970s by the late Joseph M. Augustine. An avid reader, nationally recognized trapper, hunter, and former chief, Augustine had a keen interest in both his Mi’kmaq heritage and the future of his community. Augustine’s discovery and subsequent reporting of the Oxbow site and of the nearby Augustine Mound led to more than a decade of joint archaeological research by provincial archaeologists and the Metepenagiag First Nation.