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Canada's Top Travel Treasures

Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation on July 1, 2017. Of the many celebrations, events and legacy builds taking place in Canada this year, one of our favorites is the free admission to Canada's National Parks and historic sites for the entire year.

Parks Canada is inviting Canadians and visitors from around the world to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary at national treasures from coast to coast to coast with free admission to all Parks Canada locations. You can order your pass online or pick up in person at certain locations.

Here is our curated collection of Canada's National Parks and historic sites and nearby experiences that might help inspire you to include the 'true North, strong and free' in your travel plans this year.

L'Anse aux Meadows

In a clever line on the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism web site, 'even the Vikings came here to get away'.

If you thought Columbus was the first European to reach the Americas, think again. L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland contains archeological evidence of a Viking settlement dating back to around the year 1000 – hundreds of years before Columbus and his first 1492 expedition.

Sod and wood buildings were found, with artifacts that showed the residents involved in smithing iron, knitting, weaving, and carpentry for boat building or repair. It's believed dozens of Viking men and women resided here, but harsh conditions made it unsustainable and the site was abandoned.

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While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss…Cape Spear. The rocky cliffs jutting over the North Atlantic waters make Cape Spear feel like the edge of the world – and it nearly is. This is the eastern-most point of North America. Standing on Cape Spear, you are closer to London, England than you are to Vancouver on the other side of the continent!

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Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

From the harbor, the almost cartoon-bright painted houses look like an artist's interpretation of an historic town. But it's real. The town is both National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's considered the best surviving British colonial town on the continent, with its 18th century planned, gridiron streets, unique shops, restaurants in preserved buildings leading away from the harbor that was the focal point of rich a fishing and shipbuilding economy.

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You can still see majestic and romantic tall ships moored on the town's waterfront, and hear the stories. Especially about the fabled Bluenose. This is the homeport of the Bluenose II, the replica of the original local fishing boat that was undefeated in 18 years as a racing schooner.

While you're in Nova Scotia, don't miss: The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It's a week-long event held every summer in Halifax celebrating Nova Scotia's Scottish and military traditions. It began to mark the visit of the Queen Mother to Nova Scotia for the first International Gathering of the Clans with bagpipes, highland dancers and military traditions. Hundreds of Canadian and international military and civilian performers makes it the world's largest annual indoor show; granted Royal status by the Queen.

Bay of Fundy National Park

The Bay of Fundy is the site of a record-breaking marine phenomenon, part of the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve, and a Dark-Sky Reserve. The tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world – as high as a 5-storey building! Local Mi'kmaq folklore attributed the dramatic tides to a giant whale splashing; it's actually a result of the bay's particular shape. The twice-daily tides see a flow of 115 billion tonnes of water flowing in and out of the bay.

You'll also want to experience local dinosaur fossil finds exposed by the extreme tides, hiking, sea kayaking, tidal rafting, and whale watching, including the rare right whale.

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While you're in New Brunswick, don't miss…Confederation Bridge, part of the Trans Canada highway, connecting mainland New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island since 1997. You'll be driving 13 km across the largest bridge in the world that crosses ice- covered waters.

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Prince Edward Island National Park and Green Gables

Canada's smallest province has one of its most beloved sites. 60 km (37 miles) of Prince Edward Island's signature red rock and sand shoreline. Seven swimming beaches, hiking and cycling trails, and camping grounds join protected white sand dunes, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and nesting areas for endangered coastal wildlife.

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While you're there, don't miss... Green Gables, the house that was the childhood inspiration for the internationally beloved Anne of Green Gables stories by local author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

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Quebec City

Many people say walking through Old Quebec is like a visit to Europe without the jet lag. The only walled city in North America and the oldest city north of Mexico, the historic district of Quebec City, dating from 1608, is a National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, first city in North America to receive designation.

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Although the magnificent hotel Chateau Frontenac dominates the skyline, perched in Upper Town's 100 meter high cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence, it is a mere hundred or so years old compared with Upper and Lower Towns' 17th century walls, fortifications, Citadel, winding cobbled streets with shops, restaurants, Plains of Abraham.

While you're in Quebec City, don't miss… The Winter Carnival, one of the biggest in the world, and all the more dramatic in snow covered historic streets. There are masquerade balls in the grand ballroom of the Chateau Frontenac, an Ice Palace, snow sculpture parks, a bikini snow bath, day and night parades led by 'Bonhomme' de Neige ('snowman') the ambassador and mascot of the festivities with his red cap and early voyageur knit belt. And plenty of French joie de vivre.

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Rideau Canal, Ontario

This feat of incredible engineering in the early 1800's began with military intent, but nowadays has become a top recreational boating destination. Following the war of 1812 with the United States, British military engineers came up with plans to forge a vital water route for over 200 km (126 miles) from Kingston on Lake Ontario north to Ottawa. Workers labored to carve the waterway through dense wilderness and solid rock of the Canadian Shield. They also built 45 locks to take vessels up and down elevations in the terrain along the way through rivers, lakes and man-made canal.

The Rideau Canal is a glorious boat trip through pastoral plains, cottage communities and remote, sheer rock cliffs all the way to downtown Ottawa and past Canada's majestic Parliament Buildings.

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Don't miss… Boating the length of the canal in the summer months, taking a canoe tour of the Ottawa portion of the canal, or skating on it in the winter. In downtown Ottawa, in the shadow of historic hotel Chateau Laurier and Canada's Parliament buildings, 8 km of the canal becomes the world's longest skating rink every winter.

Wapusk National Park

It's over a 2 hour flight or two days by train from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, the gateway to Wapusk. For anyone who makes the trip in mid winter, it's worth it to reach one of the last places in the world to see tiny polar bear cubs getting their start in the world.

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Wapusk means 'White Bear', and this part of Canada is known the world over as the polar bear capital. Nearly three million acres of the park are the seasonal home of a thousand polar bears returning from summer roaming through the tundra back to new Arctic ice, joined by moose, wolves, foxes, and herd of thousands of caribou. Polar bears are gorgeous but dangerous; access to the park is only through licensed operators of guided trips to this famous refuge.

While you're in Manitoba, don't miss…Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Opening in 2014 to national and international attention, the museum is architecturally compelling, with geometry and colors based on images of the Canadian landscape. It's also intellectually challenging, highlighting personal stories and stimulating debate about how to define its subject matter.

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Wood Buffalo National Park

The largest of Canada's National Park straddles both Alberta and the Northwest Territories for nearly 45,000 acres – it's bigger than Switzerland! It needs to be that large – it provides enough territory in its muskeg and tundra for the long term preservation of the world's largest herd of free roaming Bison.

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The park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and the world's largest Dark-Sky Preserve. And in spite of its remote location, the park can be reached and visited by car.

Banff National Park – Alberta

Canada's first National Park dates back to 1885, and scenes of the turquoise waters of Lake Louise surrounded by a distinctly Canadian alpine landscape have been famously depicted on postcards sent around the world ever since. Snow topped mountains, glaciers and icefields, the western resort town of Banff, endless all-season outdoor activities and the hot springs that started in all keep visitors coming back to this park in the Rocky Mountains year round. The breathtaking Icefields Parkway connects Lake Louise to Jasper National Park further north.

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While you're in Banff, don't miss… a cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel in the lounge with picture windows over Lake Louise. The view really does make a perfect custom cocktail taste even better!

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Spearheaded by the Haida Nation to stop destructive logging on their historic lands, Gwaii Haanas now protects an archipelago of 138 (formerly Queen Charlotte) islands off the coast of British Columbia. It totals 5000 square km of land and sea – one of the only places in the world protected from the depths of the ocean in deep fjords to rugged mountain tops. 90% of the land is forest, with mountains draining into dozens of freshwater lakes and salmon-spawning streams. The seas are a 'primary feeding habitat' of humpback whales; Gwaii Haanas is remote and only accessible by boat, sea kayak, or floatplane.

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While you're in British Columbia, don't miss… Victoria Harbour, one of the most picturesque harbors in the country. Originally used by First Nations, the harbor now bustles with recreational vessels and small cruise ships, mooring in the center of this scenic heritage city famous for its continuing British tone. Historic buildings frame the lively waterfront and line the walkable streets. The harbor is the epicenter of thriving eco-tourism and whale watching tour activities.

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Top 5 Souvenirs from Canada

Among the many pleasures of travel is the opportunity to bring home mementos of your journeys, even doubling your pleasure by giving some to loved ones (and the dog sitter.) It works the same in reverse; taking symbolic, beloved, or impossible-to-find-elsewhere local treats when you travel abroad to thank friends and hosts for their hospitality.

BestTrip.TV's producer/host Lynn Elmhirst is Canadian, and here is her list of her most-loved gifts she takes abroad, and recommends as souvenirs to people traveling in Canada.

1. To Satisfy a Sweet Tooth –Maple Syrup

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The maple leaf is of course Canada's national symbol and maple syrup can safely be considered the national food. Canada is the world's top producer of maple syrup.

Visitor's Tip: Spring skiing and maple syrup festivals in 'sugar shacks' in rural communities in Quebec and Ontario are probably the two most beloved early spring Canadian activities.

I got to help tap trees! (You use the back of the axe to tap the spiles into place). Photo BestTrip.TV

It astonishes me when I go abroad that there are people willing to eat a pancake without maple syrup. Imagine that: with a different syrup. In our family, the pancake is really just a delivery vehicle for maple syrup. Only the good stuff will do. 100% pure, and ideally from the source: a local producer at farmer's market. If you've been used to eating maple 'flavored' syrup your taste buds will flinch at the onslaught of deliciousness!

Syrup isn't the only way to enjoy the authentic taste of Canada. Other firm favorites are maple candy, and the maple cookie: a sandwich cookie made of two, maple leaf-shaped shortbread-type cookies with a maple cream filling in the middle.

Tip: Pack them deep in your luggage or I know you will eat them before you get home.

2. To cuddle – A Hudson's Bay Company Blanket

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Founded in 1670 to serve the fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company is North America's oldest continuously operating corporation.

Visitor's Tip: These days, 'The Bay' is a department store with nearly a hundred outlets in communities across Canada, including flagship stores in historic downtown buildings in major cities like Toronto that are shopping destinations.

The Hudson's Bay Point Blanket harkens back to HBC's roots in the fur trade. High quality wool blankets were traded for furs from First Nations communities, and the blanket, with its vivid, color-fast stripes: green, red, yellow, and indigo on a white background, became rooted in early Canadian culture.

Early Bay blankets have become collector's items, and the Bay now has a whole department dedicated to a line of products in its iconic striped design. Heavy, 100% wool HBC blankets are an investment piece. Like me, you may want to save them for wedding gifts. But the store also carries a line of other HBC products with the iconic stripe pattern that includes fleece throws, wraps, scarves and mittens, totes, house wares like mixing bowls, coasters, and more.

Tip: You can also buy a 7500$ HBC canoe, but you'll have to really plan ahead to get that souvenir home.

3. To Find your Way Home – An Inukshuk

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I think of Inukshuk as like leaving a candle burning in the window for those coming home.

Above the Arctic Circle, the tundra offers few natural landmarks. So from ancient times, Inuit erected stone Inukshuk as landmarks along travel routes, as way finding for hunters, indicating good places to camp, and generally signaling 'we were here' to those who came later.

They may have begun as upright large, single stones (remind you of any other ancient cultures the world over?) But Inukshuk along the way acquired a monolithic human form and deep resonance in Inuit culture. On Baffin Island, there are over 100 inukshuk, and the site has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

More and more, inukshuk are a warm symbol of Canada at home and abroad, second only to the maple leaf. It was the symbol of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and it's on the flag of the territory of Nunavut.

Visitor's Tip: Keep your eye out for powerful and graceful Inukshuk that have sprung up in public spaces across Canada, and also in Canadian spaces abroad; in embassies and consulates, and Canadian projects as a symbol of home.

Tip: Don't just give table-top sized inukshuk as gifts. Making your own and talking about inukshuk is a wonderful and memorable craft day with children and teens.

4. To Warm You Up - Ice Wine

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Ice wine is a case of making lemonade when life gives you lemons. Freezing winters may not be everyone's thing, but when grapes freeze on the vine, life gives enterprising vintners ice wine.

Ice wine can only be produced in countries with wine regions where it gets sufficiently cold. Germany and Austria have a history with ice wine, but Canada's much younger wine industry, with its predictably sub zero temperatures every winter, has become an international ice wine superstar.

For natural ice wine, grapes must fully ripen on the vine, then undergo a hard freeze (−8 °C (17 °F) or colder). It's risky business. Grapes can be lost before harvest, and then the moment it freezes, pickers have to work at night harvesting all the grapes in a few hours before the sun warms them up again.

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Visitor's Tip: If you're in an ice-wine producing region of Canada in the New Year, get in on the action of a local ice wine festival. Sometimes you can even be part of the midnight frozen-grape picking, which is more fun than it sounds.

What makes ice wine special? When the grapes freeze, the sugars and other solids don't freeze, just the water content. So the juice extracted from the frozen grapes is very concentrated. That has two results: a very sweet wine with a balanced acidity - that can only be produced in small quantities. And it's priced accordingly.

Tip: Ice wine's best friend is a simple cheese plate served as a dessert course. Canada has some amazing cheeses too.

5. To Entertain Friends: Anita Stewart's Canada Cookbook

I have a whole bookshelf devoted to cookbooks I've picked up around the world; browsing through them, I can almost trace my travels over the years. They are among my most treasured souvenirs that recall meeting talented and passionate chefs, food producers and foodies, and of course, all those memorable meals.

If that sounds like your relationship with cookbooks and travel too, Anita Stewart's Canada cookbook is one you'll want to add to your destination cookbook collection or give to a favorite foodie.

Anita Stewart is not just a cookbook author, she's also a food activist, founder of Food Day Canada, the largest national culinary celebration in Canadian history, and a Member of the Order of Canada. This cookbook is about local food – where 'local' means the diverse regions, seasons and cultural heritage across the second biggest country in the world. Canada's culinary traditions are centuries deep and rooted in cultures around the world and this book is as good a read as it is a visual indulgence and recipe reference.

Tip: Have a Canadian dinner party where every guest makes one course from a recipe from Anita Stewart's Canada cookbook. And toast your success with ice wine!

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Why Canadian Gardens Rock

Not all of Canada's natural wonders are wilderness. Communities across Canada have cultivated oases of trees and greens, colorful flowers, fresh air and serenity in the heart of busy urban centers.

Tara Nolan is a garden and travel writer, author of the best-selling book Raised Bed Revolution and co-owner of popular gardening website Savvy Gardening. She shares her list of favorite Canadian gardens, from west to east.

You don't have to be an avid gardener to appreciate Canada's public gardens. Gardens give residents and visitors a different perspective and experience in a city. The popularity of visiting gardens is astonishing: in any given year, more people visit public gardens in America than go to Disneyland and Walt Disney World combined! Canada's gardens are just as appealing, with engaging activities including some special programming for Canada's 150th birthday.

UBC Botanical Garden – British Columbia

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Not only does the UBC Botanical Garden play host to fabulous food and alpine gardens, the GreenHeart TreeWalk, a highlight of my trip to Vancouver last summer, takes visitors through the treetops of 100-year-old trees along canopy walkways, the highest of which is 23 metres above the forest.

The Butchart Gardens – British Columbia

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Magnificent Butchart garden draws a multitude of tourists, but it’s worth the visit to see the lush, colourful displays, from the Sunken Garden, which is beautiful through every season, to the Night Illuminations throughout the summer. I’ve visited in the fall when the dahlia walk was in full bloom.

The International Peace Garden – Manitoba

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Though a little remote, this garden is unique because it straddles the border with the United States—North Dakota on one side, Manitoba on the other. The message of this garden is one of contemplation and peace. You can even book a campsite to stay for longer than a day. This garden is on my list for a more rugged, outdoorsy trip that involves hiking and biking.

University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden

This 240-acre gem, 15 minutes from Edmonton, features a lovely Japanese garden and a Tropical Plant and Butterfly Showhouse. I made sure to visit the Herb and Sensory Gardens, as well as the Native Peoples Garden to learn more about what indigenous people foraged for and used for medicine, meals and ornamentation. When you visit this garden, time it so you can lunch at the Patio Café.

Toronto Botanical Garden

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This urban garden, nestled among leafy neighbourhoods, is looking at expansion to up its garden game even further. In the meantime, check the schedule for weekly entertainment, visit the bustling farmers’ market on a Thursday and sign up for a yoga class in the garden—it’s good to de-stress while on vacation, right?

Royal Botanical Garden – Hamilton, Ontario

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Not only does the Royal Botanical Garden have multiple sites (the RBG Centre, The Rock Garden, etc.), it also has multiple hiking trails that take you through the wilderness of Hamilton and Burlington and make you forget you’re in a city. Take the kids to the LEGO exhibit and check the schedule for jazz, blues and country music nights in Hendrie Park.

Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park – Quebec/National Capital

A special exhibit has been built to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial: MosaïCanada 150. Expect massive, living sculptures packed full of plants and flowers. There will be 40 on display, representing the country’s history. And admission is free!

Reford Gardens/Jardins de Métis

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This inimitable garden above the shores of the St. Lawrence River will appeal to especially arty types because of the International Garden Festival that invites landscape architects from around the world to design spaces based on a theme. The garden also features a fantastic culinary program. Visit the Estevan Lodge Restaurant to see what chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry, Gold Winner of the Canada Good Food Innovation Award, is concocting from his plant collection.

The Halifax Public Gardens

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If you’re wandering around Halifax, this is an easy garden to get to on foot for a visit—I strolled through last year for the first time and loved its proximity to shops and restaurants. Like Canada, it’s celebrating its 150th birthday. A special website has been put together—check it out for theatre and music events, special tours and more.

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Warm Up Indoors with 12 Days of Christmas Cocktails in Canada

InterContinental Hotels in Canada are warming up a cold Canadian winter with 12 festive cocktails through the month of December.

You can celebrate or commiserate over the winter weather while enjoying flavors of the holidays in style at all three InterContinental hotels in Canada: Toronto Centre, Toronto Yorkville and Montreal.

Barchefs at the hotels have created a dozen cocktails marrying seasonal herbs and spices such as cinnamon, rosemary and thyme with the delightful yuletide tastes of cranberries, lemons and apples, pairing them with specially selected rums, gins, liqueurs, vodkas and other spirits. So whether you travel to Toronto or Montreal for business, family, or a winter holiday escape this month, there's a seasonal cocktail in town calling your name.

In the spirit of the season, the barchefs have even given us the recipes, so you can warm up your guests at home in style! Here are three of our favorites.

Cheers!


 

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.