I was a late adopter in learning to love Canada. For decades – decades – I never really considered it as a travel destination. Looking back at it, I’m not entirely sure why either. Maybe because it was too close, too convenient but I think the real reason is that I was uninformed. I really didn’t know a lot about our neighbors to the north other than just the basic facts. I didn’t understand anything about Canada’s natural beauty, energetic cities and fun experiences found in almost ever corner of the massive country. Luckily in recent years I have made up for lost time by making repeated trips to a variety of different provinces, trying to see as much of this beautiful country as possible. I still have a lot more ground to cover, but today I thought I’d share some reasons why Canada is a great place to visit and why this really is the year everyone should plan an epic trip to this sometimes overlooked country.
Happy Birthday Canada!
2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the Canadian federation, which is a little confusing since Canadians call it a confederation. At this point I have no doubt that the non-Canadians reading this are a little confused, so allow me a few moments to briefly explain. I’m a political geek and I love this stuff, but since I realize for most folks it’s a little dry I’ll try to be succinct. Technically speaking, Canada is a federation, which is a union of self-governing regions. The United States, Germany and India are all federal systems. So why do Canadians say Confederation? For a variety of reasons but mostly because that was the term used during the process of uniting into one Dominion of Canada in 1867. It’s not accurate, but that’s ok. Confederation is used casually to characterize this important event, the people who led the effort and new provinces that have joined the country since 1867. So, when Newfoundland joined they had “entered into confederation.” If we’re going to talk about anniversary celebrations in this post, I think it’s important to understand what it’s an anniversary of exactly.
National Parks Are Free
In honor of Canada’s birthday, Parks Canada has made the popular decision to provide free access to all Canadian national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas for the entire year. All you have to do is order their Discovery Pass and you’re set for a year of exploration and from my personal experience, Canada’s National Parks are perhaps the country’s greatest treasure. Well, other than poutine, can’t forget the poutine. The parks span the width and breadth of the country from the Yukon to Newfoundland and everything in between. While I’ve enjoyed every national park I’ve been lucky enough to visit, Jasper will always have a special place in my heart. Situated within the majestic Canadian Rockies, I honestly can’t imagine a more beautiful part of the world, but there’s a lot more to do here than just gaze wistfully at the scenery. This really is an outdoor lover’s paradise, with a seemingly endless supply of hikes and trails to conquer, and every one has its own visual rewards along the way.
While Canada is world famous for its natural getaways, the cities are also well worth a visit. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal probably get the most attention and they should, they’re great. But I’ve also spent a fair amount of time exploring many other cities around the country and I have to be honest, they’re a lot of fun to visit. St. John’s in Newfoundland offers visitors a colorful downtown, delicious bites and a quirky culture. Edmonton in Alberta has some beautiful public spaces, luxury hotels, fun bike paths and an emerging foodie scene. Even Saskatoon has a lot to offer and my time spent there was another enjoyable travel experience. No matter where you go around the country, be sure to seek out these cities and towns, spend time exploring and getting to know them and I think you too will be surprised by what you find.
Not nearly enough is written about the culinary side of Canada, and I think that’s a shame. Not unlike any other country in the world, every region and province in Canada has its favorite foods, traditional comforts that add to the fabric of the overall culture. I love exploring the food side of any new place I visit and Canada is no exception. Some of my favorite traditional bites include: toutons in Newfoundland, poutine in Quebec, fantastic beef and game in Alberta and of course Saskatoon Berry pie. But Canada also features some of the world’s most exciting chefs and in all of the major cities you’ll discover new restaurants and innovative concepts unlike anywhere else in the world. One of my biggest surprises though happened when I visited Edmonton, Alberta. North 53 is just one of many newish restaurants around town changing the way people think about food. Led by a fiercely creative team of owners, chefs and mixologists, this restaurant has brought modern cuisine to a city that frankly didn’t have anything like it before. Using a mix of unusual flavor pairings and molecular gastronomy, North 53 is a place not to be missed if you consider yourself a foodie. There are thousands of other similar establishments throughout the country though, just waiting to be discovered.
It Is NOT USA North
I’m a proud American, but that doesn’t preclude me from realizing a few of our faults culturally. One of them is the natural inclination we have to thinking that we are the center of the universe. It’s served us mostly well over the years, but it’s also led to a certain ignorance of anything beyond our own borders, even when it comes to the country sharing our northern border. I think many Americans simply consider Canada to be an extension of our own country. Both countries (mostly) speak English, have a somewhat similar cultural background, we have common interests and goals and when thought about as a whole, Canada seems as alien to us as Minnesota, which is to say not at all. But to consider Canada just to be America-light is a fallacy, one led by a complete ignorance of the country’s history and modern-day culture. Sure, we both have British backgrounds, but nearly everything else in our histories has been divergent, different forks on a similar road. Canada has a unique history and culture that we Americans would do well to learn more about not just to be better tourists, but because I think we could learn a lot from them. Canada is as multi-cultural a country as any in the world and yet, for the most part, they lack much of the conflict that this can sometimes create. Canadians respect not only each other, but are open minded when it comes to anything different or foreign and that global mindset is something of which I’m frankly envious. So no, Canada is not the 51st state and I would encourage my fellow Americans to do a little research and find themselves surprised about the friendly strangers that we call neighbors.
Very Unique Experiences
There are many treasures lurking in Canada, just waiting to be discovered and most of them are completely unique. I usually have an issue with writers who use the word “unique,” because they do so incorrectly, but in this situation it’s accurate. Unique means that there is nothing like it anywhere else and many of the experiential activities in Canada certainly qualify. Watching the waves crash below your room at the Fogo Island Inn, walking with polar bears and swimming with whales in the same day in Manitoba, admiring the otherworldly colors of Jasper Park’s lakes and hundreds more examples can be found in every province, sometimes when you least expect them. I heartily encourage everyone to visit Canada and seek out your own unique experiences to enjoy and I think you too will be just as amazed as I have been in the discoveries.
So I hope that you have a very happy birthday Canada – I can’t wait to continue exploring your amazing country not only this year, but for many years to come.
What’s are your favorite Canadian experiences?