When tourists visit Canada, there is a typical route that they follow. From east to west, people visit Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Banff and Vancouver. These are the main cities and they are amazing in their own right. But what about the hidden treasures of our beautiful and vast country? Those are the places that fascinate me and, as a Canadian, I’ve made it my life’s mission to search out as many of these less-popular places as possible.
Take a ride with me on my adventures across Canada:
Beginning in beautiful British Columbia, imagine yourself lying on a secret nude beach resting on the crest of the mountains, surrounded by a midnight black lake. I decided to ditch the tent that night and slept directly on the beach, watched by the rare and beautiful gypsy travellers that populate B.C. I’m looking at the stars, and they are so clear it feels as if I can reach out and touch them.
I’m just outside Nelson, B.C, the unofficial hippie capital of the west. It is a place built entirely on a steep hill, which is absolute hell to climb with a backpack, but is nonetheless worth it once you see the view from the top. Several incense and weed shops line the streets and the town is dedicated to promoting local goods and community, with almost no corporate businesses in the vicinity. The town is nestled deep in the Kootenay mountain pass and is surrounded by large round mountains buried with trees. They look much different from the neighbouring Rockies. Nelson is as close to heaven as you can get. It is an escape from reality, and seems to only exist in a dream where nature and people finally seem to respect one another.
Another one of my favourite spots is in the Okanagan. The hills have grown much smaller, but I’m still awestruck by the contrast between the orange and red rolling desert mountains and the crystal blue lake that snakes through the valley. As you drive on the Coquihalla, the highway through the Okanagan that leads you to Vancouver, you will hit Penticton. It is a town surrounded by hot desert hills and is the home to the deepest lake in Canada.
I have fond memories of driving to Penticton with my boyfriend at the time and our friends to music gigs at rustic bars on the main strip that has since closed. We would climb on the roof while the boys played, and roofhop because the businesses were all connected ( though I don’t condone this behaviour. I had a friend fall of a roof years later). There is nothing better than watching a harvest moon, surrounded by desert hills and listening to B.C folk music, laden with banjos and violins. It is a sound that seems to emit from the very roots of the Okanagan’s heart and I highly recommend seeing one of the local Okanagan bands if you are in the region (Wild Son is a good example).
My next destination takes you on the Trans-Canada highway through the Rogers Pass into Alberta, my home province, the place where my heart rests no matter where I live in this crazy world. A tour of the Rockies will take you to some breathtaking sites and locations, but my absolute favourite town in Alberta is Jasper. Home of black bears, it is the best place for a sighting from a safe distance. Another favourite is Kananaskis, a tiny resort tucked away between Calgary and Banff. Kananaskis is in the entrance to the mountains, also known as the foothills. The vast prairies that rise into rolling hills and then morph into the majestic Rockies is a worthy site to see. Kananaskis has top level climbing, hiking trails and mountain sites.
Both Jasper and Kananaskis remind me of my mother. You haven’t met her, but she is amazing. My mom taught me the worth of driving to the places you love. She taught me to hike,and to respect and appreciate nature. I’ve seen every wild animal in the mountains because of her, from mountain goats to a grizzly bear. As she gets older, I often think of our drives through the Rockies, listening to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, and I realize no matter what happens these places will always remind me of her.
As I got older, I began to crave a different kind of Canadian adventure. I wanted to see the cities — the brick and the old stone edifices in the origins of this wonderful country. It was time to venture east. I packed the car, waved goodbye to my family and friends and took off across the prairies, listening to Janis Joplin. I saw the immense and endless splendour of the corn fields, or the yellow ocean as my daughter says. I landed in Brandon, Manitoba to see a friend of mine and it was there that I found this next hidden gem.
Brandon is a small city with a very tight-knit and loving community. I stayed with a friend who lived in the old city hall. The grand building had been converted to a house for people who studied the arts. It had several floors and rooms, and was run by two professors from Brandon University. Walking in the city, I saw my first glances of the historic buildings that helped build this country.
Ontario was next. The first thing I noticed was that the Great Lakes seemed to go on forever. The immensity of these bodies of water nourishes the land, creating a green and vivacious landscape. Kenora, Ont. is on the border between Manitoba and Ontario, and is my secret gem of the north. Surrounded by Lake of the Woods, this body of water winds around the town, which is a series of bushy islands. The Canadian Shield dominates the north as well and massive boulders of rock that jut from the ground create a complex and visceral topography, which is great for hiking and bouldering.
Speaking of history, Quebec City is the oldest city in Canada. I call it the city of all glories, because it has a beautiful waterfront dotted by old shipping boats (who doesn’t love a good boat?), it is built on a hill with narrow and old-fashioned streets, and is the home of the Chateau Frontenac. It is most definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Canada and has a distinctly European flair. Visiting Quebec City, it was exciting to hold my daughter’s hand and explain first-hand how Canada came to be. Plus, ordering a croissant and an Americano in French is always a treat.
Finally, there is the Maritimes. My mother is a born maritimer, and while I may be biased, I stand by this following opinion — people born and raised in the Maritimes are often the sweetest and friendliest people. I often visit Dalhousie, a city that borders Quebec with the Restigouche River between the two provinces. The Restigouche leads into the ocean, and migrating whales stop in the bay annually. My Grandmother has a cottage right on the water that she dubbed “the Hollow”, and I remember hiking with her to pick beach glass and find fossils. Visiting a couple years ago, it is unforgettable to stand at the pier of the lighthouse and listen to Acadians sing French folk songs as sail boats line the bay. You can almost see the ghosts of the first ships to arrive along the Restigouche River hundreds of years ago on ethereal nights such as these.
There are always more stories and more places to share. Canada is a vast and unforgettable country and you never know where the twists and turns will take you. My best advice when traveling Canada is to take the backroads. That is where you will see a proud old man in his electric wheelchair scooting down the street with a Canadian flag on the back, or a wolf standing watch by the roadside. My next stop is the Yukon. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
Stay tuned for my photo project of my travels across Canada entitled Shades of Blue: my journey across Canada.