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What is the deal with eco-tourism?

It’s a term being thrown around a lot within the tourism industry — eco-tourism. But, what exactly does that mean?

In the simplest terms, eco-tourism is the idea that your travel will not impact the environment. Instead, it will actually contributes to the local community.

When people travel, they tend to bring a lot of their baggage with them. And no, I’m not talking about emotional baggage or your carry-on.

Tourists tend to focus on only one thing. Sightseeing. They want to hit the most popular destinations, take perfectly filtered images for their Instagram account at the nicest restaurants, or visit franchise stores to do some shopping. These tourists take taxis, trains, and planes, and sometimes even use products with dangerous chemicals that could contaminate oceans. Don’t even get me started on the number of plastic straws used in beverages.

Most tourists create a carbon footprint that has the potential to damage a community, especially in remote locations or islands that depend on their natural beauty to attract revenue. While there isn’t much that can be done about completely eliminating this footprint, there is a way to reduce it. The answer is, obviously, eco-tourism.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, for an activity to be a part of “eco-tourism”, it has to have an educational aspect. It should promote conservation and community, while trying to adopt sustainable practices. Guides and participants must recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People There should also be some financial benefit towards these practices. 

The activities must also operate within low-impact facilities.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) describes eco-tourism as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

The definitions are still open to interpretation. Some agencies choose to describe any nature-related activity or tour as eco-tourism. For example, whale watching in Hawaii is described as an eco-tourist activity. However, the cruise boat itself could be impacting the ecosystem below the surface of the water. A more ecologically-friendly activity would be to kayak or canoe the waters with a guide who talks about the wildlife or the conservation techniques in place to protect the natural beauty of an area.

Tourists can take tours of plantations or farms; but they can also participate for a day, learning hands on how food grows and gets to their plate. Visit an indigenous settlement and listen to stories from the community. If you go on a nature walk, stick to trails — don’t wander into a natural environment without a guide. Remember, the purpose of eco-tourism is to learn and give back to the community.

Here are three eco-tourism activities you can do in Ontario:

  • Redwing Institute Culture and Nature Discovery Walk: Take this 3-hour journey and learn about the Indigenous people of Humber Valley. Participants will explore the river valley, participate in a traditional ceremony, sample food and music, and explore history through oral storytelling. Part of the fees go towards a skill-development program for women from the Indigenous community living in Toronto.
  • Visit a Biosphere Reserve: Wilderness Eco-Adventures offers half and full day guided excursions of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Reserve. Climb cliffs, explore caves, and see rare wildlife. They also offer more intensive workshops where you can learn a new skill like geology or bushcraft. Looking for a challenge? Spend three nights under the stars this winter. Proceeds support the Biosphere Association’s environmental projects.
  • EcoCab through Toronto: Instead of taking a bus or renting a car, see downtown Toronto up close with a pedal-powered bicycle. Don’t worry about the physical activity as each tour guide will also be your navigator and official pedal-er). There are four routes to choose from.

Have you participated in eco-tourism? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments below!

Toronto to Iceland – top 5 places to visit

Visiting Iceland is at the top of my bucket list. The hot springs, volcanoes, and of course, the Northern lights. It’s one of those countries that looks serene and quaint, despite tourism being one of their largest sources of revenue. Airfare costs are usually pretty cheap, as are hotels and tours.

Travellers can either sign up for a guided tour or self-guided tours that include car rental, GPS, and lodgings. Self-guided tours are great because you can also prepare your own personal stops in between the recommended attractions.

Here are the top five things to do while hitting up a self-guided tour of Iceland:

Blue Lagoon: This is a popular destination, which means it may be a bit crowded. Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa with a breathtaking view. Enjoy some time in one of the heated springs or relax under a waterfall. Visitors an also sign up for other spa services like massages, silica mud masks, or saunas. For this attraction, remember to book early. The lines can be a bit lengthy, and if you are able to swing it, choose as many private options as possible.

Horseback riding: Horses roam the hillsides freely, but there are a few that tourists can ride on guided tours of the area. These animals are well kept and not overworked. Guides will follow trails that show off Iceland’s most serene landscapes, including rivers and mountains. This activity only has incredibly reviews from TripAdvisor, with most participants saying the trip was “magical”.

Glaciers and waterfalls: Despite climate change, Iceland still has a number of large glaciers and waterfalls to explore. Glaciers are made when ice and snow accumulate over centuries. They are large, beautiful structures and the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, as the locations are rather remote. Tour groups offer a number of guided hikes and climbs through these glaciers for people of various skill sets.

Explore a volcano: There are a number of volcanoes throughout Iceland, and the country takes advantage of these phenomenons and offers tours of each region. Don’t worry, they are not active. For those who want a bird’s eye view, there are helicopter rides available that fly over a few volcanoes and lava fields. For those who want are more active tour, take a 3k hike through Thrihnukagigur, a volcano located between Reykjavik and the Golden Circle area. The tour will take you through caverns right into the heart of the dormant volcano!

Skaftafell Park: This park is 4800 square kilometres and home to some of the most surreal landscapes in Iceland. Pick one of the many trails and enjoy views of waterfalls, fields, mountains, and glaciers — all within one park. Make sure to check out the Scartifoss (Black fall), a waterfall that flows off black basalt columns. Nature lovers can actually camp overnight within the park!

Have you visited Iceland? What are your suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!

Festival life reminder of beautiful womanhood

Barefoot in the dirt, dancing around a bonfire with my soul sisters, music, wildflowers, and lichen everywhere. This was FrogFest, the celebration of music and nature, and a true healer of the heart after a long hard year of trucking away in the grind of city life.

Festival life in the summer has become as important as seeing cherry blossoms in May and eating fresh apples in late August. It is an essential part of the Canadian music lover’s life and is a process of revival in the midst of hot and hazy summer days. So, what does it really mean to be a woman immersed in nature and music with her best friends? Why venture out into the forest to not shower for three days and commit yourself to the frenzy of festival life?

Quite simply — to free yourself.

If only for a moment, bills cease to matter and the monotony of the nine-to-five life disappears. Life becomes about the next song, the heartbeat of the vast powerful forest, and picking wildflowers because that is the most important thing you could think to do in that moment.

Millennials are living in a time of low employment opportunities, rising living costs, and an increasingly frightening world. In the wake of the impacts of climate change and a growing sense of disunity on the international stage, young people today are left to face growing challenges. But instead of giving up all hope and turning away from the world, festivals like FrogFest inspire me to believe there is a collective of individuals who want to change the world for the better.

Alongside music, sexy people, and the lush forest landscape, there were many conversations around the importance of barter, trade, and changing society from the capitalist confines that have ravaged our planet. I personally witnessed a young seven-year-old lad trade a drawing for a patch that my friend had sewn. When a young woman tripped and fell during a show, ten people were there to pick her up instead of none. The entire experience was a series of gift giving, from physical objects to spiritual offerings. Festival spaces aren’t only about getting trashed and listening to tunes. It’s about experiencing the freedom to be inspired.

It is also a place to really honour the space and power of womanhood. I was lucky enough to camp with some of my oldest and wisest women friends. To see the ladies who have loved and supported me so happy and complete reflected how much opportunity being outdoors gives us to be our full selves. It was empowering to feel attractive in my natural body, and I saw many people, myself included, who frog-hopped into meeting a special someone who made them feel even more lovely in the brief and beautiful dream world of festival life.

If you haven’t been to an outdoor weekend festival before, it is well worth it. Gather a group of your best girlfriends, bring your most colourful and beautiful possessions to share, and get ready to feel more free than any amount of therapy can offer.

Oh, and don’t forget to find a magical frog in the woods. Ribbit! Welcome home.

Here are some photos from FrogFest

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”8″ gal_title=”FrogFest”]

Simple Mother’s Day ideas in Toronto 2017

Use this Mother’s Day to celebrate with your loved ones, whether it be your own mom, your children, or other friends and family. It doesn’t have to be a big affair — the most important thing is to make time for that special person in your life, that person that gave you hope and encouragement. If you happen to live in Toronto, there is a plethora of events you can choose from if you are looking for something to do that’s a bit outside the box. Whether your mother loves art or nature, history or salsa dancing, there is a little something for everyone to enjoy. Here are a few of our favourites at Women’s Post!

Georgia O’Keefe at the AGO:

What better way to celebrate the power of motherhood and women then to look at the stunning art of Georgia O’Keefe? She is a phenomenal artist and the AGO is hosting their largest ever exhibition with over 80 works on display. There is also a floral Georgia O’Keefe cocktail that will be offered at the Mother’s Day brunch at the FRANK restaurant on May 13th and 14th. (327 Dundas St. W.) The brunch itself is pretty expensive (and reservations only), but if you are just looking for an after-exhibit beverage and a cozy atmosphere, you should absolutely check it out.

Spadina Museum:

The historic Spadina Museum is beautiful and elegant, perfect for a classy mom date out on the town. The museum is putting on a special exhibit called “The Language of Flowers”. A portion of the event includes designing a floral ‘talking’ bouquet where each flower has a message hidden inside. This event requires registration, but is a simple way to enjoy the prettier things in life while learning about the history of Toronto. (285 Spadina Rd.)

Check out the cherry blossoms:

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Trinity Bellwoods and High Park, and everyone is flocking to see how beautiful they are. It is also the perfect location for family photos. The cherry blossoms only come out for a limited time and they are breathtaking to witness in full bloom. If you go to Trinity Bellwoods, there are a host of delicious brunch spots. Maybe check out Trinity Bellwoods Brews if your mother fancies a pint on her special day. There is also delicious vegan ice cream at Olenka’s, which never disappoints.

Mother’s Day Chocolate Tour: 

Almost every mom I know loves chocolate — it is a fact. Luckily, there is a chocolate tour that will lead you and your mother through a sweet and delectable experience. There is a chocolate demonstration and many samples will be provided on route. It’s also one of the more reasonably priced chocolate-themed events this May. This tour promises to be a delight, just make sure you don’t eat too much sugar! (443 King St. W.)

Mother’s Day Roncesvalles Food Tour:  

Keeping in the food theme, maybe try something a bit less sugar-laden. This Rocensvalle tour pairs delicious foods and neighbourhood history all into one fantastic afternoon. Roncesvalles is a hip and trendy part of Toronto, full of delectable eateries. At $30 a person, it’s a great opportunity to do something different with your mom, while still enjoying the food nooks in the area.

 

Happy Mother’s Day from Women’s Post!

My harrowing journey trying to find vegan Easter eggs

There is no way around it. Finding affordable vegan Easter eggs for kids is a challenge.

First of all, it’s a miracle in itself that there are vegan Easter eggs in stores. It is fairly easy to find a chocolate bunny, vegan cream eggs, and even little dark chocolate bunnies at health food stores, but impossible to find anything affordable for kids! One cream egg is around five to six dollars. Imagine buying dozens for an Easter egg hunt?

I was unprepared for this dilemma when I committed to host a vegan Easter egg hunt for my daughter’s Girl Guide group. Lo and behold, I found myself panicking at some non-descript health food centre trying to price crunch seven dollar chocolate bars for 20 children. As a vegan mom though, it is necessary to think quickly in such situations and I opted for the plastic eggs filled with skittles and jujubes (both surprisingly vegan) and non-dairy chocolate chips. The problem was solved, but there was an unexpected twist that forced me to pull out my vegan mommy powers again.

When I hid the eggs outside for the scavenger hunt and nature walk, the slugs took over. I quite literally mean the little slimy bugs that manifested and decided to make their new homes on the cheerful looking plastic eggs. It was ironic that the vegan eggs I’d worked so hard to make were very nearly ruined by an animal. Did the slugs not know I was trying to save them?

When my daughter and the other little girls noticed the slugs, pandemonium erupted with shrill screams and a flurry of little ladies running around panicking.  I quickly took the egg with the biggest slug and scooped him onto my finger. I began talking about how amazing he was, how slugs function in the forest and joked about how much they loved Easter eggs. The girls took this in and stopped being afraid of the interesting critter. The vegan eggs turned the nature walk into a very interesting learning experience.

For future egg hunts, I will decidedly abandon buying the eggs all together. Instead, making vegan Easter eggs at home with a mould. Vegan chocolate will be a much cheaper and yummier alternative. Simply takes cocoa, sugar, and other select ingredients depending on what type of eggs you would like and a mould. It is also healthier to make your own eggs because it won’t contain the additives found in mass-produced chocolate.

Be sure to use the weekend to get outside, soak in some rays, and smile because the days of seasonal depression are finally behind us. Just watch out for the slugs!

Happy Easter from everyone at Women’s Post!

Teaching the cycle of life — with gardening

Gardening can be used as a powerful tool to teach children the interconnectedness of all things — including our dependence on and understanding of how the cycle of life works. It may appear to be a bit deep of a conversation to have while your family plants their tulips and herbs, nevertheless I think it’s an important connection to emphasis.

Plants are born, and once they die, they can return the next year in a new form, or grow into something else that helps the earth. This process of gardening helps children understand the concept of life and death cycles in a larger context. We are all born, we all die, and what happens to us is merely within the nature of life itself. Using gardening as a teaching tool for kids to understand the philosophical inquiries of the meaning of life may seem a bit far-fetched, but what better way to concretely show how the life works in its most natural state.

When my daughter was young, we had a garden of beautiful hybrid tea roses in our backyard and the two of us would tend them in the summer. She would help me dig up the dirt with her little bucket and we would watch these beautiful flowers bloom. On the other hand, we would also watch these flowers die at the end of the season. Every year, it would make my daughter sad. She couldn’t quite comprehend why we would tend so carefully to a set of flowers that would wither away at the end of season. Through a child’s eyes, it made me realize how truly sad it is to watch a brilliant flower slowly shrivel up and fall apart unto their inevitable death.

I explained to my little girl that the roses would return next year and that the flowers have to die in order to be born again. Explaining the cycle of life and death to a child through gardening ultimately helps when a loved one dies as well. It is a way to explain to a child that everything from a flower to a person has to die, but that it gives way for something else to be born in its place. The following year when my daughter saw our beautiful roses bloom again, it also helped to prove that the cycle of life is constantly moving and changing.

Understanding that all living things from plants to people are intrinsically a part of the same world is a connective and vital experience as well. It may also be interesting to explain that the cycle of life means that we return to the ground once we die, and become something else again.

It is hard work to tend to plants and help them grow, and ultimately is an example of how life works in itself. Next time you are in the garden with the kids, talk about the cycle of life — it is sure to be a beautiful, philosophical experience for everyone involved.

Life-changing documentaries released in 2016

Documentaries are one of the most influential tools of education in our modern world. People are constantly immersed in images, video, multimedia, and social media, creating an information-overload culture that sometimes makes it difficult for messages to get through. That’s what’s so great about documentaries. There is nothing more thought-provoking than showing people through the lens of a camera the realities of the world we live in and the importance of changing it.

Which documentaries are the best so far in 2016? Here is a list worth checking out. Get ready to think, learn and discuss.

Before the Flood (2016). Directed by Fisher Stevens.
Before the Flood (2016). Directed by Fisher Stevens.

Before the Flood

Before the Flood was a documentary that was all the buzz at its release at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last month in Toronto. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the main subject leads an investigative journey around the world about climate change. The documentary was directed by Fisher Stevens, who made The Cove. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer for the film.  DiCaprio is a UN Ambassador of Peace and is dedicated to raising world awareness for climate change. Barack Obama, an avid environmentalist as well, is featured in the film. This is arguably one of the most awaited environmental documentaries of the year. It will be released on October 21 2016 by National Geographic.

Amy (2016). Directed by Asaf Kapadia.
Amy (2016). Directed by Asaf Kapadia.

Amy

Directed by Asif Kapadia, Amy takes the viewer on the life journey of singer Amy Winehouse, including her downhill climb into drugs and alcohol, ending in her death on July 23, 2011. The documentary explains how Winehouse began as an aspiring jazz singer and her soulful voice led to her success relatively quickly. It then describes how her complex relationship with her father and a troubled relationship led her into drug and alcohol addiction. Winehouse deteriorates and becomes severely anorexic, leading her to be the butt of many international jokes by tabloid media. The documentary gives an intimate background into how a life of fame can make a person crack, and how despite her fame and success, she felt quite alone. This documentary is definitely worth watching. Amy won a 2016 academy award for best documentary feature this past year.

 

The power lines. Provided by Koneline.
The power lines. Provided by Koneline.

Koneline

Koneline is a Canadian-made film and focuses on the Tahltan native clan, located in Northern B.C. It features the various elements that affect people of Northern B.C., ranging from the impact of the mining industry to hunting in the region. Director Nettie Wild portrays the northern landscape in such a beautiful manner, it becomes mesmerizing to the viewer and tells the story of the land, highlighting the influence imagery and filmography can have on expressing how land affects people. Wild attempts to demonstrate how the various people who live n Northern B.C have a story and perspective into their struggle to survive in the area and how working together will bring peace and understanding. Koneline won Best Canadian Feature Documentary award at Hot Docs in 2016, and is being screened at several venues across Canada.

Amanda Knox (2016). Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn.
Amanda Knox (2016). Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn.

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox follows the life of American college student, Knox, who was falsely charged with the murder of her roommate, British student, Meredith Kercher. Knox was sentenced to jail in 2017 for 26 years and served four years before being acquitted in 2011. The documentary focuses strongly on the negative power of media sensationalism and how it can ruin people’s lives. The story is told from Knox’s perspective and also includes her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted and later acquitted. The film is directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn and was released on Sept. 10, 2016 on Netflix.

Cameraperson (2016). Directed by Kirsten Johnson.
Cameraperson (2016). Directed by Kirsten Johnson.

Cameraperson

Cameraperson is an autobiographical account of the influence of filmmaking on director Kirsten Johnson. She creates a compilation of work and combines it into a fascinating journey of how filmography can impact the person who creates it. The film showcases postwar Bosnia, a housewife in Nigeria, and other glimpses into Johnson’s 25-year career. The documentary runs deep and lends a glimpse into the rarely seen perspective of the filmographer as the main subject. Previously Kirsten Johnson has received a Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography award: U.S Documentary for The Oath (2010) that told the story of Osama Bin Laden’s driver, Abu Jandal. She was the cinematographer for Citizen Four (2014), which was the documentary that told the story of Edward Snowden, a previous employee of the NSA. Cameraperson was released on September 9 2016.

What documentaries have you watched? Let us know in the comments below!

Cleansing your new home with a sage smudging ritual

A common Cherokee proverb is “Listen with your heart, learn from your experiences, and always be open to new ones”.

Moving into a new house often feels like the beginning of a new chapter. This can be incredibly exciting, but also incredibly scary. Building a house full of love and comfort is no easy task and rituals often help to make me feel more at home. Each time I move, I have a smudging ritual to cleanse my home and begin anew.

Smudging is an indigenous tradition also known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing. It has been a tradition for thousands of years in many clans across North America, and I was fortunate to be taught about the ritual from a Cree friend in Western Canada when I was a child.

Smudging has become a popular tradition among spiritualists as well. At the risk of it sounding like cultural appropriation, and with permission of my aboriginal friend, I have also used it for many years. The tradition differs depending on the region you live in. For example, in Western Canada, people traditionally use desert sage, sweet grass, pinion and tobacco. In the East, it is more common to use cedar, juniper, pine needles, cypress, sage, tobacco and sweet grass. Using an Abalone Shell, a traditional bowl in First Nations culture, to hold the sage while it burns is recommended because it signifies water in the ritual.

For my new home, I decided to bring desert sage from a small native arts & crafts shop near Calgary, my birthplace. Sage often comes in bundles, but can be burnt as loose leaf as well. I prefer the bundle because there is less chance of the embers spreading in your home. Find a feather for the ritual and then you are set to begin the smudging. By lighting the sage in a bowl, it releases smoke that is said to soak up all of the negative energy and bad thoughts, cleansing your space.

Once the sage is burning (embers only, no open flames needed), take the feather and cleanse yourself by moving the feather from your feet up to your head. Try to think of all the negative thoughts being dispelled in the smoke to rid yourself of negativity. If the sage lights on fire, blow out the flames and leave the embers burning. The smell of sage is earthy and has an incense-like scent. It is not for everyone, but I personally love it because it reminds me of where I’m from.

There are a variety of smudging prayers that you can say or you can complete the ritual in silence while meditating over the negative thoughts leaving your body and home. I prefer to complete this part of the ritual in silence. Be sure to cleanse anyone else taking part in the ritual. Next, I begin cleansing the home of any negative energy. Begin in the eastern corner, which represents air and the fresh breath of the rising sun each day. Move slowly to the south that symbolizes earth, and the creative inner child within. The west represents sun set and the deep introspection of darkness and water. Finally, end the cleansing ritual in the north, which is the direction of fire and knowledge, compassion, and the future of your home. Continue in a full circle ending back in the eastern corner of your home and be sure to fan the smoke in each direction. I also play drum music, which is believed to imitate the sound of the heart and say a prayer while completing the ritual.

The prayer is as follows:

May your hands be cleansed, that they create beautiful things.

May your feet be cleansed, that they might take you where you most need to be.

May your heart be cleansed, that you might hear its messages clearly.

May your throat be cleansed, that you might speak rightly when words are needed.

May your eyes be cleansed, that you might see the signs and wonders of the world.

May this person and space be washed clean by the smoke of these fragrant plants.

And may that same smoke carry our prayers, spiraling, to the heavens.

After the ritual is complete, I make a feast and have friends and family over to celebrate the ritual and my new home. Because the house is cleansed, it is a good time to create positive and loving energy in the home, with the added benefit that the smell of sage cleanses everyone who attends. Another common custom is to burn sweet grass after the smudging ritual to encourage kindness and peace. I have not tried this before, but may try it this time.

The smudging ritual is a custom that causes one to pause and consider what energy we want to bring and sustain in our homes. Oftentimes, people are so busy trying to move their furniture in and continue their lives that we forget to meditate on how to create love and happiness in our new dwelling. Every new beginning is an opportunity to cleanse and recreate the ever-desirable feeling of peace in the midst of urban life. The peace of mind and renewal that comes from the ritual is worthwhile and leaves me refreshed every time.

Disclaimer: You may want to disengage the smoke alarm temporarily, or it may go off. Don’t forget to turn it back on!

The hidden Canadian landscapes to explore

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.

Camping vs. Glamping in Ontario

Camping is the thing to do if you love nature, but learning to do it well takes practice. As a child and teenager, I camped almost every weekend. I remember looking into the campfire as a child and imagining a whole world inside the embers, and spending the days hiking and listening to the birds chirp happily. On the other hand, it does require supplies, and a certain hardiness to really enjoy the experience.

If you don’t enjoy building campfires or sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag, but still yearn for the great outdoors a new alternative has become popular in Ontario. Glamping is the new fad, and it is glamorous indeed. I found several glamping locations in Ontario that offer an experience for those looking to create natural memories in comfort. This type of luxury camping is a form of five-star camping, similar to vacationing at an outdoor hotel in the woods. Glamping includes yurts, eco-tents, eco-cabins, and teepees. Another perk of the glamping experience is the seclusion it offers. Many of the greatest luxury spots in the province are in private locations and allow people to really experience a “get-away”.

By Samuel Etienne
Glamping in the woods, By Samuel Etienne.

If you are looking for the most deluxe glamping experience in Ontario, Outpost Co. is the ticket. The glamping site is located at Obabika Lake and is $2500 per person for four days and three nights in a deluxe tent area. The campsite is on a hidden lake 90 minutes from Billy Bishop Toronto Islands airport and a chartered plane to the location is included in the price. A private chef is also a part of the deal, and the king size beds have Egyptian cotton sheets. This is definitely glamping in style. The campsite has hiking trails and is in a secluded and natural area.

If you are looking for a safari styled camping option, the Elegant Safari Tents in Carolinian Canada is a beautiful and exotic option. The tents are covered with jute carpets and have oak beds that are 100 years old. The campsite is located on a river, and wooden floating decks are built directly in front of the tent. Fluffy towels, bathrobes and soaps are also provided. This glamping experience is located in the Grand River and is $132 per night. Canoeing is available on the lake and the area is replete with remote hiking trails.

Yurt_by_night_-_geograph.org.uk_-_437714
A yurt in the woods.

A yurt is a round, semi-permanent housing structure that comes from Central Asia. Yurts are easy to install and take down and can be adapted easily to different climates. Yurts are popular in the glamping world and are set up in advance for the customers.   A pet-friendly yurt is offered near Algonquin Park and has one unit available. The yurt is in Mattawa in northern Ontario and can accommodate up to five guests. Included are linens, the unit is heated and there is a yoga platform outside of the yurt. It is $193 per night.

A yurt is a new way to camp in a tent-like apparatus but it has more flexibility in warm and cold weather. A yurt can be adapted to have open screens all the way around the unit for ultimate cooling and can also be protected from the wind on all sides, creating the ultimate outdoor tent.

Flowerpot Island, Georgian Bay.
Flowerpot Island, Georgian Bay.

If you prefer camping to glamping, there are several spots to rent cheaply and enjoy an authentic nature experience. All you need is a tent, a campfire and the stars to have a good time. Though a comfy bed would be a nice addition to camping, it can be enjoyable to rough it in the bush for a few days. Parks Canada offers several campsites in Ontario that can be booked online and recognize a variety of types of camping in the province. Camping in Ontario also provides private campsites across the province and makes it easy to book a spot too.

Camping in Georgian Bay and Prince Edward County near the beach is recommended because of the beauty of the lakes and beaches. Algonquin Park is a sight to be seen as well because of the immense forest and calm waters for canoeing. Escaping the city and being able to connect with nature in a visceral way is grounding in the warm summer months and camping provides that opportunity. It also helps to breathe fresh air and exercise in a natural environment for a weekend get-away.

Whether it is glamping or camping, getting out into nature for a vacation is the best way to spend your weekends. Instead of keeping the kids indoors, get your family outside to breathe the fresh air. Tell stories over the campfire, and go on a hike. Experience the silence of being away from the city and the sounds of nature in the early morning. Both options have their merits and experiencing nature at its fullest will be unforgettable no matter how it is done.