Canada 101: A Beginner’s Introduction

There’s a bear in there. And a moose as well. Canada is where the wild things are but there are many other reasons to explore the world’s second-biggest country.

Thanks to geography and airline routes, Australians usually touch down in British Columbia before heading further afield.

Don’t be in too much of a rush to hightail it out of Vancouver. The harbour city is home to one of the world’s loveliest urban parks. Stanley Park’s iconic stone seawall, which encircles a 400-hectare slab of coastal rainforest, trails past beaches and views of Grouse Mountain.

Take the ferry to Vancouver Island to explore the stately provincial capital of Victoria –between seeing the sights, settle into a wingback chair in The Fairmont Empress and order the hotel’s famed high tea.

Further north, see the island’s black bears and passing pods of orcas. From Port Hardy, float planes head across to the mainland’s moss-draped Great Bear Rainforest where grizzly bears forage for salmon.

Want to see even more of British Columbia? Pick up a rental car in Vancouver and drive four hours to the Okanagan Valley – the province’s premier wine region.

Look out for Nk’Mip Cellars – Canada’s first aboriginal-owned and operated winery. In summer, pop the wine and a few craft brews into a floating cooler and tow it behind your air mattress while floating seven kilometres down the Penticton River Channel.

Fly up to Whitehorse to explore the Yukon’s extreme scenery. It’s fun to rent a motorhome (pop a few local brews, such as Yukon Brewing’s cranberry wheat ale, into the fridge) and spot grizzlies from the safety of the vehicle.

During summer’s “midnight sun”, it’s possible to drive and hike without worrying about it ever getting dark (pack eyeshades, though, if you want to grab some sleep).

Get out among the jagged peaks and arctic tundra of Tombstone Territorial Park or venture further north to cross the Arctic Circle. In the quirky gold-rush town of Dawson, be persuaded (or not) to join the ever-growing club of those who have chugged a sourtoe cocktail containing a human toe.

Dawson also has a more cultured side: actors in period costume perform the rollicking poetry of Robert Service outside the humble log cabin where the Bard of the Yukon lived from 1909-1912.

Hankering for the romance of train travel? Glide out of Vancouver aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. Choose one of three routes (one travels through the all-year-round resort of Whistler) to reach Jasper or Banff via Lake Louise. These three Alberta mountain resorts – which really are as pretty as the postcards – are among Canada’s most popular destinations.

To maximise the panoramic views along the way, the Rocky Mountaineer travels only during the day – passengers overnight in the towns of Kamloops or Quesnel.

There’s so much to see in British Columbia and Alberta that it often takes a second visit to see more of Canada. The Canadian – VIA Rail’s four-night Vancouver-Toronto sleeper service – travels via Jasper and Edmonton before continuing across the vast central prairies, stopping in tiny towns and big cities such as Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba (the west-bound service stops here long enough for a scoot through the new Canadian Museum of Human Rights).

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is full of thrills. At CN Tower, test your nerves by shuffling onto the glass floor 342 metres above street level or buckle up for the hands-free EdgeWalk. Shoe fanatics can learn all about the history of footwear at the Bata Shoe Museum. From Toronto, it’s a two-hour train trip to Niagara Falls or five hours to the vibrant bilingual city of Montreal.

Don’t speak Francais? Don’t worry. Montrealers often greet visitors with a hearty “Bonjour, hello!” and adjust their language according to your response. Hike up Mount Royal for sweeping views over the city and the St Lawrence River.

While Montreal is famous for its summer jazz festival, it’s also worth visiting from late February to late April as the winter thaw starts.

This is when maple trees are tapped for the sap that becomes one of Canada’s most iconic products. Head to a sugar shack for the sugaring-off feast that traditionally kept forest workers warm.

A three-hour train ride from Montreal delivers you to Quebec City, home of the “most photographed hotel in the world” – the multi-turreted Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Before leaving Quebec province, don’t forget to sample poutine – a hot mess of chips, gravy and cheese curds.

It might take a third trip to Canada to reach the Maritimes (encompassing Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island). On Prince Edward Island, an entire industry revolves around Anne of Green Gables – the 1908 book about an orphan girl sent to live on an island farm.

Another book, E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Shipping News, attracts fans to Newfoundland’s atmospheric coast.

If that’s not enough to whet your Canadian appetite, read on to find out 100 Things to Do in Canada Before You Die.





One Comment
  • Margaret Pike says:

    I enjoyed your article, but as a Newfoundlander, I feel that our province is so much more than an ‘atmospheric coast’. You should go experience for yourself. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Canada. Have a nice day.