Hip city sites on the edge of wilderness
Canada’s cultural epicentre melds a diverse food scene with an edgy art scape, all within range of North America’s most-famed falls
WHENit comes to culture, cuisine and sophistication, Ontario – Canada’s most populous province – is on top of its game. You can’t help but feel a connection with the rest of the planet. Forget ice fishing, conifers and bears for a minute – this is global Canada, big-city, sexy, progressive, urbane Canada.
Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is a blazing metropolis overflowing with multicultural arts, entertainment and eating opportunities. Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is no longer a steadfast political filing cabinet: contemporary Ottawa is as hip as you want it to be.
Not far from the madding crowds, low-key agricultural towns and historic settlements define Ontario’s country civility. And if you’re into wildlife, excellent national parks abound. From north to south you’ll find more than enough forests, undulating hills and vineyards to keep you feeling green.
Toronto, Niagara Falls and Ontario’s highlights
season, the Falls never fail to awe (14 million visitors annually can’t be wrong). Even in winter, when the flow is partially hidden and the edges freeze solid, the watery extravaganza is undiminished. Very occasionally the Falls stop altogether. This was first recorded on Easter Sunday morning in 1848, when ice completely jammed the flow. Pious locals feared the end of the world was nigh.
Piety, however, isn’t something Niagara Falls strives for these days. It’s been a saucy honeymoon destination ever since Napoleon’s ´ brother brought his bride here – tags such as ‘‘ For newlyweds and nearly deads’’ and ‘‘ Viagra Falls’’ are apt. More recently, a crass morass of casinos, fast-food joints, sleazy motels, cheesy tourist attractions and sex shops has bloomed parasitically around the Falls in the Clifton Hill area – a Little Las Vegas.
The Niagara region also struts its pretty stuff with leafy trails and slowpoke back roads to cycle, wooded gorges and nature-reserve paths to hike, and a lush, vineyard-striped landscape to explore.
About 9am. Jump queues and save money with the Great Gorge Adventure Pass (niagaraparks.com; adult/child $C40/$28) (Ph: 819 776 7000; civilization.ca; 100 Rue Laurier; adult/child/senior $C12/$8/$10; hours: 9am-6pm Sat-Wed, to 8pmThu-Fri) In one stop, this must-see museum documents the history of Canada through a spectacular range of exhibits. Learn about everything from First Nation creation stories to civil rights, Basque whaling ships to Jackrabbit Johannsen, a trailblazing skier.
Designed by Douglas Cardinal, the stone exterior has been sculpted into smooth ripples – like the undulating wave of a current. Note that you won’t find any corners at the museum, as it is believed in indigenous lore that the evil spirits live in these angled nooks. Allow at least an entire afternoon to explore the museum and to take in the stunning, all-encompassing views of the nation’s capital and Parliament across the river. The Grand Hall, with its simulated forest and seashore, illuminates the northwest coastal native cultures with towering colourful totem poles.
Kids get a passport when they enter the Canadian Children’s Museum, a vast educational and hands-on space offering glimpses into different cultures from around the world. Even adults may find that this is their favourite part of the museum. Numerous temporary exhibits supplement the already incredible collection, and Cineplus adds an additional dimension, showing IMAX and Omnimax films. It has more museums right out the front door. In Quebec, across the river.
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IN SEASON: (Clockwise from top) Skaters watch the annual WinterCity Festival in Toronto; Niagara Falls; and overlooking the St Lawrence River and part of the Thousand Islands. Pictures: Lonely Planet Images