A LAND FOR ALL SEA­SONS

Travel Guide to Canada - - Table Of Contents - BY SU­SAN MACCAL­LUM-WHIT­COMB

It has been said that “to ev­ery thing there is a sea­son and a time to ev­ery pur­pose un­der the heaven.” Well, in Canada— an un­de­ni­ably heav­enly place—that means a time to ski and a time to swim, a time to hike and a time for har­vest feasts. This, af­ter all, is a land of dra­matic sea­sonal shifts, and vis­i­tors can em­brace all of na­ture’s cy­cles.

WIN­TER

Come in the cold­est months and you’ll un­der­stand why Canada is nick­named the “Great White North.” Vast quan­ti­ties of snow fall on much of the coun­try, but there’s no need to hi­ber­nate. Old Man Win­ter pro­vides am­ple out­door op­por­tu­ni­ties.

SKIING AND SNOW­BOARD­ING

Im­pres­sive moun­tains and deep pow­der trans­late into high-cal­i­bre skiing—par­tic­u­larly in the Rock­ies, which strad­dle the Bri­tish Co­lum­bia/Al­berta bor­der. Whistler Black­comb is the con­ti­nent’s largest ski re­sort. It has slopes ap­pro­pri­ate for ev­ery skill level, plus cross-coun­try trails, tricky ter­rain parks, amenity-filled ac­com­mo­da­tions and après-ski ac­tion, all within two hours of Van­cou­ver (www.whistlerblack­comb.com).

Kick­ing Horse (www.kick­inghorsere­sort.com), Fernie (www.skifer­nie.com), Sun­shine Vil­lage (www.skibanff.com) and Lake Louise (www.skilo­uise.com) are other re­gional stand­outs. Away from their well-groomed runs, adren­a­line junkies can take ad­van­tage of many off-piste pos­si­bil­i­ties as well. It’s es­ti­mated that 90 per­cent of the world’s heli-skiing oc­curs in Bri­tish Co­lum­bia, and lo­cal op­er­a­tors let skiers and snow­board­ers ac­cess pris­tine pow­der by air (www.he­liski.com).

Veer­ing east, On­tario’s pre­miere ski

re­sort is Blue Moun­tain, about two hours north of Toronto (www.blue­moun­tain.ca); Québec’s lead­ing ones are Mont Trem­blant north of Mon­tréal (www.trem­blant.ca) and Mont-Sainte-Anne near Québec City (www.mont-sainte-anne.com). New­found­land’s Mar­ble Moun­tain (www.ski­mar­ble.com) is also note­wor­thy. Aside from hav­ing At­lantic Canada’s high­est ver­ti­cal drop, the area fea­tures Whistler-es­que perks such as cat-skiing and win­ter zip-lin­ing.

ICY AL­TER­NA­TIVES

From climb­ing frozen water­falls in the Rock­ies to snowk­it­ing over frozen lakes on “The Rock” (New­found­land), cool op­tions abound. If you want to stick with the clas­sics, you can skate al­fresco al­most any­where—even in the mid­dle of ma­jor cities—given the wealth of nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial rinks. Vari­a­tions on to­bog­gan­ing, sim­i­larly, are avail­able on count­less hills and slick pro tracks, like those at WINSPORT’s Canada Olympic Park in Cal­gary (www. winsport.ca) or the Whistler Slid­ing Cen­tre (www.whistler­s­lid­ing­cen­tre.com). And don’t for­get snowshoeing, an an­cient mode of trans­porta­tion made eas­ier by to­day’s lighter equip­ment.

Folks who dream of yelling “mush” can try dogsled­ding, an­other time­honoured tra­di­tion, in most provinces and ter­ri­to­ries. Snow­mo­bil­ing is a speed­ier up­date, and there’s no short­age of trails; you’ll find more than 22,000 km (13,670 mi.) worth just in Man­i­toba and Saskatchewan. Of course, sim­ply sit­ting back to savour the aurora bo­re­alis is ap­peal­ing, too. While Mother Na­ture’s daz­zling light dis­play is vis­i­ble in many north­ern lo­cales, clear skies and an en­vi­able po­si­tion below the aurora oval make Yel­lowknife an op­ti­mal ob­ser­va­tion point (www.as­tron­o­mynorth.com).

Not to be out­done, city dwellers host their own daz­zling sea­sonal cel­e­bra­tions. Fore­most among them is the Québec Win­ter Car­ni­val —the world’s largest win­ter fes­ti­val —which brings snow sculp­tures, sleigh rides and cold-weather com­pe­ti­tions, all en­hanced by the joie de vivre of his­toric Vieux-Québec, from the end of Jan­uary through mid-Fe­bru­ary (www.car­naval.qc.ca/en).

Top draws else­where in­clude Win­ter­lude in the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion (canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1416239267950) and Win­nipeg’s Fes­ti­val du Voyageur (www.fes­ti­valvoyageur.mb.ca).

SPRING

The first day of spring can look very dif­fer­ent depend­ing on where you are. Some Cana­di­ans will be dig­ging out from the lat­est snow­storm; oth­ers will al­ready be in gar­den­ing mode. No mat­ter when the thaw sets in, though, it’s greeted warmly.

TRAIL MIX

Events like the World Ski and Snow­board Fes­ti­val, staged in Whistler each April, prove how per­sis­tent the white stuff is (www.wssf.com). As the mer­cury rises, how­ever, even win­ter won­der­lands morph into play­grounds for sun­nier pur­suits. In fact, once the snow melts, it isn’t un­com­mon to see moun­tain bik­ers tack­ling the ver­tigo-in­duc­ing slopes that Alpine skiers for­merly swooshed down, or na­ture buffs tak­ing to the paths their Nordic coun­ter­parts tra­versed ear­lier.

Each prov­ince and ter­ri­tory has trails that put lovely land­scapes within easy reach of hik­ers and bik­ers. The mar­quee one is The Great Trail which, when com­plete, will be the longest of its kind in the world (www.tc­trail.ca). P.E.I.’s pas­toral sec­tion— the gen­tly graded Con­fed­er­a­tion Trail— fol­lows a con­verted rail bed across the Is­land from tip to tip (www.is­land­trails.ca). If that sounds daunt­ing, city sys­tems such as Saska­toon’s Mee­wasin Val­ley Trail (www.mee­wasin.com) or the Grand Con­course in St. John’s, give ur­ban­ites a taste of the coun­try (www.grand­con­course.ca).

FLOUR­ISH­ING FLORA

The maple leaf is our na­tional sym­bol, yet this time of year the tree’s sap mat­ters just as much be­cause mak­ing syrup from it is a rite of spring. About 80 per­cent of all maple syrup comes from Canada and, as the sap rises, pro­duc­ers from On­tario to the At­lantic kick into high gear for “sug­ar­ing off.”

Québec alone has 400-odd ca­banes à su­cre (sugar shacks), so there are lots of places where you can see the sweet treat made, then sam­ple it poured on pan­cakes or poured over snow to cre­ate taffy-like la tire.

Bloom­ing flow­ers are an­other sure sign of spring. Res­i­dents of Vic­to­ria do a blos­som count in late Fe­bru­ary, glee­fully broad­cast­ing the re­sults; and be­fore long the city’s ac­claimed Butchart Gar­dens are awash with colour (www.butchart­gar­dens.com). But it takes the rest of the coun­try time to catch up. The Devo­nian Botanic Gar­den out­side Ed­mon­ton doesn’t open un­til May (www.devo­nian.ual­berta.ca); ditto for notable Mar­itime cousins in­clud­ing Nova Sco­tia’s An­napo­lis Royal His­toric Gar­dens (www.his­toric­gar­dens.com) and New Brunswick’s Kings­brae Gar­den (www.kings­brae­gar­den.com).

SUM­MER

Sum­mer—when the weather is warm­est, the days are longest and the tour op­tions are broad­est—is the peak pe­riod for va­ca­tion­ers. Land­lub­bers have plenty to do and warmed-up wa­ter beckons, mak­ing this the time for a true surf-and-turf ex­pe­ri­ence.

LAND-BASED AC­TIV­I­TIES

The num­ber of hik­ing and cy­cling en­thu­si­asts en­joy­ing recre­ational trails con­tin­ues to mul­ti­ply in sum­mer. Tow­er­ing moun­tains, more­over, tempt an in­creas­ing num­ber of climbers. With the Coast Moun­tains and Rocky Moun­tains to the west, the Ap­palachi­ans to the east, the Cana­dian Shield in be­tween, and the heart-stop­ping St. Elias Range to the north, the choices are end­less for in­trepid types who have set their sights high (www.alpineclubof­canada.ca).

When some­thing more down to earth is in or­der, Canada’s Na­tional Parks de­liver (www.pc.gc.ca). Dur­ing July and Au­gust they put to­gether a full ros­ter of pro­grams, en­abling vis­i­tors to par­tic­i­pate in sched­uled events that run the gamut from horse­back rid­ing and bird­watch­ing to in­ter­pre­tive walks and night­time stargaz­ing ses­sions. The fact that many of these are af­ford­able or free, and geared to­ward fam­i­lies, is a wel­come bonus.

BEACHES

If beach bums had to pick a sin­gle prov­ince, it would prob­a­bly be P.E.I. Boast­ing over 800 km (500 mi.) of sand and salt­wa­ter tem­per­a­tures that can reach 21º C (70º F), the small­est prov­ince is a sum­mer par­adise. From the sandy ex­panses of Cavendish and Green­wich—both part of Prince Ed­ward Is­land Na­tional Park (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/princeed­wardis­land) — to the “singing sands” of Basin Head (www.tourism­pei.com/provin­cial-park/basin-head), there is a beach to suit ev­ery taste. Tourists con­tin­u­ing cross-coun­try, though, don’t have to wait un­til they hit the Pa­cific to take the plunge again.

Wit­ness Wasaga Beach on Geor­gian

Bay (www.wasagabeach.com), the world’s longest fresh­wa­ter strand; or Lake Win­nipeg’s aptly-named Grand Beach (www.grand­beach­tourism.com), com­plete with 12-m-high (39-ft.) sand dunes. Then there are the beaches of Saskatchewan’s Lit­tle Man­i­tou Lake where it’s never a case of sink or swim—the wa­ter has a high saline con­tent that al­lows you to float ef­fort­lessly (www.man­i­toubeach.ca). Based on the des­ti­na­tion, ac­tiv­i­ties can range from swim­ming and sand­cas­tle-build­ing to or­ga­nized en­ter­tain­ment and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams.

BOAT­ING

Vis­i­tors who would rather be on the wa­ter than in it are spoiled for choice as well. Ca­noe­ing, a quintessen­tially Cana­dian pas­time, is pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially in On­tario where the longest net­work of in­ter­con­nect­ing ca­noe routes on earth awaits. Ready to amp things up? Whether you brave waves gen­er­ated by Fundy’s record-smash­ing tides in the far east or churn­ing white­wa­ter rapids in the wild west, raft­ing is a rush. For the ul­ti­mate ad­ven­ture, soak in the scenery— and get plain soaked—on an ex­tended raft­ing ex­pe­di­tion down a chal­leng­ing river in the Yukon or North­west Ter­ri­to­ries.

If fish­ing is your idea of fun, boat op­er­a­tors—both on oceans and in­te­rior wa­ter­ways—will hap­pily hook you up. Multi-taskers will be pleased to hear that it’s also easy to com­bine boat­ing with world­class wildlife watch­ing. From the seat of a tour ves­sel or your own kayak, you can ad­mire bel­uga whales in north­ern Man­i­toba, ogle bow­head whales and tusked nar­whals in Nu­navut, or com­mune with the or­cas in John­stone Strait off Van­cou­ver Is­land. New­found­land’s Notre Dame Bay prom­ises a dou­ble de­light; whales there, hump­backs among them, of­ten come with a side or­der of ice­bergs.

AU­TUMN

Thanks to boun­ti­ful har­vests and bril­liant fo­liage, fall is an ideal travel time. Just ar­rive early if you’re ven­tur­ing be­yond ma­jor lo­cales. Out­ly­ing tour op­er­a­tors, and even lodg­ings, might close af­ter Cana­dian Thanks­giv­ing—Colum­bus Day in the U.S.— and not re­open un­til May.

FALL FLAVOURS

Na­tion­wide, vint­ners toast the grape har­vest by pop­ping corks and host­ing fes­ti­vals that fea­ture win­ery tours, tast­ings, sem­i­nars, food pair­ings and the like. The largest of the lot—the Ni­a­gara Wine Fes­ti­val, held in the heart of On­tario wine coun­try—bridges three Septem­ber week­ends (www.ni­a­garawine­fes­ti­val.com). B.C. coun­ters in early Oc­to­ber with the Fall Okana­gan Wine Fes­ti­val, a 10-day fete in the fa­mously fer­tile Okana­gan Val­ley (www.thewine­fes­ti­vals.com).

Nova Sco­tia’s bur­geon­ing wine in­dus­try also shows off with open houses and the oc­ca­sional grape stomp. For a dif­fer­ent spin on the har­vest theme, visit a U-pick ap­ple or­chard, ne­go­ti­ate a corn maze, or at­tend an agri­cul­tural event in the prov­ince’s An­napo­lis Val­ley. Top con­tenders are the Hants County Ex­hi­bi­tion, a Septem­ber fix­ture since 1765 (www.hantscoun­tyex.com), and the Pump­kin Fes­ti­val, a quirky Oc­to­ber af­fair that be­gins with a pump­kin weigh-in and ends with a race in­volv­ing boats crafted from gi­ant pump­kins (www.worlds­biggest­pump­kins.com).

FLAM­BOY­ANT FO­LIAGE

It’s not only food­ies and farm fans who ap­pre­ci­ate au­tumn here. Canada ranks high on any leaf peeper’s bucket list be­cause the blend of de­cid­u­ous trees cre­ates a re­mark­able range of colours. Once con­trast­ing stands of ev­er­green and a back­drop of blue wa­ter are added to the equa­tion, the re­sults are ex­tra­or­di­nary. Al­though beau­ti­ful across Canada, the fiery dis­play tends to be best in the cen­tral and east­ern por­tions of the coun­try from the third week of Septem­ber un­til mid-Oc­to­ber.

Québec’s Lau­ren­tian Moun­tains and the Gaspé Penin­sula of­fer spec­tac­u­lar fall road trips, as do New Brunswick’s Fundy Coast and the St. John River Val­ley where weath­ered bridges and barns en­hance the postcard-wor­thy pal­ette. Cape Bre­ton’s Cabot Trail is a feast for ears and eyes since peak colours co­in­cide with the mu­si­cori­ented Celtic Colours In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val in mid-Oc­to­ber (www.celtic­colours.com). For a painterly per­spec­tive, drive into On­tario’s Al­go­nquin Park or ride the Al­goma Cen­tral Railroad (www. agawa­canyon­tour­train.com) to see scenery that in­spired the Group of Seven.

DE­GREES OF DIF­FER­ENCE

Big-name at­trac­tions can be equally fab­u­lous in dif­fer­ent sea­sons. Con­sider On­tario’s Rideau Canal. In warm weather, this UNESCO World Her­itage Site is beloved by boaters; in the cold­est months, a 7.8-km (4.85-mi.) stretch in cen­tral Ot­tawa be­comes the world’s largest nat­u­rally frozen skat­ing rink. Ni­a­gara Falls is an­other case in point. Sum­mer’s iconic cas­cades re­sem­ble su­per­sized ice sculp­tures in win­ter; rush­ing melt-wa­ter lends ex­tra oomph in spring while the prox­im­ity of so much fine Ni­a­gara wine adds an in­tox­i­cat­ing el­e­ment in au­tumn.

PEI NA­TIONAL PARK • PARKS CANADA/DALE WIL­SON

KIL­DO­NAN PARK, MB • TOURISM WIN­NIPEG/JOHN SLIPEC

VIC­TO­RIA, BC • SHUTTERSTOCK/STEVE SMITH

SNOWSHOEING • TOURISM LAU­REN­TIANS

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