Cana­dian con­trasts – from Toronto to Cal­gary

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Laura French trav­els from the cos­mopoli­tan, east­ern city of Toronto to cow­boy-lov­ing Cal­gary

The wa­ter crashes down in im­mense, thun­der­ous bursts – so loud, it’s al­most deaf­en­ing. I watch as it rolls over the edge in huge, bluish bar­rels like a never-end­ing con­veyor belt, white puffs of mist and foam sur­round­ing it, a brightly coloured rain­bow arch­ing its way over so that it looks dis­tinctly mag­i­cal.

I’m stand­ing in front of Ni­a­gara Falls. Half an hour later, I’m walk­ing un­der them via a se­ries of un­der­ground tun­nels built in the 1800s, later cruis­ing around them on a Horn­blower cata­ma­ran, then soar­ing over them in a he­li­copter.

Ni­a­gara clearly isn’t short of com­mer­cial at­trac­tions, but noth­ing can de­tract from the sheer power of this nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non left over from the Ice Age 12,000 years ago, and a tourist at­trac­tion since the 19th cen­tury.

Later on, I ven­ture over to Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake, a quaint, peace­ful vil­lage where el­e­gant bou­tiques bor­der flower-lined streets, and vine­yards pro­duce honey-sweet, award-win­ning ice wines pro­lif­i­cally.

I quickly dis­cover this is a place of con­trasts, and it’s an ap­pro­pri­ate sign of the di­ver­sity I see across Canada as a whole in the two weeks that fol­low, as I travel from the cos­mopoli­tan, east­ern city of Toronto to cow­boy-lov­ing Cal­gary, lo­cated way out west.

Go east

Mod­ern sky­scrapers and shiny fa­cades char­ac­terise the heart of Toronto, set on the shores of Lake On­tario and first es­tab­lished by Bri­tish colo­nials as the Town of York in 1793.

Art and cul­ture can be found en masse in the city, es­pe­cially around the Bloor St Cul­ture Cor­ri­dor, where the or­nate, im­pos­ing Royal On­tario Mu­seum of­fers a com­pre­hen­sive glimpse into the his­tory of the re­gion, with more than 40 gal­leries span­ning ev­ery­thing

from di­nosaurs to Art Deco.

But most iconic here is the im­pos­ing CN Tower, a soar­ing, UFO-like struc­ture that punc­tu­ates the sky­line like a nee­dle, and of­fers 360-de­gree views over the sur­rounds. The world’s tallest tower un­til 2009, it stands 553.3m high, and now houses the high­est re­volv­ing restau­rant, where gourmet dishes are served against a back­drop of city lights twin­kling like stars out of a sea of black.

For a glimpse into the Toronto of yes­ter­year, I wan­der through the Dis­tillery Dis­trict, a clus­ter of Vic­to­rian in­dus­trial build­ings once home to a whisky dis­tillery, since turned into an artsy, creative neigh­bour­hood filled with cob­ble­stone streets, in­de­pen­dent gal­leries and cof­fee shops.

Else­where, I stum­ble upon Kens­ing­ton Mar­ket, a slice of bo­hemia where dread­locked hip­pies sell hand­i­crafts, ex­otic cui­sine and vin­tage clothes from 60s-in­spired shops.

My high­light here, though, is a ro­man­tic cruise around the har­bour, com­plete with panoramic views of the city sky­line, as we sail along a mir­ror-flat, rip­pling stretch of blue, speck­led with tiny is­lands.

Out west

Later, I hop on a three-hour flight west to Cal­gary. The city might be best known as the ‘Gate­way to the Rock­ies’ – and the home of the an­nual 10-day Stam­pede – but, as I dis­cover,

it’s wor­thy of some time in it­self at any time of year.

Farm-to-fork gas­tron­omy is the or­der of the day here, with restau­rants serv­ing lo­cal Al­berta beef and freshly grown pro­duce in gen­er­ously sized mounds, and there’s a host of cul­tural at­trac­tions to visit.

Among them I dis­cover Stu­dio Bell, a con­tem­po­rary mu­sic mu­seum hous­ing cos­tumes worn by the likes of KD Lang, and the pi­ano on which El­ton John com­posed Your Song as well as his first five al­bums.

Be­yond the city, we ven­ture into the bad­lands, where arid moun­tain slopes and hoodoos coloured am­ber, yel­low and bur­gundy in au­tumn pro­vide the back­drop for the Royal Tyrrell Mu­seum of Palaeon­tol­ogy. This in­trigu­ing, sprawl­ing mu­seum and re­search cen­tre is home to 70-mil­lion-year-old di­nosaur bones, as well as the largest col­lec­tion of fos­sils in the world, all ex­ca­vated from the sur­round­ing Juras­sic Park-like Drumheller Val­ley.

But, for me, the most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence in the re­gion comes af­ter a three-hour drive north, when we visit Elk Is­land Na­tional Park. In 1906, af­ter hunt­ing by Euro­peans had led to near-ex­tinc­tion, 400 bi­son were brought here from Mon­tana, and to­day 600 of the gi­ant, hairy beasts roam its vast, ver­dant plains in the com­pany of black bears, moose, coy­otes, deer, lynx and plenty more. Am­bling through in the car, we spot one of the elu­sive bi­son graz­ing by the side of the road – a shaggy, dark-brown mass of fur, its colos­sal head bow­ing to us in front of a shim­mer­ing, frozen lake framed by deep-green pines.

De­spite be­ing ad­vised to keep a dis­tance of 10 buslengths, we’re less than a few me­tres away, but I don’t feel threat­ened. The gi­ant beast with size­able horns looks some­how docile, as if it’s wait­ing for a pat on the head.

It seems a fit­ting scene in one of the friendli­est, most wel­com­ing coun­tries I’ve vis­ited. I strug­gle to be­lieve any­thing could harm me here – and, 10 min­utes later, we drive away un­scathed.

Toronto sky­line

Horse­shoe Falls


bath­tubs of wa­ter The equiv­a­lent of 6,000,000

Falls each minute come pour­ing down Ni­a­gara

– Horse­shoe, from three sec­tions com­bined

Falls – mak­ing them Bridal Veil and Amer­i­can

by vol­ume. the world’s largest falls

Banff, with its Rocky Moun­tains


Wildlife En­thu­si­asts

For lovers of na­ture and

of wildlife, the quaint town

Set Banff is an ideal re­sort.

– in the heart of the Rock­ies home to elk and griz­zly bears – it’s an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Cal­gary.

Cow­boy Lovers

Stam­pede Ev­ery July for 10 days, the

of Cal­gary, de­scends on the streets

food, car­ni­val bring­ing rodeo, mu­sic,

Chuck­wagon per­for­mances, a nightly

of Derby and more, in a cel­e­bra­tion all things cow­boy.

Bi­son roam Elk Is­land Na­tional Park

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