Compiling best-of lists can be a dubious pursuit, especially when trying to winnow down a field that defies winnowing. Say, for example, you set out to pick the top summer vacation experiences across Canada.
You can make a great case for the staggering natural beauty of one place, the serenity of another, the liveliness of a third, the beer selection in a fourth — and a thousand readers will promptly respond that you’ve missed someplace far better than anything on your list. And they will all be right.
So we’re not going to make any claims regarding the following list of cross-country summer holiday experiences, other than to say they’re cool, they’re homegrown and we’d like to hit all of them. Happy summer.
Catch a wave in Tofino, B.C.
Learning to surf in this town on Vancouver Island’s west coast may be an obvious choice, but we’ve heard such great things about the experience that we think it’s worth mentioning yet again. Tofino is home to world-class surfer Raph Bruhwiler, who runs one of the local surf schools (brother Sepp runs another), and is a draw for experts and newbies alike. Waves are better in the winter, but you can surf year-round. See www.tourismtofino.com.
Vermeer in Vancouver
If camping, bugs and barbecues just aren’t your thing, but culture is, check out the blockbuster art show on in Vancouver this summer. It’s called Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Masterpieces from The Rijksmuseum, and it’s on until Sept. 13; see vanart
See the lights in Churchill, Man.
Is is really possible to be Canadian born and bred but to never have witnessed the full-on, otherworldly majesty of the Northern Lights? Well, yes, but we don’t want to be like that.
There’s one sure remedy, and that’s to head way north to the tiny town on the tundra known as Churchill, Man. (which is also famous for its late-fall polar bear sightings).
Late August to early September is a good viewing time. The Aurora Borealis will light up your nights, and by day, you can go diving with the white beluga whales that head to Hudson Bay in summertime. How’s that for a double whammy of nature?
One way to get to Churchill is to take a two-day train ride from Winnipeg. And on our return to Winnipeg, after all that nature, we’d opt for a stay at The Fort Garry. Why? Because nothing says iconic Canadian holiday like a grand old railway hotel, and the Fort Garry is flippin’ beautiful. That’s why. See www.churchill.ca and www.fortgarryhotel.com.
Park it in Alberta
Waterton Lakes National Park made Frommer’s 2009 worldwide list of places to check out, which initially made us a bit gruff and skeptical (How can you possibly single out one Canadian park? What do they know anyway?) and then properly intrigued (Actually, they know quite a lot).
Indeed, their arguments in its favour are pretty compelling: “Tucked neatly away in the southwest corner of the province, Waterton is the least-traveled of Alberta's Rocky Mountain Parks, and quite possibly the most spectacular.
“That's saying a lot: the other two, Banff and Jasper, are among the world's leading international tourist destinations. But Waterton is positively otherworldly, with its abrupt shift from prairie to mountain terrain, as well as its icy-blue lake that fills an ancient gully surrounded by mountain and glaciers.
“Given the fact that its quaint, tiny town site vanishes a few steps down any of the many trails here, it's one of the only places in the Canadian Rockies where you can feel apart from the modern world. Plus, its relatively sparse traffic means most things are as much as 30 per cent cheaper than Banff.”
Picnic on the dunes at Sandbanks
Ontario’s Sandbanks Provincial Park, in Picton, Ont., is hardly a secret, but it’s still amazingly little-known by city folk who’d be astounded at how close they are to the parks’ gorgeous dunes and sandy beaches.
Thankfully, its provincial park status means that the beaches aren’t plagued by the commerce, car parade and meat-market scenes of some other Ontario strands we could name; see. www.ontarioparks.com/english/sand.html and pec.on.ca/picton.
Eat it all up in Nova Scotia
Through July 1, the province is hosting a festival called lobsterpalooza, celebrating all things related to the delicious red crustacean. See www.lobsterpalooza.ca for more details.
Get an afterlife in Ottawa
What man, woman or child isn’t intrigued by a mummy?
Among the exhibits in Ottawa this summer is Tombs of Eternity: The Afterlife in Ancient Egypt at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and it showcases more than 200 artifacts.
It’s on until Aug. 16; see www.civilization.ca for more information.
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