If not for the pandemic, many of us would not have discovered Canada. The Caribbean is nice, cruising is great but nothing beats an all-Canadian road trip. I have enjoyed travelling across this beautiful country of ours, many times. I am always amazed by its fantastic scenery, wonderful people and unique experiences.
I flew from Toronto to Edmonton, Canada’s fifth largest city, which is known for the Oilers, but there is much, much more. For the nature lovers, Edmonton’s River Valley Parks is nothing short of gigantic. The park is actually made up of 20 different parks. When combined, they are 22 times larger than Central Park in New York City. The River Valley Parks make for a great escape from the city centre. It features 22 ravines, 11 lakes, golf courses and nature centres.
West Edmonton Mall boasts over 800 stores and services! It also happens to be the largest mall in North America, with more than 32 million visitors each year. The gigantic mall is home to theme parks, a water park, a miniature golf course, four movie theatre complexes, a massive entertainment centre, and a giant indoor skating rink.
From Edmonton, I journeyed four hours west to the picturesque village of Jasper, originally nothing more than a railway town. Its spectacular mountainous location soon made it a haven for travellers.
One of the best things I was able to do, was take a boat tour on Maligne Lake and visit Spirit Island, one of the most photographed scenes in the world. Jasper National Park has one of the highest concentrated black and brown bear populations in Canada, and you are almost guaranteed to see at least one if you're looking close enough. Watch for deer, elk, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep, many of which simply roam through the towns. If you have the time, a trip to the Edith Cavell glacier, or a cable car ride to the top of Whistlers’ mountain, is well worth the trek.
Heading south, I stopped at the Columbia ice fields, the largest in the Rocky Mountains. You can explore on foot, but I would recommend a crawler trip with a guide, to get the full experience. A fairly new adventure awaits you at the ice fields, and that is the Glacier Skywalk. It is an experience like no other: a cliff-edge walkway where a glass floor is all that separates you from a 280 metre or 900 foot drop.
I spent a few days in Calgary, to visit the stampede, which has something for everyone: legendary entertainment, western arts and culture, bucking broncos, brazen bulls, free breakfasts and stomach-flipping rides. A parade kicks it all off, and features more than 750 horses, 30 floats and 4,000 people.
The world’s best cowboys and cowgirls compete in nine events. With the largest purse in outdoor rodeo - $2 million - up for grabs, you can bet this is one heck of a well-attended event. In the evenings, 36 chuck wagons and 216 horses, round the track in nine heats, and have you on the edge of your seat.
I continued west to Banff where I had the pleasure of staying at the Banff Springs Hotel, one of the original CP hotels, created by the railway. From there I travelled 45 minutes west to Lake Louise to take the iconic photo of the lake. If you have the time, spend a night at the Chateau, as the experience is amazing, and it is like stepping back in time.
Heading west, you have to make sure Rogers Pass is on your route. Following the decision of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881, to adopt the southerly route through the Rockies at Kicking Horse Pass, it became necessary to find a way through the difficult and largely unexplored Selkirks. Major A.B. Rogers, an experienced American railway-locating engineer, created the pass, which today is part of the Trans Canada Highway.
Vancouver is worthy of an entire article all to itself, but in a nutshell, I would recommend a visit to Gastown, complete with its six-story heritage building, that resembles a tiny version of a flat iron building. Gastown also features a steam-powered antique-style clock built in 1977, and whistles every hour to tell the time.
Stanley Park, one of Vancouver’s great attractions, is a magnificent green oasis in the midst of the urban landscape of Vancouver and a place you have to experience. You can also get a glimpse of the iconic Lions Gate Bridge. The perfect photo op is at Prospect Point. The suspension bridge was opened in 1938.
Heading out of town, I stopped at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, which offers various treetop bridges with scenic views of North Vancouver's forest. I have walked the bridge many times, but each trek is still a unique experience. The bridge crosses the Capilano River in North Vancouver, and in 2011, the cliff walk was added, giving you more spectacular views of the scenic mountains and rainforest.
My last stop in Vancouver was a visit to Grouse Mountain. I took the cable car, made famous in the James Bond flick, Moonraker.
My adventure in Western Canada ended with a ferry ride to British Columbia’s capitol of Victoria. Be sure to visit the Empress Hotel, which opened in 1908, and is considered one of Canada's grand railway hotels. If you have an opportunity to experience high tea, it is worth the cost of 90 dollars Canadian. The very enjoyable tradition began in 1908.
Miniature world is another place to visit in the Empress hotel. It is a wonderful world of smallness, where you can step into the storybooks of fact, fiction and fantasy. Relive history's greatest moments, and see the world's smallest operational sawmill, 11 years in the making.
Leave enough time to explore the parliament buildings and Butchard Gardens, an old quarry transformed into a beautiful wonderland of flora and foliage.
I can go on forever about all the things to see and do in western Canada, but it would be a great deal easier to simply head out and explore the western frontier of this great land of ours.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com