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North America

Oh Canada!

Jonathan van Bilsen



June 4, 2017

Oh Canada!

Having had the privilege of travelling the world, I have learned one thing: how fortunate we are to live in Canada. We are virtually free from daily threats, we have a relatively decent economy, our social programs are second to none and we are surrounded by really nice people (especially in Port Perry).

I have travelled throughout Canada many times and have visited each province, at least once, therefore, it is fitting to write an article about Canada, during our 150th birthday.

I am always amazed by the cleanliness and serenity of Victoria, Canada’s western most capital. Tea at the Empress Hotel is a must and Miniature World in the lower level is well worth the visit. For those who enjoy walking, a visit to beautiful Butchart gardens, will easily take a day.

Once you are on the mainland Stanley Park, complete with its Teahouse restaurant, is a place not to be missed. Vancouver is a vibrant city, with many unique eateries found in Gastown and Granville Island. The weather is usually warmer than the east, and the people have a Joie de vivre way about them.

Heading north to Whistler puts you on top of the world. Skiing, hiking, sledding and bear watching are some of the great possibilities that await you. For the true adventurer, continue north to Prince George, where remoteness doesn't even begin to describe the area. When you arrive you are greeted by Mr. PG, a gigantic statue made from lumber and steel, two elements for which the region is known.

Passing through the Okanagan valley you arrive in Alberta and the city of Banff, which is considered Canada’s mountain playground. Great outdoor activities await travellers. Less than an hour away is Lake Louise with all its splendour. Take a trek through Johnson Canyon, as it is well worth the stop.

If you are driving, head north to Jasper. The scenery is breathtaking and the wildlife abundant. Jasper has white-water rafting, the Edith Cavell Glacier and dozens more sights to see. Edmonton, Alberta’s capital, is only a few hours away, or head south to Calgary and catch the stampede (mid-July).

Continue west to Canada’s Prairie Provinces. And if you want to catch the Northern lights, Prince Albert or North Battleford, Saskatchewan will give you some amazing visuals (the best time of year to see the lights is in winter).

Head south to Saskatoon, a very modern, cosmopolitan city, with extremely wide streets and many restaurants (my favourite is John’s Steakhouse). Visiting the capital city of Regina, with its parks and sophistication, is a must, and sets the mid-west apart from the rest of the country.

Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, among its many attributes, has a great zoo. If you see people staring upward at the Parliament buildings, they are looking at Golden Boy, a statue perched far atop the dome. I once spent a week in Thompson, located very far north in Manitoba, where my favourite eatery was the A&W… enough said.

I recall taking the Via train, across Canada and entered Ontario at four in the morning. We stopped in Toronto at nine, the next morning. It is impossible to fathom how large this land is. Watching moose swimming in one of the province’s 250,000 lakes (half are still unnamed) is spectacular. 

Toronto is of course remarkable, if you are looking for city life, albeit overshadowed by Port Perry, Canada’s prettiest town. A visit to Ottawa can be breathtaking, especially when you are standing in front of our Peace Tower and imagining history unfolding itself. In February, catch Winterlude, eat a Beaver Tail or skate on the Rideau Canal, the world’s largest skating rink.

Heading east to Montreal is like visiting another country. From fashion to food, architecture to language, the distinct society of Quebec, derived from the early French settlers, makes this area feel very European. Quebec City, with North America’s oldest commercial street, is a tourist mecca. 

New Brunswick has more covered bridges than anywhere in the world. The tidal boar in Moncton, along with Magnetic Hill is not to be missed, but if you are short on time, visit the Hopewell Rocks (flower pots).

A drive north to Edmunston and a visit to the annual cheese festival, makes for an interesting stay in this predominantly French region. If chocolate is your thing head south to St, Stephen’s (just outside St. John) and tour the Ganong factory. Yes, there are lots of free samples.

Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital is one of my favourite cities. The historic properties offer great restaurants and artisan shops and you can dance the night away at the Lower Deck. About an hour south is famous Peggy’s Cove and its popular lighthouse. The restaurant is great, but the views are out of this world. A stop in Lunenburg and a glimpse of the Bluenose (our sailing craft depicted on our ten cent coins) is a must-see for anyone in the area.

Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island is now accessible by a bridge (it is free to cross over, but a $45 charge to return). A walking tour of Charlottetown is the way to see the historic city, where Canada was born. Another tourist stop is the house of Anne of Green Gables, immortalized by Lucy Maude Montgomery.

Our last, youngest and most eastern province is Newfoundland. Watching icebergs in St. John’s harbour is outstanding. Seafood is abundant, and the ruggedness of the shore is breathtaking. Lighthouses pop up everywhere, and the local dialect and customs set this province aside from the rest of the country.

In the words of Stomping Tom Connors, “In Canada we Get to See it All”. See the world, but see Canada first!

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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