I have a new friend–a wickedly smart Canadian with a sharp sense of humor. The other night, over drinks, I told her how much I’ve loved every visit I’ve ever made to Canada, how much more I still need to see, and how I’d love to become a Canadian travel specialist. As loyal as she is to her home country, she was surprised. Really? There’s that much you want to see?
Oh my, yes.
Growing up in Cleveland, it wasn’t hard to get to Canada. We had class trips to Niagara Falls and Toronto, where gangs of middle-schoolers would obediently troop through Casa Loma, eat pizza at the Organ Grinder, and buy tchotchkes at Eaton Centre. Countless unloved Cleveland teenagers would brag about their “Canadian girlfriends” with whom they’d spent torrid and mythical summers. In Cleveland, Canada didn’t even count as a foreign country. Have you traveled out of the US? No, only Canada.
Canada didn’t get the best press.
My relationship with Canada really took off when the Cap’n and I started traveling together. Our engagement in Quebec, our honeymoon in Niagara Falls, and our trip to Nova Scotia whet our appetite for Canada, making us realize how much we’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen and how much there is left to see.
Things we’ve loved about Canada:
- Cape Breton: All of it, every inch of it, from the placid beauty of Bras d’Or to the cliffs of the Cabot Trail.
- Oatcakes: Each recipe different–some sweet, some savory, and the waitress who pronounced them “ootcakies”.
- The Ice Hotel: Still one of the five coolest things I’ve ever done, no pun intended, and yes, I intend to talk about this again and again and again until you decide that you’ll be warm enough and go. (You’ll be warm enough. I promise.)
- Niagara Falls: What surrounds the falls might be cheesy, but the falls are magnificent. It was our honeymoon, and it was just perfect. Plus, we came home with some truly stylish flip-flops from the American side.
- Niagara-on-the-Lake: We still talk about the paté at The Buttery and want to go back for the Shaw Festival.
- Toronto islands: My friend reassured me that Centre Island hasn’t changed in 25 years, that it’s not some silly Canadian amusement park, but a lovely afternoon, just a short ferry ride from downtown.
- The Consulate Inn, Pictou, NS: The proprietor, an ex-punk rocker, ranted at us for a bit, then guided us to the best lobster place in town, curing me of my fear of those big red bugs.
- The Red Shoe Pub, Mabou, NS: There is no better combination of food and live traditional music in all of Cape Breton.
- Halifax: The Cap’n said it reminded him of Seattle before it was cool, which is not to say Halifax isn’t cool–it’s just not as expensive. But Halifax has grit, in lifted-chin stance of a boxer ready to go another round. The city exploded, people, exploded, burned to cinders, and rebuilt itself. That’s pluck.
- Meat Cove: This is the ends of the Earth, named after rotting carcasses, and stunningly beautiful.
- Joe’s Scarecrow Village: A macabre and strange collection of scarecrows near Cap le Moine, NS.
- Maple syrup: In Ohio, we know maple syrup, or so I thought. In Quebec, I asked the waitress, What’s a Sugar Shack Plate?. Oh, everything you put maple syrup on, said the waitress, like pancakes, waffles, sausage, eggs, meat pie, potatoes, batter-dipped toast, and baked beans. Oh, and deep-fried bacon. Who, besides lumberjacks, could justify deep-frying bacon?
- The language: I tell my friends pining to go to Scotland or France that they should visit Cape Breton instead to get both. Combine those accents with the closed vowels of northern Minnesota and some remnants of British, and you have voices that are musical and strange to my ear.
- The music: This country gave us Stan Rogers, Great Big Sea, the tradition of Cape Breton fiddling with its honky-tonk piano and imitation-bagpipe sounds, and even planted the seeds for Cajun when it sent the Arcadian French down to Louisiana.
- The mythology: I love ghost stories, cryptozoological legends, and the like, so how can I not love a country that boasts Sasquatch, eel balls, UFO sightings, lake monsters, and Mi’kmaq variations of elves and ogres?
I realize my Canadian “done” column is tiny compared to the size of the country, but I also know just how much of the country is hiding up there above the 66th parallel north. That doesn’t knock it out of the “to do” column (unless Granuaile has something to say about it).
I recently sat down with the Cap’n to make our Canadian travel bucket list and was surprised at how long it is (and it doesn’t even include all the things I want to do over, such as Cape Breton, Quebec City, and finding the Toronto of my childhood).
Our Canadian Bucket List:
- Baffin Island: We spent a night in a Meat Cove B&B with a man who traveled frequently to Baffin Island and talked about spending a week snowbound there, with nothing to do but eat whitefish and play solitaire. Sounds like fun!
- Calgary, Alberta
- Banff: It’s fun to say (Banff! Banff!) and the Cap’n wants to go skiing.
- Lake Winnipeg
- Newfoundland: You can see where Earth’s mantle has poked through the crust. How amazing is that?
- the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, ON
- Prince Edward Island: I’ll pretend I’m going for twee lighthouses and coastal scenery, but we all know I’m searching for Gilbert Blythe.
- Vancouver Island, BC: From end to end, says the Cap’n.
- Mont Tremblant, Quebec: Yet more skiing. Only one of us skis.
- the coastline of British Columbia: One of the least inhabited places on Earth.
- St. Lawrence Seaway and the Thousand Islands
- Bay of Fundy
- Moncton, New Brunswick
- Nunavut: The Cap’n can’t tell me what he wants to do there. He’s sure there’s something.
So, what am I missing? What are your favorite places, sights, oddities, memories, landscapes, imports, and traditions? What should I taste? What must we see to believe?