13 Amazing Things to Do in Canada
Canada, the second largest country in the world by area, is made up of ten provinces; Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, and three territories; Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. Each of these provinces and territories have literally thousands of amazing things to see and do. Here we will explore just 13 of these amazing things, one for each province and territory.
1. Get Chills Down Your Spine on the St. John's Haunted Hike—St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John's is one of the oldest cities in North America. Europeans, lured by the rich fishing grounds, began settling in Newfoundland in the early 16th century. Though early settlements were established in other areas, such as Bonavista and Ferryland, the capital was eventually established in St. John's, due mainly to its easy accessibility and year round ice free harbor.
As is the case for most historic cities with a colorful and storied past St. John's abounds with legends, lore, and ghost stories. These bone chilling tales of the paranormal are the focus of the St. John's Haunted Hike and its spooky yet knowledgeable tour guides as they lead you through the darkened, nighttime streets of old St. John's.
2. Pay Your Respects at the Graves of Titanic Victims, Fairview Lawn Cemetery—Halifax, Nova Scotia
At the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, there is a special section that contains the graves of 121 victims of the 1912 Titanic disaster. The majority of the headstones are small, nondescript, grey granite markers bearing no more than the victim's name and date of death. In the case of the 41 victims whose identities are unknown there is just the date of death and the marker number. There are some more elaborate stones where family members paid for better grave markers.
A special marker was erected at the grave known as The Unknown Child, which contains the body of what had once been an unidentified child victim. It was paid for by the crew of the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, who recovered the child's body from the icy waters on the 15th of April, 1912. In 2002, using forensic testing, the child was identified as 19 month old Sidney Leslie Goodwin, an English child whose entire family perished in the Titanic disaster.
One grave that has gotten considerable attention over the past 20 years is that of a J. Dawson. Following the release of the 1997 James Cameron movie, Titanic, many people came to believe that the J. Dawson buried in the Fairview Cemetery was Jack Dawson from the movie, and that the fictional character was in fact real. This is, of course, not true.
The J. Dawson whose grave resides with that of other Titanic victims in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery is actually Joseph Dawson, who had been a member of the Titanic's crew. Unlike the character portrayed in the movie by Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Dawson was Irish not American, and was not an artist but a coal trimmer in the Titanic's boiler room.
3. Cross the St. John River on the World's Longest Covered Bridge—Hartland, New Brunswick
At 1,282 feet the Hartland Bridge in Hartland, New Brunswick is the world's longest covered bridge. Though officially opened on July 4, 1901 it did not become a covered bridge until 1922, against considerable opposition. At that time in New Brunswick covered bridges were also known as kissing bridges due to the fact that young couples were known to stop their horses on these bridges so that they could steal a kiss beneath the privacy of its protective cover. It was because of this practice that many people opposed the bridge being covered as they believed it would lead to the destruction of the young people's morals. Despite this the cover went on.
Lighting was added inside the bridge in 1924, and in 1945 a walkway was installed. The federal government declared the bridge a historic site in 1980, and the province of New Brunswick followed in 1999 by declaring it a Provincial Historic Site. In 1987 the torch for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta was carried across it. In 1995 the Canadian government honored the bridge by issuing a postage stamp bearing its image.
4. Shop the 70-Mile Yard Sale—Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island
For two days each September, the Wood Islands and Area Development Corporation in Prince Edward Island hosts the 70-Mile Yard Sale. This giant flea market consists of more than 350 sites spread along seventy miles of coastal roadway. At this sale one can find everything from children's toys to antiques, household items to farm equipment. It is guaranteed to have something for everyone.
Those who wish to participate in the sale as vendors have to register with the Development Corporation, which gathers information on each vendor. In early September the corporation puts out a guide book to the sale listing which vendors selling what type of items will be where along the route, with a map showing each vendor's location so that people can better plan their weekend of bargain hunting.
5. Have a Real Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich at Schwartz's Deli—Montreal, Quebec
A proper Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich consists of a generous portion of delicious smoked brisket on a light rye bread with yellow mustard and a pickle spear on the side. Though these amazing sandwiches are available in many restaurants across the country there is nothing quite like having one at the home of the Montreal smoked meat sandwich, Schwartz's Hebrew delicatessen in Montreal, Quebec.
The oldest deli in Canada, and a Montreal landmark, Shwartz's was founded by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, in 1928. For nearly ninety years Schwartz's has been producing their incredible, preservative-free brisket, and serving these phenomenal, mouthwatering sandwiches.
6. Enjoy Freshly Picked Fruit Purchased From a Roadside Stand—Niagara on the Lake, Ontario
Considered by many to be the prettiest town in Ontario, a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake is like taking a trip back in time. Nestled in the Niagara region, in the heart of wine country, it is an almost perfectly preserved 19th century century village. Founded in the 18th century the town was once the capital of Upper Canada, now the province of Ontario, before the capital was moved to York, now the city of Toronto. Originally known as Butlersburg, it went through several name changes before becoming Niagara-on-the-Lake.
From late May until October Niagara-on-the-lake abounds with roadside farm stands filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, much of which was harvested that very day. There is little that can compare with the taste and experience of eating a peach picked fresh that morning and gently heated in the summer sun, that first succulent bite starting the warm juice running into your hand, down your arm, and dripping from your elbow.
7. Go Dog Sledding—Churchill, Manitoba
Churchill, known as the polar bear capital of the world, is a small town located in Northern Manitoba, on the western shore of Hudson Bay. It is one of the few human settlements where, from the comfort and safety of specially designed tundra vehicles, you can get up close and personal with the mighty polar bear. It is also one of the few places where you can enjoy the excitement and adventure of dog sledding.
A number of tour guides offer this unique and authentic northern experience. Imagine the thrill of gliding over the pure white snow and breathing the fresh, crisp northern air as you are pulled along in your sled by a team of beautiful and friendly sled dogs. You can even take the reins and try your hand at driving the team yourself. If winter adventure is not your thing you can still enjoy the experience of dog sledding as tour operators replace the sleds in warmer months with wheeled carts.
8. Go on a "Mars Mission" at the Haughton Impact Crater—Nunavut
In Haughton, Nunavut, in Canada's far north, is an impact crater that was formed roughly 23 million years ago by a large meteor striking the earth. The crater, which lies in a kind of polar desert known as a frost rubble zone, remains almost unchanged from its original condition due to a lack of erosive elements, such as water and vegetation, in this climate. It is also as close as one can get to the Mars environment here on earth.
Discovered in the 1950's the crater has been in use since 1997 as the base of operations for the Haughton-Project, and the training and preparation for future Mars missions. For anyone interested in getting a feel for what it would be like to visit Mars than this is the place to go.
9. Go Underground—Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Beneath the streets of downtown Moose Jaw there exists a series of interconnected tunnels linking a number of basements, storage rooms, and hidden chambers. They are believed to have been originally built in the late 1800's as access tunnels for steam engineers who maintained the boilers in the various buildings. This was done so that they would not have to go outside in the freezing prairie winter to move from one building to the next. Their greatest claim to fame, however, was there use during the 1920's.
During this period of prohibition in the United States these tunnels were used by gangsters to hide booze destined for the American market. Though there is no real proof to support the claim there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the infamous American crime boss Al Capone had frequented Moose Jaw, and had himself used these tunnels. It is also believed that Chinese immigrants new to the area may once have lived in some of these underground spaces.
Anyone interested in vising Moose Jaw and learning more about the history of its underground can take a guided tour with Tunnels of Moose Jaw.
10. Beam Into the Official Star Trek Capital of Canada—Vulcan, Alberta
In Vulcan, a small town 130 kilometres (80.7 miles) south of Calgary, they take their Star Trek seriously. So much so that in April of 2010, in a ceremony attended by none other than Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, the town was officially named the Star Trek Capital of Canada.
Founded more than 100 years ago and named after the Roman God of fire Vulcan, has embraced sharing a name with the fictional home plant of the fictional Mr. Spock and has fashioned itself into a kind of Mecca for Star Trek fans. The town features such items as a model of the Starship Enterprise, a Star Trek Museum, and a bronze bust of the Spock character with a bronze cast of Leonard Nimoy's hand giving the famous Vulcan salute. With all of this and more it is only logical that this town should be on every Trekkie's bucket list.
11. Visit the Grave of the Mad Trapper of Rat River—Northwest Territories
Albert Johnson (though many doubt that this was his real name) arrived in Fort MacPherson, in Canada's Northwest Territories, on July 9th, 1931. Once there he promptly built himself an 8' x 10' cabin on the Rat River, on a prime trapping site. He did not, however, get himself a trapping licence.
In December of that same year Johnson's neighbors noticed that someone had been tampering with their traps. Given that Johnson was the only one new to the area, and had set out no traps of his own, the other trappers became suspicious and contacted the RCMP. On December 31 Constables arrived at Johnson's cabin. They knocked repeatedly on his door but the man refused to answer. Knowing that he was armed the two officers decided that it would be prudent to leave and return later with reinforcements.
Now with four officers and a civilian they tried once again to speak with Johnson, who responded by opening fire and wounding one of the officers, who had to be rushed the 20 hour journey by dog sled to Aklavik for emergency treatment. Thus began one of the most infamous manhunts in RCMP history. It was also the first live reporting of such an incident. The reports kept people all over North America glued to their radios listening to the unfolding story of the hunt for the man who had already become known as the Mad Trapper of Rat River.
After a five week chase through Canada's harsh north, that saw one RCMP officer shot dead by Johnston, he was finally cornered on the Eagle River. During the resulting gun battle Johnston was shot nine times before he was finally brought down.
It is most likely that the true identity of Albert Johnson, and why he would not speak with police, will never be known, but for anyone who has read, and been captivated by, the full story of his incredible flight through the frozen Canadian wilderness, a visit to the Mad Trappers grave in Aklavik, Northwest Territories is a must.
12. Visit the North Peace Anglican Church—Cecil Lake, British Columbia
Cecil Lake is a small farming community in the Peace River region of Northern British Columbia. Though there are many reasons to visit the Peace, such as the Mile Zero marker at the start of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, or the quaint little restaurant in Goodlow where you take off your shoes inside the door before going to your table, no visit to the area would be complete without a stop to see the North Peace Anglican Church.
This beautiful little log church was built in 1938 to serve the growing number of settlers in what was then an almost completely isolated area of Northern BC. You do not have to be Anglican, or of any faith at all, to appreciate the peacefulness and charm of this lovely country church nestled among the trees.
13. Read Your Way Through Signpost Forest—Watson Lake, Yukon
Signpost forest is located at mile 635 of the Alaska Highway, in Watson Lake, Yukon. It all started with a soldier from the US Army Corp of Engineers, Carl Lindley. While working on the Alaska Highway project Lindley was injured and sent to Watson Lake to recover. While there he was ordered to erect a directional signpost. When he had the task completed he added one additional sign, a marker that indicated the direction and mileage to his own hometown of Danville, Illinois. Others followed and it soon caught on with visitors to the area to leave their own signs. There are now over 77,000 signs in signpost forest, with more being added all the time.
Canada is a geographically vast country that stretches over 7,000 kilometres (4,000 miles) east to west; its ten provinces and three territories cover an area of more than 9.9 million square kilometres (over 6 million square miles). These thirteen attractions are but a minuscule representation of the thousands of amazing, unique, interesting, fun, educational, adventurous, and exciting things to do in this incredible and diverse country. Perhaps one of them will inspire you to plan a visit to one, or maybe even all, of Canada's provinces and territories.
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© 2017 Stephen Barnes