At the foot of Mount Royal, the downtown area is a heterogeneous mix of
post-modern office towers, churches, shops and art galleries, as well
as many museums: the Museum of Fine Art whose Pavillon Jean-Noël
Desmarais must be seen for its architecture and for its collections of
contemporary art; the Museum of Decorative Art ; the Canadian Center for
Architecture; the McCord Museum of Canadian History, which is devoted
to Canadian history; the Museum of Contemporary Art; the Just for Laughs
Museum, in which humour is king; the Fier Monde Ecomuseum, which retraces
the history of the popular south-central quarter. Near Mount Royal, McGill
University is one of Canada's most prestigious. Its downtown campus is
lined with splendid private houses.
When the weather turns cold, descend to the Underground City, where you
will find nearly 32km (20mi) of galleries, 10 subway stations, two railway
stations, 2,000 shops, hotels, offices, cinemas, parking areas, etc. While
the notion is functional and innovative, there's really not much to see
- the shops are all modern and most of the system looks no different from
a contemporary shopping mall, except that it's bigger and has the Métro
going through it.
Plateau Mont Royal
Ignored not so long ago, the Plateau Mont Royal is a trés hip multi-ethnic
district located between Rue Sherbrooke and Blvd St Joseph. Charming visitors
with its hopping nightclubs, funky shops and droves of eateries, the chief
commerical strips are Blvd St Laurent (referred to as 'The Main' by locals)
and Rue St Denis. In between, the shady Carrée St Louis and the
restaurant-bulging Rue Prince Arthur and Ave Duluth are alive with activity.
Full of ornate 19th-century Victorian style homes, the housing is stylish,
ornate, colourful and fantastic to walk around as Montréalers go
about their business. To the north, Ave Mont Royal is known for its vintage
and offbeat clothing stores as well as a jumping nightlife. Heading east
along Ave Mont Royal leads to the masterfully planned Parc Mont Royal.
This is Montreal's biggest and best park, simply known as 'the mountain',
sprouting with nature lovers throughout the year and with spectacular
views of the city, the river and surrounds.
Distinctly French in character, the Quartier Latin is the Paris-style
student district along lower Rue St Denis, with the Université
du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) at its heart. Here you'll
find row upon row of trendy bars, open-air cafés, bistros and clubs
- and more of Montréal's beautiful people than you could poke a
mirror at. Just to the east of the Latin Quarter is the hub of the gay
community, The Village, which centres around Rue Ste Catherine Est. Among
the bars, clubs and cafés is a slightly rougher edge and 'anything
goes' attitude, especially during the Gay Pride Festival in early August
when things get decidedly outrageous.
The Vieux-Port and Parc des Îles
The Vieux-Port (Old Port) stretches for 2.5km (1.5mi) along the river
and consists of four quays: the Vieux-Port Promenade and Esplanade, a
favourite strolling spot for Montréal's inhabitants; the Quai de
l'Horloge, with its eponymous tower dedicated to sailors; and the Quai
Jacques-Cartier. From the latter, a ferry runs to the Parc des Îles,
the park created on the two islands that were the site of the 1967 World's
Fair. Île Sainte-Hélène now boasts Québec's
largest amusement park, and Île Notre-Dame is an artificial island
created for the fair in the middle of the river. The Biosphere on Île
Saint-Hélène offers a fantastic journey through the Saint
Vieux-Montréal - Old Montréal
This 18th-century quarter, around the quays of the Saint Lawrence River,
is the city's oldest. Its romantic narrow streets and squares are filled
with vendors, visitors, performers, horse-drawn carriages and bars and
cafes, it can push the point of rubbing shoulders with the locals a little
too literally during the peak season.
The focal point of Vieux Montréal is Place Jacques Cartier, which
was set up as a public market space in 1803. Elsewhere among the charm
and character of Vieux Montréal is the Place d'Armes, the other
major square in the area, featuring the magnificent Basilica Notre Dame.
Built in 1829 and big enough to hold 5000 people, the Basilica's luscious,
richly detailed interior houses the Chapelle du Sacré Couer (Sacred
Heart Chapel) and still attracts legions of admirers.
In the west end of Vieux Montréal is the Place Royale where Ville
Marie, Montréal's first small fort town, was built. It later became
a marketplace and is now the forecourt of the Veille Douane (Old Customs
House), linked to the Pointe à Callière Museum of Archaeology
& History. Built on the exact spot of Montréal's first European
settlement, the fascinating museum is mostly underground, in the actual
ruins of buildings and an ancient sewage/river system.
Off the Beaten Track
Between 80km and 150km (50-93mi) north of Montréal, the Laurentian
Mountains are a lake-sprinkled playground popular for just about every
outdoor pursuit that has been thought of, and probably some that can't
be listed. The picturesque French towns and scenery make the area a haven
for lazing and relaxing as well. Saint Sauveur des Monts, the first stop-off
on the way north, is a small and pleasant resort town that seems perpetually
busy. The largest town in the Laurentians and a busy-but-amiable resort
centre is Saint Agathe des Monts, a good spot for a picnic or a cruise
around the lake and its family-friendly sandy beaches. Mont Tremblant
is a three-part resort and park district that marks the northernmost point
of the easily accessible Laurentian destinations. Mont Tremblant itself
is the area's highest peak and is a major state-of-the-art ski centre
and year-round township. For those with a hankering for a touch more grizzly
wilderness, the Parc de Mont Tremblant, about 25km (15mi) from Mont Tremblant,
is a wild, wooded area that offers plenty of hiking, biking and canoeing
While good Italian restaurants can be found throughout Montréal,
few can emulate the Old Country with as much determination and distinction
as those in the tiny, bustling Little Italy district. An area on the rise
around Blvd Saint Laurent in central Montréal's northern limits,
in summer a decidedly festive mood prevails along its crowded eateries
and sidewalk cafés. The tiny, manicured Parc Martel is the main
square with many establishments kicking on into the wee small hours. The
ethnically diverse Jean Talon Market is Montréal's largest market
with over 250 stalls on a huge square, ringed by shops stocking produce
year-round. The selection is overwhelming and haggling over fruits, vegetables,
plants and maple syrup is mandatory. The market has become a Montréal
favourite and is a really cool place to be on Saturdays.
Built for the 1976 Montréal Olympic Games, the massive Parc Olympique
cost Montréalers more than $US1 billion and is shrouded in the
type of scandal, indignation and allegations of corruption that today's
Olympic movement would be proud of. The irony is that the complex, 3km
(2mi) east of downtown, is undeniably magnificent and an incredibly popular
drawcard for the city.
Finally completed in 1990, its grandiose mulitpurpose showpiece, the
Stade Olympique (or 'Big O' to its friends), has carried on the controversial
tradition, including a collapsed beam during a football game a year after
completion, mechanical mishaps and a laughable litany of repairs. However,
these have not dampened visitors' enthusiasm for its tours. A cable car
runs up the Montréal Tower, which impressively overhangs the stadium,
to a glassed-in observation deck, showing off stunning views of the city
and beyond for a distance up to 80km (50mi).
Housed within the former velodrome at the Olympic Complex is the spectacular
Biodôme, which re-creates four distinct ecosystems and is home to
5000 plants and 4000 animals, including the too-cute penguins, monkeys
and alligators. Elsewhere within Olympic Park are the Jardin Botanique,
the third-largest Botanical Gardens in the world; with over 30 different
garden settings and plant species galore; and the Insectarium, a great
collection of creepy-crawlies that will endlessly fascinate even as they
About an hour's drive northwest of Montréal is the Rouge River,
one of the best white-water rivers in North America. Said to be fantastic
fun, day and weekend trips are available with lunch included. Be prepared
to go overboard: if your raft doesn't flip in the rapids, the guides will
make sure it flips. A restaurant-lodge and pool ensure visitors don't
have too tough a time of it. The area is also popular for kayaking trips,
mountain biking and rock climbing, not to mention plenty of nude sunbathing
- Québecers aren't known to be particularly shy about their bodies,
just give them a wave as your raft passes by.
Other Canada Attractions
Canada's capital sprawls along the southern bank of the Ottawa River,
on the eastern tip of Ontario. As you'd expect, it's a government town,
dominated physically and spiritually by the neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings.
You'll hear a fair amount of French spoken here, as many federal government
workers are required to be bilingual. There's not a heap of exciting things
to do in Ottawa - other than marvel at being in a national capital - but
the air's clean, the streets are wide, there are lots of public parks
and the people seem happy and healthy as they jog or cycle their way to
work. The city has the usual plethora of impressive buildings common to
capital cities: the War Museum (with a life-sized replica of a WWI trench),
the Royal Mint, various grand old homes inhabited by ministers of state
and a swag of museums to do justice to the country's icons: nature, aviation,
science and technology, skiing and agriculture. Ottawa is also home to
Canada's premier art collection, the National Gallery, displaying an enormous
array of North American and European works. In summer the city is dotted
with the familiar red coats of the Royal Canadian Mounties.
Ottawa's downtown district is divided into eastern and western portions
by the Rideau Canal. The eastern section has a very useful pocket of central
guesthouses, most of them with heritage details of some sort. Motels are
clustered along Rideau St in the east, and along Carling Ave on the western
side of town. Byward Market, east of the canal, has a stack of cheap eateries,
and western downtown is the place to go for more upmarket eating.
As the capital of Canada's smallest province (the delectable Prince Edward
Island), it's only fitting that Charlottetown comes across as an old,
quiet country town. The issue of Canada's unity was first officially discussed
here in 1864, and nowadays the tiny capital is known as the birthplace
of Canadian confederation. The pace is slow, the atmosphere still colonial,
and the tree-lined Victorian streets are very easy on the eye. The oldest
part of town is clustered around the waterfront area, with the usual renovated
buildings and recreation dollar-chasing facilities. A strident note is
sounded by the 1960s modern structure that houses the Confederation Centre
of the Arts, which highlights the work of Canadian artists. Prince Edward
Island's main claim to fame, however, is the town of Cavendish, the setting
for Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, followed by the island's
tradition of whopping big lobster suppers.
Edmonton is the capital of Alberta, the most westerly of the prairie provinces.
While Calgary milks the wild west image, Edmonton prefers to hit the headlines
for housing the world's largest shopping and entertainment mall. The city
enjoys an attractively wooded riverside setting, with parklands following
the snaking rhythm of the Saskatchewan River. The province's famed mineral
legacy is explored in the Provincial Museum, and there's also Canada's
largest planetarium, unsurprisingly accompanied by an IMAX theatre. The
gem south of the river is Old Strathcona, a residential area of gorgeous
old buildings dating from 1891, interspersed with cafes, bookshops and
buskers. Which it appears you won't find in all 48 hectares (118 acres)
of the West Edmonton Mall, aka the mall that ate Edmonton's retail life.
The 800 shops are tacky and repetitive, the chains are too-well represented,
and the 'entertainment' includes an artificial beach and skating rink
- but the climate is controlled, and for the frost-bitten denizens of
the Canadian Plains that's probably reason enough for the mall's success.
Perched on one of the world's largest natural harbours, fog-bound Halifax
has gone from old-salt port to deluxe destination, with its historic areas
gussied up into sleek tourist precincts. More and more travellers are
setting course for Nova Scotia's capital.
Most of Halifax's attractions centre, unsurprisingly, around a maritime
theme. The city was the base of rescue operations for the Titanic tragedy
and so nabbed much of the highly sought-after flotsam. Its museums, historic
warehouses and downtown area, and landmark fort all have a salty flavour.
The immense Northwest Territories were subdivided in 1999 to create Canada's
newest territory, the eastern Arctic Inuit region of Nunavut. It's a wild
and isolated place, stretching north above the tree line from Hudson Bay
up to Ellesmere Island National Park, within spitting distance of the
North Pole. The provincial capital is Iqaluit, formerly called Frobisher
Bay, on the east coast of Baffin Island. It's more a stopping-off and
supply spot than an attraction in itself, though there are hiking trails
in the vicinity. Most visitors pass through en route to Auyuittuq National
Park, Canada's third largest national park, and one of only a few in the
world north of the Arctic Circle. The pristine wilderness of mountains,
valleys, fjords and meadows is a spectacular must for experienced hikers,
and climbers flock to Mount Thor (1500m/4920ft), the tallest uninterrupted
cliff face on earth.
Québec City, the rather European-flavoured capital of Québec
province, borrows some of its grandeur from a lofty cape and some from
its broad river.
The city divides between an Old Town bristling with historic ramparts,
churches, narrow lanes and former battlefields, and districts revamped
with museums, cafes, bars, restaurants and all the other mod-cons of international
Newfoundland & Labrador's rugged island capital is St John's, North
America's oldest city (1528). The hilly town is splendidly located on
a series of terraces rising up from the waterfront - there are stairs,
stairs everywhere, leading to narrow, winding streets lined with multicoloured
clapboard houses. St John's has a quaint, homey feel, and reminders of
its fishing village origins are never far away. Not coincidentally, the
number of drinking establishments in town is huge. The legacy of the extinct
Beothuk tribe who once lived here is explored at the Newfoundland Museum,
as are the exploits of the Vikings who used to visit. Many of St John's
old buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892, but those that
remain include the Murray Premises, a renovated warehouse from the 1840s.
Signal Hill, overlooking the town to the east, is the site where Marconi
received the first transatlantic wireless message back in 1901. On the
other side of the hill is the picturesque fishing port of Quidi Vidi,
complete with microbrewery and historic fort.
Although the famous Niagara Falls are nearby, Toronto isn't a city with
a checklist full of attractions. It's a city that grows on you slowly.
Its summer festivals, the spicy corners of its markets, the beachfront
boardwalks and the music pouring out of its neighbourhood eateries seduce
Toronto is an experiential city that reveals its secrets slowly. Apart
from icons like the cloud-brushing CN tower, the best experiences you'll
have in Toronto come from wandering through its ethnically-flavoured neighbourhoods,
checking out Victorian architecture and quirky museums.
There aren't many cities in the world that offer Vancouver's combination
of big-city lifestyle and outdoor fun in such cheek-by-jowl proximity.
Ski in the morning, sail in the afternoon and still make it back to town
in time for a cocktail or three.
Taking in some First Nations art and culture is a good way to begin a
tour through Vancouver. Continue through its many green spaces, its countercultural
and cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, and Gastown, the city's original settlement,
now transformed into a gussied-up historical quarter.
Canada's wild west begins in the prairie province of Manitoba, and Winnipeg
is its capital. But this culturally alive city is anything but provincial:
with its US ambience and architecture, it's often compared to its grain-handling,
transportation counterpart, Chicago. The similarities don't end there,
as Winnipeg is said to have the windiest downtown corner on the continent
(steer clear of the Portage Ave and Main St intersection). Downtown is
the place to head for the historic sites and museums. The Museum of Man
& Nature is a sight, sound and smell-fest of dioramas that bring the
lives of Plains Indians and 1920s Winnipeggers alive. The meeting place
of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers has been a people magnet for 600 years
and these days it's known as The Forks, a riverside recreation area of
redeveloped warehouses and factories. The Exchange District is one of
the city's most interesting areas, crammed with Victorian commercial buildings
and featuring distinctive old advertising signs. Across the Red River,
the residential district of St Boniface is one of Canada's oldest French
communities, and is well worth an atmospheric wander.
East Ontario's Algonquin Park is one of Canada's best-loved parks, with
a dazzling array of hiking and canoeing options. The lake-dotted semi-wilderness
has 1600km (992mi) of charted canoe routes to explore, the waterfall-filled
Barron Canyon to jump around in, and bear, moose and wolves to run away
from. Hikers can opt for a half-hour jaunt or spend days crisscrossing
the park's many trails. Algonquin Park is 300km (186mi) north of Toronto,
and is accessible by bus in the summer months.
Bay of Fundy
Almost the entire southern edge of New Brunswick is licked by the constantly
rising and falling waters of the Bay of Fundy, home to the world's highest
tides. The Bay is dotted with the peaceful Fundy Isles, where fishing
for lobster is the most strenuous thing to do. The islands include Deer
Island, a wooded place of lobster wharves, whales and Old Sow, the world's
second-largest natural tidal whirlpool. Campobello Island is a tranquil
summer getaway for wealthy New Englanders, while Grand Manan Island, the
largest of the Fundies, has spectacular coastal topography, excellent
birdwatching, fine hiking trails and sandy beaches. The town of Saint
John, on the Fundy Shore, can claim the actor Donald Sutherland as its
own, but it's best known for the Moosehead Brewery tours that are run
from mid-June through August. East of Saint John, a 12km (7.5mi) cliff-edged
stretch of the Fundy Trail Parkway links the town of St Martins with Big
Salmon River - it's rugged, wild, drivable, hikable and just gorgeous.
One of Canada's few accessible northern outposts, remote Churchill's lifeblood
is the 1.5-day train journey linking the town with Winnipeg, Manitoba's
capital, a mere 1600km (992mi) away to the south. Churchill is a major
grain-handling port, but eco-tourism is an increasingly important industry
for the town. Despite the subzero temperatures and minimal facilities,
visitors flock to see the region's huge array of arctic wildlife - from
polar bears and beluga whales to caribou and Arctic foxes - and to catch
a gaudy glimpse of the aurora borealis. Churchill dubs itself the 'Polar
Bear Capital of the World', and for a good reason: the town sits smack
bang in the middle of the animals' migration route, and the cute but lethal
white bears have been known to wander right through the township. Tours
to the tundra to see the bears are Churchill's star attraction during
the migration season (September-November), followed closely by May-June
birdwatching and the June-August spectacle of 3000 beluga whales moving
into the Churchill River.
When there was gold in them thar hills, Dawson City was the place to spend
it. The city was built at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers
in the gold rush of 1896. At its height, Dawson City was known as 'the
Paris of the North', and was home to 38,000 people; these days fewer than
2000 call the city home. It's the most interesting of the Yukon towns,
with many attractions remaining from its fleeting but vibrant fling with
fame and infamy. The protected buildings create a real frontier atmosphere,
and with the Arctic Circle just 240km (150mi) away, they're built on permafrost.
Tourist season is limited to May-September, and sights include Diamond
Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall, a re-creation of an 1898 saloon complete
with honky-tonk piano and dancing girls. There's also the flamboyant Palace
Grand Theatre; a museum housing 25,000 gold-rush artefacts of one kind
or another; the SS Keno riverboat; the typically rustic gold-rush cabin
that housed Robert Service from 1909 to 1912; a Jack London Interpretative
Centre; a couple of old mines to explore; and a graveyard of paddlewheel
ferries. Dawson City is a 6.5-hour bus ride north of the Yukon capital,
Jutting into the Gulf of St Lawrence, north of New Brunswick, the Gaspé
Peninsula is often compared with the popular Cape Breton Island of Nova
Scotia, but it's much less crowded. The excellent Gaspésie Park,
in the centre of the peninsula, is a huge, rugged and undeveloped area
of lakes, woods and mountains. Deer and moose amble the backwoods, and
the fishing is good - but the real attraction is the hiking. Trails traverse
the wonderfully named Chic Choc Mountains, culminating in Mont Jacques
Cartier, at 1270m (4165ft) the highest peak in these parts. The hike to
the top of the peak is shared by shy woodland caribou, and the alpine
scenery and views are fantastic. Other climbs include rigorous Mont Albert
and lakeside Mont Xalibu, a fine half-day return walk with superb alpine
scenery, a waterfall and views of mountain lakes. The main entry to the
park is from the nearby town of Sainte Anne des Monts, 300km (185mi) or
so north of Quebec City.
L'Anse-aux-Meadows is the oldest European habitation site in North America.
Led by Leif Eriksson, son of the Eric the Red, the Scandinavian Vikings
crossed the North Atlantic in 1000 AD, becoming the first known Europeans
to land in North America.
Now protected as a national park, the historic site is set on the edge
of the Strait of Belle Isle, across from Labrador, in a rough, rocky northern
environment. It's a fascinating place, made all the more special by the
unobtrusive, low-key approach taken in its development. The Viking settlement
includes replicas of sod buildings, complete with smoky scent, and there
are also eight unearthed originals of wood and sod. There's an interpretive
centre to help make sense of things, and if you're lucky you might be
offered some Viking snacks to sample. You can also take a two-hour tour
on a replica Viking ship.
Running south from Halifax is Nova Scotia's South Shore, a fogbound, jagged
coast dotted with rocky coves, fishing villages and historic towns. For
tourist purposes it's been dubbed the Lighthouse Route. The gorgeous little
shipbuilding town of Lunenberg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is
best-known for having built the racing schooner Bluenose back in 1921.
Fishing has always been big in Lunenburg, and things haven't changed too
much: Atlantic Canada's largest deep-sea fishing fleet sets sail from
here, and North America's biggest fish-processing plant is located in
town. Lunenburg still has the flavour and character of an 18th-century
British colonial town, thanks to its tradition of wood-construction architecture,
maintained since the 1750s. Other than explore the town's Fisheries Museum
and beautiful old churches, the thing to do here is to just wander, taking
in the wooden houses, wharves and old-fashioned streetscapes - and of
course finishing up with a dinner of halibut or haddock, mussels or lobster.
Sprawled along the Alberta-British Columbia border, the Rockies are barely
contained within two gigantic national parks - Banff to the South and
Jasper to the north. Banff was Canada's first official wildlife sanctuary
and these days the town that lent its name to the park is the nation's
number one resort spot year round. But Jasper National Park has a larger,
wilder and less explored landscape on show.
Banff's glorious turquoise Moraine Lake, while in danger of suffering
cliche overload, is one of Canada's most idyllic natural attractions.
Connecting Banff and Jasper parks is the Columbia Icefield, a vast bowl
of ice made up of about 30 glaciers and a remnant of the last Ice Age.
For those not glacially inclined, the Rockies offer wildlife walks, swimming,
caving, camping, hiking, canoeing, hot-spring soaking, mountain climbing
and plenty of places to stay. Accommodation costs are generally lower
at the Jasper end of this quintessential Canadian mountain playground.
Starting at the foot of the Rockies and heading out long, wide and flat
through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba is Canada's heartland prairie
country. Golden fields of wheat, or sunflowers, stretch forever in these
parts, and locals might be heard to sigh 'the Rocky Mountains may be nice
but they get in the way of the view'. Alberta's busiest prairie attraction
is the quaintly named Blackfoot Indian heritage site - Head-Smashed-In
Buffalo Jump, near Fort Macleod.The massive Riding Mountain National Park
is a forested oasis in the Manitoba prairies, where bison and bike riders
roam. Next door in Saskatchewan the prairies are scattered with evocatively
named national parks, and canoe routes often outnumber roads. Eclectic
surprises here include Yorkton - north of the Crooked Lake Provincial
Park - where onion-domed churches reflect the area's Ukranian heritage.
Park your UFO just southeast of Yorkton, near the tiny town of Rocanville,
and you'll be at one of Canada's most famous crop circle sites.
Yellowknife is the place to organise your canoe, fishing, kayak, camping,
skiing and hiking requirements before heading out into the mountains,
forests and treeless tundra of Canada's wild Northwest Territories. The
territorial capital sits on the northern shore of Great Slave Lake, catchment
basin for the mighty Mackenzie River which runs 1800km (1115mi) northwards
to its delta on the Beaufort Sea. A walk around Yellowknife's Old Town
takes you past wooden miners huts built during the 1934 gold rush, on
streets with good-luck-turned-sour names like Ragged Ass Rd. Visit the
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre to learn about the lifestyles
of the Dene and Inuit, or head outdoors (weather permitting) for dog-sled
tours, visits to a beaver colony or guided fishing trips. The famed Northern
Lights (aurora borealis) light up the fall-to-winter sky October-February
with streaks and haloes of green, yellow and rose. In March the city celebrates
the end of winter with the Caribou Carnival, and July explodes with the
Festival of the Midnight Sun and the Folk on the Rocks music festival.