Four Ways to experience Canada
There are many ways to explore and experience a country. Canada, due to its size–by area the second largest country in the world–and diversity, offers more than a few.
At least four different types of experiences provide insight and prompt appreciation for this vast country: Wilderness Canada, Urban Canada, Historical Canada and Regional Canada. The ways and means of appreciating each theme and the type of travel involved vary considerably, and depend on the goals of the traveller. Here is how to get the most out of these experiences.
#1 Wilderness Canada
With over 80% of Canada uninhabited, the country is still largely wilderness, and it is often the escape from urban sprawl that draws visitors to Canada. Mountains, forest, lakes and rivers, Arctic tundra and sparse transportation networks separate its people, confining most of them to a 100 mile ribbon along the United States border. But they also open up vast opportunities for those who appreciate the isolation and beauty these geographic realities provide.
Those who love active wilderness adventures such as paddle trips, backpacking treks, white-water rafting on churning rivers, mountain-climbing, sea kayaking excursions, and hunting and fishing safaris; or more passive ventures like birding and photography pursuits, wildlife viewing, mountain-top or waterfall vista chasing, will find adventure-specific outfitters ready to cater to almost every imaginable sub-specialty. Some outfitters are, to be sure, themselves remote, perhaps necessitating fly-in, but that only fore-shadows the experiences to follow. Others are more easily accessed.
Less focused travelers will find packaged tour companies, like West Adventures, that offer an exposure to a broader range of these experience, without the deep dive into any specific one. It’s a great way to appreciate the wilderness escape from urban crowding, get active in the great outdoors, and drink in the grand vistas that Canada’s diverse geography provides.
Travel to experience wilderness Canada will be by road (think bus or RV), back-roads (think 4×4), canoe, raft, foot, kayak, horseback and, perhaps, small aircraft.
#2 Urban/cultural Canada
For another type of traveller, urban diversity is more appealing than wilderness appreciation. And despite its relative youth and dearth of large cities, Canada does showcase considerable urban and cultural diversity.
Atlantic Canada, with it sea-faring history and culture offers the cities of St John’s, Newfoundland (where you’ve got to get “screeched in” and “kiss the cod,”) and Halifax, the historic gateway for European immigration to Canada. Quebec City, on the other hand, is all about the French culture and history of Canada, while it’s near neighbour, Montreal, is a liberal cosmopolitan mix of the French and English, Canada’s two founding nations. Toronto and Calgary are Canada’s dominant business centres but with vastly different urban cultures. Toronto is a world-class primate city, with most of the country’s urban superlative attractions, from arts to sports to ethnic enclaves, while Calgary has a more laid-back, western feel, its attraction also due to its umbilical connection to the Rocky Mountains. Then there’s Vancouver, with its multicultural and environmental vibe, perched in one of the most beautiful natural settings on the planet. Add Ottawa, Canada’s capital, Winnipeg, the historic and transportation gateway to the West, and Edmonton, the largest city in the world at such a northern latitude (whose football team is aptly named, the “Eskimos”–go figure), and you’ve got more urban diversity than most visitors can see in a season.
Of course, the culinary diversity is as diverse as the city vibes: from the seafood of Atlantic Canada, to the poutine, maple syrup and Montreal smoked meat of the Quebec culture, to the beef and beans of Alberta’s cowboy country, to the street vendors of nearly every national origin that mark Vancouver’s food culture, you’re palette will be treated to incredible diversity.
To take this all in, you’ll be flying from city to city. But, you’ll want to explore the heart of each either with a rental vehicle or a bicycle, or a hop-on-hop-off bus, or, in a place like Montreal, by a horse-drawn carriage.
#3 Historic Canada
Six themes mark the brief but rich history of Canada: The First Nations (aboriginal) legacy; the “discovery” by Europeans; the fur trade; the settlement of the interior; the gold rushes; and the building of the railroad.
All of these legacies are documented with more than 970 national historic sites sprinkled across the country. From Old Quebec City to Ottawa to the Riel rebellions of the prairies, to Barkerville, to Haida Gwaii to Dawson City in the Yukon, a cross-Canada road trip will never be enough to catch them all in even a year.
So, one of the best ways to appreciate and experience the history is by taking the train over that ribbon of steel that generated the final one of those themes. Along the way, you’ll drink in the diverse beauty of the country, and whistle-stop through the urban centres that now dominate.
When you’ve crossed the length of the country, you’ll possibly be inspired to do it again by road, enriching your exposure rail tour with deeper insights from some of those nearly a thousand historical sites.
#4 Regional Canada
“I’m going to Canada, and want to see Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains,” is a statement often heard. Only trouble is, those destinations are about as far apart as Madrid and Leningrad, or Canberra and Perth. So, most people opt to cover the country a region at a time. And, being a country of regions defined by that outstanding geography, a regional approach is easily doable. With this approach, you can combine just the right mix of wilderness, adventure, urban, cultural and historical in a particular region, to satiate your personal appetite.
Start with the two destinations mentioned and make it two trips: one that focuses on The Niagara and Ontario region, where your access point will likely be Toronto, and one that covers BC and the Rocky Mountains that you’ll access either from Vancouver or Calgary. Each could easily leave you spellbound for a month, but could also be experienced over a two-week period.
Add four more regional trips: to Quebec, to Atlantic Canada, to the Great Plains, and to Northern Canada, and you’ll still not have seen everything. If you have the time, combine any two or three of these regions with flights between the major connecting cities, and you get a pretty large dose of Canadiana in one visit.
West Adventures covers the BC and Rocky Mountains region with four different itineraries that will get you into the heart of the wilderness, experience the beauty of the landscapes, and appreciate the geography and history that created this landscape.
See you in Western Canada, eh?
Interested in one of our Western Canada adventure tours?