By Stuart Forster
Off the radar for much of the year, Canada's attractions and iconic experiences are anticipating a return to business in 2021.
Gasps of excitement resonate throughout the train carriage. Anyone not already holding their camera or smartphone make a grab for them, but the rest of us are already pointing our lenses at the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies as we roll closer to Banff.
The upper-level of the Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf car has arching panoramic windows ideal for viewing the dramatic landscapes of western Canada.
I’ve already photographed the raging Fraser River at the suitably named Hell’s Gate, scrubland near Kamloops that reminded me of sets from Western movies, and the snowy mountains around Revelstoke, one of British Columbia’s many world-class winter sports resorts.
I captured a bald eagle gliding above the Thompson River, where gold used to be panned, and bighorn sheep chewing grass while peering down from a hillside.
An announcement by a member of the luxury train’s Guest Services team about wildlife up ahead prompts people on the right-hand side of the bi-level carriage to stand from their leather seats.
Excited, I head downstairs to the open platform at the back of the train.
There, lumbering across the icy surface of a frozen lake, is a creature that is often nicknamed Bob in this part of the world – a ‘Big Old Bear’.
The grizzly pauses and turns to look at the train; capturing the moment proves another highlight of this scenic rail journey.
Coast to coast
Long-distance train journeys are a popular way of seeing Canada’s countryside and wilderness areas. Although confined to their sheds for the entire 2020 season, in usual years Rocky Mountaineer’s trains operate on three scenic routes in British Columbia and Alberta. The two- and three-day train journeys can be combined with holidays featuring sightseeing packages – including helicopter tours – and even cruises.
Western Canada draws UK travellers for winter sports, its national parks and scenic drives, including the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper.
Canada also offers much for foodies, with many restaurants focusing on regional produce. Craft distilleries and breweries flourish across the country while wine lovers will appreciate wineries in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. Meanwhile, the World Whisky of the Year, Alberta Distillers’Alberta Premium Cask Strength, is crafted in Calgary.
Movie and TV fans may get a kick from visiting filming locations in Canada, whose cities frequently stand in for those in the USA. Many scenes in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan were filmed in Montréal and watchers of Emmy Award-winning Schitt’s Creek will recognise Bob’s Garage, Rose Apothecary and Cafe Tropical in Goodwood, Ontario.
In 2021 Nova Scotia will celebrate a century passing since the Bluenose racing and fishing schooner was launched and first won the coveted International Fishermen’s Trophy. Normally moored in the UNESCO World Heritage Site town of Lunenburg, Bluenose II will tour the province’s harbours.
With more travellers expected to seek eco-tourism getaways, recommend two attractions in Nova Scotia: Tobeatic Wilderness Area, for forest bathing, and Trout Point Lodge, the world’s first certified Starlight Hotel, for guided stargazing and astrophotography in Kejimkujik National Park’s dark sky preserve.
Bucket list experiences among Canada’s great outdoors in 2021 will likely appeal to anyone who has spent months cooped up.
Grizzly bear watching is an option in British Columbia and there’s ever-popuar polar bear viewing in Manitoba. Whale-watching cruises operate off Vancouver Island and in the Bay of Fundy in Atlantic Canada. Conditions to view northern lights in the Yukon, Alberta and elsewhere are often ideal in spring and autumn, providing opportunities to sell Canada holidays throughout the year.
Self-drive holidays enable travellers to maximise sightseeing opportunities while mostly socially distancing.
For clients concerned about Covid-19, motorhomes provide the ideal way for families to stay in theirr own ‘bubbles’ and at the same time minimise contact with strangers in a country whose remote locations and wildlife viewing opportunities count among its key selling points.
On Vancouver Island, the retro-chic Hotel Zed Tofino, which has the world’s first bike-through lobby, opened in August.
In Toronto, the Ace Hotel Toronto will soon tempt guests with rooms featuring acoustic guitars and record players.
In September, the 262-room Sutton Place Hotel Halifax opened in the city’s new convention hub, the Nova Centre. And Halifax’s first five-star hotel, the 110-room Muir, opens in 2021. Part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, the sustainably designed hotel will showcase local art and feature a wellness centre.
What the experts say
“Canada is well-known as a welcoming, friendly country and its wide-open spaces have always been a big draw for visitors. Within two hours’ drive of Toronto, visitors can be in the Niagara or Blue Mountain regions,” says Denise Hunn, Director of Canada Tour Operations at Prestige Holidays. Denise contends that agents who work with the operator have plenty of clients who are researching itineraries and will book as soon as they feel comfortable.
Dan Gathercole, Managing Director of First Class Holidays, advises agents to upsell. “This could be a once in a lifetime trip,” he says.
“Many clients will be open to doing more and for longer, and will likely have additional funds available due to not having a holiday this year. Late-2021 and 2022 bookings are averaging nearly a day longer than previously.”
Tim Greathead, Product Manager for Canada and the USA for Premier Holidays, reports increased demand for holidays combining both the east and west coasts.
“Agents should look at promoting some of the less-visited parks, such as Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Wells Grey Provincial Park in British Columbia, Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario and Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.
“These can be explored independently via self-drive and have accommodations in or close to the park.”
From November 21, air travellers to Canada will be asked to submit a quarantine plan, contact details and travel information before boarding flights – via the ArriveCAN website Canada.ca/ArriveCAN or mobile app – and retain the receipt or risk fines of up to CAD$1,000 (£575). Unless exempt, all new arrivals must confirm reaching their place of quarantine and submit daily COVID-19 symptom assessments throughout the quarantine period.
Book it with...
The 11-day Rocky Mountain Railtour includes international flights, nine nights in hotels, six excursions and SilverLeaf Service aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. It is priced from £4,149pp.
The 11-night Eastern Explorer escorted tour includes international flights, dinner in Toronto’s CN Tower, a cruise at Niagara Falls plus visits to Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Algonquin Provincial Park, from £2,199pp.