Canada out of season
By Lynn Houghton | April 2019 | 6 minute read
The haunting call of a loon reverberates across the still deep water creating a hollow, other-worldly, sound.
As the sun sets, my native guide and I are canoeing just off the misty shore of Manitoulin Island, gliding quietly through the crystalline waters of Lake Huron. The outline of pine trees crowd around the water’s edge and are softly reflected in the lake’s water. Breathing in the cool autumnal air and listening to the evocative cries of water birds is a truly bewitching experience.
Don’t get me wrong, Toronto, 580 kilometres to the south, is a fabulous, multi-faceted city bursting with gourmet restaurants, first-class hotels, phenomenal shopping (plus a new Art Biennale opening this September). But travellers should consider seeking out the many provincial attractions beyond the city during the autumn, winter, or spring.
Fall Over Ontario
Ontario is surrounded by water. From the voluminous Niagara Falls to Lake Huron, Lake Erie, the Georgian Bay and smaller inland lakes, the First Nation people of this region consider this to be the area’s great blessing.
Manitoulin Island, in Lake Huron, has more freshwater lakes than any other island in the world and is where the Anishnabe people call home. For visitors interested in authentic, indigenous experiences, The Great Spirit Circle Trail organises canoeing, a medicine walk, drum making workshops and cleansing ceremonies. Grab the opportunity to sleep in a teepee, a great way to experience nature.
Autumn is a spectacular season to be in Ontario because of the superlative colours of the foliage. Sugar maples turn a vivid shade of red, while other trees’ leaves morph to orange, ochre, purple and yellow.
Grey County, on the Georgian Bay, is a special place to experience autumn as it is also apple harvest time. Enjoy a plethora of apple dishes, both savoury and sweet. And also suggest the Scenic Caves at Blue Mountain.
Open year-round, Scenic Caves is part of the Niagara Escarpment and well known for winter activities, zip-lines and a suspension bridge with inspirational views. There is much to do that is exhilarating, but the caves are worth exploring. A specific crevice among the rocks is named Ekarenniondi and believed by the First Nation tribes to be the entrance to hell.
A memorable excursion is Niagara Falls in winter. As night falls and snowflakes descend, the frozen falls take on a mystical quality, particularly when the inky darkness is punctuated with twinkling Christmas lights.
From mid-November through to mid-January, many come to experience the Winter Festival of Lights, an eight-kilometre- long glowing display which follows a path through Niagara Park and Dufferin Islands. Even the 233-metre-high Skylon Tower is decorated. Ascend to one of the upper three observation decks of the tower for whimsical wintry views below.
Saddle up for a Rocky ride
For those willing to swap Alberta’s popular Calgary Stampede in the summer for a different equestrian experience, suggest they travel a further 80 miles east to Banff.
Late spring or early autumn is a spectacular time for a horse-riding adventure in Banff National Park. Riders discover a nearly perfect way to see the park’s coniferous forests, rivers, and glacial lakes – from the saddle.
Multi-day horse rides often start from the Bow River Valley at the foot of the Sundance Mountain Range. Paths then veer off to the Storm Pack Trail and up to the Allenby Pass for never-ending views.
Mountain wildlife is most easily spotted in fall, winter and spring when animals move down to the lower elevations. This is elk rut season and also when wolves are on the prowl. Bighorn sheep, mule deer, moose, black bears, coyotes, lynx and cougar can be seen as well as smaller mammals such as snowshoe hare, beaver, porcupine, chipmunk and squirrel.
Ramp up the rail
Banff (or Jasper) is also the beginning, or the end, of one of the most spectacular train rides in North America. Called Journey Through the Clouds, The Rocky Mountaineer departs from Banff, stops overnight in Kamloops and then travels onto Vancouver's train terminus.
This is an exciting prospect during autumn and early spring when there is a better chance to spot wildlife. On board, staff are friendly, informative and dining is a gourmand’s dream, with local produce. Gold Leaf sees you seated in the upper part of double-decker cars with glass dome ceilings with almost 360° views. But for best wildlife spotting - which might include bears - saunter out to the open-viewing platform between carriages.
The Great North awaits those who want a once-in-a-lifetime autumnal adventure on VIA Rail. The two-day 1,700 km train journey from Winnipeg to Churchill transitions from majestic prairie to boreal forests and barren tundra before finally arriving at Churchill on the Hudson Bay. Or choose the spring or autumn for the four-night, three-day 4,446-mile journey from Toronto to Vancouver on The Canadian.
Vancouver’s North Shore
Across from Vancouver, on the other side of its Harbour, is the city’s forested North Shore, known for mountain-inspired activities.
On the way to the peaks, visit the dazzling natural spectacle that is Capilano Canyon. Cross from one side of this canyon to the other by way of the high suspension bridge that straddles it. Warning: you may have to duck to avoid the bald eagles that swoop across the abyss.
It’s a short hop from Capilano Canyon to Grouse Mountain. Now you have a decision: want to live like a local? Then accept the Grouse Grind challenge, a steep climb from the valley floor, by the cable car station, to the top. Don’t fancy a climb? Then the Skyride Cable Car whisks passengers to the top in 8 minutes.
And once at the top, there is much to do and see, including dozens of kilometres of hiking trails (or in winter – snowshoeing) on the Blue Grouse Loop. The five-acre Refuge for Endangered Wildlife is remarkable for being home to two orphaned grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola. The outdoor amphitheatre offers family friendly lumberjack shows, and there are several dining options, such as the Peak Chalet.
Vancouver’s Southern Suburbs
South of Vancouver, the suburban towns of Surrey and Richmond are worth a look around.
Richmond is home to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Park and, also, the sprawling International Buddhist Temple complex that has been compared to Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Surrey is known for its rambling parks and has a winery (Vinoscenti) on the Serpentine River.
When back in town, whatever the time of year, be sure to take the Vancouver Foodie Tour around Granville Island’s market.
The original ‘island’ was a couple of sand bars where the local First Nation tribal people would gather to fish. Once the tribal people were relocated, the area became industrialised, but when industry abandoned the island in the 1960s, Vancouver’s mayor decided to re-develop and a market opened in 1979. The market is a feast for the eyes and senses, with organic produce, baked goods and charcuterie being just a few of the things available to purchase.
Where to book it
Canadian Sky has a seven-night Backcountry Lodge and Horse Riding Adventure in Alberta priced from £2,299pp. The deal includes return flights to Calgary, return transfers from Calgary to Banff, seven-nights’ accommodation and approximately 5 daily rides of around five-and-a-half hours. The adventures are available from August to September 8 2019.
Canadian Affair’s six-night Ontario City, Falls & Adventure, departing on October 6 2019, is priced from £933pp. The deal includes flights, a night in Toronto, a night at Sheraton on the Falls, two nights at Manitoulin Island Hotel and two nights at the Westin Trillium House, with Avis car hire included.