Aboard BC Ferries' Queen of Capilano

Aboard BC Ferries' Queen of Capilano

Surrounded on three sides by ocean and spattered like a Jackson Pollock painting with crystalline lakes and historic rivers, Canada’s magnificent landscape is perhaps best viewed from its myriad waterways. Sure, you could take in the iconic wilderness scenery on a luxury cruise through British Columbia’s Inside Passage. But if you’re pressed for time or money, there are plenty of other ways to experience Canada at “see”-level. 

Highly recommended day-trips:

  • For the prettiest views of the historic harbour in Halifax, NS, make the 12-minute ferry crossing between Nova Scotia’s capital and the city of Dartmouth. 
  • For centuries, visitors have found respite from the urban bustle of Toronto, ON in the lushly wooded Toronto Islands, just a short hop across Lake Ontario from Canada’s largest metropolis. Year-round ferry service departs from the docks at the foot of Bay Street. The return trip offers great photo opps of the city skyline.
  • At the historic junction of Manitoba’s mighty Red and Assiniboine Rivers is Winnipeg’s premier tourist attraction, The Forks. From May to September, the River Spirit water bus plies the scenic and tranquil riverfront. Or rent a canoe or paddleboat and explore at your own pace.

Have I missed any? Let me know!

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Winter is the best time to see Canada’s dramatic northern lights. This excerpt, from an article that first appeared in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, describes a recent viewing in Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill light show/Travel Manitoba

Churchill light show/Travel Manitoba

 

We’d been flying for hours. In the row ahead, two American hunters on their way up to Baker Lake to bag a few musk ox adjusted their large rumps in the turboprop’s small seats.

My friend Jo gave up reading the inflight magazine, with its ads for romantic weekend escapes to Edmonton, and pressed her forehead against the little window to study the lake-pocked landscape of northern Manitoba, which was mottled brown-and-white as far as the eye could see, as if God had spread a tattered lace tablecloth across the wide plain.

“I’m pretty sure we won’t be bumping into Rod Stewart up here,” she said dryly.

The day before, in the elevator of Winnipeg’s elegant Fairmont Hotel, we’d had the adolescent thrill of running into the aging rock star–or at least his body double–on the way to a sold-out concert at the new MTS Centre. Now we were 1,700 kilometres north of the city, closer to Nunavut than the corner of Portage and Main, hoping for a less random encounter with the stars. We were heading for Churchill, looking for a front-row seat at that dramatic and long-running show called the aurora borealis.

It was certainly not a sure thing. Cloud cover, moon phases, nuclear arms in North Korea–there were plenty of variables to confound us. And you could catch the act in other places, of course. I grew up in northern B.C. and already knew one version of the show from childhood. But Churchill is to the northern lights what Broadway is to musical theatre: the shows are big, the actors are reliable, and you never know when you’re going to encounter an award-winning performance.

The plain little port community, which claims to be “the polar bear capital of the world”, is arguably the best place in the world to view the lights, centred as it is under the northern “auroral oval”, the region with the highest and most intense auroral activity. The kaleidoscopic light show, which peaks in the winter months, is caused when the sun spits electrically charged particles at the earth. When that solar saliva trickles into the upper atmosphere and excites its oxygen and nitrogen, the results are colourful, to say the least.

Read the rest of this article here.

This an excerpt from “Tune in to your next trip,” my story about the power of music to transform our travels. It originally appeared in Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper:

II. Appassionato

If, as the Bard reminds us, all the world’s a stage, then I propose we photo-obsessed wayfarers might do well to lay aside our cameras and pay closer attention to the incidental music that punctuates the scenes and acts of our traveling days.

I am not talking here about the blue-chip performances that require advance tickets and balcony seating and fancy dress. I am speaking rather of those unplanned and unexpected gifts of music that tell us as surely as the food we are eating and the language we are speaking where we have landed on this planet.

When we come back from our travels, we are prepared for the usual questions: “Where did you go? What did you see? What did you do?” And even before you have boarded your return flight, you have likely prepared your stock responses. But how would you begin to answer if someone were to ask: “Tell me—what did you hear?”           

III. Dolce

I collected my first sound postcard when I was 14 years old and trapped in what seemed an interminable family vacation in the suburban barrens of Winnipeg. It was a hot July afternoon, and my younger brother and I, tired of running through my grandmother’s sprinkler, sat on the scorching cement steps leading to the never-used front door, stunned silent by the oppressive humidity.

Inside, my mother and her older sister, my aunt Donna, had claimed the below-ground basement, the only cool place in the little brick-and-stucco tract house. Both accomplished violinists, they enjoyed playing duets whenever they got together. The screen door was open, and my brother and I could hear them tuning up as we meticulously picked the bits of grass off our feet that so annoyed my granny when we tracked them into her obsessively tidy kitchen.

 It was the first time I ever heard Bach’s double violin concerto. We laid back on the front stoop and let the joyous optimism of the first movement wash over us, and indulged, I think, a secret pride that it was our family members making that glorious sound. Some neighborhood kids wandered into the yard and joined us on the steps to listen. Then more came and suddenly, as if lured by the Pied Piper himself, there were a dozen bored and sticky children gathered by the screen to enjoy that wafting musical breeze.

It seemed so risky at the time, but as a group we decided to descend to the basement, where we sat quietly on old couches and chairs to watch the performance. Neither player saw us enter: with their backs to the stairs, they were oblivious to anything but their instruments. I will never forget the look on their faces when the little audience jumped to its feet to applaud the final movement. I have no pictures from that long-ago summer, only the memory of that joyful noise—of family, and friends, and music shared without pretense.

[Read–and hear–the entire Globe & Mail story here.]