Written for Vancity Buzz by
Welcome to the era of the 21st Century road trip. With low gas prices and an anemic Canadian dollar, the idea of exploring close to home is once again immensely appealing. In 2016, there’s another reason why Canadians will be eager to see their country on ground level rather than thousands of feet overhead: nostalgia.
As the nation nears its 150th birthday, exploring the provinces and territories by car gives Canadians an opportunity to reconnect with their home country. But where should you go once you’ve got behind the wheel?
We asked the travel experts over at Vacay.ca to give us a run down of 10 places to visit in Canada for 2016. From Muskoka to the Dempster Highway, read on below to see what made the cut:
The Kee to Bala marks its 75th anniversary, with the venue open from Victoria Day weekend (May 20-23) until late October. This concert hall lives on the water and is a rite of passage for anyone visiting Muskoka. Famous artists have stopped by over the years, including Louis Armstrong and Duke Wellington in the 1940s. Blue Rodeo, Sam Roberts and even Snoop Dogg have performed at Kee to Bala as well. We are still waiting to hear who the lineup will be this year but for the diamond anniversary, it’s bound to be exceptional.
The small towns in Muskoka, including Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Huntsville have festivals and events all year. Dozens of farmers’ markets take place including one in Bracebridge every Saturday and Gravenhurst on Wednesdays. Love cars? The Antique Custom & Classic Car Show in Huntsville and the Gravenhurst Classic Car Show are favourites. Outdoor arts festivals like the annual Summer Muskoka Arts & Crafts Show and the Bala Cranberry Festival are two more events that have been a staple in Muskoka for the last 50 years and reinforce the laid-back and friendly Muskoka way of life.
Concerts, festivals, sweet cars and tasty food aside what matters are the most important reasons people visit this cherished Ontario region — pristine lakes, Muskoka chairs, lakeside campfires, beautiful resorts and untouched nature. Families and couples can enjoy a hike in the woods, a boat cruise on North America’s oldest operating steamship (the RMS Segwun), or a sunset paddle in a canoe. Muskoka is also a winter wonderland, with snowmobiling, horseshoeing and what has to be one of the coolest activities in the province, the ice skating trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park. With 1.3 kilometres of smoothed ice winding through the forest, the ice skating trail is a winter experience you simply must try at least once in your lifetime.
Like the iconic Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, this location’s Relais & Chateaux property, the Kingsbrae Arms, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and doing it with a series of events focused on its food and wine program. A pioneering property in the locavore movement in Canada, the Kingsbrae Arms offers immersive tours that connect travellers to the fishing and farming life in this lovely seaside region.
For a town of only 1,800 people, you sure can sleep and eat exceptionally well in St. Andrews By-the-Sea. Besides the Kingsbrae Arms, visitors have these other outstanding properties to choose from: the Algonquin Resort, which re-opened in 2014 after a tremendous renovation that cost more than $30 million; and the Rossmount Inn, a place for connoisseurs as it was New Brunswick’s only entry on the 2015 Top Restaurants in Canada Rankings. While in the area, you’ll also want to trek 200 kilometres northeast to Fundy National Park to experience one of the jewels of the Maritimes.
It’s a big year in Saskatoon with the lead up to the opening of the Remai Modern, which is slated for 2017 but is already inspiring a range of artistic endeavours. Art installations and creative projects will be part of the programming meant to herald the debut of the gallery, which is destined to be one of the most visited museums in the prairies and a game-changer in the landscape of modern art in Canada. Also in 2016, the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, the second-largest event of its kind in Western Canada, will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Art, food, music and scenery. Saskatoon is an energetic city with a youthful vibe. Its culinary highlights for 2016 include the debut of Little Grouse on the Prairie, a new restaurant from the team at Ayden Kitchen and Bar, and the Glen at Crossmount, an agrotourism destination that will produce ciders and even icewine. Meanwhile, construction and excitement continues on the Remai Modern. It will include 405 Picasso linocuts valued at $20 million, among other pieces.
The Great Punt Race to There and Back is taking place again — just as it has for the past 300-plus years. Each summer, rowers take to the North Atlantic seas for an approximately 10-mile race that departs from the wharf in the town of Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island, travels to the Change Islands and returns to the starting spot. It is more than a regatta. The race is a cultural treasure that endures even as change comes to these communities at the edge of Newfoundland. This year’s race takes place on July 16. There are other festivals to enjoy, too, as well as expanding tourism initiatives spearheaded by the acclaimed Fogo Island Inn.
Newfoundland is full of quaint and charming communities, but with Change Islands and Fogo Island visitors can enjoy old and new, rustic and sophisticated, bargains and world-class luxury. It is a fascinating mix and that makes it a marvel.
The truth is there isn’t a specific event or anniversary being celebrated in Quebec City in 2016. But it nevertheless makes our list because the provincial capital is always so darn unique, entertaining, and refreshing. There’s a reason why Quebec City lands on our 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada list year after year. The city overflows with a quiet, elegant confidence; it knows what it is and what it has to offer the world. There’s no other city quite like it.
Begin your journey at the site of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham — the historic event that took place on September 13, 1759 — and walk in the footsteps of generals Wolfe and Montcalm. Quebec City is a fun, boisterous city where you can easily lose yourself on patios or along cobblestone streets. Savour the restaurants and check out the hotels and nightclubs along Grande Allee and discover why rue du Petit-Champlain ranks first on Vacay.ca’s list of Canada’s Best Streets.
The Québec Winter Carnival (January 29 – February 14) is without question one of the best cold-weather celebrations in the world. Quebec City Summer Festival, better known as Le Festival d’été de Québec, is easily one of the best music festivals in the country. This year the festival welcomes the Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Keith Urban and Megadeth.
There’s always much to do and drink in this beautiful and bustling part of B.C. and for those who missed out in its first year, 2016 is the year to attend the Hopscotch Festival (September 23-24). It is Canada’s premium whisky, beer and spirit festival with more than 5,000 people last year going to the Okanagan Valley to taste, sip and learn about hundreds of products ranging from vintage Scotch to craft beer.
The Okanagan Valley — which includes Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Osoyoos — is an all-season destination. It is one of the warmest regions in all of Canada and in the summer visitors have sandy beaches and hot sun to soak up. In winter, world-class ski resorts welcome winter sports lovers to take in some runs on the mountains and then dip into hot springs to soak in the atmosphere during a fine apres-ski environment.
The One Young World international youth conference brings 1,500 fresh faces from 196 countries to the nation’s capital for a three-day summit. The goal of the three-day conference is to bring the next generation of world leaders together for an inspiring series of sessions and discussions. It’s not the Olympics by any stretch, but it is a boon for the tourism industry now and potentially in the future. The youth conference is a unique event in a city with plenty of annual festivals worth checking out, including: Winterlude, the Ottawa Bluesfest and the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Canada celebrates its 150th birthday in 2017 and interest in the country’s capital city will be at a high between now and the big celebration. For 2016, visiting Ottawa will feel like you’re dropping in on the party planning for the biggest celebration in its recent history. There will be lots of energy in a city with plenty of nightlife options and cultural activities.
Festivals and events taking place in 2016 include the Snowball Festival (January 30-February 27) and the Jonquiere Provincial Peewee Hockey Tournament (January 11-17). Other popular attractions in Saguenay are the Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien and the Native Museum of Mashteuiatsh. Saint-Prime in Winter (February 4-6) is also a major draw.
Saguenay has done an exceptional job showcasing the asset it should be most proud of — its natural beauty. The region has whatever medication you need — snowshoeing, dog sledding, skiing, camping, fishing, biking, rafting, snowmobiling or horseback riding — and all against a pristine backdrop of flowing water and green, rolling hills.
La Véloroute des Bleuets is one of the most outstanding bike trails in the world, a wonderful way to see the beauty of the region up close and to meet a few friendly, easygoing people. Parc aventures Cap Jaseux provides unique treehouse and treetop experiences. Les croisières du Fjord gives tours that guide visitors through the majestic fjord with options for kayaking and canoeing.
The Dempster Highway is unlike any other thoroughfare in Canada with its wide-open spaces and its proximity to the variety of wildlife you can’t see anywhere else but Yukon. After three years of construction, the 140-kilometre all-season highway linking the town of Inuvik with the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk opens in 2016. The road, which extends the Dempster Highway — which will now run 870 km — to the Arctic coast, will complete Canada’s road network from coast to coast to coast.
Plan to travel the Dempster between February and April when the road is frozen and akin to driving on pavement, only with snowdrifts. Winter is also the best time to see the northern lights. Inuvik provides access to the Mackenzie River ice highway to Aklavik or Tuktoyaktuk along the frozen Mackenzie River that turns into a public road and connects the communities with Inuvik from mid-December to mid-April, depending on the weather. Speed limit on the ice road is 70 km/hour and there won’t be many traffic jams or gas stations, so travellers must be well prepared. In the winter, carry a shovel, sleeping bag, stove, matches, emergency snacks, and, of course, dress for cold outdoor temperatures. It would be wise to rent a satellite phone as cell service is not available in some areas on the Dempster Highway.
Happy anniversary to several outstanding events and festivals in Halifax this year. Music lovers can look forward to the 30th anniversary of the TD Halifax Jazz Festival (July 13-17). Another event celebrating 30 years is the Halifax International Busker Festival, which will take place in July. The Atlantic Film Festival is celebrating 35 years in 2016, and the Atlantic Fringe Festival turns 25.
For fans of figure skating, the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships (January 18-24) promises to bring thrills and a few spills. Fun and games aside, something else you simply have to check out while you’re in Halifax is the expansion of its premier museum. The newly renovated Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 officially reopened in 2015 following a $30-million expansion. The entry point for close to one million immigrants to Canada between 1928 and 1971, renovations include a new permanent exhibit on the past four centuries of immigration to the country.
Halifax always seems to have something on the go. Throw a dart at a calendar and you are bound to hit a food or music festival. The provincial capital is also full of significant tourism attractions and activities, including the magnificent Citadel Hill National Historic Site and nightly ghost walks that are highlighted by the stories related to the Titanic tragedy. The city is also home to Edna, one of only two Nova Scotia establishments to rank among the Top Restaurants in Canada for 2015.
Did your favourite destination make the cut? Got a suggestion for a great Canadian road trip? let us know in the comment section below.