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Wandering Western Canada

sunny 28 °C

Sample Itinerary (Vancouver and Vancouver Island)
- Day 1: Vancouver
- Day 2: Vancouver Island: Sidney, Island View Beach, Victoria (downtown and Cook St. Village/Beacon Hill Park)
- Day 3: Vancouver Island: Juan de Fuca Beach Trail (French Beach, China Beach, and Sombrio Beach)
- Day 4: Vancouver Island: Sooke Potholes, Victoria (Dallas Rd. circuit including Cadboro Bay)
- Day 5: Vancouver: Granville Island, picnic dinner at Kitsilano Beach
- Day 6: Vancouver: English Bay Beach, Stanley Park, Downtown dinner
- Day 7: Vancouver: Van Dusen Botanical Gardens and Queen Elizabeth Park, picnic dinner at Spanish Banks
- Day 8: Pacific Spirit Park and UBC campus
Optional: daytrip to Whistler or Squamish from Vancouver; visit other islands, e.g., Salt Spring or Quadra; travel further north up Vancouver Island to Cathedral Grove and Tofino/Ucluelet (surfing and storm-watching capital)

Where to Stay
- East Sooke, Vancouver Island: SookePoint Ocean Cottage Resort Rentals (~$400 CAD)
- Victoria, Vancouver Island: Helm’s Inn (~$150 CAD)
- Vancouver: Hotel or Airbnb in Gastown, Yaletown, or Kitsilano

Where to Eat
- Victoria, Vancouver Island: Rebar (vegetarian cuisine), Red Fish Blue Fish (seafood take-out), Pagliacci’s (upscale Italian), Blue Fox Café (brunch), Moka House Coffee in Cook St. Village (snacks and coffee), Little June in Fernwood (snacks and coffee), Fernwood Inn (casual pub fare), and the Empress Hotel for high tea
- Shirley, Vancouver Island: Stoked Wood Fired Pizzeria and Market (delicious pizza near French Beach)
- Vancouver: Arbutus Coffee (Kitsilano), Siegel’s Bagels on Granville Island (rosemary rocksalt with lox and cream cheese!), Petit Ami (great caffeinated drinks on Granville Island), Bella Gelateria (award-winning flavours located near Canada Place), Japadog (chain of gourmet Japanese hot dogs), Terra Breads (chain of tasty baked goods – especially the scones!), Aphrodite’s Organic Pie Shop (surprisingly tasty focaccia too!), Maria’s Taverna (affordable, delicious Greek food in Kitsilano)

Covid-19 Policies
- As a Canadian, I didn’t have to take a test or quarantine since I was flying from another Canadian province and am double vaccinated but I did have to pay $100 for a rapid viral antigen test to fly back into the U.S.
- As of August 9, 2021, fully-vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents are able to fly into Canada as long as they’ve had a negative test within 72 hours of entering the country, and take one more test upon entry
- Be mindful of changing travel policies at both the federal and provincial level in Canada, and then your local pandemic travel policies too

My Travel Diary


There was a reflective feeling to this trip, partially because I was journeying to the past by visiting a city I had lived in years ago but mainly because I arrived in Vancouver, B.C. shortly after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves near former residential schools across Canada. There was nothing surprising about the announcement because it’s well known that a number of children died or were killed at these sites, but it was horrific nevertheless. There is so much work that Canada, the church, and individuals still need to do not only to address the past, but also to improve the present. There’s a lot of talk about “allyship” nowadays, but it misses the mark if we’re not looking at our own lives, workplaces, and social interactions to make positive changes. In Vancouver, this took the form of protests in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery to “Cancel Canada Day”, which also included placing hundreds of children’s shoes on the steps, and showcasing a plethora of signs encouraging people to take a moment of silence amid other concrete actions. It was a strange Canada Day all around because there were so many competing (and very visible, vocal) viewpoints: people wanting to celebrate Canada Day, others advocating for its cancelation, and others still fixated on rallying against Covid-19 vaccinations. We stayed publicly-apolitical in our celebrations because we wanted to maintain distance and chose to reflect amongst ourselves instead. I visited the protest in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery days later where any bystander could still feel the raw pain palpating through the air.


Vancouver isn’t a large city, mainly because of its topographical constraints. For that reason, it’s easier to find a few neighbourhoods of interest and explore them in-depth. On this trip, I made Kitsilano my base, so I spent a good deal of time at Granville Island: trying to eat my food in between aggressive, coordinated seagull attacks. Obviously this is where Hitchcock found his inspiration for "The Birds".


If you’re an old soul and fear that Kitsilano will be too loud and hip with its ironically named boutiques (looking at you, Spank) and Instagrammable bars, restaurants, and cafes, I can safely say you’ll be fine. Although it has a few bustling strips, its overall vibe is more like an island beach town. Ultimately, in most place, nobody notices you since they’re so caught up in their own worlds anyway. Mostly I appreciated Kitsilano’s proximity to beaches, which, I should admit, isn’t hard to accomplish anywhere in Vancouver. As a tourist in Vancouver, there’s almost no need to eat in a restaurant when you can just order take-out and sit on the beach instead. This lends itself well to a safer pandemic social outing too. So, wearing our uniform of bathing suits and flip flops we enjoyed sunset picnics at Kitsilano Beach and also nature’s even more stunning angles from Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach. A definite highlight was when my sister and I ventured out in low tide at Spanish Banks one morning. There was an illusion of so much exposed sand to the point where it felt like we’d be able to walk out to the tankers (we definitely couldn’t!).


Any visit to Vancouver will likely include a trip to Stanley Park. Unwilling to buck the trend, my sister and I spent a few hours wandering the paths, admiring the Totem poles, and smelling the flowers. Although the views are beautiful in Stanley Park, I was more surprised by the biodiversity at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens and the sights at Queen Elizabeth Park. The Botanical Gardens were reasonably priced at just under $12 (CAD) each, and we spent two hours wandering through the grounds following the map and creating our own self-guided tour. The redwoods were a treasure, and a reminder of our responsibility to protect the planet in the face of human destruction, pollution, wildfires and deforestation. In fact, even flying into Vancouver, the air was hazy as a result of all of the smoke. I also happened to arrive at the tail-end of the worst heatwave they’ve ever experienced: hundreds of people died, and a town literally burned to the ground. Climate change is very real, and devastatingly efficient.


Queen Elizabeth Park is just over 50 hectares and is actually the highest point in the city of Vancouver, so from the elegant Seasons in the Park restaurant you can take in the city skyline against the many mountains. It just so happened that while I was in Vancouver, a number of friends from across Canada were also visiting B.C. So, I was fortunate enough to have really fun group outings with friends. At Seasons, two friends from grad school and I reunited for the first time in about seven years: one visiting from the east coast, and the other living in Vancouver permanently. On another occasion, I met two friends from Toronto who both happened to be visiting this western paradise too. One brought his young son to our adventure outing, so we bore witness to the realness of a sugar high and its subsequent crash. Another friend has temporarily created an island escape for himself, so we also spent time lazily soaking up the sun with him. It was really rejuvenating seeing so many people from such disparate points in my life. It just so happened that I had arrived shortly after the pandemic policies had loosened, so I was legally able to enjoy the company of others. My cousin also hosted us in her beautiful backyard, so I got to hear about her kids’ pandemic education experiences and how she and her husband had been coping work-wise. As an epidemiologist, I suppose society finally understands the value in what she does! Had I visited a month before even these outdoor encounters may have been trickier, but as it stood, I had the chance to see familiar faces and also work on my own anxieties transitioning away from being a recluse hiding out under my mask like Zorro or the Phantom.


Although visiting a university campus may not be a top priority for a tourist, I highly recommend visiting the University of British Columbia (UBC). On the way there, you pass through Pacific Spirit Regional Park where you can spend hours hiking the 750 hectares of forest. The smells and sounds of the cedars, maples, and other gentle giants were so reassuring. It felt like one of the calmest points on my trip. It helped that my sister and I were hiking with our mom’s best friend who is like a walking meditation app – she’s got the most peaceful presence, and reminded us to just take deep breaths while setting a tone that feels good for everyone. Afterwards, the three of us took the chance to explore the UBC campus with my sister playing tour guide. The most important features were likely the water fountains and washrooms since it was a hot day, and fortunately they were plentiful. The most scenic spot was definitely the rose garden. From right above the gardens, you can look out at the ocean and overlapping mountains. If I hadn’t injured my knee, we likely would have also climbed down the 500 steps to clothing-optional Wreck Beach on campus but alas we had to forgo the naked beachgoers and just head back to the crop tops of Kits instead.




Throughout my time in Vancouver, I noticed a lot of charming community initiatives. The Arbutus Greenway in Kitsilano stands out: it provided a green walkway, full of community gardens, back to my accommodation from my frequent visits to Granville Island. Even the island felt like its own inclusive community with its friendly shop owners like at Granville Island Treasures. The more I enjoyed Vancouver the more I wondered why I’d ever left B.C. But a visit to Vancouver or Vancouver Island in June or July is very different than time spent there in October or November – I enjoyed the colourful landscape without the gray filter. There are countless other questions of fit (apart from probability of precipitation) when determining where to move, so for now a visitation will definitely suffice.

Vancouver Island

Driving to Vancouver Island was a first for me. Not that we literally drove on water (although I’m sure that’ll be viable in a few years thanks to Mr. Musk), but I don’t think I’ve ever boarded the ferry by car before. It definitely saved us time because we didn’t have to coordinate our public transit from Vancouver to Tsawwassen or from Schwarz Bay to Victoria (which takes hours, cumulatively). Although I haven’t really felt increased anxiety on buses, it has worsened on planes so I half-expected to feel a pounding heart on the ferry but to my delight that never happened. My sea legs were shaky at times, but my motion sickness never materialized either. It really helped that we were able to sit outside and observe spectacular scenery, and that the whole trip was only about an hour and a half.




Arriving on the island, we stopped by Sidney to take in all of its book shops. Even if you’re not a Belle (i.e., a bookworm), you can still enjoy the views and dining options. Views were clearly better from Island View Beach though, which we walked along en route to Victoria. On a clear day, you have some incredible vistas, although I don’t think anything compares to the views from Victoria’s Dallas Rd.


My priority every time I’ve been back to Victoria has been to retrace my past: eat at my favourite restaurant (Rebar), spot the peacocks in my favourite park (Beacon Hill), grab a drink at my favourite café (Moka House in Cook St. Village), and visit my old neighbourhoods. This time I donned my tourist guide cap so that my sister’s boyfriend could soak in more of the Victorian vibe. We wandered Fan Tan Alley, which is actually the narrowest street in Canada’s oldest Chinatown, so that they could get an idea of the invaluable impact that Chinese-Canadians have had on B.C.’s culture. We also strolled past the Empress Hotel, which is over 100 years old, a popular site for tourists to take photos, have high tea, or use the restrooms (the latter being especially important if you opt-in to tea time). I showed them the museums from the outside, but none of us were interested in entering buildings unnecessarily in spite of the island having low case counts.




This was my first time visiting, let alone staying in, East Sooke, so it really felt like an adventure for all of us. The rustic location of our resort meant that we truly felt isolated from the world but wholly one with nature. It helped that our main source of entertainment was watching the ocean’s waves and finding new incredible vantage points for watching the sunset. On one sunset stroll, we interrupted a romantic embrace atop a hill, a.k.a., a new construction mound. As it happens, my sister had competed against one of the lovers in Ontario-wide sporting events years ago. We all cheerfully reminisced about the olden days when everyone knew someone on Degrassi and MuchMusic actually played music videos.


We took in plenty of incredible views while hiking (or “walking” according to my sister’s boyfriend) around the west side of the island: from Sombrio to China to French Beach – listed in order of ease. We spent the most time at Sombrio Beach, which makes sense because it’s the most challenging to reach! My sister and her boyfriend took a quasi-hidden path to beautiful waterfalls in a cave, but I opted to relax on the beach instead. Along the way I met a nice German tourist who gave me toilet tips (avoid the outhouse by the waterfall path, if possible) – it still feels unnatural engaging in casual conversation, and I prefer it to be outdoors. I could never have imagined that meeting strangers would be nerve-wracking, but a full pandemic later here we are. On this trip, I actually ended up talking to a few people about newfound social anxieties. In a boutique shop, a salesperson and I commiserated about how hard it can be to get out of our heads. Closing time passed and we kept chatting. Maybe the key to vanquishing pandemic-induced anxieties is forgetting they exist.




Overall, aside from more deforestation and newer developments (neither ideal), the areas of the island that were familiar to me in the past still felt recognizable to me now. There’s something comforting about stepping into your old grocery store and still seeing the same specialty items available, or walking through your favourite park and stopping at the cutest turtle pond to throw stones. No matter where you move, you can’t escape the past you’ve created. Not that I’d ever want to forget the beauty of B.C., even if the sun has set on that chapter of my life.


Posted by madrugada 21:06 Archived in Canada Tagged waterfalls sunsets_and_sunrises beaches people food victoria ocean wildlife nature hiking restaurants ferries scenery summer paradise wilderness canada vancouver british_columbia vancouver_island protest forests roses cafes indigenous environment picnics granville_island safe_travel western_canada island_time scenic_road_trip sand_and_sea return_to_canada reentry social_distance east_sooke sooke u_b_c Comments (0)

Safe Summer Travels in Southeastern Ontario

Pandemic Daytrips

sunny 25 °C

Usually delayed blog posts don't really impact the content that much, but all bets are off during a pandemic. The information may be less relevant as the restrictions around COVID-19 constantly evolve - from whether restaurants are open, to which companies no longer exist. That being said, I still think there's value in sharing my suggestions, and detailing my memories! Given that I couldn't eat indoors anywhere over the summer, and was thus unsure where public restrooms would be available, I tried to limit my exploration of Ontario to more rural areas - mainly public parks. In spite of the pandemic and all of the fear and anxiety it brought, I really enjoyed seeing sites I wouldn't normally have been drawn to like a small town northeast of Kingston, or cruising the 1000 Islands (on the St. Lawrence). Last fall, I set off on a solo road trip around northern Ontario and was amazed by what I experienced, so should I really have been surprised by the beauty down south?

Frontenac Provincial Park
Where the paths diverge...

There are many trails to choose from here - 1.5km loops to over 20km treks. We just did the Arab Lake Gorge Trail because it's the shortest and easiest, and we needed a trail that would be most accessible. We chose a very serpentine trail... Make sure to keep your eyes open for snakes - we spotted one under the boardwalk, and another while we were just strolling in the forest! Note that under normal circumstances, the park office and washrooms would be open and barrier-free but they weren't when we visited. There was hardly a soul in sight so social distancing wasn't a problem in the slightest.

Parrott's Bay Conservation Area
Easy strollin'

Just about twenty minutes west of Kingston you'll find Parrott's Bay Conservation Area, which is a great place to go on a leisurely stroll in nature. Again, I didn't run into anyone so social distancing was no problem whatsoever. I found the paths really stable, there was lots of shade, and there was no charge for parking; however, I didn't see many areas for resting/sitting or water fountains (or outhouses). There are always pros and cons of any site, I suppose! A distinct advantage of visiting this conservation area is that Bath, a lovely little town, is just west of here. I didn't enter any of the restaurants or shops, but post-pandemic I'd happily eat at the Lodge Coffee House or any other cute eatery in town and then stroll by the lake.

A small town + a big hill = beautiful vistas

Fortunately, shops were open for take-out so I was able to pick up some sustenance and minimally interact with others at Vanilla Beans. I can't say it's enjoyable visiting towns without interacting with locals, but I would also feel an incredible sense of shame were I to act recklessly and accidentally infect someone (knowing now that many people are asymptomatic carriers of the virus). Post-pandemic, I'd love to come back to this town and stay for a night in one of the accommodations - the Cove Country Inn seemed particularly pleasant. Regardless, Foley Mountain Conservation Area was a great place to go visit during the pandemic because there was no one in sight, and there were lovely views. It felt meditative, almost. I'll note that I didn't see anywhere to fill up water bottles, but there was ample parking (for $7) and a fair amount of shade. I wouldn't recommend the trails if you use a mobility device as there are loads of stairs and uneven ground.

1000 Islands
Cruising into serenity

Gananoque Boat Line reopened just in time for Canada Day, so I bought my parents and I tickets for a 2.5 hour afternoon cruise: Lost Ships of the 1000 Islands. It was 37$ for a regular adult ticket and $31.50 for a senior ticket, which I found very reasonable considering how enchanting the cruise was and the safety precautions they took! Not only were there far fewer people on board the ship (1/5th capacity), but staff were constantly sanitizing all surfaces and also ensuring that people wore masks at all times. I also found a great vantage point from inside the ship on the second floor, at least 6 feet away from the closest person (they had masterfully arranged the seating to enforce social distancing). As always, I was nervous about motion sickness, but the boat ride was smooth sailing!


I really enjoyed listening to the commentary about how people navigate these waters (the St. Lawrence), and thought it was particularly interesting hearing about how houses were built and also how alcohol was smuggled into the U.S. from Canada during prohibition. They also talked about shipwrecks, but unfortunately I couldn't hear much of their narration on that subject. So, here are a few fun facts that stood out to me (which I was able to hear!): (1) there are over 1800 "Thousand" islands; (2) there used to be pirates here, and some claim that there's still buried treasure (maybe rainy day cruises are better, so you can use the rainbow as your guide?); and, (3) the bridge between Canada and the U.S. was opened in 1938 and tens of thousands of people showed up to watch the prime minister and president conduct the official opening ceremonies.


For me, the highlight was just being able to sit calmly while cruising through the many islands and enjoying its ecosystem. From the beautiful birds and radiant rocks, to the amazing architecture. In fact, Boldt Castle was an imposing presence in the waters. Because it's U.S. territory, we were unable to disembark but even from the boat I could tell it's an impressive structure. Its history is sad though; the castle was built by George C. Boldt as a summer house (on Heart Island) in honour of his wife, Louise. Sadly, she passed away months before it was finished so it sat empty for decades. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority is now responsible for its stewardship.


Taking the cruise on Canada Day, it surprised me how little discussion or acknowledgement there was of Indigenous culture and history here. It's bizarre to me because there have been Indigenous peoples living on and navigating through these lands for thousands of years, and it seemed like an important day to recognize that given the weight that Canada Day can carry (for better or worse). For me, I feel eternally appreciative of how I've been able to move to and through this country but the older I get the more conscious I am of the need to appreciate its triumphs and also critique its flaws so that it can be better for everyone.


Posted by madrugada 03:31 Archived in Canada Tagged nature hiking ontario cruise canada pandemic safe_travel social_distance Comments (0)

Know Northern Ontario

Driving from Toronto to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train

all seasons in one day

Sample Itinerary
- Day 1: Drive from Toronto to Sudbury (with stops in Barrie and Parry Sound for stretching and petrol)
--> In Sudbury see: the Big Nickel, Dynamic Earth, Lake Ramsay, and Lake Laurentian Conservation Area


- Day 2: Drive from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie (a.k.a. "The Soo")
--> Stop at: Webbwood where Canada elected its first female mayor; Chutes Provincial Park for hiking; Blind River for petrol; St. Joseph Island to explore the shops and marina in Richards Landing; Echo Bay to see the world's largest loonie; and then drive onward to the Soo where you can watch sunset from the boardwalk


- Day 3: Agawa Canyon Tour Train
--> Depart from and return to Sault Ste. Marie

- Day 4: Explore the Soo then drive to Manitoulin Island
--> Visit the Sault Ste. Marie Locks and wander nearby Whitefish, North and South St. Mary's Islands then walk back to the Mill Market Wednesday and Saturday Farmer's Market; drive to the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site or the Bushplane Museum in the Soo; drive south to Bruce Mines to see their art, copper mining museum, or take a rest stop in Espanola en route to Manitoulin Island


- Day 5: Explore Manitoulin Island
--> See Macleans Mountain Lookout then go west toward Kagawong stopping for a hike at the Cup and Saucer Hiking Trail before continuing to the Bridal Veil Falls, and Gore Bay (you can detour to two lookouts just east of town: Hindman Park Lookout and Harold Noble Memorial Park East Bluff Lookout), or continue to Mudge Bay for a serene sunset


- Day 6: Drive from Manitoulin Island to Toronto
--> Stop at Ten Mile Point for a scenic view, have breakfast in Manitowaning and check out their harbour, then head to South Baymouth to catch the ferry (book well in advance) to Tobermory, drive back through Wiarton, Flesherton, Mono, and Orangeville before hitting the 410 in Brampton and switching to the 427 in Etobicoke to return to Toronto


Where to Stay
- Day's Inn in Sault Ste. Marie for a budget hotel
(full disclosure: if I went back I'd try to stay at the Delta waterfront hotel, as it's also walking distance to the Agawa Canyon train but seemed nicer)
- Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Center in Little Current on Manitoulin Island

Where to Eat
- Gloria's Restaurant in Sudbury
- Solo Trattoria fine Italian dining in Sault Ste. Marie
- Shabby Motley in Sault Ste. Marie for tea and pastries (e.g. maple bacon vegan cupcake)
- North 46 Restaurant in Little Current, Manitoulin Island
- Trufood Cafe near Lion's Head (south of Tobermory) for a sandwich, but not their cookies

What to Bring
- Hiking: whistle and/or bell, water bottle (and snacks), season-appropriate outerwear (e.g. hiking boots, rain jacket, etc.), bug spray, sunscreen, phone (and consider a portable charger for longer hikes), ID, keys
- Road tripping: extra windshield washer fluid, spare tire (if possible), towels and blankets, flashlight, water (and snacks), hard copy maps, reflective road signs/gear, GPS, car manual, license/insurance/car ownership papers, toilet paper/tissues, sunglasses

Agawa Canyon Tour Train Description and Tips
Northern Ontario is a hidden gem, not only for its culture, but also for its nature. A highlight from my trip was definitely the train ride I took to the Agawa Canyon. Although I didn't enjoy waking up at 6:30 am while on vacation, I was thrilled to travel 228 miles (round trip) through pristine forests, past clear waterfalls, and directly into a colourful canyon. As someone who gets motion sick, I was a bit nervous about the trip but because I made it there for 7:15 am I had some choice in where I sat. I faced forward on car 5, and had an empty seat beside me while I sat opposite two lovely American sisters from Indiana. Our car seemed to be the most comfortable with its cushy red-velvet seats, so I'd request it if possible.


The dining car was #9, and walking there was a slight challenge as the ride could be bumpy at times. You'll want to walk over at some point though because you get a refreshment/food voucher when you purchase your ticket. There isn't much selection so it's a good idea to take your own food, if you're a picky eater. Anyway, we arrived at Mile 114 (the canyon) just before noon and were allotted 1.5 hours to explore. One of the sisters and I promptly set off to explore the waterfalls: Bridal Veil Falls (quite different to the Bridal Veil Falls on Manitoulin Island), and Black Beaver Falls. We also climbed over 350 stairs to get to the lookout. It was a spectacular view, and also an amazing opportunity to realize how out of shape I am. The view was breathtaking though, so maybe that was a factor.


The train ride is narrated, and they also provide you with a supplementary guidebook/pamphlet. It was interesting learning about how the Soo is the 3rd largest steel producer in the world, and also the geology of the region like how it was created through faulting 1.2 billion years ago and then later ice ages affected the canyon's width. It was even more important to hear about the history of the Ojibwe people in the area, and some context about the different cultures still living here. Learning about local cultures from people who lived there and knew the history of the land was probably the most valuable part of the trip.

For anyone who's curious, here are the mile markers of my favourite spots on the train ride: Bellevue Valley (miles 19-20); Achigan Lake (miles 43-45); Ogidaki Lake (mile 48); Trout Lake (mile 57); Mekatina Lake (mile 62); Mongoose Lake (mile 75.5); Regent Lake (mile 89); and, the Montreal River Trestle standing at 130 ft above a dam providing the Soo with energy (mile 92). On the trip, you'll also learn more about the Group of Seven who sometimes painted there between 1918 and 1923. Make sure to visit their paintings set up near the train station at mile 114.


Reaching the precipice of the climb was incredible, but for people who aren't able to hike, it's still a nice trip to take because the views on the train trip are stunning and at mile 114 you can happily picnic beside the river/waterfalls for the 1.5 hour stop. It's a long day though because you leave early in the morning and only return back to the Soo around 5:30 pm. If you're sitting with great conversationalists (which fortunately I was), it goes by quickly. In addition, you can also take a few quick strolls on the train so that your knees and back don't feel too stiff after all the sitting sandwiching the quick burst of hiking. In spite of my achy body, the trip was well-worth the $123 (CAD) cost. It was also worth paying the extra money to go during peak time, i.e. fall.


My Travel Diary
Whenever people find out I'm from Canada, their assumption is that I live in Toronto. This is a massive assumption, given the sheer size of the country. In fact, Canada is the second largest country (by landmass) in the world - second only to Russia. It always pains me to confirm their assumption - yes, I live in Toronto. The reason why I get frustrated is because there's so much more to Canada than Toronto. Having traveled to eight provinces to visit tiny towns and larger cities, I can assert that there is considerable cultural and topographical difference even though we all identify as "Canadian". In spite of my awareness of the misplaced assumption about Toronto representing Canada, it's taken me a long time to realize my implicit bias that Toronto represented the province of Ontario. The first step to overcoming a bias is to recognize its existence. The next step is to take action. To conquer my assumptions about Ontario, to learn more about Indigenous cultures within this land from Indigenous peoples, and to enjoy the fall colours (especially in the Agawa Canyon) in the process, I chose to partake in a solo journey northbound from Toronto.


My first step was renting my favourite car: the Nissan Qashqai. Fortunately, Enterprise Rent-A-Car put one aside for me and I was able to pick it up seamlessly. The only hiccup was that my father accompanied me, which meant a 45 minute delay to examine every inch and crevice of the vehicle. He came equipped with an endless barrage of questions: "Is there sufficient windshield washer fluid? Is there an extra tire? Can I get fries with that?" Finally I'd had enough and I thanked him for his concerns (some of which were genuinely helpful), and told him that I didn't want my solo roadtrip to be around a rental car parking lot. I finally set off, but I actually stopped about an hour and a half after leaving Toronto because I needed a stretch and a break from all the traffic. After some back bends in the Barrie OnRoute parking lot, I continued to Parry Sound where I filled up the car. It was just under two hours from there to Sudbury. Along the way, I had the pleasure of seeing the changing colours of the forests' leaves, being passed by a Cadillac going around 180 km/hr, passing a trailer with a helicopter on it, and spotting ads for a company that advertised its bug and bear removal services - two-for-one deal!

In Sudbury, I stayed with a friend from Toronto, his wife, and their newborn. They, like many young couples, had decided to leave Toronto for greener and more affordable pastures. One of their favourite spots is Lake Ramsay, which I enjoyed walking around. In the summer, Sudbury would be a great city for canoeing or kayaking, but when it drops below 25 degrees Celsius water sports basically turn into winter sports (in my opinion). My friends also suggested I explore the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area, which seemed gorgeous, but which I was too nervous to explore enough of alone. To be honest, one of the challenges of a solo road trip is determining your own limits. In my case, I get nervous hiking alone sometimes because I start worrying about aggressive wildlife encounters, including dangerous humans lurking in the woods. This trip helped me realize that that's OK - it's my choice to hike further into the woods in some places, and not others. I also have to be more understanding of my own anxieties: sometimes a thought can be altered before it turns into a scary feeling, but other times that scary feeling should not be ignored. Although I've traveled alone all over the world, I still felt nervous at times driving and hiking alone in rural Northern Ontario because there were such long stretches without human contact.

I realized that an important step is feeling prepared: keeping my phone and ID on me really calmed me. Another tip for anyone with chronic illness, like me, is writing down your conditions, prescriptions and doctor's contact information on a piece of paper. In my case, I did experience some health concerns on the road, but it never progressed, and knowing that my information was on me at all times made me feel better in spite of the scares.


In my opinion, the most immersive experience in Sudbury is Dynamic Earth. I happened to visit during the annual Vale Open House, which meant that entrance was free and there was a special mining tour involving mine rescue demonstrations. Before entering the site, I stopped for an obligatory picture beside the Big Nickel - a 30 ft replica of a nickel from 1951 that happens to be the world's biggest coin. I can add this to my "world's largest" site visits across Canada: the dinosaur in Drumheller, Alberta; the hockey stick in Duncan, British Columbia; the big apple in Colborne, Ontario; the big loonie in Echo Bay, Ontario (which I also saw on this road trip); and the large lobster in Shediac, New Brunswick. I guess my motto should be: go big, then go home.


After taking my picture with the Big Nickel, I explored Dynamic Earth to learn more about mining in the Sudbury region. Westerners started mining the area in the 1800s; however, the nickel, silver and other minerals were being used by Indigenous people in the area for thousands of years before that. There is still a large Indigenous population in the Sudbury area. In fact, according to a 2016 census by Statistics Canada, 9.5% of the population in Greater Sudbury self-identified as Indigenous, while Manitoulin District came in at 40.6%; compare those numbers to the percentage in Ontario overall - 3%. As an immigrant to Canada who's grown up mainly in the suburban Toronto area, I never knew any Indigenous people (or at least anyone who disclosed their identity), and I knew very little about Indigenous cultures. This is not something I'm proud of. In fact, one of my hopes for this trip was to listen and learn from the people I met up north because I should know more; I think everyone in Canada has an obligation to better understand the history and the current realities Indigenous communities face here. Particularly in this current climate, where many of the mainstream media mentions of Indigenous cultures are tied to pipeline politics, it's important to not only inform yourself of those issues but also understand how much more those communities and cultures experience and stand for too. I tried to make a concerted effort on this trip to be open, but not overstep. For example, I never showed up unannounced on a reserve, but I did choose to stay in a hotel on Manitoulin Island owned and operated by six First Nations: Sheshegwaning, M’Chigeeng, Aundeck Omni Kaning, Wikwemikong, Whitefish River First Nation, and Sagamok. Travel is an opportunity to learn, and it's also a chance to choose to support specific causes or communities.


Back to mining... Although I had visited East Coulee, Alberta where I learned about coal mining and also saw Canada's last standing wooden tipple (built in 1937), I'm still fairly ignorant to the process and its intricate ties to local communities' economies. Dynamic Earth was the best place to go digging for more information. I set off on a journey to the center of the earth - or at least 70 ft. below ground. I was very underdressed - not in a black tie formal way, but moreso in that I should have been wearing a jersey and jacket. It turned out that it was freezing underground, and the humidity was over 95%. We were informed that the world's deepest mine is 4km underground at which point the temperature is more like 70 degrees Celsius. I'm not sure which is better: a pervasive damp cold, or a boiling heat? I had no choice in the matter, so I danced my way through the tour trying to avoid turning into an ice sculpture. I learned that labour laws weren't so great in the 1880s (who would have thought?) which meant that boys as young as 12 were working underground, and earning far less than their adult counterparts who walked away with 2$/day (and worked 7 days a week). In the 1950s the mining technology was revolutionized, but still very dangerous; although apparently nothing was as scary as seeing a woman underground. I suppose not much has really changed though - many men are still afraid of female gold diggers. Bad puns aside, we were told that women were just generally considered bad luck, so it took a lot of change management for women to finally be accepted as miners starting in the 1970s. Nowadays there are numerous female miners in Sudbury's 600+ km of mining tunnels. There are also some very brave women who volunteer to do mine rescues. Although there are very few incidents each year, considering there are over 4000 miners, there have been fires underground. One of the underground fires was so intense that it's been raging for 30 years and all the rescue folks could do was contain the fire and evacuate the miners. The volunteers performed a demonstration for us where they used fake smoke to show us how useless flashlights are, and how important infrared/night googles are instead. I also had the honour of putting out a fake fire using a laser fire extinguisher. I think the volunteer was embarrassed on my behalf when I confidently held the fire extinguisher backwards. You live and you learn; or maybe, you live because you learn? Either way, if I took nothing else from this trip it's that I now know how to use a fire extinguisher.


As you drive north of Sudbury, things change. I started seeing more anti-sex trafficking signs, hotlines for malnourished mothers to call, and also ice-fishing ads. Although there are serious social issues in Toronto, I have a feeling that northern communities are affected in different ways given that they're smaller, and more isolated. I passed through some small towns that were comprised mainly of: abandoned buildings, methadone clinics, and junkyards. I also stopped in some thriving towns like Richards Landing on St. Joseph Island, which had a beautiful marina and lots of people milling about. Note: there was also an exceptionally clean and free public washroom in Richards Landing right across from their touching memorial to fallen soldiers from the area.


One of the joys of a road trip by yourself is that you can do whatever you want. I took full advantage of this, and did a lot of detouring. The most beautiful and surprising stop was definitely Chutes Provincial Park, which I hadn't even heard of before this trip. It turns out to have stunning waterfalls and a long, empty beach. I felt really brave wandering through there by myself. I stood alone near the top of the waterfalls, feeling like the most powerful woman in the world just because I had made it that far on my journey. It may sound corny, but I think it's helpful to acknowledge your little milestones particularly when life may make you lean more into your limitations more often than not.


My sense of empowerment quickly turned to a feeling of bemusement when I detoured off highway 17 to 17B in search of the world's biggest loonie. This huge loonie proudly stood there, off the side of the highway, straddled by a bakery named "Lucy Loo's" and a very long explanatory plaque throwing shade at Sudbury's Big Nickel. I found Northern Ontario to be very quirky - particularly in its street names, e.g. Seldom Seen rd. and Boozeneck rd. I also found it tricky to navigate at times because Google Maps lost reception multiple times, and in other instances it just flat out misdirected me. Before leaving for my destinations, I would always eyeball the map to have an idea of where I was going but it may be helpful to also have a hardcopy map on the seat beside you (if you're alone) so that you can pull over and reference that in times of need. Fortunately I wasn't in a hurry, and had flexible plans, so I was never too inconvenienced by the subpar virtual assistance but it's something to be aware of when you're planning a trip like this.


The city of Sault Ste. Marie seemed poorly planned: why build a half-empty mall on the waterfront blocking the views of the water, but not offering views to it? Why not encourage more businesses to stay downtown, rather than the current hodgepodge of abandoned buildings, methadone clinic, dance studio and restaurants? It's definitely possible to take a nice short stroll along the boardwalk from the Roberta Bondar Pavilion, but it seemed like a missed opportunity not to have more parkland beside the water. The most beautiful area to wander had to be the small islands across from the Sault Ste. Marie Locks: Whitefish, North and South St. Mary's Islands. Apparently the Batchewana First Nations is working with Métis populations and the Canadian government to revitalize Whitefish Island National Historic Site so visitors gain a better understanding of its historical and geographical importance. After chatting with some locals downtown, I realized that the city itself is undergoing a revitalization. I was told that there's been a push to retain young people in the city, and try to make the downtown streets attractive to residents and tourists alike. One of the women explained to me that it's also important to consider the economic context there: the now-closed pulp mill used to be a significant source of revenue, as did the steel mill which has suffered from random closures (although it's supposedly open and fully-functioning now). I think more and more communities across Canada will be faced with the reality of economic/labour transitions, and two key strategies will need to be investments in other industries, and securing local advocates who want to back reform. These conversations were a good reality-check for me: ask and listen more before forming your opinion. Beyond that, it's even more helpful to observe rather than judge.


On the theme of business initiatives, one of the locals I chatted with suggested I visit the Mill Market farmer's market on Saturday morning where I enjoyed a voipulla Finnish sweet butter bun. For reference, it's very close to the Sault Ste. Marie Locks, which were completed in 1895. At the time, it was the world's largest lock and the first to use electric power. It now runs mid-May to mid-October, and is a useful channel for the many boaters who want to visit northern Ontario and Michigan and Lake Superior or Lake Huron. I didn't spend much time in that area, as I was interested in visiting the sites around town participating in the Fall Rendezvous, like the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site. The event included historic reenactments, candy cannons, and Indigenous craft tables. I started my time there chatting with a man who was pretending to be an army engineer. He clarified how tense the ambiance there would have been during the War of 1812 given the proximity to the US (and he also explained that's why there was a fort on St. Joseph Island). It was kind of amazing hearing his perspectives on the war given that it ties back into what I learned in New Orleans when we visited Chalmette Battlefield. At the time, I found out that the Battle of 1815 only happened because news of the War of 1812 peace treaty hadn't traveled fast enough.


Speaking of battle, I chatted next with a mid 1800s surgeon who talked about blood letting (they used to slit patients' wrists to draw pints of blood to cure them), amputations and how the steel industry developed so that barbers and surgeons could have the tools they needed for their trades. In this case, my experiences at the Surgeons' Hall Museums in Edinburgh came in handy because I already had some background on early surgical techniques. The volunteer was curious to hear about the exhibits there, and told me he would consider visiting (if possible). I moved on quickly to learn more about voyageurs and coureurs des bois - the people who came from Europe with supplies, and the middlemen who worked with those Europeans to trade with Indigenous peoples. I then left those volunteers to chat with a Métis woman and her friend who was a local historian. They talked to me about how different the land looked as settlement patterns changed, like how Métis people had ribbon lots of land which the government appropriated and then forced them to buy back (even though many couldn't afford it) so that they could redraw the city into a European grid design. They also talked a lot about identity, and how challenging it is to find your community. The Métis woman told me how proud she is to live in the Soo, an historic Métis community. At that point a French-speaking woman joined the conversation and told me she feels like there are still major challenges there in terms of "othering". In her case, she's been yelled at (to speak in English) while having conversations with her husband in French. This paralleled a conversation I had with an Indigenous woman there the day prior who told me that she had faced discrimination just for being Indigenous. It's frustrating when people look for an excuse to exclude others, rather than create a sense of community comprised of unique voices.


I appreciated the conversations, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to work with my hands and just listen. I was fortunate to be able to make a moose hide braided bracelet, and also some porcupine quill crafts while there. The people teaching me were Ojibwe from Manitoulin Island. One of the people was a college lecturer who had a clear and kind voice. She talked to me about how they would traditionally use moose brains to soften the hide and make it more flexible when weaving bracelets. She also talked to me about how proud she is to share her culture with her students. She said it's encouraging when people come to places like Sault Ste. Marie and interact with contemporary First Nations communities, and hear their stories. I appreciated our conversations, and their humility. I feel it's a stark contrast to the arrogance I often see (and sometimes embody) in Toronto where you're rewarded for speaking loudly and brashly, rather than listening. One of the women I spoke with pointed out how much some people love to categorize and label everything, which can lead to dangerous questions of blood quantum rather than an emphasis on compassion and community. We need to become better at turning strangers into friends.

Driving through different neighbourhoods was insightful. For example, as I drove through the Garden River First Nation en route to the Soo, I paid attention to their signs: campaigning for a local election, honouring the missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, and asserting their right to their lands through graffiti on a train track stating in bold font: "This is Indian Land". It's not surprising given that the Sault Ste. Marie area has been inhabited by First Nations people, specifically Ojibwe, for millennia (and still is). I found it interesting driving through the small towns like Bruce Mines too. I wish I had had more time to explore the different places, and get to know more residents.

On my trip back down south, I decided to stay on Manitoulin Island. The Island is home to six different Anishinaabe First Nations, and I wish I had been able to see more cultural sites - from theater, to art galleries. There just wasn't enough time to see what the island has to offer given how large it is: it's the largest freshwater island in the world, to the point where it even has 100 lakes of its own! I managed to explore its scenic sides by visiting lookouts like Macleans Mountain Lookout, Ten Mile Point, Hindman Park Lookout and Harold Noble Memorial Park (East Bluff Lookout). I also appreciated watching the second set of Bridal Veil Falls on this trip. It was an easy walk from the parking lot to the waterfalls, and I enjoyed witnessing their soft unified fall to the waters below. I found more still waters when I sat on a dock in Mudge Bay watching the sunset gracefully fall into the lake.


Although there's a lot of natural beauty, I'd imagine there's a serious need for resilience in the north given the harsher terrain, climate and isolation. It can be hard at times not to romanticize regions like the north, but that can serve to undermine the gravity of their problems - especially when it comes to access to education, jobs, medicine, and safe standards of living. When you're alone on a trip like this you can't help but get lost in your thoughts, so I decided that I should listen to local radio stations to better inform those thoughts. On Manitoulin Island, I appreciated that a local radio station announced birthdays on the island and I listened carefully to the DJ's commentaries about religion and culture. The only people that I actually chatted with on the island were at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Center. They suggested places for me to explore, and told me about some of the local cultural events. Unfortunately, almost everywhere I went was closed: from galleries to restaurants, my timing was off. Fortunately, I was on time for my ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory. The journey was awful because of the harsh winds and strong rain, but we made it to land in just under two hours and I magically managed to avoid sea sickness. Tip for other people with motion sickness like me: try Gravol (dimenhydrinate), but limit your intake so it doesn't make you too drowsy to drive.


I absolutely adore the area surrounding Tobermory, from Bruce Peninsula National Park to the Flowerpot Island. The hiking is incredible, and the wildlife is diverse (though I could do without another rattlesnake sighting). However, I didn't have time to explore more of this area on this short trip, so instead I stretched out my drive back to Toronto from Tobermory by visiting places like Wiarton (where the groundhog that predicts spring comes from), Flesherton, Mono, and Orangeville. Who wouldn't want to experience Mono, right? Maybe one day the town will go viral.

Anyway, I really did fall for Northern Ontario on this autumnal road trip. Fall is a beautiful time to wind your way through rural Ontario because many towns are hosting their fall fairs - so if you're into pie and apple cider, it's basically Christmas. And staring down into a canyon bursting with orange, red, yellow and green genuinely lifts your spirit. You forget the stress, congestion and pollution that looms over a place like Toronto, and remember what it means to breathe in life. This journey was emotional for me: I explored an unknown area on my own, and I struggled at times with my fears and health issues. I felt a certain amount of pride knowing that I set this goal of exploring the north as a solo female traveler with chronic health conditions, and managed to keep an open heart and mind while up there. I'm glad to have seen a different side of Ontario, and gained more context politically for what people are advocating for in terms of anti-racism, education, environmental protection, healthcare and social justice in northern areas. What struck me when I returned to Toronto was actually how hard it was to return the rental car - a sign that the trip was truly finished. I've realized since then that the trip isn't finished. When people ask me why I went up north by myself, I reopen those experiences and tap back into those memories letting them come rushing out like the beautiful waterfalls that I visited.


Posted by madrugada 20:58 Archived in Canada Tagged waterfalls trains road_trip nature hiking fall ferries fall_colors tugboat sudbury island_time agawa_canyon agawa_canyon_tour_train northern_ontario sault_ste_marie the_soo dynamic_earth mining_towns manitoulin_island little_current scenic_road_trip indigenous_culture canyon_climb bridal_veil_falls Comments (2)

Meandering through the Maritime Provinces of Canada

Road Trip through History: from the Acadian Coastal Drive in New Brunswick to Canada's Confederation in Prince Edward Island

Snapshot Itinerary
- Fly to Moncton, New Brunswick then rent a car and drive to Alma (to explore Bay of Fundy)
- Drive Acadian Coastal Drive from Moncton
- Drive to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (across the Confederation Bridge) via the west side of the island
- Drive back across the bridge to Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Drive north from Halifax to Grand Pre and Wolfville to learn more about Acadian culture then further north to Hall's Harbour before going south to Lunenburg
- Drive back to Halifax stopping at coastal towns including Mahone Bay, Bayswater and the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove
- Fly home from Halifax

Where to stay
- Moncton: Wingate by Wyndham Dieppe Hotel or Wildrose Inn B&B
- Halifax: The Hollis or Halliburton Inn
- Lunenburg: Ashlea B&B

Where to eat
- Old Triangle Restaurant in Moncton
- Holy Whale/Buddha Bear bar/cafe in Alma
- Pirate de la Mer in Bouctouche
- BOOMburger in Prince Edward Island
- Cow's Ice Cream in Prince Edward Island
- Salt Shaker Deli in Lunenburg
- Bicycle Thief in Halifax

My Travel Diary
As a Canadian, I feel a certain duty to see as much of the country as possible. In my younger years, I always felt the need to go abroad. Like many people I didn't feel like seeing my own country was really an adventure or that flying out west or east was real "travel". The more I learn about different towns, regions and provinces, the more I realize that's a flawed approach. There's plenty to learn within your own country. Further to that, as I get older my approach and reasons for travel have changed too. In any case, New Brunswick was definitely a new experience. My boyfriend and I flew there from Toronto, and although it wasn't a far flight I was exhausted by the time we arrived. Fortunately, our hotel, the Wingate by Wyndham Dieppe Hotel was a fairly short walk away from downtown Moncton, and allowed us to walk by the Petitcodiac River and learn more about the mass expulsion of Acadians in the 1700s. Most of the stops on our trip provided further insight into their history, and current culture.


We chose to eat at the Old Triangle the first night, which has booths fashioned like church confessionals. The food was fine, but the real fun started once we set off for Fundy. Our first stop was the Hopewell Rocks. The famous rocks were formed by tidal erosion, as 160 billion tons of water move in and out of the bay every 25 hours and the waters can rise at a rate of 13 ft per hour based on the sun and moon's gravitational pull. We were lucky to see the rocks when we did because at times apparently there can be as many as 5000 tourists a day, whereas it was almost empty during our time there so we really felt the peace and power of nature.


The Bay of Fundy was "founded" by 16th century European fishermen. We could see the fishermen influence everywhere we went - which makes sense given that it was a coastal drive. I particularly liked the town of Hillsborough with its beautiful homes and cute stores (like Oliver the German Baker). Apparently mastodons used to reside here 70 000 years ago or so. It's been renovated since. Some non-extinct wildlife we saw along our drive included llamas and porcupine. Our next stop was Cape Enrage, which looked beautiful although we didn't want to spend the time or money to explore the fossil beach since we were heading to Alma to meet friends.


Alma was a great town to use as a base for exploring the Fundy region. The tides in Fundy are the highest in the world, and it's quite a sight to watch the difference between high and low tides. Before exploring Fundy National Park, we made sure to have a big meal at the Tipsy Tails. There are many different hiking trails, and we chose to hike the Dickson Falls Trail (about 30 minutes) and then Matthew's Head Trail (about 2 hours). After the hiking we were hungry again so we stopped by Kelly's Bakery and the Holy Whale/Buddha Bear bar/cafe. I really liked the ambiance of the bar/cafe and their super tasty pretzels. In terms of food, we were lucky enough to have delicious fish each day of our trip. I will say though that if you're not into seafood, then this likely isn't the culinary region for you. In fact, our second day there involved an Acadian coastal drive which started in Shediac where we visited the giant lobster statue. Even with my shellfish allergy, I still managed to enjoy the tourist trap.


Bouctouche was where we had the best meal of our trip: fish and chips at Pirate de la Mer. We stopped at the Irving Botanic Garden after that and then explored the "sand dunes", which was actually a pretty little beach with a boardwalk.


Unfortunately, my chronic health issues were flaring up badly on this trip and walking was not easy for me. When you have different health issues (like pain-based ones) travel can sometimes be daunting because it's hard to know how accessible sites will be or how understanding/accommodating people will be, particularly in more rural areas. Most of our time in New Brunswick was spent either hiking or driving (and learning about Acadian history), and the benefit of that is that a lot of the beautiful sites you could actually see from your car (if you're unable to walk/hike). Although I don't like spending long stretches in a car, I was lucky that we did the coastal drive because my body could just relax. My mind was active as my friend was explaining her people's (Acadian) history and also talking to me about the history of her family. Both she and her husband are Acadian, and they talked about the past but also the current culture - from music to art to architecture (the coastal drive is full of proud houses painted with the Acadian colours). Travel is always enriched by local learning, so I was grateful for the time my friends spent sharing their stories.


Our next stop after bilingual New Brunswick was Prince Edward Island (PEI), which is the smallest of Canada's provinces. That being said, we crossed a tremendously large bridge to get there. It's 8 miles long, so of course we played the 8 mile soundtrack en route. Once we got to the island, we detoured to a nearby church so that we could take a picture of the bridge from the parking lot. I recommend planning key points on your roadtrip, but leaving time for detours. For example, we ended up driving on a whim through Summerside and then on to Lucy Maude Montgomery's birth house (from the 1870s). In actuality, the island could be named Anne's Island based on how much Anne of Green Gables paraphernalia we saw. Personally I'd prefer to visit Anna's Island, but there's some clear bias in that.


One of the strangest stops on our trip was Cavendish, PEI. It was a tiny town populated by amusement parks and entertainment sites like mini golf, Avonlea World and Ripley's museums. I'd caution going before June if you're interested in fun and games like this because everything was closed. In fact, it felt like a post-apocalyptic trip at times because the official tourist season hadn't yet started so the natural sites were calm (which I preferred), but some of the towns felt abandoned. At times we even had difficulty finding open restaurants (like in North Rustico). That being said, one of the benefits of not being there before tourism season kicks off is that we could explore Orby Head Park with its red cliffs and gorgeous sand dunes without a crowd. Apparently the reddish hue of the cliffs comes from iron which was oxidized forming rust in the sandstone sediment. To me, it just looked like magic.


We spent our night on the island in Charlottetown, where we stayed at the Prince Inn. Although the building was stunning, this was my least favourite hotel on our trip: there were cameras and microphones all over, and we were questioned every time we exited or entered. It felt more like a holding cell than a hotel. The city of Charlottetown is lovely though, and I'd highly recommend a visit. We were fortunate enough to attend a ceilidh (Irish song and dance show) at the Benevolent Irish Society with a local band, Tip 'er Back. They played some of my favourite Irish classics like "Wild Rover" as well as some local Maritimes music. After my trip to Ireland last year, I can't seem to get enough of Irish music - even with a bad back, you can't help but tap to the beat. The ceilidh was slightly outside of the core of the city, but everything about Charlottetown is lovely: from the homes to the cute downtown with its pedestrian Victoria Row neighbourhood. If you're interested in history, it's important to see St. Dunstan's Basilica and the Confederation Centre for the Arts where you can learn more about this region including the 1864 Charlottetown Conference which politicians from the province of Canada crashed in order to convince the Maritimes not to become their own country. Fortunately for Canada they were convincing! Our learning was amplified by the event Doors Open/Portes Ouvertes, which meant that a number of special buildings (including the Legislature) were open to the public. This allowed us to see City Hall and also the firehall next door where we met some of the 9 paid firefighters on the island (the rest are volunteers). They wanted me to try on 80 lbs of equipment, and I had to let them know that I can barely carry my own weight let alone theirs. Speaking of eating your weight, I'll finish my thoughts on PEI by saying that it's sacrilegious not to eat Cow's ice cream or have a burger at BOOMburger (which is basically Canada's version of the American Five Guys burger restaurant as my American boyfriend happily pointed out).


The drive to Halifax is beautiful, but the driver can't take too much of it in because they'll need to keep their eyes peeled for moose and deer (as well as other cars!). Since so much of this region is rural, it's not uncommon to hear of car accidents involving animals. We never saw a moose or deer on our trip, although our friends spotted a bear. Halifax is probably the least rural place you'll see in the whole region - it's "the big city" out east. As such, it has all of the amenities you'd expect like interesting museums, memorials, and entertainment. We particularly liked exploring the harbourfront with its beautiful sunset and views of Harbour's Island. The harbour is also home to the Pier 21 Immigration Museum. I appreciated the CAA discount and took advantage of the films, exhibits, and tours available to me there. I learned about the 1 million people who landed here between 1928 and 1971 mainly from Europe including roughly 40 000 war brides. There were also stories about immigration broadly across Canada, not just to the Maritimes. Fun fact: Portuguese immigrants came to Labrador after the 1600s leading to it being named after their word "lavradore". Many of the museums I've been to try to include interactive exhibits to engage visitors, especially children, and this museum was no different. The entry had a family exhibit including guiding conversation questions for visitors like: "What makes a family unique?", or "Who in your family has had the biggest influence on your life?".

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Halifax is also known for its food as it's home to the donair. This is probably my one big regret from our trip: eating that sweet meat. It certainly was not my cup of tea; in fact, the only thing to really fix that taste in my mouth was tea! The nicest tea shop we went to was Humani-T where we met a friend of mine who I'd known from Turkey. We enjoyed some tasty and eclectic teas as well as much better snacks than donair. Another nice tea spot was actually the rooftop of the Halifax Central Library, where you can also enjoy a vast vista of the city. The Halifax Public Gardens are a quick stroll from there, and are probably just as lovely now as they were when they were first planted in 1874. A great dinner spot after walking all over town is the Bicycle Thief at the harbour. Everything I ate there was phenomenal, from the beet-dyed ravioli to the peanut butter chocolate ice cream cake.


There are many road trips one could do from Halifax. We opted to drive north through the Annapolis Valley to Grand Pre to learn more about Acadian history as that was a popular Acadian settlement as early as the 1680s. When they were expelled from Canada in the 1700s they were mainly sent to America, England and France but many died along the way. That's why there are now so many memorial sites around the Maritimes to honour those who died, as well as acknowledge the history of the region and the Acadians who resettled and continue to thrive here. We stopped in Wolfville where the local university is actually called Acadia University. It's a cute town with a number of restaurants and bars, and also a good stop en route to the "Look Off" which would have been a beautiful vantage point... except that it was so foggy we couldn't see more than 2 metres in front of us. We drove cautiously through the fog to Hall's Harbour where we saw some beautiful beaches and art. In fact, every stop you make seems to have an art stall in the Maritimes. Maybe there's something in the water...


One of the most popular towns to visit in Nova Scotia is undoubtedly Lunenburg, and for good reason. Part of their downtown is actually a UNESCO world heritage centre since it's the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America - the grid pattern and wood buildings date back to the mid 1700s. Prior to the British (and Acadians) living there, the Mi'kmaq people had lived in the region. This was an area where I felt the historical plaques and museums fell short: there was not nearly enough information about the Indigenous people who had lived in the Maritimes prior to the French and British arriving. In Lunenburg, I didn't learn more about these people but I did manage to find out more about fisheries, and the lives of sailors. It turns out the Ashlea B&B where we stayed had been built in 1890 by a fishing goods merchant and even had a 4th floor lookout so that the sailor's wife could look out to see if her husband was coming home. At least that's what we were told. It's always good to take stories with a grain of salt. That's why we ate dinner at the Salt Shaker Deli in town. The walk downtown was nice, and we were able to visit the Bluenose II which was a replica of the original Bluenose racing ship which had been a racing and fishing ship that brought accolades to Canada in the early to mid 20th century.


Driving along the Nova Scotian coast is incredibly calming because you meet kind people and see the power of the ocean. This is apparent from tiny towns like Chester and Bayswater but really reaches its apex in Peggy's Cove. It was foggy and windy when we arrived which led to huge waves and made the warning signs by the lighthouse even more apt. I could easily imagine tourists taking selfies being swept away by the furious waves. The lighthouse has become one of the most photographed in the world for its rustic beauty. It was built in 1914 and since 1975 has also doubled as a community post office in the summers. All of these towns have locals who live there year-round, in many cases the population is only a few hundred to a few thousand people many of whom are over the age of 50. It makes me wonder what the future holds for these sea-side towns. I hope it's smooth sailing ahead.


Posted by madrugada 23:34 Archived in Canada Tagged beaches road_trip hiking eating maritimes nova_scotia acadia pei fundy new_brunswick eastern_canada bilingual_travel island_travel historical_travel Comments (0)

Domestic Diversions

Beautiful British Columbia and Adventurous Alberta


We all have bias. As a traveler, my bias usually leads me to visit foreign countries because I assume I won’t find as much adventure within my own country. My trip to British Columbia (BC) and Alberta (AB) in July, 2017 definitely assured me that Canada can be just as exciting as any other country I’ve visited. Within a week I managed to visit Vancouver and Victoria in BC, and Calgary, Banff, Canmore, and Drumheller in AB. I’m not necessarily suggesting such a rushed approach, but I would recommend visiting all these locales. I arrived in Vancouver on Canada Day, which was festive and also entailed a considerable amount of free food.


My sister and I started the day exploring the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, which is full of fascinating exhibits as well as beautiful views including the rose garden, Japanese garden, and Wreck Beach (a nude beach).


The beach has some stunning views: of the city, and the people. In fact, I approached one particularly handsome man playing assorted sports and asked whether he had ever tried out for The Bachelor. After chatting for a while, and learning that he’s friends with multiple people from the show, my sister and I joined his friend group and ensuing despacito dance party. After having our fill of fun beer and banter, we headed off to Nuba – a Lebanese restaurant near campus. I unexpectedly ran into an old friend who now manages the restaurant, and provided some excellent food suggestions – including a seasoned fried cauliflower dish. Subsequently we visited Kitsilano Beach, which was a fair distance walking but well worth it.


One thing that always strikes me in Vancouver is how well the people take advantage of, and preserve, the beauty surrounding them – from the mountains to the ocean. Granville Island is another good example of that: you can eat brunch while listening to live music, and hearing activists discuss their plans for environmental conservation. Victoria is another hotbed of activism and natural beauty. It should be noted that the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria is not direct: it’s actually a trek from downtown Vancouver (Skytrain and bus) to get to Tsawwassen (where the ferry is located), and then a bus from Sidney (where the ferry docks) to Victoria proper. The soft-serve ice cream on the ferry (and the potential to view whales) makes it well worth the money. I was lucky enough to also be present for a very romantic proposal wherein my ferry dropped a massive banner asking the proposition of the bride-to-be on the passing ferry. She said “yes”! Stepping off the ferry was just as exciting, as I heard my name called and ran into an individual I hadn’t seen in 7 years who now lives in Toronto (on the other side of the country). Fate surrounds us, but sometimes we forget the potential for it to self-realize. After a delicious lunch with old friends and my sister at Rebar in downtown Victoria, we walked down Douglas Street to Beacon Hill Park, Dallas Road Beach, and back up through Cook Street Village.


Sadly, there wasn’t enough time to revisit all the tourist spots like the Butchart Gardens or Empress Hotel but I enjoyed the ocean views, as always. In fact, on our return trip to Vancouver my sister and I were privy to sights from the Captain’s headquarters (the bridge) where we watched the ferry (a 550 ft ship) travel through a narrow pass into a serene sunset.


Calgary was anything but calm. With the Canada 150 celebrations in full effect and the Calgary Stampede about to kick-off, the city was flooded with tourists and their overwhelming enthusiasm. There were some reservations about the exaggerated Canada Day celebrations in Alberta, as the Prime Minister initially forgot to mention Alberta in his speech to the nation; however, I think the more contentious element of the celebration should center on questions of the implications for Indigenous peoples in Canada. BC is different to other Canadian provinces in that there are title claims, not treaties; and I saw more active debate there, but it should be an active discussion in all areas of the country because there is much work still to be done.


Calgary has a fairly small downtown core, but sprawls. The nicest part of the city, in my opinion, is the Bow River and Prince Island.


That being said, I think the highlight of Calgary is its proximity to the Rockies more than the contents of the city itself. Within an hour and a half, two friends and I were able to begin our road-trip by leaving Calgary and entering the paradise of Banff, Alberta. Our first stop was naturally a burger joint. Banff has a few choice restaurants, but the two I would certainly recommend are: Eddie’s Burger and the Grizzly Fondue Restaurant. The latter is full of tables (obviously), which each have a phone and a map so that you’re able to call any other table to solicit recommendations about the food or perhaps a date. Banff itself is full of activities for all ages and ability-levels. I particularly enjoyed hiking the Tunnel Drive Trail, as well as viewing a show at the Banff Center for the Performing Arts. It's a quaint little town with a bit of a wild side - in the sense of deer sightings on the street, rather than drunken clubbing nights.


If you plan to visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, I would recommend going incredibly early in the morning and/or choosing a less-popular time of year. In our case, we were unable to visit Moraine Lake because the parking was already full; however, we were fortunate enough to visit Lake Louise. We parked over 1km away from the site and after a brisk walk we finally made it to the Fairmont Hotel. Funnily enough, the majestic hotel had lost power and plumbing so it was a total disaster and made us feel less jealous of the occupants of those seemingly-regal rooms. We chose to hike the Agnes Tea House Trail with its spectacular views and waterfalls, ending in a snow fight (this was glacial territory, after all). I wouldn’t recommend the trail for young children or individuals with accessibility needs, but apart from those demographics I think it’s a fairly straightforward trail.


Less straightforward were our accommodations in Calgary. Midway through our trip, the boys and I made it back to Calgary for one night in an Airbnb between Banff and Drumheller. We had read the reviews of the house, and had also researched the neighbourhood to ensure that we’d have a safe trip. We never expected to end our evening by fleeing an Airbnb because it was actually owned by a Christian cult. Without going into great detail, I will mention that after doing some further research I found out that the owner has been arrested multiple times and that neither my friends nor I had ever thought to Google the hosts prior to initiating the reservation – a mistake we will never make again. Our next stop that night was a motel nearby, which had availability (our only criteria that late in the game). We had hoped for a more relaxing evening after finding our new accommodation and instead we were met with a power outage, which initially caused me some cult-related paranoid concern (yes, I’ve watched too many horror movies). Suffice it to say, I survived the night.

The latter half of our week was spent in the Drumheller region – Canada’s Badlands. In order to get to Drumheller from Calgary, you basically enjoy an hour and a half of trekking through canola fields. I hadn’t understood canola’s importance to AB’s economy until I saw its prevalence all over the countryside. Drumheller’s economy is driven by a culture of dinosaur kitsch and devotion to the extinct mining culture in the region. The Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum is a short drive from the town of Drumheller, and well worth a day trip. The most important facts I learned were about the intelligence of dinosaurs: stegosaurus was the dumbest dinosaur with the smallest brain in proportion to its body whereas raptors were the smartest (but not Jurassic Park smart). I finally understand why Toronto’s basketball team is the Raps and not the Stegs.


It’s worth bringing your hiking shoes to Drumheller as Horsethief Canyon and Horseshoe Canyon are both a short drive away. It’s also well worth visiting the Hoodoos – sand and clay figures that have formed over the centuries into shapes that resemble phallic symbols (or vegetables, depending on where your mind wanders). They reminded me of miniature versions of the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia, Turkey.


The Atlas Coal Mine in East Coulee is an important stop for anyone interested in Canada’s mining history. It has the only standing tipple in Canada, built in 1937. The site was in operation from 1911 to 1984 and the coal was used for heating, cooking, and powering steam locomotives. The older I get the more paranoid I become. I can no longer fault my father for his fear of heights, when I can’t help but feel unsure about climbing into a wooden structure 7 storeys high with only 2 exits that is coated in a highly-flammable substance like coal. Age may not induce paranoia but rather pragmatism, I’m learning.


I was alarmed (but not surprised) to learn that boys as young as 8 years old would work the position of bone picker in the mine often falling to their deaths or losing their hearing from the aggressive machinery surrounding them. One of the tours we did was conducted by a former miner who started in his tweens and taught us that people mattered less than ponies to the owners of the mines. He also performed some mad science by showing us how calcium carbide mixed with water explodes into fire, which was used to light the mining tunnels.


When traveling I like the time-travel element in the sense that no place ever exists in a bubble – even if the scenery looks fairly similar over the decades, the social climate has invariably evolved. Apparently Coulee was a booming town in the mining heyday; however, Drumheller and its devotion to dinosaurs picked up the slack in the 1970s when the industry began its march into extinction. I find it fascinating to consider the ethnic mix in these towns because it’s easy to imagine our current world to be the most ripe for migration given our transportation technology, but it was clear that even a century ago a tiny town in rural Alberta like Coulee is proof of past diversity in that it was full of individuals from Portugal, Poland, and a variety of other countries (as evidenced by pay stubs and other employment records maintained by the mines).


Speaking of diversity, the Calgary Stampede had competitors from all over the world: from Brazil to Australia, cowboys of all backgrounds were drawn to the party (and prize money). The Stampede started on July 7th and the cowboy hats and boots were omnipresent from that day forward.


After strolling Stephen Street, the boys and I resolved to purchase some cowboy attire in an attempt to blend better. I found a hat I really liked, and happily wore it as we sat on the patio of The Guild and watched the party people pass us by.


A key component of the Calgary Stampede is the free pancake breakfast phenomenon all over the city. They bring communities together and keep stomachs rotund. We chose to visit an art gallery and listened to some excellent spoken word while enjoying our fried dough.


We then spent a full day at the Stampede grounds taking pictures, learning about the history of the fair, and also watching a rodeo show (but not the chuck wagon races for ethical reasons). The Calgary Stampede is fraught with moral conundrums: from the treatment of the animals to the depiction of Indigenous peoples. After a plethora of conversations around the fairgrounds with people from the RCMP and local Nations, I came to realize that the organizers have clearly understood the significance of their event and the potential for harm so they’ve tried to combat this by providing educational booths. I won’t comment on whether they’ve addressed all the issues, but I would say that I certainly learned a lot – especially from some of the Blackfoot elders who were very friendly, and also respectfully direct.


The Calgary Stampede is a mishmash of entertainment and education. My friend Cara met me for a dog show, which fit solely into the entertainment category. We sat under the burning sun watching dogs jump into swimming pools while we sat panting from the heat – I started to question which sentient being is really more intelligent: the cool dog or the overheated human. We quickly escaped into an air conditioned agricultural pavilion after the show, which was a stone’s throw from the international pavilion. This is where I met an older man who politely informed me that, in his informed opinion, Mexico is the prime location for gambling on cock fights. I thanked him for this valuable advice and continued on my way to watch Theory of a Deadman, which was almost as excruciating. After quickly retreating from the Deadman concert (before my eardrums went extinct), Cara and I made our way into another pavilion where I sang a Disney duet with a man in costume. Once my 15 seconds of Snapchat fame came to an end, we ventured off into the city for further fun. The Stampede fills the city with tent parties, as well as packed bars. We decided to check out one of the tent parties, but unfortunately the good music began playing just as we were planning our departure so we only had a few moments to save a horse and ride a cowboy before setting off in search of public transit.


All the climbing and cowboys was pretty tiring and I had hoped for an early night prior to my departure, which I correctly anticipated may be fraught with challenges. As it happens, my plane lost power while on the runway (unlike the motel, this time I knew it had nothing to do with the Calgarian cult) but was able to safely take off and land after a considerable delay.


Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to western Canada and the unique culture of the Calgary Stampede. That being said, I have a feeling that’ll be my last rodeo.

Posted by madrugada 15:45 Archived in Canada Tagged victoria ocean hiking mountain calgary alberta banff vancouver bc ferry dinosaurs canmore lake_louise drumheller calgary_stampede western_canada Comments (0)

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