If you want adventure, culture and autumn beauty, Canada is a must. Quebecoise Valerie St-Jean points to Canada’s wonders.
Imagine yourself on a huge expanse of ice covered with untouched powdery snow. Your only refuge is a small portable fish cabin and a wood fire stove to keep you warm while you fish in a round opening in the ice. This is ice fishing in Canada — a pure and raw experience.
These days you can enjoy Canadian ice fishing in different levels of comfort. Some resorts offer heated huts with pre-drilled holes for the day, while others offer packages that include guided fishing and lodging for a few days of adventuring. Travel Alberta (travelalberta.com)
and Quebec Original (quebecoriginal.com/en) provide great information on this fun activity.
Camping on your own island
This is on the top of my list for when I return to Canada, thanks to the many Instagrammers who posted photos of inviting campfires, cosy tents and placid lakes — their getaway at Poisson Blanc Regional Park (poissonblanc.ca/en). Situated about 245km from Montreal, the campsites here are a chance to isolate yourself on your very own island. Only accessible via canoes and kayaks, your island booking will include exclusive access to your shelter of choice (one or more tents) and a daily supply delivery of wood.
While the Pacific and Atlantic offer year-round waves for surfers on the coasts, there’s a growing interest in the infinite waves offered by the rivers flowing through inland Canada. The St Lawrence river has that magic gift for the Montrealers.
Created by high velocity water roaring over a steep river-bottom depression, the water is pitched back and upward to form a tall wave. To catch the wave, start upstream and paddle out, carefully turning yourself backwards to let the current drag you into the sweet spot. Easier said than done!
The challenge of mastering river waves is an addictive thrill — and because it’s an infinite wave, you can ride as much as you want. However, like in the ocean, know that there’s etiquette and a line up to respect. If you want to give it a try for yourself, KSF (ksf.ca) is based on the St Lawrence riverside and is open from April to October, offering courses and boards to rent.
Ice hockey game
It’s no secret that ice hockey is Canada’s favourite sport. If you’re in a city home to an NHL team, do not miss the chance to see this fast, brutal and exciting game. For the ultimate experience, see the Montréal Canadiens — the Habs. The oldest professional ice hockey team in the world, the Habs are also the most successful franchise in the league, with more than 20 Stanley Cups under their belt — the highest and most prestigious team award. Ok, it’s true, the Habs’ last championship win was back in 1993, but whatever the team’s rank, the atmosphere and the crazy fans in the packed arena are worth the detour.
The Northern Lights
The Aurora Borealis is simply magical, there’s no need to convince you of that. A mesmerising dance of green, pink, purple and yellow on a dark sky. This natural phenomenon — a result of charged particles from the sun that interact with gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere — is best seen in the Great White North. Be adventurous and travel past Canada’s latitude 60° to explore Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon for the best view.
Cycle or meander on foot through the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal and you’ll be immediately charmed by this part of the city. The popular centres are around Place Jacques Cartier and in front of the Notre-Dame Basilica, but you’ll only be one turned corner away from a quiet and empty little street where you can admire the old architecture. History enthusiasts will appreciate the Cité Mémoire creation (montrealenhistoires.com), a grand living tableaux of images, words and music inspired by the history of the city projected onto old buildings — a historic version of Sydney’s Vivid. Lovers of innovative arts and culture should take a look at the Phi Centre programming (phi-centre.com/en), a green hub dedicated to art in all its forms, from creation to exhibition.
Winter: Hydrotherapy at a Nordic spa
Inspired by our Scandinavian neighbours, hydrotherapy suits the Canadian environment and lifestyle perfectly. A relaxing spa session that plunges your body into a sequence of blissful hot, freezing cold and pleasant warm water, hydrotherapy stimulates your immune system and blood flow, soothes sore muscles from all that travel and eliminates toxins in your body. The hydrotherapy cycle also releases endorphins, making you happy and vibrant. Winter is the most enchanting time to have a Nordic spa, as you can enjoy outdoor hot pools and ice-cold rivers surrounded by fluffy snowflakes. Scandinave Spa (scandinave.com/en) offers this rejuvenating experience in four locations across Canada.
Spring: Maple sugar shack in Quebec’s Province
When winter comes to an end, it’s the start of the spring maple harvest. In other words, it’s time to go to the maple sugar shack, or in Quebec French, cabanes à sucre. Traditional and rustic, a day at the sugar shack is a day of feasting, nature and good times. In every dish there is maple syrup: pea soup, ham and egg, tourtière (meat pie), baked beans, you name it. But the highlight of the sugar shack experience is undoubtedly the maple taffy on snow, tire d’érable sur neige — boiled maple sap poured on pure white snow to create a mouth-watering maple candy, rolled on a small wooden stick.
Fall: Autumn leaf colour change
After all the excitement of the summertime, fall usually calls for quiet. Enjoying the beauty and colour of nature before the snow covers it all is one of the things Canadians do, and admiring the autumn leaf colour never gets old. Quite impressive in the countryside, the Canadian cities also get their fair share of this natural phenomenon: leaves turning to a range of yellow, orange and red before their annual fall. A walk in the Mount Royal or La Fontaine parks in Montreal is a classic, and perfect for a romantic stroll.
Summer: Montreal’s festival scene
Summer in Montreal is synonymous with the outdoors, music, laughter, street art and fireworks. The outdoors is vital — because after months of escaping the cold temperatures in their homes, Montrealers lust for open-air spaces and terraces. No wonder the list of outdoor festivals is so long! A central location for most of the festivals and outdoor events, don’t miss a visit to the vibrant Quartier des Spectacles district.
Some say it’s a national icon, but for many, poutine is simply the go-to comfort food after a drunken night out. Made of French fries, squeaky cheese curds and brown gravy, this basic dish has evolved — you can now find the original and a wide array of modern variations. For the most decadent plate, head to chef Martin Picard’s restaurant in Montreal, Au Pied de Cochon.
Smoked meat sandwich
The famous Montreal smoked meat is the result of salting and curing beef brisket with spices. Served between two slices of rye bread with yellow mustard as the sole condiment (which, I assure you, is anything but boring), the stack of tender and juicy meat cuts will win you over. A city landmark, Schwartz’s Deli is the most famous place to get this succulent sandwich, with a cherry cola and a pickle on the side, of course.
Simple but made with heart and passion, the Montreal bagels from Fairmount Bagel or St-Viateur Bagel will melt in your mouth — you’re guaranteed to leave with a dozen. All handmade in a wood fired oven, they’re just irresistible, plain or with your favourite spread. The two bagel institutions are known to compete with one another, but both recipes taste fabulous! Situated in Mile-End, make your own mind up by trying both — they’re literally 700 metres apart.