Thursday, July 30, 2015

Five of Canada's Best Kept Secrets

Entering Winnipeg's French Quarter.
I started the month with a blog post about cool stuff to do in Canada. Now I'll finish the month with another Canadian-themed topic. If you're not from Canada, some of these might surprise you. And a few might surprise you even if you are from Canada.

1. Calgary: not just another word for “Cowtown.” While the Calgary Stampede is second to none when it comes to rodeos, the southern Alberta city offers more than just cowboy culture - it is also home to some top-notch, world-class museums. Leading the way is the Glenbow Museum, a museum, art gallery, library and archives all rolled into one facility. Military history buffs will certainly enjoy the Museum of the Regiments or the Naval Museum of Alberta. If you’re into aviation and aerospace, check out the Aero Space Museum of Calgary. Calgary also honors firefighters with its Firefighters Museum.

2. Quebec is not the only place in Canada to experience French-Canadian culture. The city of Winnipeg, Manitoba can also provide plenty of authentic Franco flavor. Winnipegcontains western Canada’s largest French-Canadian population. A visit to St. Boniface - a section of the city often referred to as the “French Quarter” - might lead you to think you’ve been airlifted and dropped into some place other than Western Canada. The area’s biggest annual celebration reflects this heritage: the 10-day Festival du Voyageur held every February, highlights Canada’s fur trade era with entertaining shows, delicious traditional food and numerous exhibits.

3. Saskatchewan is not just flat land and wheat fields. Head into the northern half of the prairie province, and you’ll find yourself in some of the best fishing and canoeing country in North America. (Sigurd Olson certainly thought so, or he wouldn’t have spent weeks paddling the province’s wilderness, then written The Lonely Land.) One of the province’s gems is Prince Albert National Park, the final home for Grey Owl, portrayed by Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 film of the same name. The park offers excellent canoe routes as well as hiking and mountain biking trails. In the winter, outdoor enthusiasts trade in their paddles and bikes for cross-country skis and snowshoes.

Grey Owl's cabin in Saskatchewan.
4. Vancouver: think “Little India” – not just Chinatown. The west coast city is world-renowned for the incredible diversity of Asian cultures. Its Chinatown is Canada’s largest and best known; however, the Little India section is often overlooked. 

While the East Indian influence is everywhere in the city, the culture’s most concentrated gathering lies along a five-block section of Main Street, centered around 49th Avenue. 

A daytime stroll provides a potpourri of colourful sights, sounds and smells. Women of all ages often sport colorful saris. The strains of Hindi music blare from the many shops along the street. The aromas of curry constantly waft through the air to tantalize you as you pass some of the area’s eateries.

5. Edmonton: City of Festivals. Often referred to as “City of Champions” (a reference to the glory days of the NHL’s Oilers and CFL’s Eskimos), the Alberta capital could easily be called the “City of Festivals.” Its International Fringe Theatre Festival attracts artists and patrons from across Canada and around the world, including the U.S., Europe and Asia. Other summer festivals include international jazz and folk music festivals, a dragon boat festival and Klondike Days. In the spring, visitors can be entertained at the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival. The Canadian Finals Rodeo rides into town every November. Winter celebrations include the Festival of Trees, a Yuletide event; and the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival, the largest classical North American Nordic ski festival.

Things are really hopping at K-Days in Edmonton. (Time lapse by Jesse Nash)

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