So you want to experience Canada, eh? Well, as a plaid-wearing, syrup-chugging, snow-shoeing Canadian, I can share a few ways to really experience Canada as you make your way around the huge and diverse country.
Celebrate National Canoe Day
Ok, so this isn’t really a national holiday and is actually put on by the Canadian Canoe Museum (which you should also check out), but man, Canada loves it some canoes. While there are canoe-related events that happen on June 26, most of the year is “canoe day” around here. If you’re new to the canoe, you can rent one from most marinas all over the country (best bets: Northern Ontario, the Maritimes, the Rockies, the Territories and parts of British Columbia) and go paddling around whatever lake or river is nearby while fighting with your partner as to who has to steer. Or if you’re feeling super tough, you can try…
Drive to Magnetic Hill
Okay, I know that most people who have been to Magnetic Hill in Moncton, New Brunswick, may think, “But why? It’s not really magnetic.” True, but it’s a rite of road trip passage for travellers to the Martimes, and a weird little bit of Canadiana. Plus, you can then go back to the city and eat some fresh mussels. It’s win-win!
Go to a sugar bush
A sugar bush is basically a patch of woods consisting of sugar and black maples where they collect the sap used to make maple syrup,which, incidentally, happens in a place called the sugar shack. My parents used to take me to the sugar bush outside of my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. After a tour of the bush and shack we’d enjoy a taste of fresh maple syrup poured onto clean snow. Fresh maple syrup is the best thing ever, so if you’re in Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick in the winter, be sure to find the nearest sugar bush and experience all the joys that licking hot syrup off fresh snow can bring.
Go hardcore camping
We’re not talking about the kind of camping where you drive your trailer onto a dirt patch and spend two days drinking beer while eating cereal straight out of the box (although that might be the national sport, I’m not sure these days). I’m talking about the kind of camping where you have to pass tests and get various licenses and prove your worth to government agencies before you set off into the woods. Most of this is located in the far north, but if you’re so inclined, areas to truly prove your mettle while hiking through the tundra include Tuktuk Nogait National Park (Northwest Territories), Auyuittuq National Park (Baffin Island), Voyageur Trail (Ontario), and Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland).
Yes, there’s our love for anything hockey, but what about curling? Curling – for the uninitiated – is like hockey for people who want to be on the ice while screaming at each other but don’t feel like moving a lot. It’s much more popular than you’d ever think, possibly because you can drink beer while doing it. It’s played all over the country, so track down a smaller rink or league and bring some friends and enjoy the other national sport: scraping brooms across the ice while throwing rocks and screaming, “HAAAAARD HURRY HAAAAARD HAAAAAAAAARD.” It’s truly poetry on ice.
Eat poutine—and other Canadian delicacies
Poutine may be an obvious choice, but if you haven’t clogged at least one major artery with cheese curds, then what’s the point in even coming to Canada? Quebec is the typical choice when it comes to finding good poutine (and if anyone offers you fries with grated cheese on them, throw it back at them, the liars), but if you’re in Toronto and need some sort of comfort after joining in the local pastime of being really, really mad at the mayor, try something from Smoke’s Poutinerie. If you want to break out of the cheese and gravy rut, other options to consider include bannock, Montreal smoked meat, butter tarts, caribou, fiddleheads (ferns), flipper pie (seals), dulse (seaweed), sugar pie and muktuk (berries and suet).
Drive across The Prairies
The Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) take a lot of flack for being flatter than a very flat thing, but there’s actually a lot of beauty there (flat beauty, minus the Rockies). While trying not to fall asleep while driving on those flat roads, check out Canada’s largest national park, Wood Buffalo National Park (Alberta), the Alberta Badlands, the RCMP Academy in Saskatchewan, and polar bear watching in Churchill, Manitoba.