Choosing where to go on your next trip is part of the fun of travelling. But this year it’s a little trickier than usual. The threat of the Zika virus has raised doubts about southern destinations, while recent turmoil has made some people hesitant about Europe, despite the good deals they’ve created. To top it off, the weak loonie has made foreign travel more expensive for Canadians. Where to go? Well, how about Canada?
It’s an odd fact that while Canadians live in a vast country filled with natural beauty and diverse regions, we spend more time thinking about travelling abroad than planning trips to our own country. But there’s an endless list of things to see and do across Canada, and it’s a great place to travel: there are no visas required, no health or security issues, and best of all, the currency is the good old Canuck buck (even better for Americans and Europeans, who get a big bonus on the exchange rate).
The best time to see what Canada has to offer is summer, so with the season bearing down on us, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions on things to see and do. You already know about Niagara Falls and the Calgary Stampede, so you won’t find them on the list. Instead, I’ve highlighted some events you might not have known about, and a few places you might not have thought of visiting.
So here it is: my 10 great things to do in Canada this summer.
Fly off to Point Pelee
If the sound of bird song is your favourite sign of spring, Point Pelee, Ontario is the place to usher in the season. Every year, Point Pelee National Park, at the western end of Lake Erie, plays host to thousands of birders anxious to see the spring migrants as they arrive on their annual migration. Hundreds of species can be seen: sometimes the trees seem to be dripping with birds. The Point Pelee Festival of Birds goes from April 29 to May 18; however, it’s best to monitor the website and time your visit when the migration is heaviest. Read my post on the festival for a better look, and some pictures.
Hear the pipes in P.E.I.
Prince Edward Island is one of Canada’s beauty spots, with its picture postcard farms and Atlantic beaches. And the islanders love music, especially their traditional Celtic music. Come in May for the start of the Ceilidh at the Irish Hall, with Irish, Scottish and traditional Maritime song and dance (May 20, 27 and Fridays through the summer). There’s also the new P.E.I. Festival of Wines in Charlottetown (May 27-28). Or you can stay till the end of the month for the start of Anne & Gilbert, the Musical, based on Anne of Green Gables.
Wish St. John’s a happy birthday
If you’ve never been to Newfoundland, this may be the year: it’s a unique and amazing place, with whales, outports, icebergs and a culture like nowhere else. Go in June for the St. John’s Days celebrations (June 24-26), which commemorate the incorporation of North America’s oldest city. There’s events throughout downtown, with tours and historical characters (including Admiral Johns, the city’s mascot), an outdoor folk jam and free birthday cupcakes every day at the visitor centre. Go for culture, stay for the cupcakes …
Swing it in Toronto
There are festivals all summer in Toronto, but June and July are the time to visit if you love music. The TD Toronto Jazz Festival (June 24-July 3) brings in more than 1,500 musicians, ready to play an amazing 350 concerts all over town. Some are free – just drop by city hall most days. And just when you think the last note has sounded, the Beaches Jazz Festival takes over the east end, from July 8 to 24. The free weekend concerts in the park are great, but Streetfest (July 22-24 this year) is the most fun, as the bands all set up in the street for a musical banquet that lasts the whole weekend. Check out this post for lots more things to do in Toronto.
Celebrate Canada in Ottawa
Canada Day (July 1) is a good time in every part of Canada—our annual mid-summer birthday blow-out. But the heart of Canada Day is in Ottawa, where thousands crowd onto the lawns of Parliament Hill, Major’s Hill Park, Jacques Cartier Park and the downtown streets to join the party. There’s lots of food, music, partying, face painting and assorted merrymaking. The big climax is the evening show with some of the country’s best musicians, ending (of course) with fireworks. You can see it on TV, but if you’re Canadian (or even if you aren’t) it’s something you have to do once.
Join the crowd in Calgary
It’s summer, and Calgary is alive with big events: there’s the Calgary Folk Music Festival (July 21-24), which brings in acts from places like Mauritania, Korea and New Zealand, as well as Canada and the U.S. Once that’s finished, there’s the Calgary International Blues Festival (July 25-31). And for some cultural content, try Historic Calgary Week (July 23-Aug. 3) with talks, walks, concerts, family events, and museum and community visits. Or I suppose you could even come a little earlier and go to the Stampede (July 8-17 this year). Give Calgary some support – they’ve had a rough year.
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Support the arts in Inuvik
No place enjoys summer more than the north (winter’s over and the sun is shining – what’s not to like?). And few people are more creative than northerners. So Inuvik, Northwest Territories, puts those themes together with the Great Northern Arts Festival, the most comprehensive cultural event in northern Canada. The 10-day festival (July 15-24 this year) attracts aboriginal artists and performers from across the north. Visitors come from around the world to see and buy the unique northern art and enjoy the music, dance and storytelling. The air fare’s not cheap, but the north is a magical place: maybe it’s time you saw it for yourself.
Have a ball in Montreal
Montreal is a great destination at any time, but if you’re looking for a really good time, go in July so you can catch the Just for Laughs festival — or Juste pour Rire, as the locals call it. The festival takes over the Quartier des spectacles, a one-square-kilometre entertainment district in the middle of town, for non-stop hijinks. Much of it is in French, but it’s lots of laughs anyway. This year’s dates are July 13-31. You can buy a ticket for one of the headline performances, or just head to the Quartier for the free acts and spectacles that take place every night. This is one of the truly great things to do in Canada in summer: read my post on the festival for a first-hand view.
Watch some whales in the St. Lawrence
Whale-watching is usually an ocean-going pastime. But amazingly, the St. Lawrence River in Quebec is a summer stopping-off point for up to 13 species of whales, including the giant blue whale. If you haven’t seen them, you’re missing a good show. The hot spot is a town called Tadoussac, but you can even get day trips from Quebec City. There are whales in the river from May to October, but the best time to see them is August. Bring a jacket: it gets cold on the water, even in summer.
Say goodbye to summer in Vancouver
Vancouverites don’t suffer much of a winter, but that doesn’t stop them from marking the end of summer with a big party. The Pacific National Exhibition, or PNE, (Aug. 20-Sept. 5 this year) is one of Canada’s biggest fairs, and as good a reason as any to visit this beautiful city. There’s all the usual county fair stuff, like rides and sinful snack food, plus more than 35 nightly concert acts and a craft beer fest – the perfect thing to accompany the Sixth Annual Vancouver Rib Fest.
Those are my suggestions for 10 great things to do in Canada this summer. But of course, these only scratch the surface: there are hundreds of events going on all summer, from the Winnipeg Comedy Festival to Buskerfest in Toronto and the Stratford and Charlottetown Festivals. So pull out your map, scan the landscape and see what looks good to you: then start planning your road trip. Sure, it’s a big country and the distances can be long, but remember — there’s a Tim Horton’s on every corner.