The correct term for indigenous people in Canada is Aboriginal peoples in Canada, or Aboriginal Canadians. The term ‘First Nations’ only includes eight tribes, and doesn’t encompass the Métis or Inuit. Attending a pow wow is a great way to witness contemporary Aboriginal culture, and there are many of these around the country. Or check out national park reserves, which are on Aboriginal land but under Parks Canada umbrella.
Also known as ‘mushing’, this is an exhilarating way to access Canada’s wildest places. Traditionally, all mushers share one passion: to go in search of solitude in an unforgiving environment, thereby experiencing a true life of man (and dog) versus nature. Or, as Jack London famously named it in his novel, to follow “The Call of the Wild”. And Canada is certainly calling.
The magnificence of Banff and Jasper National Parks are well known, but there are actually 37 parks, as well as eight national park reserves. The latter are Aboriginal Reserves that have come under Parks Canada management, but which have strong connections with the indigenous people, such as the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island. Each province has a provincial park too, such as wildlife packed Nahatlatch Provincial Park in BC.
Canadians keep their grapes well hidden under their bushels, but there are many fine wines to be had. British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has plenty of pinots, Ontario has numerous wine regions around Niagara and Lake Erie, and there are over seventy grape growers in Nova Scotia. And with an interior full of grains and a growing worldwide trend for craft distilleries, the spirit is definitely willing in Canada.
BC & Rocky Mountains are the places to see grizzly and black bears. With the help of expert guides, head to the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, Bella Coola or British Columbia’s snow-capped Coast Range Mountains are also home to the Great Bear Rain Forest. Churchill, Manitoba is polar bear central, on the western shore of Hudson Bay. The Far North is also superb for seeing musk-oxen herds and also migratory waterfowl.
It may sound trite, but Canada does lakes like nowhere else. Especially in Ontario where, apart from their eponymous Great Lake, there are 250,000 freshwater fancies. Lake Louise in Banff National Park is the one that comes up in all the catalogue shots, but the park’s Moraine Lake is also pure glacial gorgeousness. Float planes are often used as transport from lake to another, so that you can take in the superb glacial formations from the sky.
Putting a tent in a canoe and heading off into the wilderness for some wild camping and nights under the stars, is as Canadian as maple syrup. Travelling with a tour operator means that you have all the equipment supplied, as well as a guide of course. So all you have to do is paddle, and sink into that mountainous silence that soothes the soul. Wells Gray and Algonquin Provincial Parks, Vancouver Island, Banff and Jasper National Parks are top spots for this.
As well as the chance to see polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, the cities are alive and kicking in winter, while just out of town you’ll have a wild winter wonderland. Algonquin Provincial Park, three hours from Toronto, is perfect for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice skating and dog sledding, while Toronto itself has ice rinks galore, island winter walking trails and an active arts scene. Canada doesn’t shut down for winter; if anything, it goes up a gear.
A ten day rodeo event in July, where animals are subjected to fear and extreme stress for mere entertainment – not only out-dated but also unethical. The stampede does defend itself as taking due care of all animals, which include not only livestock but also horses pushed to extremes, and often death, while chuckwagon racing. Animal welfare groups seek to ban, in particular, the barbaric practices of calf roping and steer wrestling.
There are only two aquariums in Canada that keep dolphins and whales in captivity, but this is two too many. They are the Vancouver Aquarium, and Marineland Canada, at Niagara Falls Ontario. Given that Canada is blessed with whales and dolphins in the wild, the irony is cringeworthy. Thankfully the Vancouver Aquarium no longer holds orcas, but they do have belugas and dolphins. There is still one orca in captivity at Marineland Canada.
It most definitely a glorious natural spectacle. However, the trashy commercialism of the park is depressing to say the least, and worthy of one big bulldozer. Think Las Vegas in the mist. However, the good side is that the Niagara region itself is a Canadian cornucopia of artisan food producers, vineyards, orchards and exemplary responsible tourism.
You can get away with camping in a tepee in Europe, but there is something just too cynical and patronising about selling tepee holidays in Canada when you have no ties at all with indigenous tradition. And even worse, your neighbours do. If you want to get to grips with genuine Aboriginal culture, attend a pow wow, shop at genuine artisan outlets or seek out local guides.