Archive for December, 2012

December 29, 2012

Best of Canadian Travel in 2012

calgary-stampede-rodeo

The rodeo is only part of the excitement at the Calgary Stampede. (Julia Pelish photo)

[This article was previously published in Vacay.ca and the Huffington Post in December 2012.]

Jenna Skinner and Adam Carmichael reminded me of something I’ve known for a few years now: Travelling the world is great in part because it puts into context Canada and what makes it an amazing country. I met Skinner and Carmichael at Quidi Vidi Brewery, one of those Canadian finds few people outside of its region ever hears about.

Newlyweds in their early 20s, Skinner and Carmichael were spending their last days of summer travelling the nation’s east coast, doing what Canadians have done for decades — hitting the open road with gas in the tank and camping gear in the back. They left from Sauble Beach, a picturesque spot in Ontario that’s three hours northwest of Toronto. Heading east, they drove all the way to the edge of the continent. Gros Morne National Park struck them for its beauty, while Newfoundland as a whole earned praise for its welcoming spirit.

“It’s so different from Ontario,” Skinner said. “Canada is so big that you forget how unique different parts of it are.”

Both Skinner and Carmichael have travelled abroad extensively, which is a prerequisite, I think, for truly understanding what a remarkable nation we have here.

“We’ve been to other places and you learn to appreciate Canada. My priority now is to see Canada first,” Carmichael said.

Like the newlyweds, I spent the summer on the road, touching down in nine of the 10 provinces (see you in 2013, Manitoba). My impression is Canada is changing, fast. The wealth in Alberta and Saskatchewan is giving cities like Calgary and Saskatoon the chance to re-invent themselves, and thanks to artists, chefs, visionary politicians and proud communities, they’re doing it. The buzz in the west is palpable. In many ways, those provinces are the engine that’s driving the nation’s future. Meanwhile, Newfoundland has struck oil and St. John’s is thriving because of it. Unemployment is still high in other parts of the province, but the capital is enjoying some of its best times in its history, and that makes it a reason to go because even in lean times St. John’s is as fun a city as there is in the country.

Tourism opportunities abound in big centres and small, with people eager to search out local experiences, whether it be culinary finds or historic tours that are short on gimmicks and strong on depth and personality.

In all, 2012 was a fantastic year for seeing Canada. The 100th Calgary Stampede was a highlight, along with many other one-of-a-kind encounters.

My Best of 2012 in Canadian Travel

I’m glad I discovered …: Saskatchewan. And you will be too, when you drive up to Lake Waskesiu or grab a pint at the Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina or stroll along the river in Saskatoon. Canada’s most underrated province is truly a gem waiting to be discovered.

Three meals of a lifetime (naming just one is too hard): Langdon Hall, where chef Jonathan Gushue and his outstanding kitchen went all-out with an 11-course menu that included a cut of venison that might make a vegetarian think twice;Rouge in Calgary is immaculate, warm and downright perfect in so many ways; and Atelier in Ottawa, where chef Marc Lepine is letting his imagination run wild and winding up with some of the most unique dishes you’ll find in the country. (Naming only three is hard too — so, go to Les 400 Coups in Montreal for a sublime dining experience.)

Best gourmet meal I didn’t expect: The Willow on Wascana in Regina, Saskatchewan. Chef Tim Davies is doing many things right in his kitchen.

Best cheap meal that’s not a food truck: The Calgary Sandwich ($14) at the Galaxie Diner.

Best cheap meal from a food truck: The Bangkok Slaw from chef Adrian Niman and the Food Dudes in Toronto. (Runner-up: Sloppy Jose sandwich from Matt Basile of Fidel Gastro in Toronto.)

Best pizza: It’s still Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver. Even better than the first time.

Dish I can’t wait to try again: Former Black Hoof chef Grant van Gameren’s Blood Pudding and White Chocolate, which I had a taste of at the Roots, Rants & Roars food festival in Elliston, Newfoundland & Labrador. Weird and classy, silky and rich, sweet and potent, it is a dichotomy of a dish and also an absolute treat. Van Gameren is opening a restaurant soon in Toronto’s Little Italy and this item should be on the menu for all to try.

Best hotel suite: The Osprey Room at the Beach House in Portugal Cove, just north of St. John’s. The Osprey Room is 850 square feet of opulence with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out into the jaw-dropping cove. Simply stunning.

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December 6, 2012

Rugged Beauty tour is rock solid in Newfoundland

[This article was first published on Vacay.ca on November 28, 2012]

NEW BONAVENTURE, NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR — Meet Bruce Miller.

He lives here, in the land of his father and grandfather, a remote swath of territory with enough arable acreage, clean air, pristine water, and wildlife to inspire poetry and instill a will to depart only upon a last breath. A thoughtful Canadian, Miller flies the flag of Newfoundland outside his home, a small cabin overlooking British Harbour and Trinity Bay at the edge of the continent. In an island of Baymen and Townies, Miller is Bayman to the core, with a lilt in his brogue and a ready wink to go with his easy smile. He makes a meagre living as a fisherman and labourer and augments his income operating one of the most unique and riveting tours in Canada, taking visitors to communities affected by Newfoundland’s controversial resettlement. The itinerary includes a stop in his own home, for a cup of tea.

“It’s the history that people seem to love,” Miller says on a wet day in September. He flips through picture books that show boats from a half-century ago trawling homes in a mass exodus that you would think only happens because of disaster or a plague. Among the photographs are some of Miller’s parents, who chose not to follow.

“This is home. You can’t replace that. The government can’t replace that,” he says. “These days, it’s becoming harder and harder to stay. You have to be real creative to make a living here.”

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