This is an enormous country with vast swathes of land to cover, so a good policy is to focus on the developed and historic provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Start in the commercial capital Toronto, taking a side trip to Niagara Falls before heading up to cultural Montreal and finally out via the capital city Ottawa to Algonquin National Park for a glimpse into the wilderness
Toronto and Niagara
Toronto is Canada at its most American: big, bold and brash, with the thrusting skyscraper of the CN Tower looming over Lake Ontario. With some 200 ethnicities here, it’s not surprising that the food scene is something special. Torontonians also love their sports and their festivals. Most visitors here will make the two-hour trip to Niagara Falls, at the border with the United States. The huge power of the falls, which have the highest flow of any waterfall, create clouds of spray, threaded with rainbows. View from the bankside or from a river cruise.
If Toronto is the window to America, then Montreal is a city that belongs more to Europe. Mostly French-speaking, it’s a place that values gastronomy highly and prizes the arts
— this is the home of Cirque du Soleil, for example, and of the Just for Laughs comedy festival. Old Montreal’s brownstone buildings lend themselves to shopping, eating and people-watching from Parisian-style cafes.
Montreal and Toronto represent the two major cultures at loggerheads in Canada, so it falls to much smaller Ottawa to be the even-handed capital. This ‘Westminster in the wilderness’ was built on the back of the logging industry and has a compelling riverside location, and its Museum of Civilisation tells the whole story of Canadian settlement, both white and aboriginal. The Byward Market, once a shanty town where lumber men would come for hard-earned beer, is now a lively nest of streets suffused with bars, restaurants and boutiques.
A taste of wilderness
Algonquin is Canada’s oldest and largest provincial park, and its 2,954 sq miles come with wolves and bears. There are other much bigger wildernesses in Canada, but this one is not much more than 100 miles west of Ottawa, and parts of it have been nicely tamed, with excellent waymarked trails. A variety of outfitters offer tailor-made canoe-camping, with guides or without, which is the best way of seeing the park’s vast interior. Canada was originally settled by waterway, so this connects neatly with
the nation’s history.
SECOND TIME AROUND
The Great Outdoors
There are several reasons for crossing the width of Canada. If you can, and have the time, then make the crossing by train on The Canadian. The last part of the journey is easily the best, through the Rocky Mountains, where there’s a great chance of seeing moose, eagle and beaver as you rumble by. Vancouver, the city of cool, is as much Asian as Canadian; plus outdoorsy, sustainable and tech-savvy. Vancouver Island is more old-fashioned and a great place to go whale spotting.