So much to see & do
Canada has a unique natural environment that offers many activities especially those of a physical manner. You can enjoy activities in Canada by yourself, with families, business colleagues and families. Self-guided or organised activities are equally enjoyable and you usually have the choice of either.
If you are looking for specific activities to participate in whilst visiting Canada then you are in luck. Canada offers just about everything, from scuba diving to snowmobiling, bungee jumping to lying on the beach.
Canoeing and kayaking
Canada is famous for its canoeing which can be enjoyed almost anywhere. Anything from a gentle paddle in the afternoon to a weeklong white water challenge is on offer.
National parks offer guided trips and information if you wish to direct yourself.
Some recommended areas for canoeing and kayaking include:
Bowron Lake Provincial Park, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Nahanni National Park.
Kejimkujik National Park.
Algonquin Provincial Park, Killarney Provincial Park, Ottawa River, Temagami.
La Mauricie National Park, Mingan Island National Park, Perce.
Prince Albert National Park.
Climbing and hiking
Wide ranges of hikes are available both in and out of parks. The best quality trails are found within the parks or those maintained by the Trans Canada Trail and provincial trail organisations.
Trails and paths can be found of varying lengths and quality, winding through the Rocky Mountains, across the Prairies, along coastal cliffs and just about anywhere you can imagine.
Some recommended areas for hiking include:
Jasper National Park.
Pacific Rim National Park.
Dobson Trail, Fundy National Park.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Gros Morne National Park.
Cape Breton National Park.
Bruce Trail Killarney Provincial Park, Pukaskwa National Park, Voyager Trail.
Gaspesie Park, Mont Tremblant Park.
Climbing has become more and more popular over the past few years with options available to all levels of experience. Climbing for groups and with instructors and equipment is also becoming more popular and easy to find.
Some recommended areas for climbing include:
Banff National Park, Jasper National Park.
Collingwood, Sault Ste Marie, Thunder Bay.
Fishing has become one of Canada’s most popular activities amongst residents and visitors. Fishing licences must be purchased and range in price and duration from each province. Check with tourist offices about licences and also on consumption guidelines. Some areas where fishing is permitted contain pollutants and guidelines must be adhered to.
You can go fishing just about anywhere there is a river.
The driving range at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu is skyscraper high, 300 m above the banks of the mighty St. Lawrence River. At this height, even the mis-hits soar like helium balloons. Seemingly snipped free from the pull of gravity, they float, rising above the tops of the red maples and white birches, finally disappearing into the watery blue horizon. Far below, a pod of 500 beluga whales that lives year-round off the edge of the resort patrols the banks of the river, the whales filling their deep bellies with white fish.
Temporarily mesmerized by the scenery and my John Daly-like hang time, it suddenly occurred to me that both Canada’s history and the Cruickshank’s family history have sailed along this stretch of the St. Lawrence that runs northeast of Québec City, QC. Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Wolfe and Montcalm, even Winston Churchill on his way to discuss the D-Day invasion with Franklin Roosevelt passed beneath these cliffs. And in the early 1920s when my grandparents emigrated from Scotland to Canada, they, too, sailed this way on their voyage to a new life in the New World.
Over the past year, I’ve happily hooked, sliced, splashed, wedged, whacked, putted and, very occasionally, parred my way across Canada. The pilgrimage arced from the stony shores of the Atlantic in the east to the sandy beaches of the Pacific on the west coast, across the big-shouldered Purcell and Rocky mountains, the endless flatlands of the Prairies, along the granite seams of the Canadian Shield and into the deep boreal forests of Quebec.
I’ve teed it up in the core of downtown Toronto, ON and Vancouver, BC. The game is everywhere. More than 2,000 courses are sprinkled across this country, and with more than five million players, Canada boasts more golfers per capita than any other country on the planet. While the numbers quantify our passion for the game, they don’t tell the full story. Golf in Canada is all about one-of-a-kind personal connections to the game. These are mine.
The 16th hole at Crowbush Cove on Prince Edward Island is fronted by an intimidating tidal pond where the whitecaps chop across the water when the wind rumbles over the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the adjacent sand dunes. It’s a monster hole. In fact, the entire course is super-sized. It was originally intended to be a simple nine-hole layout built for the villagers of Morrell, famous across the island for their blueberries. But once the villagers realized the possibility of the landscape, a stunning course emerged from the edge of the dunes. In 1994, Golf Digest voted Crowbush the best new course in Canada. Not surprisingly, early visitors ranged from John Daly to Fred Couples.
Despite the five-star reviews, I was reminded that at its heart, Crowbush is still that modest nine-hole course, a true testament to world-famous Maritime hospitality. As one of the local kids from the back shop helped load my clubs into the trunk of my car, I asked him about a good place to eat dinner. He flipped over a scorecard and drew me a detailed map to the community of New Glasgow where his aunt was serving lobster suppers. Nothing is very far in tiny PEI. Twenty minutes later, I was pulling up to a table overlooking the River Clyde and soon swapping vacation stories with my new pals, a family from Maine who’d made the pilgrimage to PEI to visit Anne of Green Gables country. We fastened up our bibs, then tucked into the chowder, mussels, salad and lobster slathered in butter. It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had.
Whistler’s daily double
The wooden patio at the Whistler Golf Club overlooks the 18th green and the jagged tipped coastal mountains. It’s my favourite spot to tip back a frosty beer and saw through a hubcap-sized steak while the club cranks up vintage rock tunes in the background. At most buttoned-down golf clubs, this scene would be heretical. But in Whistler, BC, where the feel-good vibe wraps around both the course and the surrounding village, it’s a way of life. Over on the eighth tee at the nearby Chateau Whistler course you can watch skiers and boarders carving their way down the side of Blackcomb Mountain, the same runs that will yield gold during the upcoming 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
I’ll never be confused with an Olympic skier, but on my last trip to Whistler, I decided to try the ultimate daily double. In the morning I schussed (very slowly) down the mountain, then after lunch on the patio, played 18 stunning holes. I’m not sure life gets much better than this.
Walking in Tiger tracks
The first time I saw Tiger Woods up close was in September of 1996, about a month after he turned pro. He was playing in the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey, the Jack Nicklaus-designed public course that curls just off the western edge of Toronto, ON. The Abbey was the Golden Bear’s first solo design project and the first course in Canada built specifically to host a major golf tournament. Over the last 30 years, Faldo, Els, Ballesteros, Watson, Mickelson, Player, Palmer and Nicklaus have all teed off at the Abbey. On his first visit, Tiger didn’t tame the course, but his potential was already so intoxicating that even grizzled golf writers swooned.
When the young colossus returned in 2000 to the Abbey, he had tweaked the last few imperfections in his game and was nearly unbeatable. On the final hole of the tournament, Tiger leaked his drive into a right side bunker. With 50,000 fans looking on, he calmly dug his heels into the sand and then blasted a six-iron, 216 yards over a pond to eventually make birdie and win the championship by a stroke. Now, whenever I play Glen Abbey, on the 18th hole I throw an old ball into Tiger’s bunker and attempt the miracle shot. I always splash down in the pond, but it sure is fun to walk in the footsteps of greatness.
Are you adventurous, love the outdoors, and crave excitement? If you’re looking for fun this summer, mountain biking is the sport for you. Equipment can be bought or rented, but a good attitude is tantamount to having a full experience. All you need is the desire to challenge yourself, and the willingness to strike out into the unknown with confidence.
Canada is a terrific place to enjoy the sport, as it is home to a vibrant and booming culture of cyclists. All across the nation, hundreds of trails are open during the season for everyone from recreational to professional rides and all groups in between.
It makes a great activity while on vacation rather than treading the same well-worn paths as other tourists. Going from a passive spectator to an active participant in an activity raises the value of a voyage exponentially. Even with an average amount of athleticism, you can enjoy the lush scenery of the wilderness while powering along on a rig of your choice.
Most of all, in an age of excessive consumerism and unhealthy lifestyles, mountain biking returns focus to neglected and overlooked areas in our lives. Fitness isn’t something that people make the time for between busy lives tending to work, or family commitments. Yet cycling in general is an accessible activity that requires little skill to pursue.
Mountain bikes are comparable in price to a set of golf clubs, skis or a household workout machine. The difference here is that you won’t have to expend large mounts of money on lift tickets or green fees; nor will you be bored out of your mind while running through the same workouts over and over again.
The sport contains roughly five subcategories: cross-country, downhill, freeride, dirt-jumping, and bike trials. Cross-country (XC) is the most popular form of mountain biking, and it is even an Olympic event. It involves moderate terrain, with a mix between different types of track. Downhill is a competitive event fought against a ticking clock while navigating jumps and anything else in your way. Freeride is almost what it sounds like: no set course, rules, or anything else set in stone. There are similarities to downhill, except that freeride often involves many more man-made obstacles. Dirtjumping involves jumping over—you guessed it—mounds of dirt in an attempt to become airborne. Finally, the idea behind bike trials is that you navigate man-made and natural obstacles without your feet touching the ground. This tests your handling skills behind the wheel.
Forget the newsbytes that imply cycling is only open to superhuman specimens like Lance Armstrong—anyone can hit the trails, and everyone can venture out knowing that they belong. For those who want to test themselves with competitions, that road is open as well.
Finally, the best thing about mountain biking is that a mountain bike truly is an all-terrain-bicycle. You can take it on the street, on sidewalks, even in the most crowded urban spaces. Its versatility makes it one of the most useful and pragmatic items to own and operate.
Equipment: What You’ll Need
While rentals are available from some locations, buying a mountain bike can make for an important learning experience. For starters, you’ll want a machine that meets your requirements in several key areas. Price alone should not be the sole determinant of what you end up riding—after all, having a bicycle that’s a good fit is much more important than impressing people or skimping to the point where your mountain biking experience is fraught with equipment failure or discomfort. What works for a pro may not be the right rig for a beginner, so make sure you are particular with your selection.
Frame size is the first important item to be sure of. You want two to three inches of clearance between your crotch and the top tube of the frame while standing flat-footed. Frame sizes themselves are measured differently from each manufacturer, so don’t get caught up with numbers themselves.
As far as frame construction goes, there are several choices that have their own strengths and weaknesses. Steel is the oldest, heaviest, most durable, and (usually) least expensive material. Of course, weight is not a virtue in most bikes, but for a beginner or moderate rider, steel is an ideal material. Aluminium presents strong points in being the second-lightest material available; it is cheaper than carbon fibre and titanium; and they make great bikes for climbing. On the downside, the material makes a ride feel rigid, making for an uncomfortable experience on rough terrain. Titanium is one of the more exotic materials used in bicycle construction; it is strong, light, durable, and forgiving. If you have the money (and it will cost plenty), a titanium frame will probably outlast your mountain biking career. Without any hesitation, titanium is the best possible compromise between all the respective attributes that a frame can have—the only drawback is its high cost. Carbon fiber is the ultimate frame material, in that it provides the lightest possible bike while being very forgiving. However, its durability is in question, as some have witnessed the material breakdown under heavy loads and high stress. If you have very deep pockets, go ahead and indulge.
Another equally important consideration is in components. Shimano holds a virtual monopoly on mountain bike components; your only real choice will be between the top-of-the-line XTR, Deore XT, Deore LX, Deore, Saint (excellent for downhill, and based on the XT line), Hone, or the other groupsets that rank below the aforementioned ones.
One of the most sought-after features these days is suspension. Bikes can either come with a front suspension fork, rear suspension, be fully suspended, or none of the above (hard tail). The trade off comes in added weight, while you might have an easier time on downhill sections. Also, price will go up with suspension added to your bicycle’s package. Is it worth it? It all depends on how hard you go; it also should be noted that your body acts as a natural shock absorber system with your arms and legs evening out much of the uneven terrain.
A final point that I feel needs to be impressed is that you might be able to find a bargain in a used bicycle. Be wary, as lemons don’t only come in the form of defective cars. Just be prepared to learn as much as you can and rely on friends in the know in order to avoid getting ripped off.
Preparation: The Fine Print
Worried about accidents or injury? While the risk can’t be completely ruled out, you can take steps to minimize the chances that you’ll be endangered or inconvenienced.
Your first step should be to purchase a helmet. In Canada, all protective helmets must meet minimum safety standards, thus ensuring their quality. Other safety devices include body armour, which is designed for downhill riders who raise the chances of injury by riding at breakneck speeds.
If you plan on cycling at night, you’ll need a light system for your bicycle, as well as reflective tape. You wouldn’t want to crash into unseen obstacles, or have other vehicles or riders run into you.
In terms of preparedness, you’ll want to bring alone the right tools in case you run into technical problems. A patch kit, extra lube, a pump, a flashlight and other tools are a must if you’re really going off the beaten path. A cliché like “an ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of recovery” becomes that much more real when you get caught with your pants down because you were too proud to plan ahead.
When transporting your bike, a roof-mounted carrier or other types are useful. Without a doubt, you should spring for a solid lock. You never know when you will leave your equipment unattended, and a lock always comes in handy if you’re using your mountain bike for random errands. Some lock makers offer insurance policies in case of theft due to bike lock failure, which is something to look for.
Food and drink is an absolute must, even for short rides. You want to stay well-hydrated, just like in any sport. As far as nutrition is concerned, be concerned with how you eat away from the trail as well as on the trail itself. And remember to take all your litter with you—the reputation of mountain bikers as uncaring or unfriendly people is not good for the sport’s public image.
Performing a variety of cardiovascular and conditioning exercises will also aid you in your ability to handle discomfort, minor falls, and a higher pace. I recommend supplementing training by running or swimming in the off-season. If you have the knowledge and time, lifting weights will really bring your abilities into better focus. For riders with more serious aspirations, it most definitely will give you a fine competitive edge.
A few bumps or scrapes are inevitable, and you should be ready to accept these as inevitable occurrences. Even the most careful among us will wander in focus or miscalculate from time to time. When it does happen to you, just dust yourself off and get back on the horse. The better your attitude is, the more confidence you will have, which then translates into fewer accidents.
Where to Go: Trails and Routes
Deciding on a suitable location is the least troublesome task. Canada is filled with paths, small and large. The majority of trails are found in Ontario and British Colombia. Due to its mountainous terrain, BC is the premier spot for mountain biking.
There is a great online guide at Dirtworld.com lists 334 trails scattered all across the various provinces and territories of Canada. It has ratings, directions, and other pertinent information to help you get out there. Also, there are comments for each individual trail by riders who have been there, and know the features they encountered. Their feedback is really crucial in deciding how suitable a visit from you would be, and I strongly advise reading what they have to say.
Beginners or recreational mountain bikers have their pick of local conservation areas, which offer fairly safe and user-friendly trails where you can build up your endurance and confidence. Other easier routes include pavement, sidewalks, and dirt trails with little gradient.
The more advanced riders can choose from a select variety of trails. Downhill riding on ski hills offers great thrills during the summer. For really difficult endurance challenges, trails with more uphill sections can really get the blood pumping. Finding a good rhythm is extremely important when climbing uphill, because you need to conserve your energy for the most difficult portions of the track.
If you’re in Ontario, there are a couple places that I recommend. Try 3-Stage in Collingwood. It has over 80 km of trails, and offers steep and technical climbing. Albion Hills in Palgrave offers very steep climbs, and over 20 km of trails.
In BC, there are numerous spots to choose from that cater to many different styles and tastes. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is a three kilometre single track trail on Vancouver’s North Shore for the expert level rider, and contains many drop-offs (sheer drops that range in height). For the more tame at heart, Vancouver’s Pacific Spirit Regional Park offers multi-use trails that are usable by nearly anyone. Beginners will definitely feel more at ease here, perhaps choosing to gradually expand their selection of trails with experience.
The bottom line is that Canada has everything riders could want in terms of trails—and much more.
Races: Participating or Watching
Competition in mountain biking has many permutations in events, rules and regulations. Cross country racing varies in length, but they are usually 6-8 km. In downhill, the racer with the lowest time wins. There are also dual slalom events that are similar to the snowboard event in that the loser gets eliminated and the winner advances. For the really daring, marathons exist of 80 km; races over 100 km are termed “ultra-marathons”.
Of course, many more forms of mountain bike competition exist—it would take some time to list and explain each one. In fact, with the emergence of new technologies and the desire to constantly seek out new thrills, new mountain bike events are constantly being invented, and reinvented again. The important thing is to find what works for you. What do you enjoy participating in? Would it be fun and interesting to be a spectator at any events?
For a great listing of national competitions, consult a website like Getouttheremag.com. Above and beyond regular races, the listing includes youth races; clinics; and certification courses.
If you’d rather watch, rather than take part, each category of mountain biking makes for a different experience. Cross country is more difficult to view since most of the action happens on narrow trails; it is rarely televised and little-known to the public. Downhill and dual slalom are more spectator-friendly events, since the action is both more dramatic and easier to view. As far as marathons go—perhaps briefly showing up to see who crosses the finish line is fine.
When you’re serious about racing, you can consider all of the possibilities that can improve performance from nutrition to equipment and off-season training. Maybe its something for you, and maybe not. Those that do enjoy competing at mountain biking do find it extremely rewarding, while others may not be able to make the necessary investment of time and energy to get off the ground.
In a nutshell, whatever feels right for you is the way to go. Just keep going, and don’t look back.
Ice skating and hockey
Ice skating during the winter months is available just about anywhere. Rinks when hockey is not being played are generally open to the public during set hours. Outside rinks in ponds, lakes and town squares are often maintained and provide excellent free skating.
Organised hockey games are played by school leagues, provincial leagues and the National Hockey League (NHL) which includes American teams. Almost every town has a rink and a team. The higher up the league, the more expensive the ticket.
Skiing and snowboarding
Snow sports can be enjoyed in most places across Canada and snow on the ground can last for quite some time. It is worth checking on the ski conditions at each location you are thinking of visiting.
Skidoo trails are available in nearly every province and territory. You can rent a skidoo for quite cheap in most places. Make sure you wrap up warm when going on a skidoo. The added wind from the speed of travel increases the chance of frostbite. A balaclava under your helmet to cover your chin and neck is recommended to avoid windburn.
Some recommended areas for snow sports include:
The Rocky Mountains in and around Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper.
Whistler, Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, Okanagan Valley, Kootenay region.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Marble Mountain in Corner Brook.
Appalachian Mountains south of Montreal, the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal and Quebec City.
Swimming in Canada
Swimming can be found at most recreation centres, gyms and in some hotels.
During the summer months it is possible to swim in many lakes and also in the sea on either coast. Be aware of any signs indicating where swimming is or is not allowed.
During the spring, while the lakes are still frozen over, it is not uncommon to see local people cutting a hole in the ice and jumping in as part of their annual ‘polar bear dip’.
The New Year Polar Bear Swim in English Bay in Vancouver is the longest running.