My wife and I have enjoyed two wonderful trips to Canada within the past 12 months. They were very different: the first occurred in the height of summer, while the second let us experience a snowy Canadian winter. We have fond memories from both, and it is hard to say which was the more enjoyable. Whether we were skiing on the snowy slopes of Quebec’s Mont-Saint-Anne or taking a harbor sail in Halifax on a warm summer day, we found our time in Canada to be a delight. Our cameras can attest to that as well. We have hundreds of photos documenting our adventures and would like to share some of the best moments.
Newfoundland was my favorite place we visited. It is an exquisite island. The rugged terrain, superb ocean views, icebergs, friendly people, and abundant wildlife all contributed to an amazing experience. A passenger on the ferry from Nova Scotia to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland remarked, “You liked Prince Edward Island? Newfoundland is better.” Even as beautiful as PEI is, I certainly concurred with the gentleman that Newfoundland is more enchanting. My wife may disagree. She has been a lifelong fan of Anne of Green Gables and was completely enraptured by Anne’s beautiful Prince Edward Island.
Newfoundland may be a fantastic place to visit in summer, but it would be an entirely different experience in winter. When I made a reservation with a bed and breakfast for our trip, the property owner told me that is was a frigid -20 degrees Celsius in mid-February! Stuff like this simply doesn’t compute for us Californians. At the time of our visit to Newfoundland, we did not realize that we would experience these bone-chilling temperatures while in Quebec half a year later.
But we enjoyed winter in Canada as much as summer. It was an entirely different experience, but still a thrill. Visiting the old city of Quebec is about the closest thing to a European vacation that you can have without leaving North America. I had no idea that Canada contained such variety.
It is still hard to compare the two trips. The summer trip was fast-paced, full of single nights at different locations, boat tours, a little hiking, and lots of driving. The winter trip consisted of mostly leisurely walks, indoor activities such as museums and tours, and strolls through snow-covered parks. We also spent a solid 5 days at each location, Quebec City being the main highlight.
Quebec City had a much different pace than both Montreal and Toronto. It felt more laid back. The bustle was distinctly missing, and ‘downtown’ was a major tourist attraction rather than a commercial center. Toronto is a different story. It felt like a true city. Modern glass-faced buildings filled the skyline, and it has had an explosion of new construction in the past two decades. We also noticed that Toronto is also a very clean city compared to most we have visited.
If Toronto is too large and bustling of a city, Halifax might provide a more desirable pace. Roughly half the size of the Quebec population center, and a mere 5% of greater Toronto, Halifax has a beautiful waterfront and harbor. For our one night there we stayed in Dartmouth at the Holiday Inn Halifax Harborview, which is aptly named. The harbor sail we took was absolutely wonderful.
No matter what we were seeing or doing, Canada kept us enjoying ourselves at every turn.
We had some great wildlife sightings as well. Squirrels, birds, and seals, all made the list, but unfortunately no whales. I had hoped we would get to see a huge bull moose, but we had to settle for a cow while in Gros Morne National Park. The biggest treat were the puffins at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, along the Avalon Peninsula south of St. John’s.
We covered so much territory in such a short time during our summer adventures that I would gladly consider taking a second trip to many of the places we visited. We had a half day in the Cape Breton Highlands, a single night in Twillingate, and a single day in Gros Morne National Park. I could easily spend another week at any of those places.
Even the places in which we did have significant time to explore, such as Quebec City, beckon us to return.
We also explored a wonder that is shared by both us and the Canadians: Niagara Falls. The Cave of Winds Tour is by far the best experience, and it is on the American side of the falls, but you really cannot beat the view that the Canadians have. I would definitely suggest taking a solid day on each side to enjoy everything Niagara Falls has to offer.
We also did splurge and get a beautiful falls-view corner suite at the Sheraton-on-the-Falls on the Ontario side. The bulk was covered by a generous gift from my inlaws, and we footed the rest to get a high-floor room. While laying in bed with a view of Niagara Falls is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we have had great views from other hotels as well, such as Le Centre Sheraton Montreal.
We really fell in love with Canada. With a land area larger than the United States and a population less than that of California, I am sure there is plenty of natural beauty left for us to enjoy on future occasions.
I already find myself wanting to return. Next on the Canada list is British Columbia, but I hope we can see both Quebec City and Newfoundland a second time. And then maybe a third.