I love my country. Like, a lot. I’ve been known to cry at tourism commercials for Newfoundland and Labrador (honestly, have you seen those ads?), and any time our national anthem plays at public events (especially medal ceremonies during the Olympics, especially when the Olympics are in Canada—for the two weeks of the Vancouver games, I was a blubbering disaster). I have been so overwhelmed by the mountains out west and Canadian Shield up north that I couldn’t even speak, and my heart goes all pitter-patter when I’m on a flight coming home and descending into Toronto. I love my country.
So when I heard that Pamela MacNaughtan of Spunkygirl Monologues was launching a Canadian blogger roulette series, in which each of us were to write a post listing what we think visitors should experience in Canada, of course I was in. And when she tagged me to follow up, my mind set to coming up with the things that truly define Canada for me. Picking enough wasn’t the problem—it was narrowing down the list that proved to be the real challenge.
But I did it, and so here they are: The 5 things that say to me, This Is My Canada.
1. Skating on an outdoor rink
No surprise here—we’re a nation of hockey players, right? But forget professional hockey played on an indoor rink. Heck, forget a real game of hockey. I’m talking about goofing around with friends on a frozen lake, skating until your toes are numb and your abs are sore from trying to balance on the natural lumps and ripples that form on water that’s hit a flash freeze in January. Also, you go waaaay faster on natural ice than you do on rink ice.
And if you’re going to do the outdoor rink thing right, your best bet is to hit up the most iconic outdoor rink in Canada: Lake Louise in Alberta. Skating at the foot of a glacier, tucked between towering mountains—it doesn’t get much more Canadian than that.
2. Gathering around a campfire in cottage country
I adore camping and cottaging. For me, escaping Toronto and heading north is the epitome of a perfect summer week or weekend. And I’d say the best part of camping and cottaging is the late-night bonfires you have, during which someone always drinks too much beer, someone burns their lips on a flaming marshmallow and you all end up singing along at the top of your lungs to The Tragically Hip’s Bobcaygeon, your voices carrying out over the lake in a slightly tipsy harmony.
To me, northern Ontario is one of the most underrated parts of our country, and when it comes to camping, my heart belongs to Lake Superior Provincial Park. At Agawa Bay Campground, you can claim a campsite right on the beach, and fall asleep to the sounds of Lake Superior just beyond your sleeping bag. And the beach at Katherine Cove is so pristine, with white sand and turquoise water, that you’ll think you’re in the tropics (apart from the much chillier water temperature that will make you scream when you dive in—but trust me, you’ve never swam in anything more refreshing).
3. Freezing your tush off just because that’s what you do in Canada
I hate the cold, but that doesn’t prevent me from scoffing at anyone who’s not Canadian any time they complain about the chill in their country. I remember being in an ice bar in Auckland, New Zealand, where the temperature was a cool -5 and they handed us Arctic coats when we walked in. We tossed them off and posed for photos in our thin shirts instead. After all, we’re Canadian.
If you really want to freeze your butt off, I recommend spending a night in the Hôtel de Glace in Quebec. Sleeping in a giant snow palace when it’s -20 outside will give you a new appreciation for cold weather (and think of the bragging rights it’ll give you!).
4. Feeling really, really tiny because Canada is just that big
Have you ever been somewhere that made you feel completely small and insignificant—but in a good way? That’s the feeling I get every time I head out west. The mountains that run along western Canada are spectacular and are a reminder of how big our country—and the world—is. It’s a wonderful feeling and leaves me breathless each time.
To truly feel insignificant, head to Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island. The park is home to an ancient rainforest that seems completely surreal and like something out of a fairy tale. Along the Rainforest Trail, you’ll find some of the biggest, most awe-inspiring trees in Canada, if not the world. Plus, the drive from Vancouver to Tofino is probably the most spectacular drive I have ever done in my life.
5. Geeking out and pigging out at the capital
You simply can’t visit a country without seeing its place of government, especially when that government sits in a town as lovely and charming as Ottawa. The parliament buildings are spectacularly beautiful (the library in particular left a mark on me as a bookworm child), and the annual Winterlude festival is a true Canadian celebration where you can skate on the Rideau Canal (see #1, above), making pit stops along the route to drink hot chocolate or cider and eat those iconic Beavertail pastries.
But my favourite place to lose track of time in Ottawa is at Byward Market. From the desserts at Moulin de Provence bakery to the Quebec cheeses at The House of Cheese to the amazing food and ambience at restaurants such as Eighteen, it is the perfect place to get completely stuffed. And after gorging yourself, grab a pint at Chateau Lafayette (more commonly known as The Laff)—this grubby watering hole is the oldest tavern in Ottawa, having been in operation since 1849.
As I said, narrowing down my list was tough and there are so many more things I love about Canada. So it’s my turn to pass on the Canada love! I’m tagging Marie-Eve Vallières of Eurotrip Tips and A Montrealer Abroad, Cristina Cantarelli of Travolution and Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel to tell you why they think Canada is amazing!
(And follow the series on Twitter: #MyCanada.)