Enjoy the City Scenery on a Railway Travel Across Canada

If you’ve got the time when the train rolls into town, there’s plenty of things to see and do in every town and city across Canada.

Here’s just a few of the places to check out if you’re lucky enough to go all the way from coast to coast.

PRINCE RUPERT, British Columbaia

IT’S tough to imagine, but big things were once on Prince Rupert’s agenda. It was to be the North American trade gateway to the Far East, then later the continent’s army hub to protect from threats across the North Pacific.

Decades and several other industries later, this remote gateway to northern British Columbia has an entirely new and thoroughly modern focus _ tourism.

Near the end of the famous Inside Passage, it has long been home to BC Ferries services. But with a harbour expanded for larger cruise liners, a modernised airport and revitalised downtown, Prince Rupert is only now beginning to forge an international name. It’s within a couple of hours speedboat ride of the Alaskan border and is home to an array of rare North American wildlife, particularly eagles, whales and bears.
Given its diverse industrial history, largely powered by immigrant and First Nations’ labour, the city has a remarkably cosmopolitan outlook for such an isolated community.

This is reflected in its varied architecture, harmonious community spirit and a thriving waterfront at Cow Bay, so named for another long-forgotten industry. On a spectacular harbour, with fishing boats coming and going and bald eagles perched waiting for their offcuts, there’s always something to see. And if it’s too wet to explore the reverse waterfall in the nearby Butze Rapids Park, take in the expansive Museum of Northern British Columbia. But if you miss Cow Bay Cafe and its delightfully cheeky and talented owner Adrienne, you’re doing yourself a great dis-service.

The cafe overlooks the hub of the town, but is only small and often packed out. If you know you’ll be in town, book, else risk not savouring the constantly changing menu. Seafood is the town’s main fare, but Adrienne’s dessert menu will tempt even those with the most savoury of tastes.

PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia

Once the poor relation of BC’s larger cities, this reformed industrial hub is now the provincial crossroads for all the right reasons. Although its previous reliance on timber has been cut down by the global downturn, “PG” now has sufficient strings to its bow to thrive through any crisis.

BC’s “northern capital” may not be everyone’s cup of tea, with some downtown pubs best avoided. But beyond those few walls, the city’s pulse is strong, beating proudly on the back of a booming university, outdoor adventures and a stunning cultural precinct.

Built at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers, the city is justifiably proud of its grand Two Rivers Gallery. From a funky exterior to the friendly staff, everything about the gallery sings world class. Its thought-provoking exhibitions are displayed in a manner that encourages involvement where possible _ a key plank of the gallery’s charter to make art accessible and relevant.

JASPER, Alberta

Were it not for a far more exposed cousin called Banff a few hours drive away at the southern end of the Icefields Parkway, this town would be one of world tourism’s icons. Although its permanent 5000-strong population quadruples or more during summer, it speaks volumes for its appeal that the local tourism operators’ 2009 plan pitches up 99 things to do in and around town.

Alongside the beautiful Athabasca River, Jasper township in a national park of the same name, meaning it has STRICT building and development rules to which the local council actually adheres. Consequently, it’s about as close to a natural wildlife park as you’ll find within reach of the comforts international travellers expect. Stunning, jagged mountains and exquisite lakes that can change colour before your eyes would be enough for most. But when you throw in the fact that you WILL see elk, deer, mountain sheep and maybe even a bear or two virtually at your doorstep, and you’ll know why this is a must on any trip to western Canada. And if you’ve ever considered having a couple of nights in a luxury hotel, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is the place you should take the plunge. Even the shuttle bus ride from the train station will convince you that you’ve made the right call, especially if you have to endure a traffic “snarl” brought on by a herd of slow-moving elk.

The Lodge is everything you’d expect from a world-class hotel, but for thousands of animals it just happens to be the safe haven from the dangers that exist outside the national park boundary. Its golf course is consistently rated Canada’s best resort layout, its spa facility, staff and choice of onsite restaurants are all outstanding. And its importance to the town is clear with all tour operators stopping by en route to their destinations. Murray Morgan of Jasper Adventure Centre is regarded as the pick of the operators – and his knowledge of the mountains, wildlife and the way the eco-system operates will astound. It’s Murray’s job, but it’s obvious it’s his passion, too.

Most will likely visit in summer, but if you’re at either end of the busy time, do yourself a favour and pop up to Marmot Basin ski resort.
Only minutes from town by shuttle bus, it offers stunning Rocky. Mountains views and, unlike some ski resorts in the area, terrain for all abilities.

The runs near the lodge are easy on the legs, but the Eagle East ridge is a challenge only for the brave. A word of warning, though – if they warn you of avalanche danger, they mean it.

WINNIPEG, Manitoba
Stand on the banks of the mighty Red River and a heady mix of history and modern urgency washes over you. The award-winning Forks marketplace epitomises modern Winnipeg as a hub of great food, entertainment and a meeting place for this self-proclaimed festival capital. But it’s also where the mighty Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet and aboriginal tribes came together more than 6000 years ago.

The city has the strongest French influence west of Quebec, and a quick look across the river will reveal the superb St Boniface Cathedral, which stands next to a museum of the same name that will open your eyes to the life and times of one of Canadian history’s most debated figures, Louis Riel.

If you have the good fortune to run into museum director Philippe Mailhot, his vast knowledge of the inextricably linked stories of Riel and Winnipeg will astound. A walking tour of the trendy-again Exchange District will reveal the city’s colourful past, but it has become so cosmopolitan in recent years that it has been the backdrop for a host of modern movies.

Winnipegers from all backgrounds are excited about what is expected to be a world-leading museum of human rights being built near the banks of the Red, but the existing Manitoba Museum’s Hudson Bay Company collection is another eye-opening link to the nation’s past. But if there’s one place you should not miss, it’s Mirlycourtois – an off-the-beaten-path restaurant that finally helps you understand what all the fuss about traditional French cooking is about.

Chef Bernard and his hospitable team will prepare you a meal you might match somewhere, but I doubt you’ll beat anywhere.

TORONTO, Ontario

It’s impossible to paraphrase a city of Toronto’s magnitude in a few quick paragraphs. It has visual appeal, barely sleeps and even regular visitors will be unable to put a notable dent in its list of attractions.

Your eye will be drawn to the world-famous CN Tower at the lake end of the sprawling downtown – and it’s the perfect place to get your bearings.

When you arrive at its observation deck and wonder whether or not to take the leap of faith and stand 342m above the city on see-through glass flooring, try to remember that it’s actually capable of holding a small herd of elephants and that the “regular” floor surrounding it is actually less stable.

From the tower, on a still day you can see the mist rising from Niagara Falls on the south side of Lake Ontario. In all other directions, you’ll be stunned by the size of the greater Toronto region, home to more than 6 million people.

Of all the buildings in the inner north that will take your eye, make a point of checking out the Art Gallery of Ontario.
A $300 million renovation has made not only its vast and thought-provoking collections a must-see, but the architecture of the gallery itself is worth a visit.

Toronto’s Yonge St, once lauded as the longest in the world, is a microcosm of the city itself. Every block or two, your view and perception will change dramatically.

There are rough patches, there are trendy patches, there are rich patches and poor.

The heart of it all is The Square at the corner of Yonge and Dundas – a neon-lit hub of activity at home among the world’s best inner-city meeting places.

The city is a patchwork of different communities, each proud of what they bring to the Canadian culture. Consequently, the food is superb and the art of each is memorable.

Even the older zones, such as the remodelled Distillery District or the heritage-style restaurants of Unionville north of the city, are on board knowing they must keep their standards high or risk losing touch among the myriad options available to locals and visitors alike.

OTTAWA, Ontario

As you head into the city from the train station, aesthetically you’ll probably be wondering why you bothered. But when the parliament buildings pop into sight, you’ll know you’re on the verge of one of the great couple of kilometres of sites and attractions. From the outstanding Canadian War Museum in the west to the buzzing Byward Market in the east, you’ll be hard pressed to fit it all in. If you lash out and stay in the historic Chateau Laurier, you’ll not only test your camera’s batteries, but also be within easy walking distance to it all – right on the doorstep of the Parliament, the national museum and the city’s pulse, the Rideau Canal. In winter, the canal becomes the world’s longest skating rink; in spring it’s the backdrop for an eye-catching tulip festival that’s so popular it had almost 600,000 visitors this year; in summer, well, it’s just one big party in a city. Be prepared, Ottawa has extreme weather – hot and cold – sometimes all within a couple of hours. And if you can crack it for a stormy evening, don’t miss the fabulous haunted walking tours, especially the eerie stroll around the old Ottawa jailhouse. If time permits, head across the free-flowing Ottawa River to take in Gatineau, Quebec. The nearby Gatineau Range is one of the best places in North America to take in the famous autumn colours.

MONTREAL, Quebec

Welcome to one of the few cities in the world that actually isn’t like the rest. Truly multi-cultural and ultra chic, this storied island-based city attracts hordes of visitors from the United States who think they’ve landed in Europe.

Oddly enough, it welcomes millions of Europeans each year who think they’ve no need to see any more of North America because they’ve seen it all at the foot of Mount Royal, from which the city takes its name.
If you can crack it for a calm, warm day as you wander through its different “quarters”, there are few cities that can match the atmosphere it generates.

There are more 19 distinct boroughs, many of which are divided even further into neighbourhoods. Almost every one of those has shops the locals swear by and flock to at every opportunity.

A classic example is the Atwater Market with its outstanding fromagerie that doubles as not only a cheese shop, but very handily a place to savour some outstanding Quebec beers.

But don’t gorge too heartily, or you’ll be unable to partake in the nearby patisseries and their awesome croissants and other savoury treats.

The Jewish quarter is another culinary treat with its various bagelries worth a trip. But you haven’t experienced Montreal until you’ve totally forgotten all about your diet and sampled the extraordinary smoked meat at Schwarz’s on Saint-Laurent Boulevard.

A Montreal tradition, the locals favour the sandwich with fries and a pickle or two washed down by a cherry cola.

You’ll wonder about these words when you’re lining up outside just to squeeze in, but when you take your first bite, you’ll know why some of Canada’s greatest names frequent the restaurant when they’re in town.
There’s the Latin quarter, the Chinese quarter, and Little Italy to name a few, but don’t miss the magnificent mountain itself. Walk the paths to the top of Mount Royal and you will have a superb outlook on the city, including views to New York and Vermont to the south.

It will also show you how the islands that form the metropolis sit among the various arms of the sprawling St Lawrence River. But the jewel in the city’s crown is Vieux Montreal – the old city. If you can hop through the abundant tourist traps, the cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings will transport you back in time.

Every corner has another tale, another restaurant and two more photos. By the time you make it to the famous Notre Dame Basilica, you will feel as though you’re in Paris. Almost all of the main island’s residents speak some form of English and won’t be offended if you can’t speak French.

If you head off the island, take your phrasebook. And one final word of advice – take the metro because the roads can be diabolically busy and aren’t in the best state of repair.

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec

Fight your instincts as you arrive in this storybook city and trek immediately to one of its few “ugly” buildings. The observation deck in Quebec’s tallest building, the Edifice Marie-Guyart, offers not only a grand view, but also an insight into the reasons why it’s one of the most important cities in North American history. The nearby Plains of Abraham National Park, where modern Canada was effectively born, has an outstanding interpretive centre and the best tourist information staff you’ll find anywhere. It helps their cause that they have arguably the most photogenic city in the world to spruik. Ringed by walls born of military necessity and built on top of the cliffs of the giant St Lawrence River, it is a trip to Europe without crossing the Atlantic. The unmistakable Chateau Frontenac is the world’s most photographed hotel and will appear in your happy snaps, whether from inside the walls, from the walkways surrounding the citadel, or from the absolutely captivating old town at its feet. For something different, catch the ferry across the St Lawrence to Levis, or travel 20 minutes along its banks to the mighty Montmorency Falls. The heart of French Canada is best enjoyed with a basic grasp of a few French sentences, but provided you don’t stray too far from the city, you’ll easily get by with the words you learned in Year 8.
 
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia

To cut short any trip to Canada without heading to the Atlantic coast is putting a book down with a couple of chapters left to read. The “maritime” provinces, as the moniker would suggest, owe much to their nautical heritage, but they’re so much more than just ports and fishing trawlers. Remarkably, Halifax is closer to the Scottish city of Edinburgh than it is to Vancouver on Canada’s west coast, which gives a clear indication as to why it’s so different. Built on the shores of the second largest harbour in the world, the capital of Nova Scotia is a great party town. A quick trip on the amphibious Harbour Hopper narrated tour will attest to that and give you a rundown on the city’s colourful history. It’s also really cool when your car suddenly becomes a boat. The central citadel and Halifax Farmers’ Market are highlights of the thriving waterfront area, including the award-winning tour of the Keith’s Brewery – home to one of the greatest beers of a country that prides itself on the amber fluid. Away from the city, the Nova Scotian coastline is among the most attractive you’ll find. Quaint fishing and holiday villages dot its shores, but make the trek north-east to Cape Breton Island to take in the Cabot Trail for views to rival our own Great Ocean Road.

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