Looking for some fresh gift ideas as you make your way through your holiday shopping list? Take a little inspiration from three Canadian icons with exceptional taste: drag performer Priyanka, author Robyn Harding and actor Andrew Phung. They share who they’re buying for and the local, Canadian experiences and items topping their lists. Whether you’re on the hunt for your partner, your bestie, your kids or yourself, these creative, cross-Canada gift picks will spark your imagination for the holidays and beyond.
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When it comes to holiday gifting, Priyanka—Toronto-based drag performer and winner of the inaugural season of Canada’s Drag Race—is not one to plan too far ahead. Although she says she’s a bit of a “Last Minute Lucy” when it comes to gift-giving, she likes to choose exclusive, unique gifts for the important people in her life. “I like to give gifts to people who really make me feel special and are patient with me,” Priyanka says. “It’s hard being friends with a celebrity, because they don’t text back and they’re busy. So if you have a group of people who love you no matter what, those are the people you should give gifts to.”
Here’s a list of gifting inspiration that covers Priyanka’s entire list with items and adventures from all across Canada. Just don’t leave it too late this year!
1. For the traveller
Priyanka says her mom is “obsessed” with exploring every last corner of Canada. “All she ever wants to do is get in a trailer and go ‘glamping,’” Priyanka says. And while her mom has made it as far east as Prince Edward Island, she’s never quite made it to Newfoundland and Labrador. “I would love to give her this experience,” says Priyanka. One of the destinations at the top of the list is the iconic Fogo Island Inn, located in a quiet group of islands accessible by ferry. The hotel’s ultra-modern angles and chic interiors are combined with homey touches like colourful, locally-made quilts. This otherworldly escape—where every room looks out onto the tempestuous waves of the Atlantic—could be just the ticket for an adventurer who also likes to keep it luxe. Plus, there are plenty of immersive experiences available on the island, from iceberg spotting and whale watching to pottery and cod fishing.
2. For the art lover
Canvas Gallery in Toronto is a treasure trove of contemporary Canadian art, showcasing emerging and established local talent at accessible prices. It’s a prime place to discover a new treasure to decorate your walls, or maybe even meet the artist themself (check the gallery’s Instagram to see artists dropping off their latest works). It’s just the place to pick up a potential masterpiece for the art lover in your life, such as Priyanka’s fellow Canada’s Drag Race contestant Rita Baga. “Her house is so nice, so I would get her lots of art,” Priyanka says of gift ideas for her stylish Montreal friend. “She has a big house, and she needs to fill the walls up with pictures of me... and also other things too.”
3. For the cocktail connoisseur
Attention all shoppers: if Priyanka’s on your list, she’s about to drop the world’s least subtle hint. “I’ve never been to Saskatchewan, so someone needs to get me a flight there as a gift so I can go to the distillery,” she says, referring to Lucky Bastard Distillers in Saskatoon. As the breadbasket of Canada, Saskatchewan has developed a passionate distilling scene due to the abundance of grain in the area. Known for being the first distillery to operate in Saskatoon since Prohibition, Lucky Bastard makes micro-craft gins and flavoured vodkas, serving them up in a beautiful, chandelier-festooned space. Their product line includes a seasonal Pumpkin Spice Vodka that would make a perfect gift... along with a plane ticket! “If you don’t think I want some pumpkin-spiced vodka, something’s wrong with you,” adds Priyanka.
4. For the chocolate lover
For the sweet tooth on Priyanka’s list—a friend she’s had since kindergarten who loves a good bonbon—a box of upscale, artisanal chocolates would be the perfect gift. Something along the lines of a signature Collection Box from Calgary’s Chocolate Lab, which comes filled with brightly-hued sweets decorated like tiny works of art, would be an excellent choice. As long as she’s willing to share, of course. “Last night, I did sit on the couch eating chocolate-covered peanuts, so I feel like I need to be included in this gift,” says Priyanka. “Some gifts have to be a dual experience.” If you’re mad for chocolate and across the country in the New Brunswick area, check out the Chocolate Museum in St. Stephen to see how decadent Ganong candies are made—the same way they have been for 100 years.
5. For the nature lover
“I don’t know why, but my boyfriend gets off on staying in tents and going camping with his friends,” says Priyanka. Still, in the spirit of being a supportive partner, she would gift him an adventure-filled stay in the wilds, but still keep it chic. One superb option would be Haida House Lodge in Haida Gwaii, a stunning archipelago, home to the Haida Nation, off the coast of British Columbia. This wilderness resort, surrounded by ancient forest and soaring sky, offers guests the chance to experience the landscape through an Indigenous lens, with ocean-view cabins and regionally-inspired meals. It’s the kind of bucket-list experience that would thrill anyone eager to commune with nature.
6. For the fashionista
“My oldest friend Misha is very stylish,” says Priyanka, making a fashionable gift a must. While Priyanka would be “nervous” to hand her friend something she already picked out, she also knows that a gift card would be poorly received. Instead, she’d probably take Misha shopping to pick her own present—and where better than Montreal’s buzzy Verdun neighbourhood? The main street, rue Wellington, offers a wealth of vintage shops, indie bookstores, cafés and boutiques, including Harricana, where you can buy fabulous beanies and mittens made from upcycled fur. Après shopping, grab a fashionable bite at a local eatery, such as Neopolitan-style pizza at Rita or sample the privately-imported wines of upscale, festive Chez BOSS & Fils.
7. For the adventurous soul
If you’re gifting to a truly hardcore outdoors lover, you can’t get more thoughtful—or epic—than a 10-day adventure on the spectacular Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories, courtesy of Nahanni River Adventures. Expeditions include canoe and raft trips over one to three weeks accompanied by an experienced guide telling stories of the land. As for who might enjoy canoeing through Canada’s deepest canyon system? Priyanka’s old roommate Zach immediately springs to mind, she says. “He [has] a love for hiking, and he also has a cat that’s on a leash and loves to go hiking with him,” she says. “I would send those two up to the Northwest Territories.”
8. For the shopaholic
Should Priyanka decide to take a fashionable pal for a Pretty Woman moment on the West Coast, shopping in Vancouver’s ultra-cool Gastown neighbourhood won’t disappoint. Searching for the perfect jeans? Dutil Denim. Need some minimalist pieces with maximum style? Secret Location. Unique pieces by emerging designers with an emphasis on “slow fashion”? One of a Few. Or, switch it up with some statement home décor by exploring the elegant Japanese enamelware and colourful “flower pot” lamps at Old Faithful. In Priyanka’s words: “Just go for it, hun.”
9. For the wellness fanatic
If anybody is getting to spend a day at the spa this year, it’s Priyanka. “I just yearn for this type of thing, but never take time for it,” Priyanka says. One luxurious option is the thermal baths at Thermea by Nordik Spa-Nature in Winnipeg, which offers massages and body care treatments—including the regenerative Himalayan Salt scrub—in a stunning outdoor setting. Priyanka says she’s always on board for a spa getaway in a different part of Canada. “When you’re thinking of gifts, you also need to think of how you can go see other parts of the country you live in, just for yourself,” she says.
10. For the bathing beauty
Often, self-care can mean self-gifting—which is exactly what Priyanka says she needs this year. “Sometimes in life, you just have to give yourself things to remind yourself of how much of an icon you are,” she quips. To snag some bliss in the bath, check out the small-batch soaps from Anto Yukon, handmade using locally-gathered ingredients in Whitehorse. With scents including wild rose, “snowy forest” and “Kluane” (made with lavender, mint and glacial silt collected near Kluane National Park), the soaps are wrapped in packaging created by local artists.
Robyn Harding isn’t just a bestselling writer—she’s also an epic gift-giver. The Vancouver-based author of The Arrangement, The Swap and The Party (a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel) always puts a lot of thought and care into choosing gifts for her family. And while her work tends to be about domestic dramas gone awry (and the occasional murder), Robyn’s gift list reflects her appreciation of the creativity and craftsmanship you can find in Canada from coast to coast.
Here are some made-in-Canada gift ideas that are at the top of Robyn’s list this year:
1. For the outdoorsy type
“My mom has four horses and she spends a lot of time with them outside when it’s really cold, [so I’m] looking for something that she’d wear and find useful,” Robyn says. “What could be better than a hat?” She’s a fan of the cable knit hats at Newfoundland Weavery, located in the lively Water Street shopping district in St. John’s. Originally a trading post, the Water Street Historic District is a National Historic Site of Canada and has been the heart of downtown St. John’s since 1527. Now, it’s home to beautifully-restored heritage buildings, lively restaurants and boutiques where you’ll find locally-made knitwear and artwork.
2. For the spa devotee
Robyn’s pick for a luxury escape is Bota Bota, spa-sur-l’eau, a unique floating spa on a boat in the old port of Montreal. “This is my dream gift—a getaway to an amazing spa in Montreal with my daughter, who lives there,” Robyn says. The name Bota Bota means “drop by drop” in Japanese, and services include “discovery massages” involving techniques like Shiatsu and Thai massage. There’s also a “water circuit” involving a hot sauna, a dip in a cold bath and relaxation time in an on-board hammock. And if you happen to be on the other side of the country: “I also love spas on the West Coast such as Scandinave in Whistler and the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa on Vancouver Island,” Robyn says.
3. For the lover of spirits
Robyn says her brother is “hard to please,” but this year she’s taking a cue from his occupation. “He and his husband have worked at many distilleries and bars, and now he works at a winery in Naramata, British Columbia.” One gift option would be a bottle of Glen Breton Rare whisky from Glenora Distillery, located on Cape Breton Island in Mabou, Nova Scotia. In addition to being North America’s oldest single malt whisky, Glenora Distillery is located on a gorgeous stretch of forest and offers tasting tours in a picturesque setting. Plus, it’s a fantastic jumping-off point to take in Cape Breton Island’s serene beaches, stunning ocean views and east coast hospitality.
4. For the adventurous
When shopping for Robyn’s nephew, adventure always needs to be at the top of the list. A visit to the Calgary Climbing Centre “would be perfect for my nephew, who not only is a climber but who also teaches climbing,” she says. With four locations across Calgary, these climbing hubs are suitable for all ages and skill levels, featuring climb parks with vertical challenges that include jump towers, maze walls, balance pillars, freefall slides, speed walls, spider webs, floating cubes and disappearing holds. It’s a great choice for a gift or a holiday excursion, plus it’s only 1.5 hours from Banff if you’re inspired to explore some real mountains!
5. For the art enthusiast
“Indigenous art is inspiring, and it’s appreciated both by art lovers and those who are new to art,” Robyn says. She points to the I-Hos Gallery, located in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island, and Native Northwest as two places to find beautiful, authentic Indigenous art. “At both of these galleries I found really nice bowl sets that would make great gifts,” she says. Native Northwest is an e-commerce site where 100 per cent of the art is designed by Indigenous artists. I-Hos, which features masks, prints, carvings and jewelry from over Indigenous artists, is located on the site of the original village of the K’ómoks First Nation in the Comox Valley, overlooking spectacular Comox Bay and the serene Gulf Islands.
6. For fans of handcrafted items
“For my sister-in-law, who’s a teacher, a handcrafted journal is a supercool gift,” says Robyn. She likes the handbound journals available at the C2 Centre for Craft in Winnipeg, which features contemporary and traditional craft work by some of Manitoba’s finest artists. “The one I really love is the Large Earth Book by artist Erwin Huebner.” The artist uses slices of stone and barrel wood for the front and back covers, filling the pages with geological images of Manitoba rocks. If you’re in Winnipeg, the C2 Centre is a destination that goes beyond gift-shopping too—it also houses Canada’s only Museum of Craft, featuring historical and contemporary works ranging from embroidery to rug-hooking and metalwork.
7. For the home cook
If you’re buying for an enthusiastic home chef, Bergo Designs in Toronto’s Distillery District is a fantastic place to pick up a turtle-shaped tofu press or stainless steel serving spoons inspired by cherry blossoms. “My husband loves to cook, and there are so many interesting items available here,” Robyn says. “Alessi’s Plissé toaster, designed by architect Michele De Lucci, really does it for me. It’s designed with pleats on the outside that look like pleated fabric.” The historic Distillery District is a holiday-shopping destination that goes beyond housewares too, offering one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and eateries ranging from creatively-flavoured butter tarts to Spanish tapas. It’s a destination not to be missed during the holiday season, when thousands of twinkling lights sparkle on historic buildings and along the cobblestone streets.
8. For the host of your holiday gathering
Perhaps not surprisingly, Robyn loves gifting books to friends and family. At the top of her list this year are works by some of her favourite Canadians authors, including The Hunted by Roz Nay, Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens, Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier and The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi. One choice spot for book-shopping is Munro Books in Victoria, located in a stately former bank building on historic Government Street. “Most everyone who loves books knows Munro Books, it’s a landmark,” she says. Another of Robyn’s favourites from Victoria is elegant pottery from Driftwood Pinchpots. “They’re handmade by my sister-in-law’s best friend,” she says. “I especially like the salt and pepper bowls.”
9. For the home decorator
When it comes to shopping for Robyn’s son, she says it’s all about helping him decorate his new apartment. “It’s a basement and it’s, well, cozy,” she says. “It can be hard to find the right stuff for a 24-year-old.” One spot for creative housewares is Tuck Studio in the heart of Saint John, New Brunswick, which offers fair-priced décor that leans sleek and modern. For some genre-busting art, Robyn suggests Toronto artist and author Cybèle Young, who creates miniature sculptures using Japanese paper. “I like one of her signed prints called Hold the Line, which is based on an old rotary phone that she deconstructed,” Robyn says.
10. For the homebody
“My daughter is at university, and she likes to de-stress after studying,” Robyn says. “To do this, she likes to burn a candle.” Robyn’s a fan of Tofino Soap Company’s candles because they come in great scents such as “Surf” and “The Wildflowers,” and they’re made of natural, sustainable materials. “And you can reuse the ceramic dish that the candle comes in,” she adds. While the company’s products can be ordered online, they are also available at shops all over Tofino, a relaxed town located on the west coast of Vancouver Island that offers year-round surfing and is surrounded by the breathtaking UNESCO Clayoquot Sound Biosphere region. It’s one of the few places in Canada to experience the lush beauty of old growth rainforest.
When Andrew Phung makes a holiday gift list, his wife Tamara and their two young sons are always at the very top. Beloved for his role as Kimchee on Kim’s Convenience, Andrew is embarking on a fresh adventure with his new show Run the Burbs. He co-created and stars in this comedy series about a stay-at-home dad, airing on CBC in early 2022.
Check out Andrew’s gift picks for his loved ones (and a couple choice items on his own wish list), plus some family-friendly ways to make merry across Canada this holiday season:
1. For the lover of handbags
At the top of the list for Andrew’s wife, Tamara, is this stylish, simple Nori ii bag from Toronto boutique ai Toronto Seoul. The store, which is run by three sisters and their mom, carries vegan handbags and accessories made sustainably in small batches. “Their story and family is incredible and my wife absolutely loves their bags,” Andrew says. “They effortlessly fuse functionality with a bit of ‘streetwear’ and elegance.” If you’re looking for some nourishment post-shopping, ai’s flagship store on Bloor West is located a few blocks over from vibrant Koreatown, where you’ll find authentic Korean eats and bubble tea.
2. For the parental escape
“When you’re rocking that parent life, you’ve got to plan those getaways far in advance,” Andrew notes wisely. “One trip on our wish list is going to the Yukon to see the Northern Lights.” One of the most luxurious places to stay for a close encounter with the aurora borealis is the Northern Lights Resort & Spa in Whitehorse. The resort offers a one-of-a-kind experience where visitors can stay in glass chalets and watch the colours dance in the night sky above. Enjoy cozy accommodations, locally-sourced gourmet meals and (of course) the spa, which includes saunas, an outdoor hot tub and massage treatments such as hot stone and reflexology.
3. For the adventurous kid
As a Calgarian who moved to Toronto to film Kim’s Convenience, Andrew says that Pirate Life, an interactive experience in the Toronto Harbour, was one of the best activities he did with his kids in 2021. “It’s role-play meets theatre, with an actual pirate ship. You arrive at the shore and go through pirate training, then you participate in an interactive show on the boat,” he says. “My kids immediately wanted to do it again!” For a wintertime interactive activity by the same company, try these escape games at the majestic Casa Loma, which range from finding a hidden dragon egg to locating the missing detective in a Murdoch Mysteries-themed experience.
4. For the theatre lover
Buying for the theatre enthusiast in your life? You can’t go wrong with tickets to a show at The Cultch in Vancouver, Andrew says. He fell in love with the venue while performing there in 2019. “This space and the neighbourhood surrounding it are beautiful.” Recent shows include the Transform Cabaret Festival, which focused on empowering Indigenous performers, and the Vancouver-set fable East Van Panto: Alice in Wonderland (running until January 2nd). “What struck me was the incredible lineup of [The Cultch] season—a mix of comedy, theatre and art in a way we don’t always see from venues in Canada,” Andrew says.
5. For the jewelry fan
Andrew says he loves buying jewelry that stands out for Tamara, his wife. “From experience, I’ve gotten her some of the obvious things and they end up in a jewelry box forever lost in time,” he says. That’s why he’s a fan of the curated earring sets from online store Jewels & Aces, founded by Torontonian Grace Wong. The sets allow the wearer to “mix, match and remix” earring combos to suit their style and mood. They pair perfectly with a date night in Toronto, which offers a wealth of foodie destinations, such as Pai Northern Thai Kitchen (arguably serving the most divine green curry and khao soi in the city).
6. For the sneakerhead
Don’t know what to get your favourite footwear fanatic? Andrew, being a serious sneaker fan himself (just check out his Instagram), says his personal wish list includes sneaker cleaning from Toronto’s Sole Clean. “Sneakers are very important to me,” he says. “Rather than tossing out a pair of sneakers you love once they’ve gotten dirty, [you can] spend a little money to keep them looking fresh.” Once your sneaks are fully fly again, take in some deep-dish deliciousness at nearby Descendant Pizza on Queen Street East. This Detroit-style pizza with a thick, chewy crust is baked in a pan and heaped with layers of fillings, sauce and cheese. “I love me a deep dish!” Andrew says.
7. For the aspiring cyclist
If there’s a young person in your life who needs a little help getting on two wheels, Andrew recommends the gift of a bike camp at Pedalheads, which has locations across the country. “My older son really struggled with learning how to ride a bike. We tried everything and it just didn’t quite click,” he says. “A week with Pedalheads and he was out there riding dirt hills and going full speed.” Once your little one is ready to roll, check out one of the many kid-friendly bike trails in Banff National Park. It’s an ideal way to enjoy the stunning mountain vistas and serene lakes of the Canadian Rockies.
8. For the nostalgic person in your life
“I am a product of the 80s and 90s, and RetroKid clothing was made for me,” says Andrew of this e-commerce business launched by a couple of Toronto best friends. The company licenses old-school brands, TV shows and movies to create new pieces to thrill the inner child. “Their recent Bloodsport and Reading Rainbow collabs will make any millennial scream from excitement,” Andrew says. If you’re heading to the Montreal area for the holidays, you can flex your retro gaming skills in bars like Arcade MTL, where you can play nostalgic arcade games from Ms. Pac Man to Super Smash Bros., and North Star Pinball for lovingly-restored pinball machines of the past.
9. For the kid who loves animals
Chirp and Chickadee are brightly-hued, witty magazines about animals that have been delighting Canadian kids for decades. Andrew says his kids look forward to receiving them in the mail each month, which sparks a cozy family activity. “We love laying in bed reading them together,” he says. “They are age-appropriate and chock-full of facts, jokes, games, comics and stories.” To take what they learn about nature exploration out into the wild, consider an excursion to the East Coast in time for the Fredericton Frostival, running from January 20th to February 6th. Activities for families include skating, skiing and “Frosti-Walks” through Killarney and Odell Parks to spot winter critters.
10. For the always stylish
Andrew is a self-described “lover of jackets,” perpetually on the hunt for the perfect one. “And I think I may have found it,” he says of this stadium jacket from Toronto’s Reigning Champ (he actually owns four different versions). Founded in Vancouver in 2007, the company has been producing high-end, made-in-Canada athletic wear ever since. Reigning Champ has locations in Vancouver and Toronto, including one on Queen Street West, Toronto’s must-visit shopping zone. Stroll along this legendary thoroughfare for holiday finds, from housewares to skincare to perfectly-distressed vintage jeans.
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio on behalf of Destination Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.
CREDITS: Concept and oversight by JESSICA ROBINSON; Editing by SHELLEY WHITE; Art direction, design and development by JEANINE BRITO; Project management by CHRISTINA LIPPA; Illustrations by RACHEL IDZERDA; Collages by AMY MCNEIL