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In the third edition of The Globe’s annual Canadian travel guide, we celebrate our diverse cultural and natural heritage, from the country’s tall-tree capital to its longest-running archeological dig

Even if the only trip you take this year is a virtual one, there’s plenty to explore in our country, from castles that fill entire islands to urban art in a rural setting.

This latest edition of Hidden Canada celebrates gems from Vancouver Island to eastern Labrador, plus a party city in the Yukon.

Read our guide to Canada’s reopening and COVID-19 to learn more about up-to-date interprovincial travel rules.

Botany Bay in Botanical Beach Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, B.C. Kamil Bialous/The Globe and Mail

Hidden Canada - 2020 Edition

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Trout Point Lodge,
Nova Scotia

The Lodge offers guided kayaking tours. Courtesy of Trout Point Lodge
Stargazing along the edge of the Tusket River. Trout Point Lodge sits under some of North America's darkest skies. Kristine Richer
This luxurious small hotel empowers guests with its nature-based activities and programs

‘The moon tonight is in the waxing gibbous stage,” says Rémi Torrenta, Trout Point Lodge’s staff astronomer and naturalist. “It’ll be full in a couple of days.” He pulls out a laser pointer as we stand together on the stargazing platform. We’re surrounded by fall’s colourful foliage, albeit muted by nightfall, but that’s okay because we’re here to talk about the stars and patterns above. “The Summer Triangle is made up of the three brightest stars from three different constellations,” he says. “And Vega,” he adds, now aiming his laser at a big white star, “is the brightest star tonight.” Torrenta is so full of information that I have trouble concentrating, so instead, I breathe in the almost-full moon and the silence of nature.

Trout Point Lodge, tucked into East Kemptville, beside the UNESCO Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve, may look like a cabin in the woods, but this small luxury lodge is a hotbed of experiences, from nature to culinary. It’s also a certified Starlight Reserve. In other words, it’s the perfect place to live (albeit temporarily) and learn.

Earlier in the day, I eased myself into a wood-burning hot tub beside the babbling Tusket River; nearby, 11 giddy painters from Australia committed the fall colours around us to their watercolour pads. I went forest-bathing with Torrenta, a sort of nature therapy where you slow things down and take it all in. We sat on a footbridge and slowed our breathing. I watched as a red maple leaf fluttered from a tree into the river, wound its way around rocks and floated away under the bridge. I canoed and also took an edible nature walk with Torrenta, where we dug up and nibbled on treats from the forest detritus, including starflower, white sarsaparilla and winter green. I learned that practically everything edible in the woods is a diuretic or blood congealer – and also delicious.

Guests can enjoy a soak in a wood-fired outdoor cedar hot tub. Courtesy of Trout Point Lodge

Back up on the stargazing platform, Torrenta says there is no light pollution in the area so we can currently see up to 3,000 stars and deep sky objects. The lodge has mega-telescopes on hand – we rolled ours down the boardwalk in a wheelbarrow – but even with the naked eye on a clear night in the Biosphere Reserve, one can spot faraway galaxies.

Tonight, the sky is unusually bright because of the moon, making it a touch difficult to pinpoint many of the celestial wonders. “The moon is the enemy of astronomers,” Torrenta says. Be it the magic of the moon or my room’s wood-burning fireplace; the fact that there were four types of homemade butter with my lunch; or the local gentleman strumming songs by request at the wee bar at night, every little thing about Trout Point Lodge adds up to something big. I fix my gaze skyward, smiling.

The Tobeatic Wilderness Area forms part of a protected landscape in Nova Scotia. Courtesy of Trout Point Lodge

Dawson City,
Yukon

Visitors take in the views from The Dome lookout above Dawson City. Peter Mather/The Globe and Mail
Some of the smallest residents of Dawson participate in the Sunnydale Classic Dog Sled and Skijor races. Peter Mather/The Globe and Mail
It might be known for its Gold Rush history, but this tiny northern town is vibrant and proudly unconventional

It’s early March and I’m on a Great River Air flightseeing tour over Dawson City, Yukon. My group of three is crammed into a C-172 Skyhawk heading toward the famous Tombstone Mountain, a jagged, dark-grey peak that offers a stark contrast to the snowy landscape and pastel blue sky. The views are gorgeous, but as we leave the town behind, I’m more struck by its size than the stunning views.

For a place that plays such an oversized role in Canadian history – and that still has such a huge personality – it’s strange to realize that the entire town could fit in my neighbourhood back home in Toronto. Once, 40,000 people crowded the small grid of cross-streets, all hoping to strike gold. Now, the population hovers around 1,300, though that number spikes in the summer when tourists descend.

But to experience Dawson in a way that few outsiders ever get to, spring is the time to head north. For many locals, Thaw Di Gras, Dawson’s spring carnival, is an annual highlight, and after checking out some of the proudly offbeat events, it’s easy to see why. It feels as if everyone hits pause on their regular lives for the three-day fest, opting instead to celebrate the end of winter together. Events are spread throughout the town, which gives visitors a chance to take in the candy-coloured buildings. With their old-timey signage and charming flourishes, Dawson’s businesses look as if they’ve been painstakingly maintained since the Gold Rush, even though many are much newer than that. Of course, there’s no way to take in every single event (we were very sad to miss the cat show, a hard-to-get-into highlight of the fest) but the fun is in the trying, and in the chance to mingle with Dawsonites, who are welcoming and ready to strike up a conversation.

A scene from the competitive axe-throwing contest. Peter Mather/The Globe and Mail

Over the course of three days, I watched a keg toss competition held by bartenders from the Downtown Hotel. It was open to anyone, so I wasn’t surprised to see a lavender-snowsuit-clad little girl seriously considering taking a turn after watching a burly thirty-something hurl an empty keg as far as he could. At the Pit, a local name for the iconic bar on the ground floor of the Westminster Hotel, patrons took part in a short-lived tricycle relay. (Unfortunately, the tricycle broke two contestants in.) On an outdoor rink set right beside the Yukon River, the human curling competition was a hilarious nail-biter. There were no stones; instead, contestants perched on inner tubes while their teammates pushed them across the rink, hoping they’d land on one of the coloured rings that had been spray-painted on the ice.

The weekend-long Street Hockey Tournament, in front of the Westminster Hotel, is the most popular event during Thaw Di Gras. Peter Mather/The Globe and Mail

Dawson has always had a reputation as a good-time town, and Thaw Di Gras is a very good time. But even more than the fun and games, getting to experience the town in the spring is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And not just because I got to fly over the snow-covered peaks of the Ogilvie Mountains. Getting to Dawson took the better part of a day, but the long trip north was definitely worth it. There was something truly special about getting to see a community come together over silly events – and being welcomed to town as a true, if temporary, Dawsonite.

A guide from The Klondike Experience adventure tour company watches the Northern Lights dance over Dawson City. Peter Mather/The Globe and Mail

Port Renfrew,
British Columbia

Dockside at Port Renfrew’s marina. Kamil Bialous/The Globe and Mail
A carving at Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages. Kamil Bialous/The Globe and Mail
This nature-rich outpost on Vancouver Island may not be as famous as neighbouring communities, but locals like to keep it that way

Big Lonely Doug is a perfect symbol for the Vancouver Island outpost of Port Renfrew. The giant Douglas Fir, about 230 feet high, or the equivalent of 20 storeys, has stood, growing and adapting, as everything else around it has changed.

In the case of Doug (nicknamed by the Ancient Forest Alliance), which is one of the tallest trees in the country, that means surviving while much of the forest around it succumbs to logging. In the case of Port Renfrew, that means asserting its identity as development reshapes neighbouring communities up and down the coastlines of the island.

Some say Port Renfrew is the next Tofino, others say it’s what Tofino was 20 years ago. Whichever way you look at it, the community, which hugs a road that runs off the Pacific Marine Circle Route, a road trip-friendly loop on the island’s south coast, is a place to escape to, a place to sit by the water and watch the tide or walk through old-growth forests and be reminded of the resiliency of nature.

And though it may be cliché, it’s a place to unplug (fittingly, when I arrived, a storm had knocked out power for the area so unplugging was literally the order of the day).

Big Lonely Doug, the second-largest Douglas fir in Canada. The road in the foreground leads down to the flat land where Doug grows. Kamil Bialous/The Globe and Mail

The community is bordered by natural landmarks. At one end, there’s Botanical Beach in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, where at low tide, you’ll find anemones, snails and other sea creatures and critters in and along the tide pools in the granite outcropping. Along the coast the other way is Sombrio Beach, where cobblestones separate the water from the trees, and the mist hangs low as it moves inland. There’s a trailhead, too, for hikers, but even if you’re here just to dip your toes in the water, there’s still exploration to be done by way of a hidden waterfall at one end of the beach.

The community of Port Renfrew. Kamil Bialous/The Globe and Mail

Going inland is Avatar Grove, a treasure trove of easy hiking paths – think boardwalks and viewing platforms with benches, ideal for taking a seat and looking way up to take in the trees that earned the area its title as the tall-tree capital of the country. It’s a self-proclaimed title, but one hard to dispute. Victoria-based company The Natural Connection offers guided tours of various spots on Vancouver Island, and I walked with owner Ryan LeBlanc through both the upper and lower portions of the Grove. He explained the work that the Ancient Forest Alliance has done to protect the area from logging and promote conservancy of the old-growth forest. We had the place almost to ourselves, not always an easy thing to find on the tourist-friendly island. And just a bit further down the road is Big Lonely Doug.

In the midst of it all, this small community is proud of its natural riches, proud that it continues to conservatively manage its growth. This is not to say it’s a sleepy place. You’ll see plenty of faces during a visit to the Coastal Kitchen Café for breakfast, lunch at the waterside Bridgeman’s West Coast Eatery, or a beer at Renfrew Pub – proof that while many know Port Renfrew’s gems, they’re happy to keep the secrets to themselves.

Botany Bay in Botanical Beach Provincial Park. Kamil Bialous/The Globe and Mail

Battle Harbour,
Labrador

Once a thriving fishing port, this community is now a living-history museum. Barrett & MacKay/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
An aerial view of Battle Harbour. Barrett & MacKay/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
This centuries-old fishing village takes on a new life as a boutique hotel and living-history museum

The old man on the dock is trying to tell me something, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. After two days spent travelling here by plane, car and ferry, I’m tired and a little disoriented, but surely that doesn’t entirely account for my confusion. He’s definitely speaking English. I think. I smile and wish him well before hopping onto the boat for the final leg of my journey to the remote fishing village of Battle Harbour, Labrador.

“I see you met Alf!” says Peter Bull, executive director of the community’s historic trust, as we chug out to sea on a small ferry. “Did you catch a word he said?” Alf, I learn, is the unofficial welcome committee for visitors heading to Battle Harbour. He’s lived 80-plus years in this remote corner of Canada, and with his Labradorian accent thick as cod chowder, is eager to share his stories about this unique place with visitors.

Before it became a tourist destination, Battle Harbour was one of the most important communities in Labrador. From the 1770s to the 1950s, this tiny island was a thriving fishing port for cod, salmon and seal. Schooners would arrive laden with salt from Spain and molasses from the Caribbean, and leave with their holds full of dried salted fish and seal oil, creating seasonal jobs for thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and an economic engine for the entire region.

Battle Harbour’s fortunes followed those of cod fishery, and the last year-round residents (“livyers” in the local dialect) were relocated to the mainland in the 1960s as part of a mass provincial resettlement scheme. The island was turned over to the non-profit historic trust in the 1990s and, after an extensive restoration, many of its historic clapboard buildings now return to life each summer as one-of-a-kind boutique hotels. Visitors who brave the journey here are rewarded not only with some of the most spectacular scenery in maritime Canada, but an opportunity to be immersed in the region’s deep and colourful history.

Many of the community’s historic clapboard buildings have become boutique hotels. Barrett & MacKay/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

While every effort has been made to preserve buildings such as the 18th-century pork store and the church – the second-oldest in the province – Battle Harbour has plenty of 21st-century comfort on offer, too. My room, the Earle Suite, is in the former home of the port’s last owners, and features a soaker tub, a king-sized bed covered with a handmade quilt and postcard-worthy views of the harbour. A cozy communal dining room now takes up the former salmon store, where the island’s culinary team prepares cod cakes, rhubarb crumble and other regional delicacies. The old general store is stocked with handmade Labradorite jewellery, partridgeberry jams and all manner of other locally made crafts. Battle Harbour’s livyers, meanwhile, now lead tours, staff the kitchen and otherwise take every opportunity to serve as interpreters to this unique corner of the Maritimes.

“All over Newfoundland and Labrador, all of the places like this are gone,” says Nelson Smith of the cod-fishing “rooms” that once flourished along the province’s coast. Smith grew up on the island, the fifth generation of his family to do so, and now serves as Battle Harbour’s restoration carpenter. Smith leads a tour of the island’s historic sites, from the Newfoundland Rangers’ station, to the original Marconi radio towers, to the site of American explorer Robert Peary’s 1909 press conference after his trip to the North Pole. He peppers his tour with anecdotes about growing up in Battle Harbour, where he spent summers gutting cod and winters commuting to the mainland by dogsled.

Thanks to the efforts of the Battle Harbour Historic Trust, life here is now considerably more luxurious than it was in those days, but the wildness and striking beauty of the place remain – as do locals such as Smith and Alf, whose stories bring the place’s history to life. Some translation is occasionally required.

Some of the area’s historic buildings show their age more than others. Dru Kennedy/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

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Îles-de-la-Madeleine,
Quebec

A mother seal rests with her pup on an ice floe. Domini Clark/The Globe and Mail
Houses of Îles de la Madeleine, shot from a helicopter en route to an ice floe. Domini Clark/The Globe and Mail
Winter conditions may be harsh here, but the opportunity to see a seal pup up close will warm you up

The North Atlantic in winter is a world of monochrome. Fields of white snow replace lush green landscapes. Blue waters turn inky black. Seen from above, ocean ice floes look like huge slabs of Carrara marble. It is a harsh land, yet it contains some of the cutest critters on Earth: baby harp seals.

Contrary to popular belief, it is illegal in Canada to kill the white puffy seal pups known as les blanchons. But it is possible to take a selfie with one.

In the weeks of late February and early March, seals crawl onto the ice floes around Quebec’s Îles-de-la-Madeleine to give birth. For more than 35 years, the Château Madelinot has been taking guests out to meet them. The babies are at peak fluff for about 12 days, when they begin to molt and grow sleeker fur, so it’s a narrow window of opportunity.

From the hotel, it’s a 45-minute helicopter ride – maximum six guests in each chopper – out to the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, about 150 kilometres north of Prince Edward Island. Onboard, the excitement is palpable, but the deafening roar of flight (foam earplugs are provided) means there isn’t much to do but smile and take pictures out the window.

Upon landing, we are pretty much free to walk around. Standing on a massive piece of sea ice in the middle of winter is, however, a freezing, blustery experience (even while wearing the provided survival suit), so the hotel’s guides quickly lead people to the seals. We have a little more than an hour here; this is not the time for nature lessons or mindless wanderings.

Almost immediately we spot a mother and her pup resting not far from the water’s edge. Mom, about two metres long and weighing about 100 kilograms, watches as her offspring lolls around.

Seeing the seals up close, the thrill of anticipation is replaced by a wave of serenity. I expected the adults, at least, to be frightened of us, but mom appears unperturbed by the gawking audience. Her trust melts my heart. The interaction is a reminder that life goes on in even the harshest of landscapes. I imagine what other wonders are close but unseen in the icy waters beyond.

A guest of Chateau Madelinot photographs a baby seal. The seal’s fluffy white coat indicates it is less than two weeks old. Domini Clark/The Globe and Mail

The pup, now lying on its back and holding its little paws up, looks like an Arctic version of an otter and is so adorable I could watch it for hours.

But not far off is another pair: A mother swims as her newborn perches on nearby ice. The baby is a yellowcoat – named for the colour of its fur, I learn the next day at the local Seal Interpretation Centre – and so can’t be more than three days old. Mom keeps a close watch, her head popping up out of the gulf frequently. I know it’s instinct driving her attentiveness, not love; within two weeks she’ll be gone, leaving the pup to fend for itself. Still, it’s hard not to anthropomorphize. I feel like I’m intruding on a private family moment.

Finally, a guide spots a picture-perfect blanchon. It’s a cotton ball come to life and, importantly, alone; the Canadian Fisheries Act dictates that you cannot get between a mother and her pup or closer than nine metres to an adult seal.

People take their selfies, snuggling beside the puffball. It’s unclear where mom is, and as the little one makes what sound like increasingly plaintive cries, I wish she would appear. Another guest offers to take my picture with the pup but I pass on the photo op, choosing instead to stay a few metres back and make use of my zoom lens.

Still, I do not begrudge anyone their moment of cuteness. Many guests travelled from Japan just for this. I watch as grown men and little girls alike shriek with happiness. Their faces radiate pure joy and such warmth, I’m surprised the ice beneath us doesn’t melt.

Visitors look for baby seals on an ice floe in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Domini Clark/The Globe and Mail

Wanuskewin Heritage Park,
Saskatchewan

The main building at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatoon. iStockphoto
An archeological finding from the park. Courtesy of Tourism Saskatoon
Explore the longest-running archeological project in Canada on a site that’s been a traditional meeting place for centuries

The grasslands seem endless when standing on the Saskatchewan prairie: A vast carpet of flora, fields of grain and distant clusters of farm buildings. At Wanuskewin Heritage Park, on the outskirts of Saskatoon, 360 acres make up an undulating palette from pale cream to deep green with occasional patches of yellow, thanks to wildflowers.

It’s a soothing visual, but the park’s secrets lie beneath. Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a national historic site since 1987, is home to the longest-running archeological project in Canada.

“Every major flat area you can see is an archeological site,” archeologist and professor Ernest Walker says. Since 1982, 19 sites have been excavated by Walker and his team. Most of the artifacts they’ve found predate the arrival of Europeans and date well before the building of the Great Pyramids in Egypt. A medicine wheel unearthed here is one of the oldest on the continent, Walker explains. “This site is unparalleled as an archeological resource in North America,” he says. “It goes back 6,000 years, and tells us so much about the Plains peoples.”

University of Saskatchewan field students continue the excavations of this historical site under Walker’s direction every May and June, slowly revealing the legacy of a meeting point for nomadic Plains tribes. Although visitors aren’t permitted to channel their inner Lara Croft or Indiana Jones to excavate, guided tours bring participants to watch the dig in action and examine recently found objects.

Park visitors view a dig in progress. Courtesy of Tourism Saskatoon

But more than unearthing history, Wanuskewin offers multiple ways to experience centuries-old Plains tribal culture such as playing traditional ball and running games, and learning about how the tribe followed and hunted bison (and observing the newly arrived bison herd). Visitors can also enjoy gathering native plants from the grassland to learn about their healing benefits and the significance of a tepee – with the ability to spend a night in this traditional dwelling. Adults can reserve a spot for the seasonal Han Wi Dinner series, which includes a guided tour of some dig sites, a locally sourced multicourse dinner by chef Jenni Lessard on the grasslands and storytelling under the stars.

At this open-air museum, Wanuskewin visitors can experience why the Plains peoples returned to this land repeatedly over centuries: a meeting place to share, swap and celebrate.

An aerial view of the open-air museum. Courtesy of Tourism Saskatoon

Oldman River,
Alberta

Casting a line in Oldman River. Susan Nerberg/The Globe and Mail
Oldman River is habitat for primarily native fish, including cutthroat trout. The small flies used to catch cuthroats mimic the bugs they eat. Susan Nerberg/The Globe and Mail
Not far from Calgary, in the Alberta Foothills, are waterways perfect for a peaceful day of fly fishing

Life is on the line as I teeter in the current of the Oldman River in southern Alberta. No, I’m not about to engage in a daredevil rescue of a capsized canoeist from ripping rapids. The Oldman is rather laggard today. The life in question belongs to a cutthroat trout, and the line is the translucent extension of my rod and reel. But soon, the fish is off the hook – and, luckily, so am I, preferring to live and let live.

I’ve come to Alberta’s Foothills for two reasons: to explore a part of the province usually bypassed for adventures in the Rockies, and to get a feel for why fly fishing is becoming an increasingly popular leisure activity in Canada among both millennials and women. Thanks to Calgary-based Topwater Fly Fishing, which supplies not only hip waders and boots, rod and reel, but also guidance and patience courtesy of owner Brandon Healey and guide Devon Scott, I learn that a forecast – the technique used to toss your line onto the water – has little to do with predicting the weather, but that weather can have implications for fly fishing or, rather, what kind of fly you use as bait.

Alberta may be best known for prairie and cattle to the east and mountains and bighorn sheep to the west, but the Foothills – the rolling landscape that stitches together those distinct geologic regions – offers its own wealth. A quarter of a million kilometres of fishable rivers span Alberta, and many of them flow through these hills. The Oldman River starts as a steep tumble down the east slope of the Rockies, cutting a gradual descent through the Foothills before snaking through grasslands. A two-hour drive south of Calgary, the stream flows through uplands swaddled in the hushed tones of late-summer grass studded with dark-green spruce.

Standing on the Oldman’s pebble bank, Healey ties to the end of his line a pea-size fly made of feathers attached to an unbarbed hook. The objective is to catch and release a cutthroat trout, one of five native species in the region. Unlike brown trout, a species introduced from Eastern Canada, cutthroats like colder water with more oxygen, so Healey looks for whitewater. “Trout are intelligent freshwater fish,” he says. “The trick to catching them is to figure out how they think and live.” It’s taken him more than a decade of consistent (and persistent) practice to get there. It has paid off: On his second cast, he reels in a speckled fish the length of his forearm.

It looks easy. Scott, who’s waded countless Alberta rivers since he was a kid, breaks down Healey’s overhead cast, the foundation for learning other casts. It’s actually two casts executed by flicking your wrist: The backcast gets the line behind you so you can play it forward; the forecast lays the line and bait on the water. “Fly fishing is all about how you present the bait,” he says. “No slapping the line loudly on the water.” Fish, it seems, prefer to be served with white gloves and grace.

Practising, I realize fly fishing is more than a sport. It’s a pursuit that requires focus and patience – qualities drowned by today’s multitasking madness – and it offers the gift of being in the moment. It makes you slow down. And when you do, you hear the Oldman babble and buzzing insects tempting fate by hovering dangerously close to the surface. As I’m listening, the river plays back a new rhythm. It doesn’t matter that I don’t reel in any fish, because each cast means a new way of connecting with nature. And that’s an even better catch than the one I originally hoped for.

Once caught, fish need to be handled with wet hands to protect the slime on their skin, which is their immune system. Susan Nerberg/The Globe and Mail

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Prescott-Russell,
Ontario

Life of Bees by the artist Roadsworth at The Farmhouse in Casselman, Ont. Johnny C.Y. Lam/The Globe and Mail
Postcard by Benny Wilding and Carlos Oliva at the Ben-Rey-Mo ltd Farm, St Albert, Ont. Johnny C.Y. Lam/The Globe and Mail
Pastoral scenery meets pop-art graffiti on this country road trip outside Ottawa

A short drive from downtown Ottawa brings you to Prescott-Russell, a pastoral region filled with working farms, dairy cows, grain silos and scenic winding roads. During the harvest season, roadside fruit and vegetable stands can be found dotted throughout the area. It’s a perfect mini-getaway from the city to reconnect with the land that feeds us.

You will also encounter graffiti-covered silos. At first glance, one might think these are derelict structures that have been vandalized, but reality is quite the opposite. The silos are canvases for giant murals created by various accomplished artists, many of them from the Canadian graffiti scene, and part of Popsilos, a project launched in 2017 as a part of the Canada 150 celebrations. The concept combines art and agri-food tourism in a circuit that leads to five giant murals, surprising and delighting daytrippers.

Michel Dignard and Jeannette Mongeon's farm in Embru, Ont. is home to a Popsilo by Lacey Jane and Layla Folkmann. Johnny C.Y. Lam/The Globe and Mail

Though there is more than one route to visit these painted silos, I take the least direct route from Ottawa just to crisscross the South Nation River a couple of times before reaching the town of St. Albert. The town is home to the St. Albert Cheese Factory, which is famous for its squeaky and tasty cheese curds. Sitting at the outdoor patio, I gobble down a classic poutine loaded with gravy and fresh curds before moving on to find Ben-Rey-Mo Ltd. Farm, a dairy farm not far from the cheese factory. Painted on its silo is a montage of elements that are significant to the region. The white snowy owl, which adorns the very top of the silo, has drawn many birding enthusiasts to the area. Below the owl is a scene of folks fishing on a river. The artwork captures a passion for outdoor life in Ontario.

Farm Boy by Emmanual Jarus and Zek One at Ouimet Farms Adventure in Champlain, Ont. Johnny C.Y. Lam/The Globe and Mail

Road 10, between St. Albert and Vankleek Hill, is particularly picturesque. On my left, just on the other side of the Ottawa River, the Laurentians are silhouetted against the sky. In the distance, I see a large bird painted on the top of a silo, peeping through treetops in the golden light as I travel toward Vankleek Hill Vineyard. The artist, Omen514, named the mural Kruk, the word for raven in Polish, in honour of his Polish roots.

Down the road on Main Street in Vankleek Hill is Ouimet Farms Adventure, my last Popsilo of the day. Owner André Ouimet, a fourth-generation farmer, runs the farm as an adventure park, offering a giant corn maze, pick-your-own pumpkins and haunted farm tours. The mural on the silo at his farm features a young farmer looking toward the sky with confidence. It seems like a symbol of hope and ambition for the future.

Another view of Our Youth, Our Future by Lacey Jane and Layla Folkmann in Embru, Ont. Johnny C.Y. Lam/The Globe and Mail

Winnipeg,
Manitoba

Upper Fort Garry's 120-metre heritage wall, a sculpture that contains etchings of people and animals. Kristhine Guerero/Tourism Winnipeg
A mural near The Forks honours Jackson Beardy, a member of the Indian Group of Seven. Kristhine Guerero/Tourism Winnipeg
The prairie city is a hub for exploring Indigenous artistic expression

I’m with a group on a cycling tour riding alongside the Assiniboine River in central Winnipeg when one of our guides, Justin Bear, asks us to pause: “As we go, try to imagine the people. Picture them here on the river. Thousands of years of history happened here. People were meeting here, sitting here: Try to feel that.”

We stop at a park on the site of the former Upper Fort Garry to see a 120-metre steel wall sculpture, etched with images of people and animals that take us back to the site’s history. We ride past the Canadian Museum of Human Rights where, inside, visitors gaze at an exquisite 26-foot-tall beaded octopus bag. (The Métis would carry pipes, tobacco and other supplies in their much smaller octopus bags.) We get off our bikes at Niimaamaa, a giant sculpture of a pregnant woman facing east to symbolize rebirth and hope. “I am a proud Anishinaabe,” says Adrian Alphonso, another of our guides on the Clear Paths tour. “I am able to finally say that I am proud … and installations like these really ignite that.”

That sense of pride and healing is on display across Winnipeg, which is a hub of Indigenous art. A mural near The Forks, a historic gathering place, honours Jackson Beardy, one of the Indian Group of Seven – a group of Indigenous artists known formally as the Professional National Indian Artists Incorporation. Androgyny, a large-scale painting from Norval Morrisseau, another of the seven artists, welcomes visitors to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Later this year, the gallery’s Inuit Art Centre will open to showcase the world’s largest collection of Inuit art.

The giant Niimama sculpture symbolizes rebirth and hope. Courtesy of Travel Manitoba

Buildings around the city are adorned with murals, including fancy shawl dancers on a hotel in the North End and a young woman’s face – with a feather in her hair and hand over her mouth – across from City Hall. Star blankets painted on half a dozen walls all over the city honour missing and murdered Indigenous women in Manitoba and beyond.

At the end of a day exploring Indigenous art, we meet again at The Forks and listen to Anishinaabe musician Leonard Sumner sing of lost love, Northern Lights and hope for the future. The performance is just one more creative delight hidden in plain sight in Winnipeg.

Another view of the steel wall at Upper Fort Garry. Mike Peters/Tourism Winnipeg

Thousand Islands,
Ontario

Boldt Castle on Heart Island. George Fischer
An aerial view of the Thousand Islands. George Fischer
For architecture and design buffs, there are gems new and old to be found in this holiday region

I had been to the Thousand Islands with my parents as a kid, but had no strong recollection of the picturesque area except for one thing: There were castles, with turrets and secret passageways. One even had peepholes built into walnut panelling so its duplicitous owners could spy on their unsuspecting guests.

It was the mystery, intrigue and secrets built into the stately summer retreats that captivated the 10-year-old me. But now, the architecture and history of the glamorous mansions, 100-year-old cottages and, of course, the castles appeal to me as an adult.

There are several ways to explore the necklace of islands that dot the St. Lawrence River, which in this part of the province acts as a natural divide between Ontario and upstate New York. 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours offers a 30-minute helicopter ride over the region, which allows for an aerial view of the islands, many of which have whimsical names such as Reveille, Cleopatra and Stonesthrow – as well as one drolly called Moneysunk. Most of these privately owned homes and estates were built by Canadian and American industrialists during the Gilded Age, a time of rapid economic growth in the late 1800s.

Sadly, the majority you can only gaze at from afar, but a few, like the Boldt Castle and Singer Castle (the one with the peepholes), are open for tours. Passport in hand, I hopped on a cruise to the U.S. side of the Thousand Islands, and spent a couple of hours wandering the Italian gardens and refurbished rooms of Boldt Castle on Heart Island, which George Boldt, the former proprietor of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, built for his wife, Louise, in 1900.

True to its name, hearts abound. The island was dredged to be heart-shaped, and the symbol is everywhere, embedded in wood floors, grand staircases, stained glass and even flower beds. What is truly remarkable for design lovers is the attention to detail. Each year, another room is refurbished with furnishings painstakingly sourced to replicate the pieces chosen by its original owners. (Boldt Castle was never lived in. Louise died unexpectedly and Boldt walked away from the project, leaving it in ruins for years.)

Zavikon Island, and neighbours. George Fischer

Another restored architectural gem is The Opinicon, located at Chaffey’s Lock on the Rideau Canal. Owned by Shopify’s Tobias Luetke and his wife, Fiona McKean, it’s estimated the couple has spent more than $20-million to restore the former fishing lodge and surrounding cabins. The exterior is authentic to its turn-of the-century past, but the interior is whimsical, including a lounge that feels like a throwback to the seventies with burnt orange walls, wicker light fixtures, sleek Scandinavian-style furnishings and contemporary art by local artists.

And Sherman Pratt’s Cottage, perched above the St. Lawrence on Niagara Island, will delight fans of modern architecture. One of the first private residences in North America to use steel and reinforced concrete in its design, the massive pink stucco structure was designed by New York architect John (Jack) Walter Wood in 1930 for his friend Pratt (grandson of Standard Oil magnate Charles Pratt).

It could be argued that Pratt’s iconic house, with its cube-like shape and wing-like sleeping porches, set the template that newer summer homes in the region have emulated. Reed’s Bay House on Wolfe Island, designed by the Toronto-based architects at superkül, for instance, is modelled after a traditional long barn and is built on stilts, while Rockport Cottage, designed by Ottawa’s Hobin Architecture, slips seamlessly into its natural habitat thanks to its amalgam of stone, wood, steel and glass. These are also private homes, so you can only imagine what the interiors are like.

Old or new, the resort architecture of the Thousand Islands is a testament to craftsmanship at its finest. Exuberant like Boldt Castle, or more restrained, as with the teeny cottage on Just Enough Room Island, it’s a region made even more memorable by its thousand stories.

Thousand Islands Bridge. George Fischer
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