Since I've scuba dived as many times as I've bungee jumped in a leotard (not very many, if you're wondering), I took a deep breath and tapped three regional experts for tips on where to go in Canada – starting with Russell Clark from the Dive Industry Association of British Columbia.
"Port Hardy [northern Vancouver Island] is B.C. diving at its finest. The sheer cliffs here fall hundreds of feet into emerald-green waters and every square inch is covered with colourful life," he says, adding that giant Pacific octopuses and wolf eels "that look like grumpy old men from the Muppets" are common sights.
They're not the only wildlife worth wiping your goggles for. "A true B.C. dive means swimming alongside steller sea lions off Vancouver Island. They're the giant puppy dogs of the sea and are very inquisitive and playful – it's one of the best animal encounters anywhere."
It's not all about critters, though. "B.C. has seven artificial reefs – including the recently sunk HMCS Annapolis," says Clark, adding that the Nanaimo coastline has three sunken military ships that are now "stunning marine habitats."
Timing-wise, B.C.'s winter waters offer prime visibility, but Clark says diving here is year-round. And when it comes to finding operators and dive shops, his association's website has an online directory plus a contact form if you need additional trip-planning advice.
A shoal of shipwrecks also hooks scuba nuts on the East Coast where May to October is the favoured season, according to Rick Stanley, co-owner of Newfoundland dive tour operator Ocean Quest Adventures .
"Bell Island's shipwrecks are not only the best in the region but also all of Canada," he claims, adding that its unrivalled vessel variety – from torpedoed U-boats to Second World War freighters – illuminate some fascinating history. And then there's the icebergs.
"Icebergs come here every spring and stick around until early summer," says Stanley, who cautions that encountering them isn't for novices. "Iceberg diving is cool but it's also risky and it shouldn't be done without an experienced local crew that can look after you if a 'berg rolls or explodes while you're diving it."
It's a lesson that applies to anyone choosing a dive operator in Canada, he adds. "Make sure they are Transport Canada-certified to take folks on their dive boats. Operators that spend time and money on safety have more invested and want to deliver a great experience."
Of course, you don't have to stick limpet-like to Canada's ocean coastlines. But while there's a multitude of freshwater dive areas from B.C. to Quebec, it's Ontario that draws the lion's share of inland flipper fanatics.
"This is the freshwater diving capital of the world," says Ron Bogart, president of the Ontario Underwater Council . "There are thousands of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, all incredibly well-preserved by the cold-water temperatures."
Tobermory is his first recommendation. "Toby has the world's largest number of shallow shipwrecks – it's famous for the accessibility of wrecks like the Sweepstakes, which sits in just 25 feet of water," he says, adding that there's also great visibility and cool caves to explore.
And while he also recommends Kingston for its surfeit of close-range wrecks, Bogart's final tip is aimed at experienced divers. "The St. Clair River from Point Edward is a drift dive with swift currents, the Gladstone shipwreck and huge sturgeon that are up to eight-feet long. It's a must-do dive."
For Clark, visitors shouldn't be discouraged by the chill factor of diving in a country that's far from tropical. "It's easy to look on Canadian waters as cold and dark, but they're also hugely inviting and full of life. Like skiing, cold can be overcome with proper attire and equipment. Those that do, will encounter a unique world of wonder they won't find anywhere else."
OUR READERS WRITE
- Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada [in Ontario] is one of the best freshwater diving spots in the world. - Guy Thériault
- There’s great year-round diving on the Sunshine C.oast [B.C.] – including the mermaid statue, HMCS Chaudiere and HMCS Annapolis, which was sunk in Howe Sound earlier this month creating a brand new dive site off Gambier Island @sunshinecoastca
- B.C.’s amazing islands. Consider Stubbs Island, Race Rocks, Porlier Pass and the channel between Gabriola and Valdes Islands – they’re all great for diving. @LindaPeters64
- Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park – especially for the wreck of the Gertrude. @WestworldAB
- I hear Tobermory is THE spot for diving in Ontario. @missemcee
- Nanaimo [B.C.]. Home to three artificial reefs, Dodd Narrows drift dive and Snake Island Wall. We’ve catered to many thousands of divers in the past and all of them rave about diving in Nanaimo. @BuccaneerInn
- In B.C., Desolation Sound (of course) and Saltery Bay Provincial Park on the Sunshine Coast. Look for the sunken mermaid. @travelling_mom
- Victoria’s Ogden Point Breakwater [B.C.] for easy access. In the three years I’ve been here, there’ve been viral instances of a giant octopus eating a seagull etc. @SnarkySteff
- Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver is a popular spot for scuba diving at all levels. The parking lot is full on weekends with divers @hikebiketravel
- Definitely the Sunshine Coast [B.C.]. Also, new and noteworthy in diving in B.C. is the wreck of the HMCS Annapolis, sunk off the coast of Gambier Island @604Pulse
- Sidney Harbour [Vancouver Island] is supposed to be good @WFLBC
- Nanaimo, Port Hardy and the Sunshine Coast in B.C. and the Great Lakes in Ontario for its sunken ships, planes, caves and exposed reefs @ehCanadaTravel
- The Sunshine Coast [B.C.] is definitely worth exploring @jasonknibbs
- Nanaimo.!!!! @Proud2bCAD
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