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Take a tour of 11 Canadian sculpture gardens that allow you to explore nature’s beauty and human creativity

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During the pandemic, when just about every pleasurable pastime has been put on hold, hiking has become a go-to for escaping the doldrums of our lockdown lives. For those who have already trekked all the parks in their area and are looking for an alternative to straight-up nature trails, Canada offers a number of sculpture gardens replete with innovative, eye-catching art that’s often free to view. Here are 11 suggestions of fanciful parks in which to take an artful walk.

British Columbia

The Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park has 100 steel sculptures spread over 200 hectares.Handout

Hornby Island, in the Georgia Strait between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, is a walker’s paradise. Forty per cent of the land is taken up by walking and cycling trails, split between three provincial parks. The Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park adds an artistic twist to the island’s outdoor life, with 100 massive steel sculptures spread over 200 hectares. Canada’s largest sculpture park dedicated to a single artist, the grounds are also home to the late Rubinoff’s studios and foundry, allowing visitors to view how he fashioned his geometrically complex pieces. Free admission. 2750 Shingle Spit Rd., Hornby Island, B.C.

Alberta

The Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta covers 4.8 hectares and has over 25,000 plants.University of Alberta

The Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta shows that sometimes a garden itself can be a sculpture. Covering 4.8 hectares, inlaid granite and limestone terraces are patterned like beautiful tapestries, shifting up and down around waterfalls and still pools to create outdoor architectural “rooms.” More than 25,000 plants and trees suffuse the air with a subtle perfume, heightening the serenity. Free admission. 51227 AB-60, Spruce Grove, Alta.

Since 2008, artist Morton Burke has periodically invited sculptors from around the globe – from countries including India, Iran, Germany and Mongolia – to spend a month each at his acreage in Bergen, Alta., an hour north of Calgary. The output: marvellous stone monuments that have humanistic messages about dreaming, love and the beauty of the human form. Admission by donation. Site 10, Comp 24, RR2 Sundre, Alta.

City noise can be hard to block out, even on a forest walk. Along Edmonton’s Terwillegar Park path, three stone-and-steel sculptures by local artist Royden Mills are fitted with listening devices that amplify the sound of wind, birds and rustling leaves. The idea is to connect visitors back to a premodern, more peaceful era. Free admission. 10 Rabbit Hill Rd. NW, Edmonton, Alta.

Saskatchewan

Saskatoon’s Meewasin Trail follows the South Saskatchewan River for 80 kilometres.Jody Peace/University of Saskatchewan

Saskatoon’s Meewasin Trail meanders through the city, following the South Saskatchewan River for 80 kilometres. As the path cuts through the University of Saskatchewan campus, it passes a hidden gem – the university’s sculpture garden. Surreal pieces, mainly in limestone, include a mammoth hand reaching up through the earth, imbuing the stroll with surprise and delight. Free admission. 101 Diefenbaker Pl., Saskatoon

Manitoba

The Leo Mol Sculpture Park in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park is named for its namesake artist, who made sculptures during 1970s and 1980s.Wayne Hewitt/Handout

At the Leo Mol Sculpture Park in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park, the scenery is almost as beautiful as the art. Works by the namesake artist, made mostly in the 1970s and 1980s from cast cement, nod at the wildlife and wilderness of Manitoba. They dot a lily pond surrounded by vine-covered trellises, lilac trees and hundreds of other plants. Free admission. 375 Assiniboine Park Dr., Wpg.

Ontario

ZimArt’s outdoor gallery sprawls across five acres in an area 15 minutes south of Peterborough, yet the 300 statues transport visitors all the way to Zimbabwe. The richly veined, rock-based pieces represent over 50 different artists from the south African country, and have each been hand-selected by curator and gallery founder Fran Fearnley. The stones are finished in a wide variety of textures, including shiny-polished, rough-hewn and pebbly surfaces. The good news, especially for curious kids: Touching is allowed. Free admission. 855 2nd Line Bailieboro, Ont.

The five tapered powder coated steel elements can be experienced at the Oeno Gallery in Bloomfield, Ont., along with 30 more.Handout

The Oeno Gallery Sculpture Garden sits within the lush vineyards of Ontario’s Huff Estates Inn & Winery (which has a wood-fired pizza oven for hungry hikers). Every spring, about 20 new giant bronze, granite or steel pieces join the 30 or so modern marvels already on display (everything is for sale, hence the need for new additions). With Zephyr, local artist Jeremy Guy somehow makes granite flow as effortlessly as ribbon in the breeze. While Oeno’s adjacent indoor gallery is currently closed, its paintings and small sculptures have been brought outside for physically distanced viewing, housed in open-sided shipping containers. Free admission. 2274 County Road 1, Bloomfield, Ont.

Quebec

Hundreds of international artists compete for the chance to build a handful of contemporary gardens on the grounds of the Jardins de Métis in Quebec.JC Lemay/Handout

It’s hard to imagine a more imaginative, wonderful place to take a walk than the Jardins de Métis in eastern Quebec. Every year, hundreds of international creatives compete for the chance to build a handful of contemporary gardens on the grounds of the otherwise classic, English-style, century-old Reford Gardens. This year, teams from America, Sweden, France and Canada have envisioned fantastical designs under the theme Magic Lies Outside. In one, Seuss-like mounds covered in dried hay provide playful, private forts for visitors – young and old – to hide from the world. Admissions from $11; kids under 13 free. 200 Rte. 132, Price, Que.

Mouvement Essarts, between Montreal and Quebec City, derives its name from a French word meaning to prepare agricultural land for change. Fittingly, the park, which has over 1.5 kilometres of walking trails through former farmer’s fields, is constantly being renewed with new international sculptures, each prepared by artists specifically for the landscape – including many steel and wood pieces that echo the shapes of the surrounding flora and fauna. As Mouvement Essarts is open in all seasons, the art can be seen in ever-changing light. Free admission. 260 10e Rang, Saint-Pie-de-Guire, Que.

New Brunswick

Over 50,000 plants line the 27-acre Kingsbrae Garden in New Brunswick.Chris G Flemming/Kingsbrae Garden

Kingsbrae Garden, in the resort town of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, engages all the senses. Dozens of birds chirp in the trees (Kingsbrae is a certified Audubon sanctuary). Over 50,000 plants line the 27-acre site, including fragrant roses and colourful perennials. A cafe overlooks picturesque Passamaquoddy Bay. Throughout, statuary – some custom-made for the gardens through Kingsbrae’s artist-in-residence program, adds whimsy. Kids love the oversized turtle topped with a bumble bee, as well as the dynamic horse by Ontario sculptor Mark Breckenridge that rears up and down. Admission from $12. 220 King Street, Saint Andrews, N.B.

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