Does the Old Port of Montreal need a new name? The question springs to mind as my daughter and I prepare to leap from the top of MTL Zipline’s 25-metre-tall launch tower.
“Port” still works, what with the pier-enclosed waters of the Bonsecours Basin stretching out below us, dozens of gleaming watercraft moored to the surrounding docks, and the St. Lawrence River framing the disconcertingly distant landing platform. But “old” seems a little outdated, even with the silver-domed Bonsecours Market rising behind us and dozens of retro bistros and boutiques lining the port’s cobblestone streets and squares.
To the right of the dual zipline wires, 42 futuristic cabins slowly climb and descend Canada’s largest observation wheel. The Voiles en Voiles adventure course below us resembles an 18th-century pirate ship, but the cables, bridges and other aerial obstacles enveloping it are clearly trappings of modernity, as is the nearby Montreal Science Centre, the Bota Bota floating spa, the multilevel Terrace Bonsecours open-air restaurant and nightclub and the psychedelic Cirque du Soleil Big Top that’s home to a reboot of Alegria until July 21.
The futuristic clincher, the eight-storey PY1 pyramid, is the newest arrival of them all. Since June 1, the $25-million brainchild of Cirque co-founder Guy Laliberté has hosted Through the Echoes, a 60-minute multimedia extravaganza that will run several times daily until Sept. 29, when the unique venue will move on to a Miami engagement. Until then, PY1 is also staging adults-only DJ shows on weekends and is slated to offer morning meditation, yoga and workout sessions.
Montreal’s not-so-old port is far from alone in its capacity to fill summer vacations as they’ve never been filled before. Every year, the Canadian preoccupation with making the most of the period between Canada Day and Labour Day spawns a dizzying array of diversions, the newest of which are revealed here, week by precious week.
Week 1: Vancouver, Victoria and the Sea to Sky Highway
The two-year-old V2V cruise service between downtown Vancouver and Victoria’s Inner Harbour has introduced a series of day trips to the B.C. capital. Covering diversions such as the Royal BC Museum and Butchart Gardens, as well as guided cycle and brewery tours, excursions include return passage aboard the 242-seat V2V Empress catamaran. The exception: Sail & Fly, which combines a one-way morning voyage with a late-afternoon return trip on a Harbour Air seaplane.
Drivers who proceed north out of Vancouver on the gorgeous Sea to Sky Highway can make a fascinating pit stop at the Britannia Mine Museum, where the Mill No. 3 National Historic Site is hosting Boom!, a live-action special-effects production that explores the backstory of the 20-storey ore-processing behemoth.
Week 2: Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie
About an hour east of Thunder Bay, Eagle Canyon Adventures’ new 183-metre span is said to be Canada’s longest suspension footbridge. It crosses the outdoor adventure park’s namesake gorge at a height of more than 46 metres, which isn’t nearly as lofty as the park’s 800-metre-long, 53-metre-high zipline, touted as the longest, highest and fastest in the land.
Another 2½ hours east along the Trans-Canada Highway, Pukaskwa National Park’s Coastal Hiking Trail winds through boreal forests and past sandy beaches as it skirts the rugged Lake Superior shoreline for 60 spectacular kilometres.
Week 3: Take the Labrador Coastal Drive to Battle Harbour
The Battle Harbour Historic Trust’s two-night Forgotten in Time package is among the latest additions to Destination Canada’s growing list of Signature Experiences.
Frequently visited by Labrador Sea icebergs in July, the 250-year-old fishing station is the only National Historic District where visitors can spend the night. Forgotten in Time guests sleep in one of the island’s restored homes, bake buns with storytelling locals and take part in walking tours of the revived community.
The package includes return passenger ferry passage to Battle Harbour from Mary’s Harbour, which is right in the middle of the Labrador Coastal Drive. Starting in Blanc Sablon, Que., the 414-kilometre route winds north past the Isle de Perroquets puffin sanctuary, the L’Anse Amour Burial National Historic site, the Point Amour Lighthouse, and dozens of other unique pit stops.
Week 4: Chic digs and mountain biking along the Powder Highway
B.C.’s Powder Highway is named for the Kootenay Rockies’ abundant natural snow and plentiful ski resorts, but the 1,300-kilometre loop is just as enticing in summer. As well as hot springs, welcoming mountain towns and world-class hiking, rock climbing, paddling, mountain biking and other outdoorsy activities, a variety of new ventures have cropped up in 2019. In Rossland, the $40-million Josie Hotel has brought urban style to the base area of the Red Mountain ski resort. Its summer-oriented packages include a one-night Bike the Seven Summits offer that includes shuttle drop-off and pick-up, as well as two complimentary beverages at the Velvet Lounge, for mountain bikers looking to tackle the point-to-point singletrack traverse across the Rossland Range.
Speaking of mountain biking, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is jumping into the game with a top-to-bottom 5,620-vertical-foot trail accessed via the Revelation Gondola.
Week 5: Labrador and Torngat Mountains Explorer expedition
From July 20 to 30, bestselling author and social anthropologist Wade Davis will join One Ocean Expedition guests on a voyage aboard the 146-passenger RCGS Resolute, the B.C.-based tour operator’s newest vessel. Visiting Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador and Nunavut, it will tour historic sites such as Louisbourg and L’Anse aux Meadows in relatively prosaic fashion, while zodiacs will be used to explore more remote spots such as Torngat National Park and Nunavut’s walrus-covered Monumental Island.
Week 6: Opémican National Park and Rouge National Urban Park
Quebec’s newest provincial park, a five-hour drive from both Toronto and Ottawa, offers a stunning range of rivers, lakes and hiking trails across its 252.5 square kilometres. Sépaq, which manages the province’s parks and wildlife reserves, has also unveiled 11 Étoile ready-to-camp sites in the park’s Pointe-Opémican sector, providing visitors with canvas-sealed wood structures containing three double beds, stoves, fridges, auxiliary heating and lighting, and other creature comforts.
GTA-based camping neophytes looking to work their way up to something like Opémican may want to consider the free Parkbus shuttle that now rolls to Rouge National Urban Park on weekends. The TD Park Express service also journeys between Vancouver and Cypress Provincial Park, Edmonton and Elk Island National Park, and Montreal and Îles-de-Boucherville National Park.
Then there’s the 400-million-year-old Cheltenham Badlands near Caledon, Ont., which recently reopened after a two-year revitalization project by the Ontario Heritage Trust improved access to the 37-hectare geological oddity, upgraded its walking trails and signage, and introduced new interpretive features.
Week 7: Acadians, Green Gables and Glamping
Held every five years, the World Acadian Congress will celebrate Acadian and Cajun culture across Prince Edward Island and southeast New Brunswick from Aug. 10 to 24. This coincides nicely with the opening of Cielo Glamping Maritime, where five furnished geodesic domes will overlook New Brunswick’s Shippagan Bay. And while you’re trying new things, why not climb aboard the 38-foot Isola Solaretto, which is slated to start offering “the world’s first solar-powered dinner cruise and boat tour” out of Charlottetown Marina on July 1.
Week 8: ‘Gold Rush 2,’ Dawson City, Yukon
Spearheaded by the Klondike Visitors Association, a new Indiegogo fundraiser is calling on donors to help recreate the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 by contributing to the purchase of $100,000 in Yukon-mined gold. The plan is for the bullion to be placed in Claim No. 6 on Bonanza Creek, and then panned for by one and all on Aug. 20.
As well as contributing to this unique panning opportunity, a $5 gift gets donors’ names in a history book displayed in the Dawson City Museum. Larger contributions can earn perks such as a “Dawson City Package” including admission to the renowned Diamond Tooth Gerties stage show. The priciest package includes an Air North flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse and a two-night stay in Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel, where a complimentary Sourtoe Cocktail – a glass of Yukon Jack whisky containing a preserved human toe – is on the house.
Week 9: Chute Lake Lodge from Penticton, B.C.
The recent salvation of Chute Lake Lodge has turned a quirky pit stop along the Okanagan’s Kettle Valley Rail Trail into a haven for seekers of natural serenity and outdoor adventure. After taking Hoodoo Adventures’ early morning shuttle from downtown Penticton to the Myra Station parking lot, cyclists cross 18 restored railway trestles, and pass through two tunnels, en route to the once-decrepit Chute Lake property. Now owned by Hoodoo, the lakeside lodge offers eight cabins and three lodge rooms equipped with comforts such as fireplaces, kitchens, plush bedding and rustic-chic decor. The historic character of the former railway-worker rest stop remains intact, however, with the Water Stop Restaurant still clad in pine even as its menu highlights candied bacon mac and cheese alongside local craft beer and wine.
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