The fourth edition of The Globe’s annual Canadian travel guide will take you from the treetops of the west coast to an up-and-coming city in the east, and inspire you to chase waterfalls, go ice fishing and explore the country’s only First Nation-owned and -operated park built from the ground up.
Read our guide to Canada’s reopening and COVID-19 to learn more about up-to-date interprovincial travel rules.
Prince Edward Island
‘Clay has a memory. You don’t need to press so hard.” Potter Elsa Valinas is showing me how to wring the water from my sponge and gently press it into the slab of red clay to form a narrow tray. As we work across the table from one another, dipping, wringing and dabbing, the native of Mexico City tells me how she became an Islander.
An industrial designer, Elsa found that “clay was calling to her.” After studying ceramics at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design, she landed a full-time position at Island Stoneware in Summerside. But it wasn’t just the job that kept her here, it was the lifestyle. “In Mexico, you spend your life working or driving,” she says. “But here, my partner and I go to Chelton Beach to see the sunset after work every day. There’s a quiet feeling.”
Though Summerside is happening enough to lure big-name talent such as Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld to its concert venue, the main draw is its prime waterfront location and quaint, quiet charm – an irresistible combination that’s attracting young creatives and adventure-seekers to the island’s second-biggest city.
After my one-on-one lesson, I check into Holman’s Heritage Suites, a three-room boutique inn above a Victorian parlour boasting some of the island’s best homemade ice cream. After giving me a quick tour, owner Ken Meister shows me how to open the building’s front door. “In case you get back late,” he says.
Setting out on foot, I order a grab-and-go grilled cheese sandwich and smoked jerk watermelon salad from South Central Kitchen & Provisions, and camp out at a sunny picnic table overlooking the harbour. Next, I wander into the Paddle Shack – Summerside’s go-to spot for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and kitesurfing, where the bay’s shallow waters and reliable but not-too-gusty winds create perfect conditions.
Owner and Guelph, Ont., native James Manning grew up spending summers in PEI, thanks to an Islander father. After studying business at UPEI, he opened the Paddle Shack in 2015 at age 22. “There are two things that drew me to Summerside,” he says. “First, it’s a one-stop destination for so many outdoor activities at a world-class level, and my vision is to showcase that. But second, on a personal level, it’s that neighbours lean on each other and everybody wants to be your friend.”
Why Summerside and not Charlottetown? I ask Sean and Caley Aylward over craft beers and seafood shepherd’s pie at Evermoore Brewing Co., a bustling spot in the town’s former train station.
Sean, the owner of The Humble Barber and the former president of the Chamber of Commerce, and Caley, a photographer and proprietor of a homewares store, tell me why they decided to set up home – and shop – in Sean’s hometown after living all over Canada. “It’s more diverse here now,” he says. “There’s an undercurrent of creativity, excitement, and new ideas. We’ve met countless people where the tourist has become the resident.”
Caley chimes in: “If you move to Charlottetown, you’re joining the scene, but in Summerside, you create the scene,” she says.
I walk through the open door at Holman’s at 8:30 p.m., my appetite stirred again by wafts of waffle cones. “Classic Summerside,” says a grinning Meister. “The bar closes at 8, but the ice cream parlour’s open ‘til 10.”
On my way back to Nova Scotia the next day, I stop at Chelton Beach Provincial Park, where the bathtub-warm water ripples across the hard-packed red sand. Walking and looking out at the Confederation Bridge in the distance, I thought about Elsa’s daily ritual, and her words about how clay had a memory. Now, so do I.
Point Grondine Park,
On the drive home from Manitoulin Island my kids are asking questions I can’t answer. They want to know more about unceded territories in Canada, about the water issues plaguing some First Nations communities and about the legacy of residential schooling. They are asking the questions we should all be asking and my emotions are mixed as a result. I’m proud of them for inquiring, angry that their education has done little to enlighten them and embarrassed that I don’t know more myself.
Our conversations leave me grateful for the guided tour we did with Luke Wassegijig, tour manager at Wikwemikong Tourism. Wikwemikong First Nations (Wiki once you’re local) is Canada’s fifth largest First Nations community geographically. (They’ll jump to third, if a 41-island land claim now in its final stages is completed. A ratification vote is expected by the end of 2022). Tours can include their unceded territory on Manitoulin Island but for today’s adventure, we’ve taken a 15-minute boat trip back to the mainland to see Point Grondine Park.
“It’s the only First Nation-owned and -operated park that’s been built from the ground up in all of Canada,” Wassegijig explains as we pass the entrance to neighbouring Killarney Provincial Park and turn in to the parking lot.
The 7,284-hectare Point Grondine Park is set within Point Grondine Reserve – a 34,000-hectare unceded territory returned to the community via a land settlement with the provincial government in 1996. The park is a backcountry oasis with six interior lakes and traditional Anishinabek canoe routes and has been quietly building a fan base of campers in the know.
It officially began welcoming visitors in 2016 as part of a phased development plan. But Wassegijig has been involved since 2007, watching as the park went from a dream to a plan to a part of the Georgian Bay Coast Trail in 2012. A memorandum of understanding with Ontario Parks took it a step further, allowing the park to remain Indigenous owned and operated (Wiki communities are still allowed traditional access to hunt, harvest and fish here) while benefiting from parks’ staff knowledge around building, managing and training.
The first phase of development offered backcountry hiking trails, canoe routes and more than 24 campsites to visitors. And last year, the pandemic proved to be both a blessing (last summer saw a 200-per-cent increase in day-use visitation and 80-per-cent increase in backcountry camping compared with 2019) and a curse (delays to phase two development as well as recent cuts to the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada budgets that will likely have a trickle-down effect).
But, as it has in the past, the park is pushing forward. For now, government funding will allow construction on a planned eco resort (it will run completely on solar generated power), an adventure zone (rock climbing walls included) and a 61-site campground to proceed. Completion is expected by the fall with a planned opening date of summer 2022.
There’s no reason to wait to visit though. Those looking for a moderate to advanced hike can do the Merv’s Landing Loop – a 6.9-kilometre self-guided hike – right from the parking lot. My family spent the better part of a morning slowly exploring the three-kilometre Amik Ziibi (Beaver River) interpretive trail day loop option. A short hike amidst towering pines and pretty mushrooms was made longer because we couldn’t resist stopping at each of the pedestal signs to learn about traditional connections to the land, people and territory. We took turns reading about the plants – such as the sweet fern (gabaa’aagemish) – and trees – such as the ash (bwe-yak) – we were passing in English and Anishinaabemowin, guessing at whether flora would be edible or medicinal and listening as Wassegijig shared some of the spiritual tales connected to the area.
When the park is complete, visitors can expect a full-service operation including increased parking and a gate house where Indigenous park guardians will offer information and assistance. There are also plans for more of what my own kids were craving – educational programs focused on Indigenous culture and history. This summer it starts with the Paddle into the Wild Program – a three-night, four-day land and water package that combines Indigenous-led culture and history tours and luxury overnights at nearby Killarney Mountain Lodge.
Hearing Wassegijig talk about the future, you can’t help but feel excited, too.
The park is another chance to learn more about the lands many of us have called home without ever talking to the original landlords. And as my own kids point out, exploring it with our ears and hearts open feels like an unearned opportunity to reconnect and do better.
Thousands of black, limbless tree trunks jut out from lush new foliage in Waterton Lakes National Park, a reminder that the massive Kenow wildfire, triggered by lightning and fuelled by dry conditions in one of the windiest parts of Alberta, consumed nearly 35,000 hectares, including nearly 40 per cent of the park, in late 2017.
Like nature, this deep southwest corner of the province is resilient. The tiny Waterton townsite – and its iconic Prince of Wales Hotel, built on a bluff and looking straight out of a Wes Anderson movie – was spared. But some camping and picnic areas, trails and other infrastructure are still being restored to welcome the 40,000 or so visitors. They come every year to hike, fish and boat on the lake shared with Glacier National Park in Montana, and take in a landscape and ecosystem so diverse, it was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
With a population of about 100, the entire town is walkable in an easy hour, along the lakeshore and past Cameron Falls, circling about a dozen streets lined with independent restaurants, small hotels and retailers – it feels like stumbling onto a real-life movie set nestled into a 360-degree rocky mountain backdrop. Hikes throughout the park are world renowned, and with few towns and communities nearby, there’s almost no light or noise pollution; the park has also been designated an International Dark Sky Park, and on a clear night, a galactic panorama comes into view. Dark Sky Guides offer visual interpretive tours of the night sky, identifying distant nebulae, star clusters and the Milky Way.
Twenty minutes away, Thanksgiving Ranch sits on 3,000 remote acres of grasslands and lush foothills, the landscape a rare combination of rolling fields and Rocky Mountains. Brad Bustard and his wife, Christi, opened the small guest ranch in 2019; the accommodations are backcountry-luxurious, and the surroundings draw visitors outside to get even closer to the land. If the timing is right, Bustard brings guests along when he goes out on horseback or quad to move the 1,600 resident cattle, who come to spend their summers grazing on their 36 fields, to new pasture. And as the resident chef, he focuses on locally sourced Alberta ingredients: beef, bison, canola, honey, red fife wheat, root vegetables and saskatoons.
This quiet corner of the province feels both tiny and grand, uncrowded yet breathtakingly full, an escape that provides an intense connection to our natural world without pressure to be particularly outdoorsy. It’s almost like they’ve brought the best of the outdoors to us.
Bay of Fundy,
The Bay of Fundy’s Hopewell Rocks are not a secret. The approximately 300,000 tourists who come to view them each year make that clear. But the stark beauty of the so-called flowerpot rocks in winter? That appears to still be under wraps.
On a chilly February day, I ventured onto the seabed with a small group and discovered we had the 17 geological marvels – carved by erosion over millions of years – to ourselves. Dark brown, standing tall against a backdrop of snow-dusted muddy sand, grey ocean and even greyer clouds, the sandstone columns appeared lonelier than I remembered from summer visits, when blue skies and bright tourist outfits livened up the scene. (While the park is officially closed in winter, the site is still accessible at the visitor’s own risk.)
Ignoring the chilling wind, we ventured into icicle-draped caves, marvelling at the frozen daggers, many of which stretched several feet. We cracked ribald jokes about some of the formations and traced our fingers along the perfectly straight, white salt-water lines partway up the 20-metre rocks, left behind by the highest tides in the world. At moments I simply stood still and listened to nature’s orchestra, waves crashing in from the Atlantic and squawking great black-backed gulls circling overhead.
Thundering ocean aside, winter by the seaside in Eastern Canada can seem eerily still, with seasonal businesses shuttered, pleasure boats dry-docked and beaches devoid of children building castles.
New Brunswick is often overlooked by domestic travellers in the best of weather, never mind when it’s below zero. But what I learned on that trip is that a season – and a destination – is what you make of it. And there was plenty of life and fun to be had.
Not far inland, at Fundy National Park, I hiked along the Upper Salmon River, on some of the more than 30 kilometres of underappreciated, spruce-lined trails available. My reward for bundling up was vibrant birdsong, as boreal chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and pine warblers went about their business. I was happy to feel the wonderful crunch of snow under my boots as my companions zipped around elsewhere on fat bikes (which are available to rent along with snowshoes, skishoes and cross-country skis).
My thrills came courtesy of the “bowl,” a large hill near park headquarters, which in winter serves as the longest toboggan run I’ve ever seen. My first ride included one wipeout, had me sliding backward for half the time and lasted for well over a minute. It only ended because I made it end, lest I collide head-first with a rapidly approaching tree trunk. One by one everyone took their turns, and I’ve never seen so many adults smiling so broadly outdoors in the dead of winter.
As we sipped hot chocolate under the stars that night – the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has designated Fundy National Park a Dark-Sky Preserve – I wished upon one for an extra day in this real-life winter wonderland.
When word of an impending blizzard and grounded flights came in the next day, a grin spread across my face once again.
‘Nature is a huge playground, and when we approach it like it’s culture or art, it removes a lot of the pressure when studying it,” Anne-Marie Lavigne says. It was this that inspired Lavigne to open the École d’art de Sutton, a school that blurs the lines between art and science, in 2019.
Art and nature co-exist harmoniously in this small valley town. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, it is beloved by skiers and cyclists, but it also has a long-standing arts culture brought to life by 120 local artists and craftspeople. Sutton is home to three galleries and plenty of personal studios, such as Studio Qita Pottery where visitors can get their hands dirty in a class, and the Parc d’Arts et de Rêve, which features a sculpture garden. Even the way visitors are guided around town has an artistic touch. Paired with an online interactive map called the Blue Muse tour, a blue line painted along the ground stretches just over five kilometres through town leading travellers to shops, galleries and cultural pit stops like a painted steel sculpture by Patrick Morency titled Le Dernier Requiem.
Lavigne’s youth-centric space, opened in the town’s old creamery, adds to the area’s strong creative output. From photography to field recording, kids can attend week-long day camps to discover varied practices. And adults can partake in a collage, engraving or ceramics workshop and hang out into the evening. Lavigne also has plans to launch a summer film series, with the selection curated by Quebec’s award-winning director Sophie Deraspe.
This festive atmosphere is right at home in a locale that proudly highlights its talents in its gathering places, too. Less than a 10-minute walk away, you’ll find L’Auberge Sutton Brouërie, a brewery that doubles as an inn. It boasts a riverside patio with a fire pit made by welding artist Amielle Doyon-Gilbert. Meander further along the main drag, and you’ll stumble upon Le Cafetier, a coffee shop and roaster where the walls host changing painting and photography exhibits. In Sutton, the creativity never seems to end.
Ontario is a paradise of lakes and rivers, a freshwater reservoir cupped in ancient hands of pre-Cambrian shield. During winter, much of that water turns to ice, and beneath the ice, the water is alive with cold-water fish.
During the long winter months spent mostly indoors, ice fishing can provide a welcome respite, especially on a frozen Lake Simcoe. “A lot of folks ice fish and don’t even fish in the warmer months,” says Bob Izumi, arguably Canada’s most famous fisher. “They’re ice anglers.” In fact, more people fish Lake Simcoe during winter than all other seasons combined.
Izumi has been fishing on this lake for decades and says one of the major attractions of ice fishing on Lake Simcoe is the abundant fish population, which includes perch, as well as large populations of lake trout and whitefish. It’s a big part of what makes it the ice fishing capital of Canada. Then there’s the proximity to Toronto (about an hour away) and the lake’s size. “It’s got ice fishing around the whole circumference of the lake,” Izumi says, “and it’s a really big lake.” Indeed, at 744 kilometres squared, that’s a lot of lake. To simply drive around it takes five hours.
Inspired by Izumi, a friend and I, suited up in layered clothing, with a big scoop of live minnows in hand, hop into a truck with our rods and provisions and head across the ice from Port Bolster, near Beaverton, on the southeast shore of the lake. About a kilometre from land, a veritable rainbow of wooden huts – dozens of them in yellow, green, red, purple and blue – come into view against the starkness of winter.
Inside, our hut is layered with plywood and padded wooden benches, insulation and a propane tank for toasty warmth. And between those two benches is a hole in the ice. That hole, of course, is why we’re here.
I release the fishing line; the swimming minnow and the neon pearl disappear into inky darkness. I’m told no special skill is required for successful ice fishing, but that the right bait and lures help. After five fishless hours it becomes clear that perhaps special skill is, indeed, needed.
I step out for some fresh air and survey my surroundings: Smoke billowing out of neighbouring hut chimneys, the buzz of snowmobiles zipping by. It’s at once boring and exciting, beautiful and serene.
Daylight dwindles. Coffee’s gone. No fish to fry. Still, it’s been one of the best days all winter.
Too few Southern Manitobans, accustomed to spending summer holidays in Machu Picchu, Minnesota, or the summer cottage, have ventured north of the 53rd parallel. I had also been a north-of-the-53rd innocent until, on a driving trip with some friends, I discovered a waterfall wonderland with spectacular lakes and lush forests, all in places I had dismissed as treeless tundra.
Manitoba’s Waterfall Alley comprises thundering cataracts and rapids twisting through narrow canyons, all explorable along forest hikes. The Alley unofficially stretches for several hundred kilometres, along the route from Flin Flon to Thompson, the falls hidden in several provincial parks through which the mighty Grass River winds. We decided to explore it while based in Flin Flon, the northern town named after a character in a dime-store novel: The Sunless City, in which Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin pilots a submarine in a bottomless lake and discovers a secret portal to a corner lined with gold.
Over the course of three days, we hiked, became bird watchers and traced the ancient fault line of a mountain range that was once higher than the Rocky Mountains.
Our first hike was the Karst Spring Trail, a 45-minute drive from Flin Flon. A 3.2-kilometre loop through thick forest led us to a surreal sight: a spring surging out from a solid rock wall, a Precambrian Shield phenomenon. We were also in prime birding territory. My ornithological skills are lacking, but I was happy to observe the glee of birdwatchers as they spotted a western tanager. But I was left breathless when I saw a mighty great grey owl – Manitoba’s provincial bird and No. 6 among the 50 birds on the continent watchers were most eager to spot. (One thing I couldn’t ignore were the flies. These northern versions lived up to their mythical status – they sometimes seemed as big as the birds.) At the end of the day we retreated back to Flin Flon and took part in a more urban walk: the ritual golden-hour passeggiata on Flinty’s Boardwalk, the wood path ringing a lake in the centre of town.
The next morning, we drank our coffee on the Baker Narrows lookout tower across from our lodge and were rewarded with eagle-eye views of Hudson Bay Island, the site of early settlement and where Indigenous people took goods to trade. Then we were back on the road for a two-hour drive, heading to Wekusko Falls Provincial Park where we were treated to even more dramatic views. We walked a trail along a boardwalk downstream that led to a suspension bridge crossing the river, where we found ourselves practically under the waterfall. These spectacular views (and Instagramming possibilities) are accessible to even the more moderate hiker. That night, back at the lodge, a dinner of walleye around an outdoor fireplace capped a perfect Northern Manitoba day.
In the morning, we checked out of the hotel and set off towards Pisew Falls Provincial Park, about a 3½-hour drive. This is the crescendo waterfall in the Alley. Here, the Grass River takes many dramatic twists and turns before taking a sharp left, where it becomes a powerful wall of water plunging down to a rocky gorge. The word pisew is Cree for lynx, and the name was given because of the river’s hissing sound – though the area is also a prime lynx habitat. The constant stream of mist from the falls moderates the temperature, creating its own microclimate here. Trees sheathed in thick moss, lichen and fungi made us feel more like we were in a B.C. rainforest than our boreal setting.
For the intrepid hiker, there’s a full-day, 22-kilometre round-trip trail between Pisew Falls and Kwasitchewan Falls, Manitoba’s largest waterfall, with the trailhead in Pisew Falls Provincial Park. For us, a night in a yurt watching the starry night sky was a most glittering finale.
Main Street, Moose Jaw must be one of the prettiest downtowns in the country. On my way to order a honey-infused latte from Hive Espresso shop, I kept stopping and staring as I walked down this corridor. Dozens of decorative brick buildings from in the early 20th century catching my eye – terra cotta tiles, carved pilasters, stone cherub reliefs – this is the town modern architecture forgot. Many of these heritage buildings are now home to fun, independent shops, so I let myself get lost in them for a while.
On a cross-country road trip last summer how could I not stop in Moose Jaw? The small Prairie city is famous for hidden tunnels under its downtown core and for a name that’s become a world-famous punchline. (What’s even funnier? The chatty, friendly locals are called Moose Javians and the world’s largest moose statue stands at the edge of town.) The name, Moose Jaw, comes from the Cree language, moscâstani-sîpiy meaning “a warm place by the river.” The warm place may just be the nearby geothermal pools and I pondered a day pass to the mineral baths at the Temple Gardens Hotel and Spa. But a chance to overnight amidst the unforgettable Prairie landscape drew us just outside the city limits.
About 15 minutes east, my husband and I discovered Bin There Campground where six tall, shiny grain bins stand side by side in a farmyard-turned-campground. Since we’d spent hours driving past combines reaping and threshing, the idea of sleeping in a grain bin appealed to our sense of adventure. Once full of wheat, barley, canola or flax, these 19-foot high, galvanized steel bins are now cute, two-bedroom cabins. Inside, a curved staircase leads to a loft lit by a skylight where the grain once poured in.
On our first night, we watched the land of living skies come alive. In the distance, a storm raged but we couldn’t hear it. In one direction, the sun took forever to drop behind acres of ripe, swaying wheat. In the other, dark clouds spit flashes of lightning to the horizon. But all we could hear was the rustling of wheat stalks in the breeze. Occasionally, the chatter of nervous birds broke in and a cricket chirped. It was mesmerizing, and just steps from our bed for the night – a cozy grain bin immersed in an iconic Saskatchewan landscape. Not to mention, the good coffee, charming shops and stately main drag of Moose Jaw just a quick zip away on the Trans-Canada.
My heart races as I canter carefully along a swaying dock toward my morning ride – a vintage six-seater De Havilland Beaver that looks too small for our group of four. We are boarding to commence a day-long experience dubbed the Flights to Flights Ale and Air Tour, designed to show off the beauty of the Sunshine Coast and the community of Sechelt, a small village that punches above its weight when it comes to food, creativity and atmosphere. It’s my first time on a small float plane and as we lift off into the blue sky, I feel excitement take over my apprehension.
The region has a vast reach, extending over 177 kilometres between the entrance to Desolation Sound on the northwest and Howe Sound on the northeast – many of the communities accessible only by water taxi or private boat. But by air, I spot the rushing rapids of the Skookumchuck Narrows, creating white swirling curves that snake through the rugged tree-lined coast. Further along Sechelt Inlet, the ocean lightens from a deep blue to a tropical turquoise and splashes gently onto the white sandy shores of Thormanby Island, a surprising sight that reminds me of the beaches in Bermuda. After a scenic 25-minute flight, we complete our round trip and land to continue exploring by road.
The entirety of the Sunshine Coast is connected only by Highway 101, and Sechelt, which sits on the traditional territories of the shíshálh people, part of the larger Coast Salish Nation, provides the ideal home base to explore it all.
And exploration is the goal here. The area is home to more artists per capita than any other region in Canada. From Langdale to Lund, visitors can embark on self-guided studio and gallery tours by following purple banner flags posted along the way. In Sechelt, the tems swiya Museum provides an inside look at the shíshálh cultural heritage, with artifacts and materials that showcase the area’s past and present. Indigenous-led walking and paddling with Talaysay Tours guide visitors through some of Sechelt’s most beautiful forests and waterways while sharing ancient and contemporary stories and teachings.
The “ale” portion of our excursion presents just as many surprises, taking us to craft breweries and distilleries that are literally off the beaten path. Set amid an apple orchard on the outskirts of town is the Bricker Cider Company, a family-run small batch cidery that produces flavourful varieties such as apricot and ginger, and elderberry and lavender. And a detour down a desolate dirt road reveals the swanky Bruinwood Estate Distillery, hidden in the woods. It’s the only distillery in Canada to produce a creamy advocaat liqueur – a traditional Dutch eggnog-type alcoholic beverage that gives Baileys some stiff competition.
The culinary scene is just as sophisticated, from pork and egg tacos at El Segundo restaurant to braised Moroccan lamb and roasted beet salad at Lagoon Restaurant.
For those willing to veer off the road – or up in the air – this corner of the province is a delight for all senses.
Swirling clouds of snow geese, eider ducks, gulls and a roll call of migratory birds darken the sky and kamikaze into an icy black sea bobbing with seals and the occasional narwhal, orca or bowhead whale. A lone polar bear patrols the ice edge, carefully watched over by Inuit families happily camped out after a long winter indoors.
The Canadian Arctic can be every bit as exotic as Africa, especially when you’re hanging out at the floe edge where the sea ice meets the open ocean after round-the-clock sunlight has thinned and broken off the thick crust of ice to expose a nutrient-rich marine smorgasbord. An expedition to watch this mass of hungry critters on a feeding frenzy is a true Arctic safari.
Seeing it is a time-sensitive matter. The floe edge is a unique and temporary marine wilderness that exists for just a few weeks in May and June before the remaining, land-locked ice is abruptly swept out to sea. So I signed up with Ottawa-based outfitter Black Feather on an eight-day floe edge trip, a comfortable, non-strenuous wilderness adventure that allows rare, easy access to the otherwise remote wild Arctic for virtually anyone, regardless of age or fitness.
In late May, I flew north to Pond Inlet, an Inuit community of 1,500 at the northern tip of Nunavut’s Baffin Island. Canada’s third most northerly settlement overlooks glacier-streaked Bylot Island and the waters of Lancaster Sound, a far northern Serengeti known for its abundance of wildlife.
In parkas, insulated pants and boots, our small group, led by four guides, gathered on the sea ice in front of town. I leapt into a large wooden box lashed atop a qamutik, a traditional wooden Inuit sled, settling onto stuffed duffle bags softened with foam mattresses alongside two fellow travellers. Suddenly our sled lurched forward on the ice highway, towed by a snowmobile piloted by one of our two Inuit guides.
The 75-kilometre journey to our base camp at the eastern end of Bylot Island – a row of orange expedition tents and a heated geodesic dome dining tent pitched on sea ice – took a bone-rattling six hours across bumpy ice with stops for tea and lunch.
In the morning we sledded to the ice edge and I stared into the indigo ocean from the two-metre-thick ice sheet. We sat, walked and sledded in endless sunshine along the edge for hours mesmerized by birds, seals and a dramatic narwhal sighting. With binoculars, we browsed for orca pods, fingers crossed for a huge bowhead whale. In the distance a polar bear raised its nose towards us, then loped away.
During our six days on the ice, we listened through hydrophones dropped into seals’ ice holes to the whistles and clicks of marine creatures. We delved into Arctic culture and history amid ancient Thule sod houses on tundra hillsides dotted with wildflowers and at a haunting mid-1800s whaling camp where blubber-rendering iron cauldrons rusted on the beach. At day’s end, in the warmth of our dining tent, we chatted about the traditional aspects of our Inuit guides’ lifestyle.
On our last morning, after walking around a regal city of gothic iceberg cathedrals frozen into sea ice glittering blue like sapphires, we sledded back to Pond Inlet. The floe edge experience had been so surreal and unique that for days afterward I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had visited the landscape of another continent.
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Editor: Maryam Siddiqi. Art director: Benjamin MacDonald. Interactive editor: Jeremy Agius.
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