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Ontario Cobourg's public beach
Leah McLaren

Whenever I find myself back in my hometown of Cobourg, Ont., I go for a walk on the public beach.

While it will never be listed in Condé Nast Traveler's Top 10 seaside getaways, for me an hour spent on those Lake Ontario shores is better than a week in Mustique – which is really just a fancy way of saying it's the place I go to escape my family at Christmas.

Like most tourist destinations, the Cobourg beach is best in the off-season, when I can have it all to myself.

To get there from town, you have to walk through Victoria Park, a great green expanse smack in the town centre, past the floral clock, where in the summer you can tell time in marigolds, past the empty baseball diamond and the canteen, where, as children, my sister and I would buy blue Freezies with our pocket money.

In a province not known for its beaches, it's impossible not to appreciate what great treasure the town of Cobourg has. A mile or so of clean white sand stretching from the marina's red lighthouse pier to the pebbles of the town's east end, it puts Toronto's waterfront to shame. On summer weekends, the place fills up with families of tourists – many of them from east Toronto's Bangladeshi community – making it one of the most popular and multicultural recreation spots on the lake.

Amazingly, the water is cleaner than it was when I was growing up and, on hot summer days, hundreds of children play in its waves. In the winter, the beach is very windy and deserted, except for ever-present seagulls or the odd lazy duck who forgot to migrate.

As a child, I was forbidden to go near the lake without my parents, so it always gives me a small thrill to walk here alone. I feel a sense of great freedom mixed with familiarity. I guess you could say it's my home.

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Ontario Killarney Provincial Park Peter Power

Life's most cherished memories are born from experiences that combine beautiful environments and great company. The rugged interior of Labrador was my playground as a boy, so it was only natural that after moving to Ontario to pursue a career, I found myself drawn to a wilderness that reminds me so much of home – Killarney Provincial Park.

My appreciation of this pristine wilderness area, which covers nearly 50,000 hectares, is shared by hikers and paddlers who wind their way through boggy lowlands and rise through pine and hardwood forests to the bald summits of the quartzite ridges, with their views of abundant, clear blue lakes.

I first travelled to Killarney with five fellow photographers in the early 1990s intending to complete the 100-kilometre La Cloche Silhouette Trail. Park publications suggest that this trail may take up to 10 days to complete but can be navigated by experienced hikers in six or seven nights. Our group managed to squeeze in hundreds of photographs of beautiful scenery – even photographs of photographers taking photographs of photographers taking photographs! We all learned to juggle on that trip as well; perhaps a strange endeavour for a wilderness adventure, but not nearly as strange as the image of six of us on the summit of Silver Peak trying to demonstrate our new skill.

Silver Peak, the highest point in the area at 539 metres, provides the perfect vantage point to look at the terrain through which the trail is cut, and beyond to the shores of Georgian Bay. Here, in the company of my friends, I revealed that the trails we had enjoyed together had not only brought us to this most peaceful place, but had led me to a great epiphany: Between the many hours of sweating beneath the burden of a heavy pack and our daily dip into the refreshing, cool waters of lakes with names like Topaz and Crystal, I made the decision to ask the woman in my life to be my bride.

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Saskatchewan The Qu'Appelle Valley Roy MacGregor

It is as is if someone had forgotten the centreboard for the table: You are heading north on Highway 6 out of Regina and suddenly, dramatically, surprisingly, the plains just vanish and you drop into perhaps the greatest secret in this huge and endlessly astonishing country, the Qu'Appelle Valley.

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