Canada’s big adventures

Canada has long been a ‘bucket list’ destination for UK travellers who are now, post-pandemic, converting that interest into bookings and planning trips that reveal more of the country, says Jessica Pook

Our three-man kayak slides effortlessly across a marble-still lake, the silence only occasionally broken by the odd chirp that is too irregular and distant to warrant being called birdsong.

Yet we were not alone.  Over on the grassy bank a moose is munching on the twigs and buds of an aspen tree. 

The male, immediately recognizable by its huge antlers, gives us a cursory glance before nuzzling its long face and the distinctive flap of skin that covers its throat back into a feast of aquatic vegetation.

Of all of Algonquin Provincial Park’s wildlife, moose are one of the most sought after species to see on any canoe or camping trip and this majestic creature had strolled into view just an hour into our day-long adventure. 

Our guide, Roland, explains that the moose population in Algonquin is healthy and that spring is the best time to see them as they come out in force to feed on the new sprouting plants in the ditches and open areas.

He tells us that moose antlers are the fastest type of growing bone known on the planet: a moose may grow a set of antlers weighing up to 25 kilograms in just five months! 

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Algonquin, the oldest provincial park in Ontario and the first provincial park in Canada, is home to 7,630 square kilometres of canoe tripping opportunities and with 2,000 kilometres of canoe routes the park is perfect for a quick sample trip or for building a larger adventure amongst its backcountry. 

Campsites are marked and maintained, motorboats are restricted to a few lakes and access into the park is limited to the Highway #60 “corridor”. As a result, most of Algonquin is only accessible by canoe.

About 250 kilometres north of Toronto, and about 260 kilometres west of Ottawa, Algonquin makes for a perfect and gentle introduction to Canada’s vast wilderness areas and wildlife. 

Country life

Canada remains a big bucket list trip for Brits but with 70% of visitors arriving via four airports – Montréal, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto – most only see a pinprick of what the country offers. Destination Canada is hoping to change this by introducing new initiatives that drive visitors to more rural parts of the country.

The Honourable Randy Boissonnault, Canada’s Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, spoke of Canada’s successful but challenging tourism recovery at this spring’s Rendez-vous Canada 2022 trade show in Toronto, saying: “Confidence and demand for travel to Canada is strong and we saw arrival figures in March recover to 58% compared to pre-pandemic levels.”

He added: “So often we hear that after people come to Canada for the first time they end up coming back five times. On each visit they want to explore deeper and we want to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure that travel around Canada is seamless – which is why a new Federal Tourism Growth Strategy will focus on facilitating travel to more rural parts of the country.”

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Maureen Riley, Vice President at Destination Canada, said the tourist board has used the pandemic to rethink its tourism strategy going forward, saying: “There’s no denying that 2019 was a pinnacle year for Canada with arrival numbers reaching an all-time high, but we also noticed that some parts were starting to become quite busy with tourists. We want visitors to see more of what makes Canada truly unique.”

And what is it that makes Canada stand out? Riley thinks it’s down to its geography and people. “Canada’s geography has helped to shape many Indiginous cultures. We want visitors to engage with and reconnect with Canada through its people.”

Increased airlift is a main focus for Destination Canada as well as engaging with the travel trade to “create a level of comfort” in selling more diverse itineraries.

“Our focus is to create better accessibility to Atlantic Canada, Northern Canada and the Prairies,” says Riley. “These are areas that are considered off the beaten path, but are Canada at its most authentic. 

“We are working closely with the travel trade to arm them with the tools they need to sell more of Canada. The summer months are the most popular for the UK market, and we have certainly seen a bounce back in bookings for 2022. We know that traditional coach tours aren’t big sellers for the UK market so we tend to focus on individual packages.”

Tour operators are reporting a spike in forward bookings for Canada. APT has launched a 2023 Canada & Alaska with Western USA touring programme in response to steep demand for longer haul travel next year. The nine tours include luxury coaches, Alaskan cruising with Holland America Line, rail journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer, and helicopter and light aircraft tours over national parks.

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Brad Bennetts, APT’s new UK Head of Sales & Business Development, said: ”Touring is a fantastic way for travel agents to supply the finest experiences, already neatly packaged up, to their clients. 

“We’ve done the hard work in bringing together all the show stopping elements, so they don’t have to.”

What’s new

 New for 2023 is a Seaway Discovery Cruise with St. Lawrence Cruise Line, a seven-night trip that will travel from Kingston to Montréal and back. Cruising amongst the natural beauty of the 1000 Islands and the St. Lawrence River it will trace the historic routes of those early Upper Canada explorers. 

unDiscovered Tours in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has three new craft liquor tours: Saskatoon Craft Brewery tour, Saskatoon Cocktail Tour and Saskatoon Craft Liquor tour.

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Frontiers North Adventures, in Churchill, Manitoba, will introduce its first Conservation Journey: Beluga Whales tour this summer and is taking bookings for 2023. It is also in the process of converting its fleet of tundra buggies to electric power, with plans to convert all 12 vehicles by 2030. The company is adding more departure cities, launching trips out of Montréal beginning autumn 2022, and by autumn 2023 will have direct trips from WInnipeg, Montréal and Calgary.

Metis Crossing, Alberta, has launched three new tours: Vision Hopes & Dreams, a guided wildlife tour to see white bison, wood bison, plains bison, elk and Percheron horses; Paddle into the Past, a four-hour tour including canoeing on the North Saskatchewan River; and Walk in our Mocs Archery Program, a two-hour experience learning archery, and cultural traditions. 

Parks Canada has nine new tours that will appeal to travellers interested in soft adventure, historical, natural history and Indigenous culture. From Old Québec to Whale Country is a seven-day adventure through Québec’s whale country while Let’s Conquer Québec City is a three-day getaway that dives into the history of the province.

1000 Islands Helicopter Tours in Ontario has introduced a Seaway and Cider Tour: a heli tour viewing of Singer Castle, Boldt Castle, and shipwrecks, plus a tour of local cidery BUSL, a tasting flight of four cider, a light meal and the return flight. Total flying time is 30 minutes.

Prince Edward Island’s 700-km Island Walk was unveiled during the pandemic. The walk can be done in sections or as one lengthy journey. Suggested itineraries from four to 14 days have been designed and tour operators have partnered to help with accommodation and transportation between stops. 

Qaumajuq Inuit Art Centre opened in 2021 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It showcases contemporary Inuit art. Inua, the inaugural show, runs until 2023. 

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Opening next month in Saint John, New Brunswick, is Area 506’s Container Village, a waterfront hub designed entirely with shipping containers. It will have a stage for live performances, retail space and a waterfront beer garden. 

Local Guy Adventures offers Fat biking within the Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Geopark in Nova Scotia. Well used old-growth forest trails lead to the ocean floor passing sculpted rock formations and ripples in the sand left by the tides.

Splashifax is Halifax’s first ever floating water park located on the grounds of Hatfield Farm Cowboy Adventures in Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia. It has a giant outdoor floating playground, obstacle park and is also home to the world’s largest inflatable unicorn!

Forest Park Hotel in Jasper, Alberta, opened in June. A 88-room hotel was connected to the former Sawbridge Inn & Conference Centre to create a wilderness-inspired resort. 

A new 40-room boutique lodge opened earlier this year at Metis Crossing, and this summer stargazing pods will be introduced.

Sépaq, the agency of the Government of Québec that manages parks and wildlife reserves, is introducing solar-powered Horizon chalets in 13 provincial parks, along with hunting and fishing packages. 

In 2023, Royalmount will open in Montréal, Québec. The 1,500-room property is being built in the middle of an ecologically-rooted new development. 

Toronto will welcome both an Ace Hotel and a W Hotel in 2022.

Gros Morne Inn opens its doors this year in Western Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Its 15 luxury guest rooms will be surrounded by the nature of Gros Morne National Park. Guests will be able to enjoy outdoor cedar tubs, a sauna and a menu of locally sourced food.

Book it with…first class holidays

The operator’s 13-day self-drive Peaks and Vineyards tour starts and ends in Vancouver and takes in Osoyoos (a lakefront community), Kelowna, Sun Peaks and Whistler. Included along the way is time in Vancouver, visits to the vineyards, cellar doors and fruit farms of the Okanagan region, hiking, golfing or biking at Sun Peaks and a night in Whistler Village. Prices start at £1,599pp, including flights.

firstclassholidays.com; 0161 888 5630