These regional omissions were pointed out to me several times as July 1 neared. As “Canucklehead” put it in a comment: "The Canada 150 Countdown? Where's Manitoba? Yukon? The WHOLE DAMN EAST COAST? Time for a new title!"
Then there's this comment by “From The Rock”: "Still waiting for something from Newfoundland. Why don't you come visit?"
Honestly, I would like nothing more. Between now and the Canada 200 celebrations I plan to attend as a vampire or mummy, I solemnly pledge to explore more of the six provinces and two territories that aren't covered by the Ontario-Quebec-BC-Alberta-NWT Countdown. (Happy now, Canucklehead?) Starting with Atlantic Canada, here are the 10 spots at the top of my 50-year itinerary:
Nowhere shows off the Bay of Fundy’s incredible tidal range better than this famous collection of rock formations near Moncton. At low tide, visitors walk among them as they would a museum’s sculpture collection — that is, if the sculptures were 100 feet tall. At high tide, however, the only way to get a close look at the rocks is in a boat, as the Atlantic’s waters have risen up to 16 metres and surrounded the eroding monoliths.
Gros Morne National Park
If one national park sums up the diversity of Canada’s natural beauty, this would appear to be it. The Long Range culminates in Newfoundland’s second-highest peak, which gave the park its name (it means "great mountain standing alone" in French). Western Brook Pond, a fjord cut off from the ocean, is among the purest bodies of fresh water in the world. At 350 metres, Pissing Mare Falls is the highest cascade in eastern North America. There’s even rocky desert, lush forest and alpine meadow. Thankfully, there are also plenty of ways to take it all in, from cruises aboard small boats on Western Brook Pond to dozens of hiking trails. Sign me up for it all!
I’ve done the math: My road bike + Canada’s most famous scenic roadway + autumn = essential cycling. The 298-kilometre route is famous for the vivid foliage blanketing the peaks and valleys of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It all culminates in early October with the week-long Celtic Colours International Festival, with concerts, art shows, seasonal feasts and kitchen parties spread right across Cape Breton.
Speaking of cycling, the Confederation Trail starts as soon as the bridge of the same name ends, yielding a 470-kilometre network of pathways connecting beaches, parks, towns and, most importantly, seafood eateries. Because it follows former railway lines, the trail is wide and mostly flat, making it ideal for post-lobster-supper pedalling.
“Owshegettinonb'ys?” “Giv us a bitta dat luh.” These phrases sound incomprehensible, but they are just two of the friendly expressions I look forward to hearing on George Street, which boasts the most bars per square foot in North America. St. John’s setting seems as dramatic as it is beautiful: Several small lakes and ponds are scattered throughout the city, the natural harbour pulls in the salty sea air, and Signal Hill rises over it all.
Grand Manan Island
Whether by sea kayak, Zodiac, motorboat or yacht, several whale-watching outfits take guests out on the water to spot Finbacks — the second-largest whale species — Humpbacks, Minkes and North Atlantic Right Whales. Sharks, sunfish, porpoises and tuna are also apparently encountered on these jaunts. Grand Manan’s dry land, meanwhile, is renowned for its excellent beaches, clifftop hiking trails and historic lighthouses. Where do I sign?
It’s out there, both literally and figuratively. This slender, lonely collection of Marram grass and sand rises a few feet above the stormy Atlantic some 175 kilometres southeast of Nova Scotia. Its year-round human population is five, give or take, with that number jumping sharply in summer when Parks Canada boat tours stop in. The main draw: 400-odd Sable Island Ponies, feral horses introduced to the island centuries ago and now protected by law from human interference. Watching wild horses gallop across the treeless landscape must be a surreal experience, especially when thousands of harbour and grey seals are yelping on a beach nearby.
Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station
Each summer, this unique temporary settlement returns to the incredibly remote southern edge of its namesake national park. It hosts international researchers intent on studying caribou and polar bears, Inuit youth and elders looking to reconnect with their ancient roots, and visitors like me who are eager to hike and kayak through the pristine and dramatic northern terrain. Accommodations include insulated domes with heat and electricity, with guided excursions visiting spots such as Saglek Fjord, where 3,000-foot cliffs plunge into the ocean, and Sallikuluk island, home to burial sites and traditional hunting grounds.
The Nova Scotia capital is renowned for its verdant parks and lovely beaches — no matter where you are in town you’re never far from the sea. At the centre of it all is Citadel Hill, which apparently yields great views of the harbour and city. Downtown Halifax, meanwhile, supports North America’s highest per capita concentration of pubs, bars and live music venues.
L’Anse aux Meadows
This World Heritage Site represents the first known evidence of a European presence in the Americas. It was here that a Viking expedition from Greenland built a small encampment of timber-and-sod buildings more than 1,000 years ago. Given my distant Danish heritage, maybe I’ll get a glimpse into the life of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddad.
WHERE TO STAY
The upscale Delta Hotels Barrington is steps from many of Halifax's top attractions, including Casino Nova Scotia and the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.