Canada - Cultural Destinations
The Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton is not to be missed—particularly the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture; with more than 3,000 pieces, it is the largest collection of First People's material in North America.
Calgary's Glenbow Museum, western Canada's largest museum, is home to more than a million artifacts and 28,000 works of art, largely featuring Canadian and Asian art, with an additional focus on cultural and military history.
No matter what time of year you visit Alberta, you will likely come across a major festival, fair, rodeo, or other fete. While Canadians across the country love their celebrations, Edmonton has been dubbed "Canada's Festival City" and key events there range from the Heritage Festival to the International Film Festival to the Symphony Under the Sky. Not to be outdone, the Rockies, Calgary area and Alberta south, central and north offer a plethora of options including the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, the Waterton Wildflower Festival at Waterton Lakes National Park and the Banff Summer Arts Festival.
From the artistic community of Vancouver's Granville Island where painters, metalworkers, ceramicists and other artisans ply their trades, to Hazleton's 'Ksan Historical Village, a recreation of the ancient Gitanmaax village, British Columbia offers culture seekers myriad options.
The Victoria Classic Boat Festival brings up to 130 boats together over Labour Day weekend and bestows awards like the Best Restored Sail to attendees who have painstakingly worked to preserve or restore their vessels. The event is free to the public and many boats are available for walkthroughs.
The Pacific Rim Whale Festival, held in March on the west coast of Vancouver Island, brings visitors to the water during the peak of gray whale migration. Nearly 22,000 whales make the annual pilgrimage from the Mexican Baja Peninsula to arctic waters, all but guaranteeing sightings aboard boats and float planes or from public viewing stations at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse and Wickaninnish Centre.
British Columbia is home to Canada's only desert and the The Nk'Mip (in-ka-meep) Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos hopes to teach visitors about the fragility of the area. The Centre, which opened in 2006 and sits on the 200-acre Nk'Mip Resort, was designed to co-exist with its surroundings; it was built into a hillside, using desert-like material such as rammed earth walls and a green roof. Guests explore indoor and outdoor gallery spaces, walk 50 acres of self-guided trails through the Great Basin Desert, and observe the Western Rattlesnake, considered a "threatened species" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The Osoyoos Indian Band, in partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Service, launched the Rattlesnake Research Project and the centre offers public viewing areas where visitors can watch researchers capture rattlesnakes and tag them with microchips so they may be observed in the wild.
In July, Manitoba is awash in color as residents celebrate the annual Neepawa and Area Lily Festival. As of 2004, Neepawa was home to more than 2,000 named varieties of lilies, many in the five lily parks throughout town. During the three day festival, 11,000 to 12,000 people join the fun for activities like bus tours, a Breakfast among the Lilies, a barbeque, dances and a quilt show.
Dauphin is home to a variety of sites celebrating the area's Ukrainian Heritage. The more than 10,000 seat Selo Ukraina amphitheatre hosts Canada's three-day National Ukrainian Festival annually, the largest of its kind in North America, and the Ukrainian Heritage Village, with its homes, farm buildings, church, school and artifacts, depicts a pioneer town between 1896 and 1925.
For the artistically inclined, a visit to New Brunswick should include a visit to The Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, where the crown jewel in a collection of primarily Canadian and British paintings, tapestries and furniture, is Salvador Dalí's Santiago el Grande.
The province has a festival for nearly every subject and occasion, from the King's County Covered Bridge Festival, in honor of the county's 16 covered bridges, to the annual Chocolate Fest in St. Stephen, "Canada's Chocolate Town," to a variety of aboriginal festivals.
As with each of the seaside provinces, New Brunswick has lighthouses for visitors to explore—24 dot the coastline here—and guests will also enjoy farmers markets, artists' studios and public gardens.
Newfoundland and Labrador
An artistic spirit lives on in Newfoundland and Labrador, where large galleries and museums thrive like The Rooms in St. John's, which combines the Provincial Museum, the Provincial Art Gallery and the Provincial Archives. The Rooms, positioned on the site of Fort Townshend, a citadel built to protect British fishing interests, now houses exhibits highlighting area history and wildlife, as well as a gallery featuring rotating works and a permanent collection of some 7,000 pieces.
The area boasts hundreds of lighthouses, many still in operation and others that have been painstakingly restored to their original condition—for interested visitors, some have even been made into bed and breakfasts and restaurants. Perhaps the most famous is the Cape Spear Lighthouse, the oldest surviving example in the province built in 1836, which now offers visitors a perfect vantage point to glimpse whales, birds and icebergs.
The Northwest Territories is home to a range of skilled craftsmen, working on projects as varied as birchbark baskets make by Slavey women in Fort Liard; drums created using caribou rawhide; moosehair tufting, a form of embroidery honed by women in the Mackenzie Valley; and porcupine quillwork, a nearly lost art still practiced by some in this area who use dyed quills for decorative work.
For a peek into the past, visit The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, which boasts an impressive collection with the goal of preserving the culture and heritage of the local people. Permanent pieces in the Aviation Gallery and Feature Gallery—including the only known preserved moose skin boat—are supplemented with a variety of temporary exhibits on Northern art.
Pier 21 is a must-see for visitors to Halifax. More than 1.5 million immigrants came through this site between 1928 and 1971 and Pier 21 is now Canada's Immigration Museum, with a 5,000 square foot Harbourside Gallery for traveling exhibits, and the Scotiabank Research Centre, which maintains information on migration, nautical history, immigration patterns and ethnic groups, as well as oral histories and archival images.
With a 40-foot statue of Glooscap—considered by the aboriginal Mi'kmaq people to be the first human—in front of the Glooscap Heritage Centre in Truro, this stop will be a hard one to miss. The center features early stone tools, weavings, porcupine quillwork, traditional clothing and other artifacts that bring the Mi'kmaq history to life, as well as a multimedia presentation of the group's history and an audio exhibit that teaches visitors about the language and how to say a few words. For more on the Mi'kmaq, the Novia Scotia Museum's Mi'kmaq Portraits are a collection of more than 700 portraits and illustrations, which offer a look into history and heritage through images.
Should visitors find themselves in Nova Scotia in the fall, consider spending time at the Celtic Colours International Festival, a nine-day annual celebration of Celtic music and culture in Cape Breton. The festival plays host to some 40 concerts, 200 community events and a series of workshops and exhibitions.
The relatively new territory of Nunavut takes its history quite seriously and local festivals and sights meld heritage with contemporary fun. The Toonik Tyme festival, held in Iqaluit every April since 1965, marks the return of spring with a weeklong celebration including traditional Inuit activities as well as more modern pursuits such as snowmobile races and ice golf.
Alianait!, a four year old multicultural festival in Iqaluit, promises ten days of art, music, film, storytelling, circus arts, dance and theatre in June. The festivities celebrate the return of summer and, with it, nearly round-the-clock daylight in this arctic location.
While visiting Iqaluit, take a side-trip to the Qaummaarviit Territorial Historic Park. The island was settled by the Thule people some 250 years before Columbus came to America and archaeological discoveries there have been plentiful—more than 3,000 tools and 20,000 bones as well as 11 semi-buried sod houses.
For visitors interested in Ontario's history, the Whetung Ojibwa Centre on the Curve Lake Indian Reserve with its collection of Indian crafts, sculpture, fine art and handiwork, and the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre near Stratton, with its ancient burials mounds, are two excellent places to start.
Toronto has a can't-miss set of offerings—the Museum of Inuit Art, Scarborough Historical Museum, Royal Ontario Museum and Canadian Opera Company are just the tip of the cultural iceberg.
Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada, established in 1880, is now the largest visual arts museum in Canada. With extensive collections of Canadian, indigenous, European, American and Asian art, photographs, prints, drawings and contemporary pieces, the National Gallery has something to appeal to every taste.
Prince Edward Island
For many, Price Edward Island will forever be the home of Anne of Green Gables, but Canada's smallest province has much more to offer than one literary leading lady.
Museums such as the Orwell Corner Historic Village and the Green Park Shipbuilding Museum pay homage to PEI's past and the province is a treasure trove for lighthouse lovers. Visitors in PEI during the holidays will enjoy the WinterTide festival, which celebrates the season with a wreath display, performance of Handel's Messiah, and nativity pageant, among other activities.
Of course, curious visitors can also visit Green Gables, which inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to write the famed novel, as well as Montgomery's home, the Anne of Green Gables Museum, Avonlea village, and even the annual Lucy Maud Montgomery Festival.
With 400 museums, Quebec has quite a bit to offer lovers of history, arts and sciences. From big names like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, with more than 30,000 pieces, to smaller options such as the Musée du Fjord, focusing on the history of the Saguenay Fjord, Quebec has something for everyone.
Montreal, the second largest French-speaking city in the world, is an appealing amalgamation of a European sensibility, unique use of underground space, extensive park system, modern architecture, and appreciation for the arts. Well over half of Montreal residents speak both French and English, making it easy for visitors from the United States to make their way around the city.
Québecers love to celebrate and one of the province's most unique happenings is the annual kite festival. Officially the "Festi-Vent sur glace," the festival brings international kite flyers to a frozen lake in Saint-Placide each February to showcase their skills while tens of thousands of guests take in the colors dotting the sky.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a 760 acre area near Saskatoon with 19 sites representing the North Plains peoples. The purposes of many of the sites are understood—including bison hunting areas, tipi rings, and campsites—but others remain unknown. The park's interpretive centre can coordinate storytellers, speakers and dance presentations for visitors, all with the goal of education guests about the Northern Plains First Nations people. The Wanuskewin Heritage Park Gallery onsite maintains a collection of works primarily by First Nations artists.
The Notukeu Heritage Museum began as the private collection of Henri Liboiron, a former resident of Ponteix, Saskatchewan, who started amassing artifacts in 1940. Liboiron spent decades collecting objects in the area—many of them thousands of years old—and originally created a museum in his basement, before the collection was moved to its current location.
Keno City's Keno Mining Museum displays the history of gold and silver mining in the area dating back to the early 1900s. Housed in part in a 1920's dance hall, the museum is open June through September in the very small community of Keno City.
Not far from there, the Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing features artifacts, clothing and tools of the Southern Tutchone people, as well as diorama-style displays of the 70 species of wildlife in the Yukon. For a unique souvenir, visitors may purchase hand-made, moose-hide moccasins in the museum gift shop.
Offering interpretive programs, performances and exhibits, the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre (meaning Long Time Ago House) in Dawson City is open May-September and by appointment during the remainder of the year. The centre explores the history and heritage of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in people through artifacts, reproductions and photographs.
Dawson City visitors may also be interested to see the Jack London Cabin and Interpretive Centre, where the White Fang and Call of the Wild author lived during the Klondike Gold Rush; the facility is open mid-May through mid-September.
And no Dawson City visit would be complete without a stop at the Dawson City Museum, which features not only exhibits highlighting the area's mining history and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in people, but also houses three Klondike Mines Railway locomotives, one of which is considered one of the oldest conserved rail cars in Canada.