Do it now, while you’re still okay with occasionally having to sleep in your back seat or taking a piss in the bushes. Plus you’ll get to see some sick parts of Canada most people never think to explore, like Northern Ontario. It’s a big wild land out there, my friends. Just don’t forget to fill up on gas, like my friend and I did when leaving Sault Ste Marie. We had to run on fumes for about a hundred kilometres with no gas station in sight.
Montreal is hands down the best party city in Canada. My favourite is the Tam-Tams drum circle every Sunday summer afternoon in Parc du Mont-Royal. You can take some drinks and food and settle in on the grass to watch hippies beating drums or burn-outs dancing near the techno tent. The cops simply don’t care. Or pack a picnic with a bottle of wine and head to Parc Jean-Drapeau for some live DJ entertainment and spend the day dancing under the city skyline. In the winter: Montreal en Lumiere DJ festival. It’s impossible to be cold when you’re crammed into so many sexy bodies. Montreal also hosts Canada’s largest annual music festival on Parc Jean-Drapeau.
The Long Range Traverse is one of the few remaining hikes in Canada that requires passing a compass test before hitting the trail. When you want to prove to the world you’re not one of those 20-somethings who relies on technology and Google maps to get everywhere (full disclosure: I’m one of those people), completing this trail is like a victory. Plus you’ll get a boat ride through the Western Brook Pond Fjord, and you’ll hike the lip of the fjord itself.
I love when people complain about the winter temperatures in Toronto, or St. John’s, or Vancouver (full disclosure: I’m one of those people). But you know that big-ass land of ice above the Canadian provinces? Yeah, that’s part of our country too. If you want insight into the North and what it’s REALLY like living in some brutal temperatures, you have to prove yourself worthy in the north. My suggestion: Start in the Yukon. They’ve got Mount Logan.
The “greatest outdoor show on earth” is cause for a massive celebration in Calgary every July, and the whole city joins in. Even your neighborhood Tim Horton’s server wears a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat. I’ve never seen a whole city in such upheaval before; my walks home were usually through vomit-splattered sidewalks. It was the best. But there’s no way to sugarcoat it: Calgary is an oil town and the Stampede is expensive as hell. I once spent $100 to skip the 500-person lineup into the Cowboys tent. I’m not proud of myself. I did get a ride home later in the evening from a cowboy in a black limo, though.
Unless you don’t want to feel like a petrified sloth.
Not gonna lie, the VIA Rail system in Canada isn’t cheap, nor is it efficient. It’s a damned good exercise in patience, though. And you’ll get to see some parts of the country you won’t ever see from the highway. It’s not a quick trip, oh no. But there’s a dome car, and sometimes you’ll find yourself there with a 360-degree view of the countryside, making new friends with the musicians putting on a free show for the passengers. Ever been drunk on a plane? Bring your Snuggie.
Canada’s biggest myth is that the prairies are boring. One of my absolute favourite travel memories is an overnight horseback-riding trip in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan. While the older folks settled into a wigwam, I camped next to the fire, under the stars, with fireflies dancing in the moonlight. I awoke to wolves circling the camp. Cowboys do NOT get the recognition they deserve for how badass they are. You’ll learn a little about bush culture, including not wearing leggings instead of jeans because you’ll end up providing a veritable feast for the mosquitos. I emerged with 60 bites.
This little street in Newfoundland’s capital city of St. John’s has more clubs and pubs per capita than any other city in North America. For such a tiny town, the nightlife here is an ecstatic blend of old and young, artsy and trendy, shy and outgoing. In other words, anything goes. Tell someone you’re from outside Newfoundland, and you’ll get adopted into a social circle. Tell someone you’re from outside the country, and you’ll be offered a meal, a place to sleep, and somebody’s daughter’s / son’s hand in marriage. “You’re not from around here? GET THIS MAN A SHOT!” Come during George Street Fest, and get Screeched-In at Christian’s Pub. You’ll kiss a cod, repeat a spiel about Newfoundland language, drink some Screech rum, and then you’ll be a honorary Newfoundlander.
Skiing / snowboarding in BC is next level on every level.
The Craven Country Jamboree is a different level of country. Sure, the bands are big. BUT the real fun happens on the campgrounds, where you’ll find coolers of “Saskatchewan Champagne” (canned Pilsner), tailgate parties, and that sweet scent of leather and horse shit permeating the air like a tangy prairie perfume. Go, be one. Make out with a cowboy.
Ottawa lets go of its uptight iron-pressed-shirt ways for one day only on Canada Day, July 1st. A massive party is hosted on Parliament Hill instead. Dress up in red and white, carry some flags, and hit the concert. Once that’s over, you’ll find everyone imbibing at Byward Market as the party continues.
In the Okanagan, you can rent a houseboat with all your mates and hit the Shuswap Lake. Load up on beers and spend a few days chugging around the area. Most of the boats come with water slides. You read that right.
The spirit inside a hockey arena is palpable — the noise is a roar, and the speed is intense. Everyone clutches their cold beer in white cups like it’s their only lifeline, and, goddamn, does it ever feel good to be caught up in the buzz.
Alexander Keith was the most popular mayor to ever grace Halifax, and he just so happens to be the creator of the province’s most popular beer. Never mind the guy’s been dead for a long time — his birthday’s still celebrated with gusto on the waterfront. I mean, there’s a giant birthday cake, and everyone gets to sign a massive birthday card. People even show up at his grave to leave a beer cap on the headstone. It’s a tradition. If you’re in Halifax, you can’t NOT attend. It was by far one of the strangest celebrations I’ve ever witnessed, but I think Mr. Keith would’ve been okay with it.