Canada is a patchwork country. A community of communities. A collage. It’s not the sort of place you love in abstract. Canada is in the details: specific places, moments, memories. It’s a jumbled drawer, an eclectic collection of postcards. Here then, are a few that I treasure, spanning the seasons that define us.
Winter on Hudson Bay. A helicopter thrums across the Churchill River. I’ve come to visit Prince of Wales Fort, a stone bastion from the 1700s perched on the edge of an inland sea. As we trudge across the tundra, icicles in every breath, the Parks Canada guide who accompanies me suddenly stops, points to the ground in front of us. A single massive paw print, big enough for me to stand in with both winter boots, is pressed into the snow. “Polar bear,” the guide says. And continues walking.
Autumn in the Saguenay. A lost kingdom. A northern El Dorado. The Saguenay region of Quebec was once thought to be a mythical land, rich in gold. Today, the Saguenay is quiet and bucolic, a lake surrounded by forests so thick they appear cross-hatched. On a road trip with my brother and his oldest daughter, as we come over a crest of hill, the sudden burst of autumn leaves is so unexpected, so startling, we have to veer to the side of the road to get out and stare. Scarlet and gold. Orange and burnt crimson. El Dorado, set ablaze.
“Canada is in the details: specific places, moments, memories.”
Springtime in Olde Victoria. Seaplanes landing in the inner harbour. The clippety-clop of carriages. Baskets spilling over with flowers. Spring comes so early out here. While the rest of the country is shovelling its driveways under dull skies, Victoria is already fragrant with lilac and Earl Grey. Hidden histories abound, however, and beyond the stately connect-the-dot lights of the Legislature Buildings and the dowager presence of the Fairmont Empress hotel, lies the tucked-away secrets of Fan Tan Alley: the narrowest commercial street in North America, where you can trail your hands down either side as you make your way through the heart of Canada’s oldest Chinatown.
Summer in Prince Edward Island. A family jaunt through the Maritimes brings us to the Kingdom of Anne and the beaches at Cavendish. Grassy dunes. A rambling boardwalk. Blue waters, soft red cliffs crumbling into the distance, and a swath of sand the colour and texture of soft brown sugar. Waves slide in, children squeal and flee, abandoning plastic buckets and soggy sandcastles. At the end of a long summer’s day, my youngest son looks up at me and says, “Can we live here?” I think of the miles and miles of miles and miles, of this country we call home, and I say, “We already do.”
Will Ferguson is based in Calgary. A three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, his novel 419 won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His newest novel, The Shoe on the Roof, about a psychological experiment gone wrong, is published by Simon & Schuster Canada.
Hotels in Quebec That Feel Like You’re in a Winter (Wander)land
Learn to adore (not endure) winter at these cozy Quebec lodges where you can snowmobile from one to the next via long stretches of groomed trails. Start at Auberge du Lac Taureau in Saint-Michel-des-Saints then move onto Pourvoirie de Lac Blanc and Hôtel Sacacomie in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts.
Mercedes Nicoll’s Guide to Whistler, B.C.
A three-time Olympic snowboarder and the most decorated member of the Canadian women’s halfpipe team, Mercedes Nicoll has called Whistler home for more than two decades. Here, she shares some of her favourite spots, including the best bike trails and art and cultural centres, in Whistler.