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Travel: Canada's Hidden Gems

By Baisakhi Roy Email By Baisakhi Roy
June 2019
Travel: Canada's Hidden Gems

 

The border between the United States and Canada stretches to 5,525 miles, making it the longest border separating two nations. And yet, for people in the U.S., the Great White North seems so familiar. Listing some favorite destinations in their adopted country, Indian-Canadians tell Khabar what it is that makes these places so special—and worth visiting.

The first time I ever heard about the country was courtesy of a Canada Dry commercial (remember “Cool, cool Canada!”). For a long time, the images from the commercial—polar bears jostling around with penguins while skiers chug down the fizzy drink on a snowy mountain—were what stayed with me. All of 12 or 13 years old then, I never gave the country itself a second thought; surely I would never, ever leave my beloved Mumbai to live in a cold, cold, place like that. But then, life happened. I moved here in my 30s and found much of what I had imagined to be absolutely true, although, as I discovered gradually, there was obviously more to it than snow-capped peaks and curling.

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(​Right) The author with her daughter at
Butchart Gardens.

Butchart Gardens,
Victoria, British Columbia

My 2018 vacation discovery begins with a very personal lament—I’m extremely fond of flowers but alas, my husband has never presented me with any! So imagine my utter disbelief and sense of wonder when I walked into a forest of flowers when we visited Butchart Gardens. A collection of theme-based gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, this is a 55-acre horticultural gem with more than 900 species of plants and over 25 greenhouses, not to mention the 280 varieties of roses that adorn the elegant arches on the property. An abandoned limestone quarry was transformed in 1904 to become the gardens, which is also a National Historic Site. Besides the rose garden, visitors can enjoy a sunken garden, the Japanese garden (the Himalayan Blue Poppies are not to be missed if visiting in late spring), and a Mediterranean garden. At the end of the day, after being suitably gobsmacked by such a stunning display of natural beauty, there’s some delicious handmade sorbeto and gelato to be savored at the Italian gardens. Despite it being summer, it rained. So, a word of warning—even if you decide to travel in July or August, remember that it might get chilly.

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(Left) Butchart Gardens is a National Historic Site.

The best times to travel to pretty much anywhere on Canada’s west coast, notably Victoria and Vancouver, would be between March and May when the weather is relatively milder. So many tourists I spoke to had added Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, at the last minute to their travel plans. In fact, a lot of them give it a miss, as the only major city they know of is Vancouver. But Victoria has plenty to offer. From its local cuisine and the fine wines, and from the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley to some unforgettable whale watching, and clocking a quick morning run in Beacon Hill Park, the city simply enthralls.

 

 

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(Right) There’s a ferry service between
Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Halifax, Nova Scotia
If you haven’t visited Halifax, you may find it difficult to pinpoint on the world map. Caressing the Atlantic Ocean, the municipality is the capital of Nova Scotia—Canada’s second smallest province. But it’s not all frolicking on the waterfront, enjoying the breeze, and fishing as one would expect from an oceanside destination. Halifax is the center of innovation for some of North America’s budding techpreneurs and app developers. One of them is Ashwin Kutty, President and CEO of We Us Them, a company that is currently working on app development in the health care and education sectors. Ashwin has been calling Halifax home for more than 15 years. “It was our first port of call when we migrated to Canada and honestly, we have never been happier,” he confesses. Kutty’s earliest memories of the city are starkly different from what present day Halifax looks like. “It wasn’t very diverse; there were less than a handful of people who were like us, and it was also one of the worst winters ever. It felt like we had been dropped from a spaceship into a completely different realm,” he laughs. Kutty says the best way to see Halifax is to talk to the locals who, known for being some of the friendliest people on the planet (a common Canadian trait), will gladly provide visitors with helpful tips on how to get about the city and highlight some of the must-dos while in town.

From savoring some top quality craft brews, to taking a stroll through the lush Victorian public gardens built in the 1800s—iconic gardens are a recurring theme in Canadian cities—where one might enjoy impromptu performances by live bands, to visiting a charming fishing village in Peggy’s Cove, there’s something for everyone. Visitors with a South Asian palate can thank their lucky stars, because this community enjoys a good curry. “There is an abundance of Indian restaurants here and quite a presence in terms of the South Asian community. Diwali and other major festivals are celebrated with much aplomb, thanks to the Indian association here. But the most popular food here is the Lebanese donair. You must sample it when you are here,” Kutty says.

Kutty has his own favorite piece of Halifax that he urges tourists to visit. “The York Redoubt is a redoubt (a fort system) on a bluff overlooking the entrance to Halifax Harbour at Ferguson’s Cove. It was a military base and protected the city from invaders and pirates. If you drive a bit further, there is a lookout point and you can actually walk down to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean! It’s quite an unbelievable sight,” he says.

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(Left) Mirror Lake, near Lake Agnes Tea House in Alberta.

Lake Agnes Tea House,
Lake Louise, Alberta

It’s not your usual cup of tea. Surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the quaint little tea shop at Lake Agnes makes for quite the tourist stop when exploring the province of Alberta. The shop, which has been serving a mind-boggling variety of loose leaves since 1905, is named for a First Lady of Canada—Lady Agnes MacDonald, the wife of Canada’s first Prime Minister. The Lake Agnes Tea House was originally built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, as a refuge for hikers who trekked along the gorgeous mountains, and though the original log building was replaced in the ’80s, the building still has some of the original windows, tables, and chairs.

Marketing professional Tajpreet Madan is a Toronto native and a world traveler but nothing prepared her for the beauty that lay in her backyard. “My husband and I were visiting my friend in Calgary (in Alberta, Western Canada). We decided to take a road trip to Banff and Jasper. Lake Louise was our first stop. When we got there we learnt about a 5 km trek from Lake Louise that leads to Lake Agnes Tea House. And, without a second thought, we all found ourselves climbing up that trek,” she says, laughing. Madan has a vivid memory of the breathtaking spectacle—how when they got to the tea house, it felt as if it was straight out of a movie location, set back in time. “The hosts fetch water from the lake, and visitors have to carry their garbage back when they climb down the mountain!” she says. The hike is long, but it is totally worth the old world hospitality and the views. Of course, the trip isn’t complete without sampling the tea house’s homemade soup and freshly baked bread and scones! Tip for Instagrammers: travel on a clear day to click fabulous images of the reflection of Mount Niblock and Mount Whyte in the lake.

 

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 Montreal is at the crossroads of North America and Europe.

Most Canadian City: Montreal, Quebec
One would imagine Toronto or Vancouver to be “truly” Canadian cities, but theatre director Rahul Varma is firm in his belief that there is no place more Canadian than Montreal. Steeped in vibrant French culture, one would imagine that the city isn’t exactly the epitome of multiculturalism, unlike most major cities in Canada. “Montreal is more Canadian than any other city in the country. There definitely are contradictions—on the one hand there is a spirit of the nationalist movement in Quebec that still burns bright, but on the other hand, it’s also a multicultural, multilingual immigrant hub. There are people from all parts of the world living and working in the city and with them they bring their way of life and cultures. The cosmopolitan nature of the city is what I find most attractive and I can’t think of living anywhere else,” says Varma who moved to Montreal in the summer of 1976. He is still nostalgic about the first few moments he spent in the city— tall buildings, clear skies, organized traffic (no honking!), and no humans rushing around, cutting his path. When the winter rolled around, he remembers his mother commenting on the snow on the ground, saying “Gore logon ki dhool bhi safed hoti hai!”(Even the white man’s dirt is white!).

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 Montreal’s gorgeous Basilique Notre Dame.

Varma settled in quickly, drawing from his life in his hometown, Lucknow—another spirited and vibrant city with its electrifying sights, sounds, and smells. “I realized it is important to enjoy the city and country, to really immerse yourself in the life and culture here. It’s not really complex to manage,” he says. Varma’s favorite haunt is the bustling Park Extension area located in the borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension in the north end of the city. Full of immigrant businesses mostly of Haitian, Latin-American, and South Asian origins, the mainly working-class neighborhood is not exactly up there with the Basilique Notre Dame or the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal. But it’s perfect for paan! “There is a shop there where the meetha paan comes pretty close to the Indian one. I go there sometimes for a stroll when I want to unwind. There are shops selling Indian clothes and food, African artifacts, and such. There are mandirs, mosques, and gurudwaras standing next to each other. I am always amazed at how the community pools together its resources to build these places,” he says. Other “must visits” include the old Montreal area with its novelty shops, live art on the streets, and the restaurants which offer world cuisines, all in one place. If you are visiting in the winter, do make time to attend the Igloofest at the Carnaval de Québec.

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Brampton has a sizeable South Asian population.

Not Just “Browntown”:
Brampton, Toronto, Ontario

It’s famously known as “Browntown” for its majority South Asian population, but the suburb of Brampton—with over 4,000 acres of parkland, including more than 90 km of trails and 400 parks—is so much more. Thanks to a business center dotted with major Canadian companies, to being known as a cultural hub (the city has its own hip-hop subculture with artists from India and Sri Lanka who have a loyal fan following) and having one of the most eclectic food scenes in Toronto, there’s little chance of getting bored in Brampton. And that holds good even if you are visiting for a few hours. “The most wonderful thing about living here is the green space. There’s the Chinguacousy Trail (which leads to the picturesque Donald M. Gordon Chinguacousy Park) and the Don Doan Trail which houses Professor’s Lake. It’s a buzzing city but then has this oasis of calm and beauty within it,” says Dhruv Ghosh, a proud Bramptonian. Like many other Canadian cities, the history and old-world charms of downtown Brampton give a unique experience and one to savor while sipping a hot cuppa at quaint coffee and bubble tea joints like Bean and Pearl or Pappa Roti, a crowd favorite that serves up some delightful Malaysian fare.

For the sportier members of your family or travel posse, the city has a treat—it boasts of more than 100 facilities ranging from curling rinks to tennis courts, soccer fields, and fitness centers. And smirk all you want, you don’t want to leave Brampton or wrap up your holiday without throwing an ax (and knives, and bows and arrows if you are into that) at Stryke. There’s no better way to get ready for the work week ahead.


Baisakhi Roy is a Toronto-based writer and editor who loves to write about ordinary people and their extraordinary stories. A lifelong fan of Hindi movies, she cohosts KhabardaarPodcast, a weekly podcast on all things Bollywood.



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