By Tim Johnson
They don’t call it the Paris of the Prairies for nothing — just like the one in France, Saskatoon is a city of bridges, a place under the spell of a great river. Although not quite the Seine, the South Saskatchewan River — wide and often glassy smooth, bordered in many places by lush green parkland — still provides a beautiful natural setting for the city’s top summer festivals and outdoor events.
Saskatonians and visitors to their fine city gather at the river several times each spring and summer, beginning with the Saskatoon Children’s Festival from June 3 to 6, an event which includes everything from Brazilian circus acts to musical storytelling and African dance. Get acquainted with Antony and Cleopatra and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a casual setting from July 1 to August 16 at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, or enjoy music from the local talent as you indulge in some of the local fare (from 30 restaurants, Greek to Japanese to Tex Mex) — with no dish priced at more than $4 — at A Taste of Saskatchewan, July 15 to 19.
As for attractions, don’t miss the Western Development Museum, a living 1910 Boomtown, complete with costumed characters, more than 30 buildings, and the longest indoor museum street in Canada. And ply the waters of the river on Shearwater River Cruise, Saskatoon’s version of the Bateaux Mouches.
RECOMMENDED HOTEL: Delta Bessborough. A grand, historic hotel that offers an indoor atrium with pool and children’s pool, plus massages on-site. deltahotels.com
RECOMMENDED RESTAURANT: Four Seasons Restaurant, inside the Park Town Hotel. This restaurant offers kids’ prices, a full buffet (great for picky eaters) and one of the best views of the South Saskatchewan in the city. parktownhotel.com
If you’re looking for sunshine, you may just want to head north this summer. Yellowknife, home to about 20,000 people and capital of the Northwest Territories, emerges from its winter cloak and into the midnight sun every summer. Great Slave Lake sparkles, café tables are placed on sidewalks, and you’ll almost forget that you’re not so far from the Arctic Circle. Paddle, climb or hike the day away, and in the evening, dine on the fruits of the north — from caribou to buffalo to Arctic Char.
Plan your visit for the weekend of July 17 to 19 and attend the region’s top music festival, Folk on the Rocks. As its name suggests, the festival was founded as a folk event almost 30 years ago, but now features an eclectic mix of artists — last year’s festival included world music, rockabilly, stilt walkers, interactive kids’ performances, and opportunities for little ones to try out Aboriginal drums. This year’s lineup was still being finalized at press time, but organizers promise hands-on crafts, at least one kids’ performer, and the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of live music by the shores of beautiful Long Lake.
Or, if you’re looking for all the road trip you can handle, take the legendary Dempster Highway — which traverses thousands of kilometres of tundra — to its very end, at Inuvik, the largest town in the world north of the Arctic Circle (regular flights also connect Inuvik with Yellowknife and other cities). For 10 days in the summer (July 10 to 19), the town becomes the place to be for First Nations and other northern artists during the Great Northern Arts Festival. This year’s agenda includes film screenings, traditional dance, storytelling and readings, family events, an Arctic circus, and more than 50 art workshops open to the public.
RECOMMENDED HOTEL: The Explorer Hotel. Yellowknife’s largest full-service hotel, it features spectacular views and high speed wireless Internet. explorerhotel.ca
RECOMMENDED RESTAURANT: Wildcat Café. Open only in the summer, this restaurant — housed in an original 1930s log cabin — features local selections, including caribou and bison. Different local restaurants take turns hosting, so contact Northwest Territories Tourism (800-661-0788) for more details.
The charms of Quebec City are well known: ancient, European-style buildings along cobblestone streets behind centuries-old battlements, with the outsized majesty of the ChÃ¢teau Frontenac towering over it all. But visitors to the capital of La Belle Province are often oblivious to the beauty and attractions of the surrounding countryside. Base yourself in the city — close to all the world-class dining and shopping — and the attractions of the country are only minutes away.
To visit the CÃ´te-de-Beaupré (or Beaupre Coast), travel northeast out of town along Boulevard Ste-Anne, a fast road that skirts along the St. Lawrence River, or Avenue Royale, one of the first roads built by settlers to New France. The latter still features many fine examples of 18th-century architecture — cheerful ancestral homes (many of them recently refurbished), complete with root cellars. Make sure to stop at La Maison Vézina, a restored house built in 1710 that now houses a gallery featuring the work of local artists. Legend has it that General James Wolfe used the area as a staging ground for his famous attack on Quebec City, which culminated in the battle at the Plains of Abraham. The Maison sits on a hill high above the St. Lawrence, and all through the summer they pitch a tent on the grassy grounds, inviting visitors to picnic, enjoy the view, and maybe take the half-mile trail to the famous Montmorency Falls.
Further down Avenue Royale, in Sainte-Anne-de Beaupré, Atelier Paré provides a true Quebecois experience. For years, traditional storytellers travelled from home to home, telling hair-raising cautionary tales, and here that tradition is revived, with a storyteller regaling visitors with the tale of the Flying Canoe and the White Lady of Montmorency Falls in a room that features a giant wood sculpture mural which illustrates the stories. You can also see wood sculptors at work and interact with them, and take in an impressive array of artisan work — some of it for sale in the gift shop. And don’t miss the massive Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, less than five minutes away (you can’t miss it — in fact, you’ll see its shining silver spires long before you get to town).
Over on Boulevard Ste-Anne, make sure to stop in at the Albert Gilles Copper Art Museum & Boutique. The kids may quickly tire of viewing the vast array of copper art on the walls (which really is quite remarkable), but museum staff will keep them busy making their own creations in copper. And just a little further up the road sits a sweet little place — the Musée de L’Abeille — which showcases all things bees and honey. Enjoy a honey or honey wine tasting, tour through a museum that highlights the importance of the bee through history, or take a “Bee Safari,” where you can get a first-hand look (safely behind glass) at the busyness of a thriving hive.
Just west of Quebec City, at Wendake, families can experience the culture of one of Canada’s First Nations, the Wendat (or Huron). An open-air amphitheatre welcomes visitors on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through the summer for Kiugwe: Le Grand Rendez-Vous, a major production that includes Aboriginal storytelling, song and dance. While you’re in town, don’t miss the reconstructed village at the Huron Traditional Site or the newly opened HÃ´tel-Musée PremiÃ¨res Nations, a building that combines the museum of the Wendat people with a four-star hotel that places the traditional alongside the novel (think: rooms with both beaver skins and flat-screen TVs).
Plan your visit to the area to coincide with one of Quebec City’s major festivals — of which perhaps the biggest is the New France Festival, which includes dozens of activities and shows every day, and the spectacle of giants marching down the street.
RECOMMENDED HOTEL: HÃ´tel ChÃ¢teau Laurier Québec. A five minute walk from Old Quebec, this hotel offers spacious rooms, hot tubs and an indoor pool — everything you need to relax after a busy day of touring. hotelchateaulaurier.com
RECOMMENDED RESTAURANT: Spag & tini (spagettini.ca). Hearty Italian meals at a reasonable price, served on a spacious patio in lower Quebec — enough said. In Wendake: Sagamité (sagamite.com). For a memorable experience, order the Potence (which translates to gallows), a hanging, flaming skewer of (delicious) game meat.
Often overlooked in favour of its nearby island neighbour (you know, the one named for Prince Edward), Cape Breton’s beauty has a rugged quality — the waving ribbon of the Cabot Trail clinging to hillsides high above the sea, hidden valleys with lush, green meadows, authentic fishing villages speaking a dialect of French unknown anyplace else and Gaelic — remarkably — which is still spoken in some communities. The legacy bequeathed by Cape Breton’s Scottish forebears seems to flow forth from even the rocks and trees.
And every summer, music hangs in the air; a number of open-air concerts and festivals celebrate Cape Breton’s musical history and heritage. Ceilidhs — traditional Gaelic social dances imported from Scotland and Ireland — take place all over the island, featuring music from Celtic instruments like the fiddle, flute and tin whistle, step dancing and good times. The instructors at Gaelic College in Englishtown present a concert-format ceilidh every Wednesday at approximately 8 p.m., between July 8 and August 12, or you can choose from many others — you can usually find one by simply asking around. If you’re feeling like some do-si-do, communities across the island hold square dances every night of the week. See cbisland.com or call 1-902-563-4636 for more information. You can also visit the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique for a hands-on musical education (they also hold ceilidhs on Sunday nights) or stop in at Broad Cove on July 26 for the largest outdoor Scottish concert on Cape Breton, or visit Cheticamp between July 1 and August 23 for Le Festival de l’Escaouette. And make sure to round out your time on the island with a hike in the stunning Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
RECOMMENDED HOTEL: You can find full-service hotels in Sydney, but if you’re looking for a small, clean motel located right in the heart of a Cape Breton fishing village, stay at Merry’s Motel (capebretonisland.com) in Cheticamp.
RECOMMENDED RESTAURANT: For excellent, fresh seafood that locals recommend, visit the Bell Buoy Restaurant in Baddeck (bellbuoyrestaurant.com).
Contributing editor Tim Johnson admits that he’s never been good at crafts but he feels very proud of the Fleur-de-lis tracing he created at the copper museum.